Literature / The Animator's Survival Kit

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"I want this book to put over what I have found to be the best working methods, so that animating becomes better and easier to do. There are lots of formulas, principles, cliches and devices here to help, but the main thing I want to pass on is a way of thinking about animation in order to free the mind to do the best work possible. I learned it from the best in the business and I've boiled it all down into a systematic working order. It transformed my work - I hope it will be useful to you."
Richard Williams, in the introduction.

The Animator's Survival Kit is a critically acclaimed animation book and DVD set made by master animator Richard Williams, the animation director of Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the creator of The Thief and the Cobbler. The book is a culmination of more than 30 years of research and experience, full of invaluable technical information on animation, not so much about how to draw it as to how to move the stuff. As such, the book has recieved excellent praise from those in the industry.

An Expanded Edition of the book was released in 2009, and it also exists as an expensive live class, as a 16-DVD set selling for US$1,000, and an iPad app that basically condenses both for a much more affordable price of 35$.

Tropes:

  • Animation Bump: Richard's book is intended to allow animators to do this on their own whim. The promo CD that comes with the book also has a very impressively animated sequence, which Richard claims took around a year to make!
  • Berserk Button: In the "Unplug" lesson, Richard sets off Milt Kahl by asking him whether he listens to music while drawing.
    Richard: "Milt, do you ever listen to classical music while you're working?"
    Milt: "OF ALL THE S-S-S-STUPID GOD-GOD-GOD-DAMNED QUESTIONS I-I-I-I'VE EVER HEARD! I-I-I-I- NEVER HEARD SUCH A-A-A-F-F-F-F-STUPID QUESTION! IY-IY-IY-IY-I'M NOT SMART ENOUGH TO THINK OF MORE THAN ONE THING AT A TIME!"
    Richard (cowering): "I won't do it any more...."
  • Broad Strokes: At the time he was writing the book, Richard wanted to move on the devastating loss of his film The Thief and the Cobbler, so the book makes no direct mention of the film or its production. Key word here is direct—Richard did sneak in at least two allusions to the film's existence. The first is mentioning working with Vincent Price on an unspecified project, and the caricature of him included is a dead ringer for Zigzag, the character Price played in the film. The second allusion to the film is recycling an actual scene of animation from the film, of the Old Witch running. Ironically, Richard said in a 2013 interview that writing the book allowed him to make peace with the troubled history of Thief and be content with the workprint edit of the film.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Richard's response to common animation mistakes tend to border on being snide remarks.
  • Expy: One of the characters in the cover image is a clear one for Jessica Rabbit.
  • Furries Are Easier to Draw: Richard quotes Roger Rabbit animator Robert Graves "Epitaph of an Unfortunate Animator" on how this resulted in him [Graves] falling into formula drawing, pointing out that working in cartoons makes it very easy for an artist to slide into formula, and that it also proves a point about why drawing from life is so important.
    "He found a formula for drawing comic rabbits:
    This formula for drawing comic rabbits paid.
    Till in the end he could not change the tragic habits
    This formula for drawing comic rabbits made."
  • Gag Penis: Somewhat featured by his demonstration of a male walk compared to a female walk.
  • Hilariously Abusive Apprenticeship - a few anecdotes about his early career are accompanied by cartoons in which the his Na´ve Newcomer Author Avatar is personally chewed out or otherwise put through Training from Hell by his mentors, some of the great early masters of animation.
  • History of Animation: Williams gives a quick rundown of it early in the book.
  • Impossible Hourglass Figure: Despite demonstrating a perfect knowledge of anatomy, damn does he love his implausibly proportioned women!
  • Lazy Artist: Discouraged; Williams makes a great point early in the book that fundamental drawing skills, particularly life drawing and anatomy knowledge, are imperative for any aspiring animator to learn.
  • Mickey Mousing:
    • The book directly refers to this at one point, and actually explains why it's such a beloved trope among animators: like music, most animation is plotted out in multiples of 4, or more rarely multiples of 3 like a waltz. Syncing animation with music, therefore, provides a set of predetermined, aesthetically pleasing divisions to base keyframes off of, while also providing interesting changeups in the form of subdivided eighth and sixteenth notes to guide more intricate animations.
    • The animated version of the book's logo (for which it can be watched here) plays this straight as the music syncs with each character's actions as they move in place to perform a choreographed walk cycle.
  • New Media Are Evil - Averted. Unlike some members of the old guard of animation, he's quick to point out that animating on a computer isn't that different from animating on paper, and introduces its own unique challenges at the same time that it solves some of the problems that plagued traditional animators. He mentions a colleague who described his transition from traditional to digital as learning to "animate with a microwave", a sentiment many digital artists will be familiar with.
  • NSFW: Downplayed. Some of the images in his book are nude pictures, but of the life study variety. None of them are outright explicit, and are downright modest compared to those found in devoted anatomy books.
  • Off Like a Shot: There's an example about how characters can anticipate running with this pose and then instantly disappear offscreen, leaving only a dust cloud or similar behind.
  • Old Shame: Subverted meta-example; while one would get the impression Williams deliberately left out any mention of Thief and the Cobbler was because he wanted to forget about it, he ironically said that writing the book finally allowed him to make peace with his work.
  • Rotoscoping: Discouraged by Williams in the book, claiming that live action footage should only be studied enough to where human animation can be done on your own, instead of falling back on it as a crutch.
  • Rubber Hose Limbs: Discussed, in that it explains this technique of animation, but it also explains how to get flexibility in limbs without literally bending them like noodles. The dachshund of the book's logo was revealed in the animated version of said logo to have a stretchy middle-body when he tried to get inline with the rest of the characters, much to his embarrassment.
  • Shown Their Work: William's book is unmatched in how knowledgeable it is about animation articulation.
  • Silly Walk: Williams goes at length on how to take a basic walk cycle and play around with the various parts to create some interesting actions. He describes the trope as the fundamental key to all other animation- once you can animate a clean walk, anything else becomes easy.
  • Stock Footage: Some animation of the witch from The Thief and the Cobbler is reused.
  • The Twelve Principles of Animation: Gives very specific advice on how some of the principles work. It even mentions The Illusion of Life at one point.
  • You Are Not Ready: During Williams' initial visits to the Disney studio, he was turned down the offer to work; while he was able to adequately draw the stock Disney cartoon characters, his lack of a real life drawing background and drawing fundamentals precluded his chance to work there. A storyman recommended him to learn to draw well first, and that he could always learn to animate later. After his early attempts at life drawing led him to studying Albrecht Durer, Richard put animation off to the side for years and became a painter and illustrator.

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