Category Archives: Reference

Animation Styles In CG

The other day I was watching some of the first shots I did on a production and could see one of the main problems I had early on was not fully understanding the style. At A.M shots tend to fall into a “Disney style” or very cartoony, but I think CG animation has become much wider than that and the industry more demanding.

I’m now working on my third production, each time a different style of animation has been required and each with little to no ramp up time. I think it’s a valuable exercise to not just study but try different styles of animation, I’ve found understanding and being able apply a style are two different things.

I’ve made a list of what I think are different styles with examples below, the categories are purely opinion and meant to be just food for thought, but feel free to comment if you think I’ve missed anything glaring.

With motion capture


Highly nuanced

“Disney/Pixar style”
A very loose way of describing it. Both studios use slightly different styles in different productions.


Exaggerated cartoony

Limited animation

Very limited animation

Stop Motion influenced

Claymation Style

Hand drawn influenced

Paper cut out influenced

Stop Motion/CG hybrid

Multiple animation styles in one production

Personality in posing

It seems this character study of Big Hero 6 has gone pretty viral in the community. The character differences are amazingly clear, be sure to check it out if you haven’t.
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I just noticed the poses in this image and thought they tell us a similar thing in just one frame. We can tell a lot about attitude, confidence, goofiness, etc. Even Baymax’s symmetrical pose tells us a lot about his nature.


The simplest of things – standing naturally for example – show character. It’s easy to get used to defaults: a standing pose, an angry hand clench, a sad face, the action of sitting down, a vanilla walk, etc. But the question we need to remember is how does our character, in their current state of mind do things.

While looking for another example I came across this Disney character line up. While it doesn’t quite show characters in a neutral standing position I think we can still gain a lot from the elements of these silhouettes when posing our characters to show personality. Credit goes to Juan Pablo Bravo for this lineup.

Why do these give a sense of strength and power?

And why don’t these poses which traditionally show strength feel as strong?:

Why would I not trust someone in these poses?:

Why do these have a greater sense of innocence?:

And these a greater sense of confidence?:

What do the way the feet are posed here say about these characters?:

Why does a simple change in Line of Action give Arthur and Mowgli 2 clearly different personalities?

How are 2 characters in the same file contrasted with each other?:

Check out Juan’s other line ups and see what you can gain from them:
600 Hanna Barbera characters
70 Disney villains
200 Pixar Characters

Shaun the Sheep Teaser

Another analysis of something I enjoy, the work of Aardman Animations. They’ve just released a new trailer for their upcoming film, check it out:
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What is similar in Shaun the Sheep and Goodnight Mr Foot? (see previous post)

  1. Character introductions
    Shaun and Bigfoot are introduced on screen in the same way. It is a coincidence, but the movement is visually entertaining, cute and also gives a sense of vulnerability to the characters. In my opinion this introduction instantly gives the characters appeal.shaun12
  2. Flat perspective
    Both mainly use flat perspective throughout, only bringing depth to exaggerate dramatic points. Read this on flat vs deep staging or grab a copy of Visual Story for more on that idea.
    Examples where depth is used to highlight drama.
  3. Snappy animation
    In the Goodnight Mr Foot post I mentioned the characters go from starting pose -> anticipation -> pop to extreme -> settle over 6 – 8 frames. The same is done in Shaun the Sheep

How is good and evil established?
The farmer and the Animal Containment officer’s goals are in direct conflict with Shaun’s but have a look at how the characters are presented differently.

The farmer has a stern face but we know he’s not a threatening character; there’s the warmth in the colours, he struggles to wake up, flower patterns on the bed cover and the wall, etc. But also the appealing design, he has no eyes. His blindness to Shaun is exemplified in his design, this also makes him a little goofy and appealing when he squashes the dog. He’s presented in humorous ways in his first 2 shots.

In contrast the officer wears military style clothing, but also the neck tie, gloves and protective eyewear give us a sense that he’s a bit nuts, threatening and highly organised. There’s nothing fun or warming about him.

Speaking of good/evil, a nice homage:

How are thought processes shown?
In this shot watch closely as he detects something in the corner of his eye, blinks, sits up, eyes dart around and then finally turns.

How is focus kept?
Watch how despite having so many characters, the dog is the only character that continues to move until the very of the shot. He obviously also stands out with the use of colour, but also the moving car starts form directly behind him.

Is everything animated to a high level?
Basically, no. There is some amazing detail to some of the animation. The hen for example has feathers moving, a beak animated on 1’s and even the legs and feet move on the turn.
Also watch how the farmer’s toes wriggle while he is in bed. Very subtle.
Then compare this to the shot of the guys taking a photo, apart from the mechanical feel of the shoulders going up and down the characters basically just twist on the spot. More attention is paid to some shots than others.

How are animation principles used?
There’s a lot in this one shot. The hand comes up and anticipates the action. It then tries to hit the alarm clock and misses. There is drag on the wrist, a nice arc and easing in/out. The hand comes back, pauses again and then jumps to the clock. Much greater spacing is used compared to first attempt to give impact to the slam and also give texture to the timing.

What would I have changed?
Just a personal thing but I think the mouth positions to the side of the head don’t work so well, I often didn’t realise a mouth had appeared. Maybe that becomes less of a problem with longer viewing, but right now I feel it’s too disconnected/abnormal to be easily readable.

Genndy Tartakovsky – Goodnight Mr Foot

I’m a fan of Genndy’s work so thought it would be interesting to break down something of his. I’m using Goodnight Mr Foot which is on Youtube (unfortunately with subtitles) which he both directed and animated with the help of Rough Draft in Korea. gnmf16

Smears and multiples
There are so many smears or frames where body parts multiply that I don’t think they need to be highlighted here. There are plenty of examples in the other points below.

Major pose changes The style of the animation is very snappy and I noticed a few ways he gets this feel. Often he will go from a starting pose -> anticipation -> pop straight to an extreme pose -> then settle over about 6 or 8 frames. gnmf01

Sometimes there are breakdowns between the starting pose and anticipation as seen above, sometimes there will be no anticipation and just a breakdown. (the first frame is actually a held pose from the previous action) gnmf09

This is a bit more rare, there is no anticipation or break down at all. But also notice here how the body is settling over 6 frames but the eye pupils remain in the same space on screen. They retain our focus easily by staying in the same spot. gnmf05

Notice here how the hand in the breakdown is placed exactly where the nose will land. I made a gif below to show it more clearly. I tend to think it keeps the snappy movement but reduces things popping around on screen, retains a similar silhouette and doesn’t confuse the viewer. gnmf06 gnmf07

If we look at the start and end pose they feel quite different, he’s looking in different directions and with different emotions. But if you pay attention to the turn, there’s little to no body movement at all. The lack of change in the body helps us focus on the face and in my opinion keeps a comedic aspect to the move. gnmf10

Here he adds texture to his spacing a bit. The witch goes from anticipation, pops up into an extreme, settles a bit but then the body pops down again into another extreme. It’s all very quick but he establishes a rhythm through spacing and then pushes it for a snappy finish to the move. Watch the progression of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th frames below for example, then look at how different it is by the 6th.  After that the body settles over 8 frames.gnmf03

A similar thing happens here, there is a rhythm built in the spacing which then jumps and also suddenly introduces depth to the hand for two frames. gnmf08

Change in emotion
We see two changes in Mr Foot on the right. He goes from sleepy to alert to annoyed. Both changes have the character blink, anticipate slightly and then pop into the new pose. Again there’s only subtle changes to the body, his arms and head raise, but his big torso remains in the same pose. Keeping it fairly still helps keep our attention screen centre, where the desk clerk is moving and also where Mr Foot’s face is. gnmf02

Mouth shapes
Check out the range in mouth shapes when the character is talking in close up. From completely sticking the tongue out to speaking out of the side of her mouth. They are unique and completely exaggerated. gnmf14

I also like here how the character’s lips go from one side of her face to the other. They don’t just pop, the mouth shapes are formed so the lips progress across the face. gnmf13

Breaking rules
When studying animation principles it’s often said that when using squash and stretch the same volume should be retained. Genndy breaks those rules here for some visual fun. gnmf15

And also breaks body parts to exaggerate a motion. gnmf04

Exaggeration – Cloudy with a chance of meatballs

Something I notice in a lot of student work is what I tend to think is a misunderstanding of the principle of exaggeration. I feel that many think the idea of exaggeration is just making every movement bigger and over the top, especially when trying to do a cartoony style. I think a different way of looking at the idea of exaggeration is not necessarily making things bigger, but to exaggerate the contrast between elements. Quick timing vs slow timing. Big movements vs smaller movements. Light vs dark. Pinky vs Brain. Etc.

There’s a few problems with making quick+bigger movements across an entire animation.
Firstly It doesn’t let the audience breathe and take in what is happening, it affects the clarity of your storytelling. But also without the smaller/slower movements, the bigger/faster movements lose their impact. Emphasis and texture in the shot are lost.

I just came across this deleted scene from Cloudy WIth A Chance of Meatballs 2. The style of the show makes great use of exaggeration and think we can take some things from even just 3 shots in this sequence.

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Firstly we see Flint racing down the street in a very exaggerated way, big crazy movements and very fast. He then swings around the parking meter and bursts in through the door. A key point though is that he spends longer at the parking meter than he needs to, about 18 frames. Just having that extra little bit of time to pause gives the audience to take in the scene, what’s happening and also an idea of what’s going to happen next. So while his run is exaggerated, his pause is also exaggerated.
cloudy01 cloudy02

We see Flint in a hold, a super quick move in 2 frames but then another hold before he makes the mark across the calendar. This isn’t all just one big/quick movement that leaves the audience behind, there’s a deliberate use of fast vs slow that gives the audience information they need and texture to the timing.

I love these jump cuts. Take note that his arms are flailing in big/quick movements. But watch his body, there’s hardly any movement. That stillness gives us just enough to read what’s happening in such a short cut. Our eye doesn’t have to jump round the screen following his body in each shot, but we still get the emergency of the scene through the exaggerated arms and poses.cloudy06

Frozen Teaser – shot analysis

I was watching the Frozen teaser and noticed the first shot is very similar to what we do in class 4 in A.M, a single shot showing a character change emotional states. I quite like how Disney handled this shot, so will go through why I liked it.

» View the full teaser on youtube.
» View a quicktime of just this shot.

the setting is established. In this case the character isn’t even in the frame. Everything is fairly muted except for the flower. There’s also no texture behind it, it sits on the rule of 3rds and is the only object in the foreground. The flower draws our attention straight away.

the character is established. Notice how he walks, it’s clearly not a vanilla walk, the character has personality and also a clear emotional state. He’s happy.frozen08

the character notices the flower. Key point here is how Disney showed the character is thinking. He sees the flower, but doesn’t react instantly. The animators gave him time for him to process what he’s seeing, blink and then change expression. Now he’s excited. Notice the squash and stretch in his face during this process and also the character does a couple half steps, his walk changes slightly along with this facial expression.

– the character becomes enchanted. 
They almost spent 40 frames of the character just looking at the flower. It really gives us time to absorb the situation. There’s some nice touches with secondary action, which aren’t all that important to the story but help establish character and appeal. The posing is clear, we know what he’s looking at, we know how he’s feeling, there’s some nice negative space between him and the flower and they’re also angled towards each other, marking a visual relationship.

– the character smells the flower.
 He doesn’t just give it a quick sniff, it’s another good 40 frames. Compare that to going from standing pose to smelling only taking only 5 frames. The use of timing helps highlight what’s important for the story.

– the character becomes satisfied. 
Is the flower important anymore? No, it has done its job, now the focus is completely on the character’s reaction. You can see the film makers tried to reduce the importance of the flower with a subtle change in composition, it’s now half out of frame. Throughout the shot they are only keeping objects in frame that are necessary. There’s nothing extra.

Also worth noting is the lines, they all lead to the characters eyes, this is where our attention should be, they will be key to helping us understand the characters emotional state.

The eyes also fall almost perfectly on the rule of thirds. Everything in the frame is working to help guide our attention.

– the character sneezes and loses his nose. I love the build up here, he doesn’t instantly just sneeze. Again we’re being spoon fed, the film makers are giving us time to understand what’s going on. There’s some nice timing to the build up, there is a bit of a rhythm in his breaths which are broken when he completely loses control of the sneeze. The timing and posing of this is completely different to the start of the shot, he has clearly changed emotional states and his driven the story forward with a new conflict.



Recommended Reading #2

There’s more to animation than the 12 principles, so I’ve been doing less reading on animation itself and more in other related areas.

Just click on the images to find out more, I’m not the greatest of book reviewers. All I’ll say it The Visual Story is an absolute must have, Invisible Ink is a great (Kindle) bargain, still reading Story and Shot to Shot.

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I think you’ll find these on a lot of recommended reading lists. A lot of people also recommend The Artist’s Complete Guide to Facial Expression and Emotions Revealed when recommending books about understanding the face. The Emotions Revealed book is a very interesting read, but I found them both to be a bit too detailed for learning how to animate a face. I thought a great explanation was in Scott McCloud’s Making Comics book. He goes over the anatomy of the face and Paul Ekman’s research in a super concise and visual way. If you’re lucky you might be able to google for those specific pages.

Another common one is Acing The First Six Lessons. Again I don’t highly recommend it, I think body language has more relevance to what we do than books on traditional acting.

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Animation books


We always hear about 2 books on animation that seem to be regarded as bibles, The Illusion of Life and The Animator’s Survival Toolkit. So I’ve decided to focus on 3 other books which I’ve found immensely useful. They’re all very simple reads and all very reasonably priced considering the influence they will have on your career.

Acting for Animators – This is a great introduction to acting for any animator, Ed Hooks has been able to breakdown the differences between how an actor approaches a scene and how an animator would approach a scene. The ideas of power centres, creating empathy even in villains, starting a scene in the middle, etc are all golden points to keep in mind when approaching a shot. This video is almost a summary of the book:

Character Animation Crash Course – Breaks down animation to its simplest forms. It covers everything from timing sheets to staging, breakdowns and animation principles. What really makes the book golden in my opinion is the CD where you can easily step through Eric Goldberg’s animations. Studying and reproducing his breakdowns is really an eye opening experience.

Creating Characters with Personality – While character design might not be directly applicable to a CG animator who is given a rig, it’s still a useful resource. I think the book helps to hone your sense of who your character is and how to convey that while also retaining appeal. The book talks a bit about anatomy, posing and also animals.