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Submitted on
November 9, 2011


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In my last journal I mentioned the strange effect of seeing super cartoony flat characters moving around in a hyper realistic world. There's actually a name for this, it's call the "masking effect" and it was quite elaborately detailed by Scott McCloud in his book "understanding comics."

In comics, frequently the main characters are portrayed as cartoony and simple, while backgrounds often get very detailed. The basic concept is pretty simple. The more cartoony a character is drawn, the more appealing and relatable it is to us as we can more easily imagine ourselves in the role. The more realistic something is, the less of a personal connection you have to it. This is why villains tend to be drawn more realistically, and heros more cartoony. But it goes beyond just the characters... the environment also is affected.

If a person in a cartoon picks up a sword and starts swinging it around, the sword becomes an extension of their body and since it's animated, it becomes a drawn thing which needs to be simplified. If the character stops to look at the sword, suddenly the extreme detail will become apparent and the sword will look less cartoony. In animation this is more or less a result of the fact an actual animator has to draw it all by hand, but I think the concept works very well. It's also one of the few things we've lost with the advent of digital animation.

In previous movies, if a character had to open the door or drink a cup of tea, the door and cup would be drawn by hand. Now with computers, we don't have to draw all those details and can animated 3-D objects with painted textures to marry them more with the backgrounds, which I feel is a loss of that sense of the object becoming an extension of the character. In certain scenes it would be easy to tell what objects were going to be moved simply because they had to be hand drawn and thus stand out from the backgrounds. Now with the advent of computer animation that can actually lead to some surprises, but I personally feel the hand drawn element makes things much more personal and I am saddened by it's loss in films today.

It also feels a bit like cheating to me. Go watch the movie Porco Rosso, in which all of the airplanes were drawn by hand. To me that's a beautiful craft and it really says a lot about the studio for being able to spend so much time making the planes move so gorgeously frame by frame. If that movie was done today, there's no doubt the planes would be computer animated, and it wouldn't have the same personal feeling to it. And no, I'm sorry but throwing a cel-shading filter effect over it doesn't compensate.

Moving on to frame rates...
In the west we like to fool ourselves into believing that we actually DO draw and animate at 24 fps. In actuality it's a bit more technical than that...

Film runs at 24 frames per second constantly, so that doesn't change. What does change is the number of frames used to animated a character. In most Disney movies the animation is done at 12 frames per second, which means that for every 2 frames of film, there is a change in the artwork. The exceptions to this rule are when you need a character to move fast, or when the camera is moving. The camera always moves at 24 fps, resulting in nice smooth pans. If a character is running or moving fast, the animation is often done at the same speed, resulting in nice smooth movements.

Holds are when an animation cel is "held" for multiple frames. In limited animation, this is a godsend because it allows for cheaper production by holding on a pose, while only the mouth or eyes move. Anime, which tends to be very cheap, uses the same procedure. Frequently a character will hold a pose while their mouthes flap. Sometimes this can go on for a long time, alternating between a couple minute poses to keep things from falling too flat. You very rarely see this style of animation in Disney films (with the exception of some early experimentation in the 50's and 60's), though you will see it frequently on TV shows due to budget constraints.

The reasoning is obvious. If an animator had to draw every single frame, it would take forever to finish. Shorthands had to be found to make the work load easier, and holds are one of them. This is also why I sometimes cringe at the idea of calling Anime full Animation, because frequently there really ISN'T much animation at all. Even in highly respected movies like the Studio Ghibli ones, while the animation is spectacular, there are still lots of holds, mouth flats, and a VERY slow frame rate. Depending on the type of action, Ghibli films can often run as slow as 3 frames a second... though I think the actual frame rate is more closer towards 8.

One of the few exceptions to these rules is "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" which was animated at 24 fps not because it was the best choice, but kinda because they HAD to. Since every frame of live action film is different, Roger Rabbit was animated at 24 fps to make sure both the animation and the action were in synch with each other, otherwise a strange staccato effect might be perceived. This was also a bit source of it budget woes and deadline issues, since the added amount of animation work and technical problems made things more difficult.

This is also one of the main reasons why (when I was in college for animation) I kind had issues with Anime. So many students were obsessed with anime they'd make these elaborate storylines but have extraordinarily limited animation. They thought they were being so creative... but then baulked when they got failing grades on their assignments. And yeah, the real reason behind that is because they were supposed to be learning about animation and they weren't actually "animating" anything other than mouth flaps. It's really hard to teach about weight and squash and stretch, when most Anime don't even have that.

Speaking of mouth flaps, that's another key difference between western and eastern productions. For westerners, the audio comes first. We record all the audio and then animate TO that audio. In Japan, it's almost universally the opposite. The characters are animated first with generic mouth flaps, and THEN the audio is dubbed over it. So when we see mouth movements that don't match up in english, the Japanese are also seeing the same thing in their own native language. I'm not entirely sure why they do it this way, or how they know how long to have the mouths flap for each scene... but it's very infrequent that they animate to the audio the way we do. Also, due to the language, mouths tend to be left open at the end of sentences which can cause some problems for dubbing into other languages.

Now, I shouldn't have to say this but not everything I talked about should be treated as fact, the right way, or the only way. A lot of what I wrote is opinion based (with some facts for reference) and should be treated as such. I speak broadly and of course there are ALWAYS exceptions.

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HopelessComposer Featured By Owner Jun 20, 2013
You don't have any idea what the fuck you're talking about. ='D
KkoolTteok Featured By Owner Jun 4, 2013
Really good read. I think that the mouth flapping, recording sound after animation is done and other cost-cutting measures Japanese use come from anime's roots in low budget animations made by people who were not animators. I heard that in his early days as an animation director, Tezuka was hiring comic artists and whatnot who knew nothing about animation, so he simplified the work for them to make animation as close to drawing static pictures as possible, hence mouth flapping from open to closed, very few inbetweens almost to the point that the anime looks choppy, and super detailed character designs.
Of course the amount and quality of talent available in Japan has grown leaps and bounds since then, but there are a few cost cutting measures that stick around more for legacy and hard-to-break habit than anything (the only reason I can think of why the peeps at Ghibli can animate a gorgeous, complex fight scene, then screw up making a mouth do anything more than flap like a fish's when someone's talking. Either they're specifically not caring about certain facets of animation, or they're learning how to win Gold at the Olympic track and field before learning how to crawl, lol).

One good thing about this is that the vast majority of TV anime are very cheap in cost, so theoretically there's a lot more money to go towards more productions, rather than drop a load of cash on a few series. That is one thing I dislike about American TV animation, much (maybe most) of it is paid for by TV networks, rather than animation studios themselves. These TV networks want the animations that will make them back the most money, often meaning shows with both wide appeal and storylines that can potentially go on forever. So we get a disproportionately large amount of certain genres (comedy for one) and resetting or very long stories. I doubt a show meant to tell its story in just 13 episodes would get picked up by a network quickly, because it has less market potential for the network than something eternally reusable. Of course Japan has these too, but TV anime that don't appeal to wide audiences are much more common.
81Scorp Featured By Owner Feb 11, 2013  Hobbyist
Speaking of animations: Here are 2 of mine! And by "2 of mine" I mean these are the only ones I´ve done so far.
carpenoctem410 Featured By Owner Jan 8, 2012  Student General Artist
Some comments are so hateful, I can't even believe it -.-
And I also don't know why so many people hate rotoscoping so much. Yes of COURSE free animation is harder and the animators should have all our respect, but also, it isn't like those animators that do rotoscoping couldn't draw those movements that they "trace" freely as well. It saves time and is more realistic. Movies are about budget as well.
You know, when I look at Disney movies like Fantasia, the elements like water drops, fire, ice etc. almost make me cry because I can clearly see the effort the animator has had to draw this frame by frame. It's so beautiful that I really don't care about it being rotoscoped or not.
I also ask myself if people who don't like rotoscoping hate motion capturing as well.

I'm quite sure you know about this one, but in my opinion it's one of the best examples for rotoscoping being art, too: [link]
malta Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
Just piping in to agree that I also miss the old days of animation, when you could indeed spot what items were going to move because they didn't look painted like the rest of the backgrounds did. I think it used to bug me slightly as a child, but I've come to like it far more growing up. The backgrounds, even though they are beautifully painted, are sometimes a bit flat, and those little cel shaded objects seem almost alive in comparison.

Have you also noticed how in anime series, once you get a few episodes in and reach the point where the studio was starting to run out of budjet, the animation gets even MORE static and repetitive, with more scenes that are back and forths between several characters 'mouth flapping'. As much as I enjoy the stories in a lot of animes, they really only have about 5 different expressions and sets of movements. Older western cartoons had so much movement and expression, I think I'd describe the toons as elastic.

Do you know what kind of paint Disney would use on their backgrounds? I know Ghibli uses Nicker Poster Paints (which aren't available outside of Japan or Korea. Yay.) I'm currently experimenting with a mix of watercolours, liquitex acrylics and warhammer paints :D much fun!
MidNightMagnificent Featured By Owner Nov 22, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I think rotoscoping is just an awesome way of animating, and the old ways of doing so is very charming.

This video of one of Alan Parson's songs, "Don't Answer Me" is one of my all-time favourites, and I still find the whole thing to be insanely charming.


Rotoscoping, right? It's very nice. And despite all the hyper realism of animated movies nowadays, they just don't hold a candle to the old stuff.
Cuttlefisher Featured By Owner Nov 17, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Your art is possibly the most god awful thing I've ever seen. You act like an expert on art, yet you draw these unfunny cartoons, with a bland, uninspiring art style. The hypocrisy you display actually makes me ill.

Please, learn some humility, although im fairy sure you'll just delete this because "hurr durr he said im not purrfuct!!"
Chickah-Dee Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2011  Student Traditional Artist
^ thank you, I'm glad someone said it!
SuperSpongeNova Featured By Owner Nov 17, 2011
How in the Hell can you support rotoscoping? You sound like such an uneducated person, rotoscoping is literally tracing, only in massive amounts. It's tracing! It doesn't matter how nice or what medium or the method it's done in it is, it's tracing, it's not drawing!
Good god, man, I want to be able to say "aw leave Preston alone, he's getting a bad rap," but you sure come off with some pretty wonky arguments. People draw digitally, and there are a lot of us digital illustrators that believe in using actual skill we work on than relying on cheap tricks, which I'm hoping is the cause of your aversion to it. Either way, man, rotoscoping. Lamest animation form.
carpenoctem410 Featured By Owner Jan 8, 2012  Student General Artist
How about rotoscoping being a way to cooperate with different types of artists? Like, musician, dancer and animator? And there's always a way for the artist to get their own style into the rotoscoped sequences :)
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