“Computers do not create computer animation any more than a pencil creates pencil animation. What creates computer animation is the artist.”John Lasseter, Director, Skydance Animation
In our work as animators, we build worlds, narratives, and characters to inspire and invoke action—whether it be a brave story, an appealing advertisement, or an informative explainer video. The elements of animation are crucial for creating unique and captivating animations but also to help improve your freelance career and your proficiency as an animator.
In this blog, we cover the best animation elements freelance animators need for their businesses and hone the critical skills necessary to run a successful freelance career in animation.
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Primarily including the 12 principles, animation elements involve more, including your client pitching, equipment, and processes along the production pipeline.
The elements of animation are the most crucial techniques you must master as an animator. Created in the 1930s and first introduced in The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation by pioneers Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, these twelve principles adhere to the laws of physics and account for emotions and appeal.
12 Elements of Animation Useful to Every Animator
Although initially created for pencil sketching, the same principles hold for digital animation. For making beautiful and realistic characters, they ought to be your ultimate guide to mastering the sketching, scripting, and accuracy of your animated visual productions.
Squash and Stretch
Volume and flexibility help create an illusion of the character's elasticity. This element is highly present in animation films and feature films using realistic characters.
This element of animation prepares viewers for the primary action the character intends to do—this motion is preparation or anticipation. Practically all natural movements, to a greater or lesser degree, contain suspense.
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Poses and actions, arrangement of cameras, backgrounds, and stage elements should demonstrate a story’s attitude story and plotline’s continuity. In addition, effective use of close-ups, medium and master shots, and camera angles, help to narrate the story.
The animation background should neither direct viewers from the animated film nor distract their attention with too many details. As such, the foreground, character, and environment should complement each other in storytelling.
Straight Ahead Action and Pose to Pose
The straight-ahead animation element helps achieve more spontaneity but takes work to control its duration. It is often used in hand-drawn animation to create quick chaotic scenes. Pose-to-pose is more planned with clearly arranged key pictures or poses throughout the scene. This method means better control of the character's size, volume, proportions, and actions.
GIF by Dreamworks via Giphy
Follow Through and Overlapping Action
When looking at a running squirrel, it is easily noticeable that its tail reminds us of the wave motion. Besides, when the squirrel's body goes down, the tip of its tail goes up. This example demonstrates what an overlapping action is.
Technically, follow-through motion happens when one or several body parts have stopped, and the rest of the body is still in motion. However, practically only some things come to a stop at the same time.
GIF by Rafaela Gomes via Dribbble
Slow-in and Slow-out
This animation element rests on the fact that nothing moves with constant speed. Drawing pictures during the beginning and end of an action to produce more realistic movements describes the slow-in and slow-out effects.
Imagine an animated character on a bicycle. The bicycle speeds up from 0 to 40 miles per hour and decelerates upon reaching its destination. Animators must capture this delicate detail in their animated videos to resemble natural motion.
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Motions of all living beings (people, animals, objects, etc.) and many other phenomena do not happen in straight lines but in arcs. Imagine a pendulum; its motion reflects an exact arc. Pay attention to how you move your feet. Your foot makes an arc motion to step.
Secondary actions complement and intensify the principal activity or distract and direct the viewer's attention to other acts, thus enriching the animation and making it more appealing and solid. Secondary actions can become main actions by switching the viewers' attention from the main activity.
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Timing is the number of frames animators use to demonstrate an action or movement; fewer frames result in sharper and quicker motions, and adding more frames results in smoother and slower motions.
Timing is in charge not only of speed but also of size, weight, and even the character's temper. Imagine how long does it take for an ant and an elephant to make a move? The time is different, precisely describing the timing effect.
Animation is limitless and allows showing things as we want them to be from reality. Utilizing the animation element of exaggeration can achieve grander expression, precision, and more dynamic poses and motions. For example, let us consider a boxing punch.
In animation, the motion of a character swinging needs to be more dynamic and appealing than it would naturally. Another example of exaggeration is when the character turns three-quarters of a circle during a swing.
GIF by Gifer
Solid Drawing and Solid Posing
Your character poses shall be clear and expressive, and the silhouette easily read. The animator's responsibility is sticking to clear shapes, monitoring the center of gravity, and evenly distributing the weight of the animation. Poses should clearly express a character's thoughts, intentions, conditions, and feelings.
All character animations should be appealing, whether heroes, villains, mammoths, dinosaurs, or an object or referring to their nature, background, and behavior; appeal makes the viewer feel that the character is real and exciting.
Viewers more readily accept and understand appealing characters; they show them empathy. Even a little mouse may be so adorable that it becomes a legend — a Mickey Mouse.
GIF by Juks_Fanterisen via Tenor
The twelve principles of animation establish a basis for the elements of animation. In addition, the details in the context of motion capture serve as a guide for analyzing motion data.
How to Use Elements of Animation in Motion Capture
Pacing and impact: This element can be related to musical tempo. Pacing can interpret timing, whereas impact can connect to a collision.
Action reaction: Newton’s relativity theory states that every action has an exact and opposite reaction. This element is derived from anticipation.
Rhythm and Line of Action: A character’s line of action outlines the dynamic proportion of character poses by defining the strength of the pose.
Paths of action: The principles of squash and stretch and arcs are critical components for showing paths of action.
Spatial relationship: This element closely relates to the timing of the spacing that eventually creates ease-in & ease-out and overlapping actions.
Accents: These are drastic situational expressions of body actions. Accents can also signal a change in the timing and other relationships to describe the effects of weight and recoil or squash and stretch.
Cycles: The animation element can be classified as repetitive actions within a motion series that form behavioral patterns, for example, walk and run motions.
Postures: This mainly portrays appeal.
The take: Consider this animation element as a freeze-frame of anticipated action. Exaggeration can be applied to a take as well.
Balance and imbalance: Symmetrical balance is an equal distribution of weight. Asymmetrical balance refers to an unequal distribution of weight.
Weight, mass, and gravity: Timing is significant for showing weight, mass, and gravity.
Image by Amanda Mastroberti via Pinterest
Further to honing the mentioned animation elements is putting them to use. As a freelance animator, you must pitch yourself to prospective clients to find work, which is always challenging, but not with a pitch bible. We discuss the elements of an animation pitch bible below.
Animation Elements Freelance Animators Need to Pitch Clients
An animation pitch bible contains the project information and all your ideas in an easy-to-digest format and accurately describes the look and feel of the project.
The logline accurately describes the project and serves as a teaser for potential clients. Usually, the logline contains a few sentences or paragraphs describing the project's essence and objectives. The logline should be precise and straightforward and consider the client's curiosity and imagination.
The executive overview gives a more detailed retelling of the plot. Instead of a few sentences, the executive summary can take up to around one and a half pages to give the animation client more information and what makes them important to the overall plan.
The characters section decides on the medium that will appear in the animation project. As an animator, you should list all the main characters and minor and supporting characters. Aside from character descriptions, it is also essential to include sample sketches of your project's characters.
GIF via GIFER
The setting is as important as the characters and the story, giving you a chance to explain what makes the animation layout unique to the project. In addition, you can discuss how the setting affects the character assets.
Sometimes, the set can come first in an animation pitch bible before showcasing your characters. However, it may be better to explain the background to give clients a better idea of the characters.
The synopsis discusses the overarching plot in a few paragraphs. Then, it discusses the setup, project depth, character actions, and more.
If the animation project consists of multiple episodes, you must write a synopsis for each episode and show how the story progresses through each part. Synopses should have a beginning, middle, and end, including significant plots and turning points to show how the plot moves toward the end goal of the animation project.
GIF by Iliketurtlegamer via Tenor
Your animation clients receive several animation pitches and are looking to work with the animator that presents the best pitch and business acumen. If this is the case, if your pitch gets chosen by the animation client, it would be best to provide a way for them to contact you. Ensure you include your contact information in your pitch bible.
These are excellent ways to provide more depth and sweetness to the animation pitch. They have character model sheets, concept art for props and clothing, and other concept art for the setting. Aside from showcasing the project's uniqueness, they help set the animation project's tone, genre, and personality.
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Suppose your animation freelance work or business is not taking off as you had hoped. In that case, you may need a website to get yourself skyrocketing into the animation community.
Helpful Animation Elements All Freelance Animators Need
There are many options of preference for the best animation elements freelance animators need. Look for the mix that works for you, including understanding animation principles, client pitching, and marketing yourself.
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