10 tips for creating better animation

From Arcade Studio's character design for Joy Agency and Nugit's rebranding

Bold, bright, exaggerated 3D animation is work of designer, illustrator and animator Jean-Pierre Le Roux, the founder of Arcade Studio in South Africa’s sunny Cape Town. He gives his top 10 tips on how to create animation.

Jean-Pierre and his newly founded studio create smooth animation of whimsical characters for a host of brands, including Coca Cola, Starbucks and the NBA. The studio also works for agencies including Arnold, Translation and 72andSunny LA, focusing on design, motion and illustration.

His animation of unsuccessful fitness freaks, Santas with VR headsets on, and music-loving stereotypes capture the essence of human emotion and personality in its highs and lows, with beautiful, swift and comical dramatisation. Not to mention the insanely bright colour palette.

Jean-Pierre shares 10 animation tips any animator – or aspiring animator – need to know, including learning to draw, becoming friends with the curve editor and keeping it simple.

For more tips on animation, check out how to create animation that looks hand-drawn, drawing tips from Disney animators, creating logo animation, or 20 groundbreaking 3D animation techniques.

Arcade Studio worked with Statefarm and the NBA on social media GIFs for the 2017 Playoffs

Reference and Research

Animation is described as "the state of being alive". Our brains are finely tuned into what looks natural and organic as we see motion in people, animals and inanimate objects like cars, these are things we see and subconsciously observe in our everyday lives.

If something is off in the way it moves, it may have a tendency to look really odd.

Reference and the study of motion is a must when starting out with animation. Books like The Illusion of Life and The Animator’s Survival Kit are essential to learning the techniques developed by the fathers of cartoon animation.

Part of Arcade's editorial illustrations created for a Men's Health article about 'hereditary fat genes'

Learn to Draw

Planning your animation is extremely important, given the tight timelines and deadlines we work with these days.

Learning to draw even at an amateur level can help save time and improve the quality of your animation by leaps and bounds.

Plotting out strong key poses are essential to animating with expression and giving character and life to your animation.

Animate like the old days

Before computers became a crutch to make animation simpler, animators used to draw out and colour every single frame by hand.

Arcade Studio

In film, there are 24 frames in one second of film, you can imagine the immense amount of work. With this they would use the lead animators to draw out the key (storytelling) poses, then the more junior animators would fill in the breakdown poses (which go between key poses).

I have found that this technique is still the best way to get good results quickly. If you’re working in 3D software, switch your key framing to stepped mode and lay down your key poses, then go in and add breakdowns between.

Block it

Blocking is an easy way to see a visual idea of what the animation will be. Laying down Key poses and breakdowns, then breakdowns between those breakdowns, all done in stepped mode, will give you a nice choppy visual idea of what your final animation could be.

This will also help with client reviews to show something that can easily be changed if required without spending days getting it as smooth as possible only to have gruelling feedback requests.

Timing and spacing

These are important factors in adding life to your motion, knowing when things should be snappy and quick, or slow and smooth, are all figured out using timing and spacing. This is most commonly figured out in the blocking phase.

Working your keys out on the timeline, closer together creating faster movements and further apart being slower.

Arcade Studio

Use the principles

The animation principles have been around for ages, and for good reason. The original Disney animators figured these principles out in the early 1900s and they are still the most important guidelines you will ever use in your work.

Using as many of them as possible will guarantee your work will look more natural and alive.

Exaggeration adds life

At Arcade we take this next tip seriously, in fact, this is probably one of the more important animation principles.

Part of a 'Workout Fail' series, with CG design and animation by Jean-Pierre

Depending on the style of animation you’re working in, exaggeration can add so much more to just duplicating reality, a simple human walk for instance, duplicating a regular person can seem dull and uninteresting to look at, but exaggerating the walk will give it style and life.

The curve editor is your friend

When working in a 3D application, many people are afraid of the unknown monster that is the curve editor, but the curve editor is such an important tool to cleaning up your animation after the blocking phase.

Tightening up easing between your poses and keyframes, smoothing out kinks and guiding your controllers in the correct manner. You cannot get around it so you may as well learn and get comfortable with the ol’ curve editor.

Arcade Studio

Find a third-party render plugin

Having a nicely animated piece of work is great, but if your render looks bad, it drags the overall quality of the animation down.

Find and learn a 3rd party render plugin for whichever 3d software you’re working in. There are tons of great options. The stock renderers are usually not good enough.

Keep it simple

This is something we all struggle with, keeping it simple. Our brains are so complex that we can easily get ahead of ourselves and go off on a tangent trying to create a feature film when all you need is a walk so to speak.

When you’re planning out your work or you’re stuck on an idea, whatever the situation is, remember to go back to basics and keep it simple.

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