“Simplicity is the hall-mark of all art forms and animation is no exception” – Chuck Jones.
Through animation schooling we’re often taught to appreciate great animation as one that utilises the 12 principles effectively, motion that is so well executed that it creates the “illusion of life”, performances that are memorable or shows a high level of technical prowess.
We study masters like the 9 old men, Glen Keane and modern films by Pixar, Dreamworks and ILM.
But to me this is only part of the way to building an understanding of what good animation is. While we can look at these shots for their use of principles and the character that the motion conveys, the downside of doing so is that we often take them out of context of their environment, we learn to praise and appreciate animation for how it looks but not what it serves, i.e, story.
The role of animation in narrative work is to visually tell story, our 12 principles are a means we use to achieve that aim, but they aren’t an end to themselves. A shot with no movement can be great animation and shot with amazing movement, character and timing can be a failure if it doesn’t provide what the story requires.
To try to highlight this point, I’ve gone through the latest trailer for Spider-Man : Into the Spider-Verse and picked out shots that favour simplicity over complex animation. While they might not be the kinds of shots that leap out to the viewer with glitz and glamour, they are well executed animation as they serve the sequence they’re a part of.
Also pay attention to how much can be told with just one pose, one shift of an eyebrow or one look away. Learning to identify when to take such a minimal approach will help to strengthen your skills and sensibilities as much as studying broader and more commonly appreciated animation. Hopefully I’ll expand on this topic in future posts.