Snap or not to Snap?

On the opening day of Wall E and the Short film “Presto” which I had the pleasure to work on with two of my fellow Spline Doctors, Travis Hathaway and Mark Walsh, I thought it would be fun to talk a bit about snappy-ness in animation. When we think of snappy animation, we often think of Ren and Stimpy, or a host of other works such as Pocoyo. Its the way in which we get in and out of poses. In computer animation, snappy timing can be difficult to pull off in an appealing way. If the animation is snappy throughout, it becomes boring to look at and hard for the eye to follow. Some feature films have used this snappy style of animation which has worked for some and others not. I am not saying that we have figured anything out, but for Presto, we wanted an old school style which could be perceived as snappy. We looked back to the golden age of Warners, MGM and Disney. With the Warner cartoons, you have really great, funny drawings and wonderful timing of those drawings. The MGM style seemed to be similar with a bit more polish on the animation side, especially the Hannah Barbara Tom and Jerry’s. In CG, one thing you have going against you is motion blur. Motion blur can be your friend, or soften your work. Brad Bird would agree that motion blur still leaves some room for improvement. The big thing being that you sometimes want the blur to have arcs and its difficult to get that. Another thing is if you hit a pose in a snappy way, how does it settle? For Presto, we had to think about a few things. One was how snappy could you make the animation without it looking stiff and how could we break it up so that it was not always the typical snappy pose to pose. Another is thinking about how things settle naturally. You can have that snap, but how it comes to rest is an important detail that you will see in CG. Also, we thought about what aspect of the character to move. Maybe its a blink or maybe the overlap of the cloth dynamics will give me enough so that the character does not become wooden. Its always important to see how your cloth is simulated in order to adjust the animation to get it to behave correctly. All in all, snappy animation should be used like saffron. Too much will taint the recipe.  When its done right, it looks great in contrast with scenes that are animated around it. If the style of the film requires it, it has to fit into the context of the piece and the characters in the film. It was fun and challenging to animate in a style that hearkened back to the old classics. In doing it, I gained a whole new level of respect for the work done in the golden age of animated short films.