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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 received 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.


  • 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!
  • Broad Strokes: At the time he was writing the book, Richard wanted to move on past 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.
  • Comical Overreacting: 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?
    Richard: (cowering) I won't do it any more....
  • Complexity Addiction: Williams notes that he and his animators often gave their drawings complicated numbers before American animators taught them to use a simpler numbering system. He gives a brief anecdote about the British love of complexity.
    "My years in England taught me that the English just love complexity. A very brilliant friend, who is a top Oxford mathematician, called me up and said, 'We're about to penetrate your principality.' I said, 'you mean you're coming to visit?' 'Indeed.' 'Wow! You just used nine syllables to say what a North American would say in two! Vi-sit.'"
  • Deadpan Snarker: Richard's response to common animation mistakes tend to border on being snide remarks.
  • Demon Head: The drawing of Milt Kahl screaming at Williams gives him an enormous head.
  • 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!
  • Inflating Body Gag: One sequence shows the classic "character blows into a balloon only for the air to come back and inflate the character" gag.
  • 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.
  • Line Boil: Williams discusses how badly-made in-between frames can create uncontrolled "wobbling" or "frying" in the animation. He mentions that when he was doing commercials at UPA's London studio, his assistant would change the shape of the character's eyes on his inbetween drawings, causing a distracting wobble.
  • 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 (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 with which many digital artists will be familiar.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Stick Figure Animation: Most of the examples in the book and videos use simple stick figures so the mechanics are nice and clear and the reader/viewer isn't distracted by a lot of detail.
  • 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 Walt Disney Animation Studios, 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 story artist recommended that he 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.