Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Why Animators Should Always Take Two Steps

One of the most common mistakes by junior animators is to animate a character taking just one step.

The reason this doesn't work only becomes clear if you try doing it. Take a single step and...guess what...you'll take a second step.

The fact is that everyone takes two steps.  Life is like a dance, we are constantly using our bodies in a one-two one-two motion. It's tempting to animate a character taking a single step because it seems to make sense. After all, so much of what we do with our bodies is automatic; done without thinking. But, if you try taking a single step, you'll quickly realise why you need a second catch-up step to maintain your balance.

The reason this matters is because, as animators, we need to make our work feel lifelike and believable. If we don't get it right, it feels weird, and the audience will notice.

I learned this lesson embarrassingly late in my animation career. I was working at DreamWorks on Sinbad (their last 2D animated feature), under supervising animator Jakob Jensen. I was showing him the rough animation I had done, and I had animated Sinbad taking just one step.

"Of course", said Jakob, "as an experienced animator, you know that everyone takes two steps, right?" "Er....yes..." I said "...of course! I would never make a rookie error like that".

So, I shuffled back to my desk and fixed the shot. Sinbad took two steps.

(This kind of discretion is, by the way, very common in Denmark, and was one of the reasons it was such a pleasure to work for Jakob. Even if you made rookie mistakes, like I had, he'd still be nice about it.)

So next time you animate a character taking a single step, try and act it out first yourself. You will see unnatural it feels, and why a small catchup step is almost always needed.

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