10 best animation tips & tricks

As software and hardware improve, audiences demand more sophisticated performances. And as deadlines and budgets shrink, animators are racing against time more than ever.

It’s true that many concepts of character animation will never change: the 12 principles of Disney’s ‘old men’ are as etched in stone as any rule. On the other hand, animators need to grow with the industry and try to continue to deliver work on time and budget.

In putting together these tips, we’ve focused on concepts that are quick adjustments for animators to make, but that will also continue to benefit your work as you progress into your career.

The animator's bag of tricks is more important than ever...

01. Animate acting shots one phrase at a time

It's best to have clear full-body posing in your phrases at the expense of smooth transitions, especially early on. Animation follows beats and phrases, each with its own purpose. For a scene in which a store clerk is helping a customer, one phrase might be him waving as the customer enters; the next might be him putting his hands in his pockets as he listens to the customer.

Treat each phrase like its own shot. Reduce your timeline to display only the phrase you're working on, and create a beginning, middle and end to the idea being animated.

02. Loosen up when animating contact

Avoid keying the whole body at the point contact occurs. On most actions, particularly faster ones, the instant of contact won’t be captured on 24fps film. More importantly, you’ll bias the movement towards culminating at the moment of contact, flattening your arcs. If a character picks up a glass, the arm is the stronger force.

Animate the hand going through the glass, overshooting the contact point while staying on nice arcs. Now correct the glass position and constraining of the glass, to make up for the moment of contact missed between frames.

03. Playblasting is a huge waste of time

Calm down, don't freak out yet! Of course there’s no replacement for watching your animation at real-time speed, and you absolutely must watch your animation this way to be productive. However, hours are lost every week waiting for previews and playblasts to render. Reclaim your productive time by creating a layer or a button to hide everything in the scene except the character and proxy-resolution sets, so you can simply hit Play to watch the animation.

If you’re working with a rig that’s too heavy to do this, request a proxy version from your TD or supervisor. Most film-level rigs have a version created from ‘tin-can’ geometry parented to bones to make this possible. If this is impossible, at least take notes while watching your playblasts to avoid re-rendering constantly.