"Any time you design a character for a Disney picture, especially a fairy tale, it's going to become the definitive design for that character, so you don't want to hack something out. You need to put in the kind of care it warrants if it's going to live in history."Glen Keane, Animator, The Little Mermaid.
Animation is a powerful tool for creatively expressing and communicating new ideas, and creating a believable animated character is one of the biggest challenges to animation quality. Whether in film, television, or cartoons, our world is full of animation, making it vital for freelance animators to put their best foot forward to remain competitive.
Using the basic principles of animation, freelance animators give characters a sense of identity and bring them to life, but how can they improve their animation quality? This blog offers professional tips and ways to improve animation quality for freelance animators.
We have been fascinated by art and motion since humanity first began to creep across the surface of the Earth. By positioning the limbs on their animal sketches, early cave drawings demonstrate how even prehistoric animators attempted to create the illusion of movement.
When the motion picture camera was not yet a thing in the 1800s, Eadweard Muybridge used photographs taken sequentially to analyze the movements of people and animals. These examples show the continuous gains in improving animation quality over the years.
Tips for Freelance Animators to Improve Animation Quality
1. Research the Psychology of Movement
One of the most effective ways freelance animators can imitate or simulate human behavior is to understand a person's movements, not only the actions but the intentions provoking the actions.
Therefore, animators should spend some time researching acting and their animated characters to improve animation quality naturally. How? Acting helps freelancers understand the actual thought process of the animated characters and helps them gain a clear picture of everything. Eventually, this clarity reflects in the animation quality of realistic characters.
2. Study Real-life Characters
Observing people, how they interact and express themselves, and how they move around is essential for freelance animators to gain a solid understanding of motion and timing and weight in improving animation quality.
The subtle nuances of bringing life to an inanimate object can help freelance animators convey a sense of emotion and give a true feeling of consideration behind each movement. Research can be going out, grabbing a coffee, and observing the world.
3. Seek Real-world References
Freelance animators should have something solid to refer to when animating the face, its expressions, and every other tiny action relating to animation quality in its movements. A freelance animator can use their face as a reference to recreate key facial expressions as a starting point to work.
GIF via Gifer
4. Keep a Simple Rig
Animating successfully in 3D requires more than a freelance animator's creativity and talent; most of their animation's seamlessness relies heavily on the rig used, which needs to be specific to the animator's needs for the animation quality they intend to produce.
An unprofessional rig is easily accessible and could be accidentally edited, resulting in a broken rig. The best rigs pick up the characters and move them around without contending with complicated systems or constant technical checks.
5. Start With Key Poses
Seeing a bundle of polygons or clay come to life with emotion is truly rewarding, but that doesn't mean freelance animators should rush ahead. Working on one area at a time hinders animation quality by not seeing the bigger picture, possibly resulting in the sequence not being as composite or natural as it should be.
Following a layering system ensures the freelance animator does not waste precious time. The first layer can be quick poses at specific frames to get a feel of timing. Then once done, the animator can repeat the process, adding more and more detail with each new pass.
6. Eyes Are the Lead
To achieve fluid animation quality, freelance animators should realize that each intentional movement has a particular sequence. For instance, the eyes move first before the rest of the body; that is, the eyeballs move in the way they desire to go, then the head moves next, and then the neck, and continues along the body until ultimately facing the direction of their attention.
7. Check the Effects of Gravity
Gravity affects us all unless in space. Understanding the maths of this gravitational pull combined with physical mass is crucial for freelance animators to capture movements practically for animation quality. Animators should remember to apply weight to their animations.
8. Time Movements
Time governs the world, and people operate according to the same time system. However, time is in the animator's control where animation quality is concerned. Applying it out of sequence can disorganize the assets and scene and give viewers the wrong impression. Happier movements are often quick and sharp; they can help add exaggeration. Slower movements, on the contrary, can show the character is feeling down or hurt.
9. Keep Character Balance
The center of gravity is a significant element to bring into the animation quality topic. One of the first things babies learn is how to take the first steps. Doing this is not a walk in the park, as it takes strength and balance. With each step, a baby learns to shift their center of gravity to ensure they don't fall.
Freelance animators should impose the same phenomenon on their characters to shift their center of gravity to maintain balance while they move and populate the layout and environment.
10. Recycle Rough Animations
This tip works when freelance animators animate in the virtual world, but it is efficient to hold basic animations and keep a healthy reserve of them. Animators can bring those into a scene when working on new characters and get a head start.
After applying this base movement with all the primary poses and keyframes in place, animators can commit more time to adjust timing, weight, and animation style to suit the personality of a particular character.
11. Make Use of a Basic Model
When freelance animators work with the broad movement of a character, they should hold back on using a high-resolution model and instead animate with a simpler proxy model to realize animation quality efficiently.
GIF via Blender Artists
Manipulating a high-res model can strain an animator's system when the model must move with a skeleton or other intricate deformers. The proxy model can be a simpler character version, allowing an animator to work fluidly on the main movement areas before bringing back the high-detail model for finer detailing.
12. Anticipate, Act, React
Every significant movement consists of three main areas. Considering a simple leap as an example, Anticipation is observable when the character first bends to build up power, Action occurs during the jump and landing, and Reaction is the momentum pushing the character forward.
13. Offset the Keys
Achieving the natural flow of an element dragging behind an animated character, like a tail, can be tricky—the root remains set to the pelvis while the motion has to follow through to the tip like a wave.
Animating the base and copying this animation to the rest of the joints to give them all the same action is a quick way to achieve animation quality with this movement. An animator can then edit and shift the keyframes on each joint to delay the initial act on the higher joints and produce a wave-like motion.
14. Imitate Human Speech
When animating the mouth and face of a character, freelance animators shouldn’t include every letter of the word they say; this creates an erratic mouth movement.
Improve Animation Quality For Freelance Animators Made Easy
Grasping how to improve animation quality for freelance animators is not easy, especially without the millions of dollars Walt Disney or Harry Potter are willing to invest in the process.
Here are some methods freelance animators can use to determine an animated video's quality and improve animation quality:
An uninteresting storyline detracts from the immersive visual experience viewers expect to see.
Despite having top-notch graphics and animation quality, a noisy and fuzzy voice can ruin a video. Be sure to have an ideal voice in mind that will breathe life into your animation characters with the appropriate tone, pitch, and tempo.
Combining creativity and uniqueness produces stunning graphics that give your video a desirable element.
The layout, fluid scene transitions, voice-over that matches the visuals, colors, and other factors affect animation quality.
Technical and editorial mistakes may arise, so an animation quality test to minimize errors is recommendable.
The key to detecting all possible mistakes is focusing entirely on the task at hand. Noise-canceling headphones are excellent for blocking noise, enabling animators to give all their attention to animation quality.
Freelance animators can spend hours scanning a video and miss errors. Taking a break and reviewing it with fresh eyes can help spot issues previously missed. Significant color variations in the image, out-of-focus shots, or anything else unfitting are things to observe.
An animator should watch the video numerous times to ensure that any alterations do not affect its overall flow.
Have a System
A clearly defined system in place is the best method to avoid errors in animation quality; this could be as simple as a flowchart or checklist listing the parts that require quality assurance.
Best Ways to Improve Animation Quality for Freelance Animators
More than the 14 ways to improve animation quality for freelance animators mentioned in this blog, the Business of Animation aims to reinforce the understanding of what makes an animation withstand the test of time as new leaps in the industry are constant. These tips primarily pertain to 3D, but animators can apply them to more physical genres.
Our inspiring blog, “How to Start an Animation Studio,” helps freelance animators maneuver their careers and grow their businesses. They can also watch our free masterclass to get their foot in the door to a life of creative prosperity.
Freelance animators and studio owners can take full advantage of our experience and join the Animation Business Accelerator to make six to seven figures, despite lacking experience, money, or clients. Animators should also download a copy of our free marketing handbook to discover the only 3 ways of attracting new animation clients using 22 proven marketing hacks.