Character Animation

Part 1: Preproduction

The learning goals for this assignment are to gain experience in animation preproduction planning and animating characters, strengthen timing skills by working with two different styles of motion and explore two 2D techniques: drawn animation and cut-outs with articulated puppets.

The following is designed for people in the program new to analog animation techniques.  Those of you with previous experience should add another element such as animating to sound, combining the two techniques in one shot on the multiplane, adding a sequence of rotoscoping, animating all three character designs, combining your animation with another person’s, etc).

In this assignment you will animate two of the three character designs you created.  One must be the “pure animal.”  Choose the second from the other two.  You will animate using two techniques; choose which design you want to animate in a drawn sequence and which you want to animate using cut-out articulated puppets and replacement parts.

Preproduction storyboards, keyframes and cut-out artwork are due in workshop Tuesday of week 5 (May 1st).

Preproduction Process:

Put all of your preproduction work in your Animal Book.

Design a short sequence (10 seconds minimum) that features the “pure animal” design in a simple but relatively realistic behavior that is based on your observations of your individual animal.  Draw a series of “thumbnail” frames that show how this sequence will go and what key frames it will involve.  Estimate in seconds the amount of time each thumbnail frame represents.  To develop the timing, act out the behavior as best you can, taking note of the duration of each part in seconds.

Decide whether this first sequence would best be animated in drawings or using cut-outs.  One thing to think about is that rapid, whole body motions with several changes in viewing perspective might be easier to animate as drawn sequences, while more static behaviors would be simpler to animate using cut-outs.  Similarly, flexible bodies that exhibit a lot of squash or stretch might be better expressed by the “plasmaticness” of drawn animation.

The second short sequence should show the same behavior but using exaggerated or stylized motion depending on the character design you use.  For example, if you use the traditional character design you might want to represent the original behavior in a more cartoon-like way or anthropomorphize it.  If you use a Cartoon Modern or idiosyncratic design, you might want to abstract the behavior and motions or otherwise stylize it.

Draw a series of “thumbnail” frames that show how this second sequence will go and what key frames it will involve.  Estimate in seconds the amount of time each thumbnail frame represents.

If the first sequence is to be drawn then the second sequence should be cut-out.  If the first sequence is to be cut-out, then the second sequence should be drawn.

For the drawn sequence: draw all the keyframes onto animation punched paper (use 16# bond available, in the bookstore, or another suitable paper).  Estimate the number of drawings you will need between each pair of keyframes based on how long you think that part of the motion should take.  Put the keyframes in a file folder and bring them to class on May 1st.

For the cut-out sequence, design the articulated puppet and replacement parts based on what your storyboard requires.  Estimate the size of the frame to be about 12” x 10” and make sure that the artwork fits within that size.  Consider what kind of background you want and design it to slightly exceed that size so the edges of the artwork don’t show inside the frame.  Bring completed puppet and background art to class on May 1st.

Part 2:  Production

Animate the two sequences you have planned out.  Each should be a minimum of 10 seconds in length.  Both are due in the Orca workspace Character Animation folder by 9 am, Thursday, May 17th.

Workflow, assuming you have storyboards and keyframes complete from Part 1:

  • Book time to shoot so you know when you need to have the artwork completed.  You may want to team up with another person to shoot the cut-out animation so you have someone to focus on the computer and keyboard while you manipulate the artwork.
  • Shooting the drawn sequence will take relatively little time-less than an hour-while shooting the cut-out/puppet sequence will take much longer.  It will take at least 4 hours to shoot both sequences.
  • For the drawn sequence, animate the figure as gesture drawings first, starting with your keyframes.  Test sequences on the lunchbox frequently.  Don’t put in details until the general movements and timing looks right.
  • If using dynamic holds and/or cycles, write down how many times you need to shoot those drawings; you can create a list, aka dope sheet or exposure sheet to follow when shooting.
  • After all your drawn animation is complete, then consider what minimum of detail or inked lines you want to add.  For consistency’s sake, add one element at a time, working through the entire sequence, before adding a second.
  • If you want to add color, use it sparingly.  Prioritize the most important color by adding it first throughout the whole sequence.  Then apply the second color, then the third.  Do not use more than 3 colors!  You’ll regret the workload.


  • Use the same aspect ratio for both sequences.
  • You can shoot the two sequences separately so you have two distinct movies, or one right after the other so you end up with one movie consisting of both sequences.

Things to think about before shooting:

  • Test all artwork on the lunchbox.
  • Bring your storyboards and any notes to yourself with your artwork into the lab.
  • In the cut-out sequences, tape down backgrounds and any artwork that is supposed to remain static.

After shooting, save the first sequence as [your name] and the second one as [your name]  If combining them into one movie, just save it as [your name]CA.move.

Check both by playing them from within Quicktime.  Then copy both to the Character Animation folder in our workspace on Orca.  Do this by 9 am, Thursday May 17th.

Finally, copy all your Dragon files to your cubby.  It’s likely that you’ll need them when you assemble elements for your eBestiary page.

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