When you can't afford complex character animation, you'll have to rely
on simpler animations to convince your audience that they're looking at
something more than the video equivalent of a comic strip.
It's quicker to animate the camera instead of the character. Most anime
will feature at least one shot of the camera moving across, away or towards
the cels. It's a subtle element that imparts a sense of movement, enhancing
the look of your shots.
I've seen it used beautifully in anime like Escaflowne
and Fatal Fury -- the Motion
Picture. It's cinematic, it's storytelling (switching the audiences'
point-of-view to whatever element is in focus), and it's dramatic.
In one of the final shots of Ghost
in the Shell, the camera zooms in on an initially indistinct held
cel of a little girl in a chair. The only thing moving in the room is the
perpetual motion machine sitting on the table next to her. The shot lasts
for several seconds, and the highly detailed background and the beautiful
cel of the girl make it worth looking at for those seconds, but the cycling
animation of the perpetual motion machine (with synched tapping sounds)
keeps the shot from looking 100% static. (The initial mystery of "what's
in the chair" also helps to keep the shot interesting).
Non-character animation is quicker than character animation. You'll
see cycling examples of it in young Miyu's pinwheel in the Vampire Miyu
television series (as Miyu herself stands still), or the sea of windmills
Plus (as Guld and Myung stand still in the foreground). Non-cycling
examples include rain, rain splashing into puddles, waves crashing onto
a shore, leaves falling in autumn, or snow falling in winter.
Relatively simple character animations, combined with strong poses
and facial expressions, can spruce up what would otherwise be perceived
as a held cel. I've seen the following used in anime:
Hair blowing in the wind (most anime)
Clothes blowing in the wind (most anime)
A specular highlight flickering in the eye of a character during an intense
emotional moment (Mink swooning over Dick Saucer in Dragon
An eyebrow clenched so tightly over the eye that it starts shaking (a deeply
hurt and offended Dick Saucer does this early on in Part Two of the Dragon
Eyes that occasionally blink (most anime)
A tapping foot (Shampoo in the "Red Shoe Sunday" closing animation for
the Ranma 1/2 OAV series)
Shivering because of the cold or intense emotion (Himemya Anthy clutching
at the remains of her dignity and her half-dissolved dress in episode three
of Revolutionary Girl Utena)
A facial expression shaking because of overly tense muscles due to intense
emotion (Birdy's furious face in the middle of Part Four of the second
the Mighty video)
A vibrating stream of tears coursing down a character's cheeks, as opposed
to animating several individual teardrops (the overly emotional Soun Tendo
in the Ranma 1/2 OAV series)
An alarm goes off, and red light starts cycling on and off on everything
in the room. Elsewhere, the lights on a police car's roof cast a flickering
red and blue on its surroundings. Lightning flashes, illuminating a character
standing forlornly at a window. A car's headlights wash over a character
sitting on a bench as the car drives by. Light flickers on a character
standing by a torch or a campfire. Flashbulbs go off during a press conference.
Like the camera, it's quicker to animate a light than it is to
animate an entire character. Shadows and shading that change under dramatic
lighting conditions can (like the moving camera) impart a sense of change
and movement to the shot. When it comes to dramatic lighting, an anime
that you might want to study is Macross
Plus. There you'll find examples ranging from a holographic singer
who casts light onto her audience to the flashbulbs of the press.
The glitter of the sea; a wash of specular over inanimate objects;
the flash of a character's glasses. Specular highlights can enhance the
beauty of a shot (if you get the chance, study the animated gleam of Sharon
Apple's earrings after she sings "they look a-like" in the concert during
Part 2 of Macross
Plus). An animated band of specular can make metal or plastic look
showroom-new (the introduction of Damuramu's gleaming cyborg body in Dragon
Half comes to mind). They can even convey emotion (such as the
harsh, sharp flash of a stern teacher's glasses before she barks at Utena
early in the first episode of Revolutionary
While glittering objects (such as the sea or tears) might get
away with simple random cycling, most anime specular washes I've seen appear
to use actual character animation techniques (ease-in at the edge, cover
most of the area for a single frame, ease-out at the opposite edge). The
best way to duplicate the effect of a specular wash (such as Sharon Apple's
earrings or Utena's teacher's glasses) is to study the real thing. Toss
your favorite anime into the DVD player or VCR and start studying its specular
Cutting Animation with Held Cels and Moving Holds
Sometimes, in anime, a character will strike a pose on-camera...and
then hold that pose for a long number of seconds, with a minimum amount
of animation (if any) before striking another pose. Mai Shiranui's taunts
to Hauer before attacking him outside the temple in Fatal
Fury -- the Motion Picture come to mind.
If you conceal a character's mouth, you won't have to animate that
character's lip-synch. Done well, it can look dramatic. Conceal the mouth
Hide-the-Feet (added 7-18-02)
Having the speaker's back face the camera (thus focusing the audience's
eyes on the listener. You can animate the listener to react to the speaker's
words, but you're still spared the challenge of lip-synch).
Having the speaker talk while he or she is off-screen (again, the sole
character animation on the screen could be that of the listener reacting
to the speaker's words...or it could even be non-character animations/stills
of the background).
Angling the camera so that whatever the speaker is holding or wearing will
conceal his or her mouth (Rei's schedule book in Neon
Genesis Evangelion; Mai Shiranui's fan in Fatal
Fury -- the Motion Picture; Isamu Dyson's helmet from specific
angles in Macross
Plus; Wedding Peach's bouquet of roses when she wears her wedding
dress in Legendary Love Angel Wedding Peach)
Angle the camera so that only the upper half of the character's face is
seen (Rosario telling the king his plan in Part One of Dragon
Pose the character so that a limb conceals the mouth (Wedding Peach's dramatic
opening pose when dressed in her fighter angel outfit in Legendary Love
Angel Wedding Peach)
One of my teachers, Jim Franzen, pointed this one out to me. If the
character walks, runs or moves in the shot, but the character's feet are
not visible in the shot, the animator will not have to worry about "foot
slide." This can save time when animating an action scene for a shot. Examples:
showing walking characters only from the waist-up (many anime TV shows);
showing a kickboxing match mostly from the ankles up (Fatal
Fury -- the Motion Picture). If you have some action shots
where the character's feet convincingly interact with the ground or floor,
the audience might not question several action shots where the character's
feet are not shown.
The bulk of most anime TV shows that I have seen. Anime films and OAV
series often rely on them as well. Often used for background characters
and even (a case of comics technique?) entire crowds.
It takes skill to tell a story with a series of still (or mostly
still) pictures, which is what makes good storyboards so essential. If
the story fails in the storyboard stage, developing it into a finished
animation won't make it any better.
For a better understanding of how to tell a story with sequential
images, I suggest reading Scott McCloud's Understanding
Comics. Though written for a totally different medium, Chapter
Two gave me insights into character design, and Chapter Three made me more
aware of how much stuff could happen between panels ("between shots"/"off-screen").
Comics also compares and contrasts the Western approach to art
vs. the Eastern approach to art -- useful for understanding a bit more
about anime storytelling.