“Animation is different from other parts. Its language is the language of caricature. Our most difficult job was to develop the cartoon's unnatural but seemingly natural anatomy for humans and animals.”Walt Disney
There are a vast amount of animation techniques out there that can help animators work faster and more efficiently, all while creating characters that look incredibly lifelike.
As a freelance animator, you’re likely well aware that clients are impressed by animation that imitates real life almost perfectly, and you’re probably constantly striving to make your work meet the high demands the industry is setting these days.
One vital tool you might be missing is animation timing charts. They are a nifty tool when it comes to timing characters’ and objects’ movements just right and creating that lifelike look.
If you think timing charts are outdated, think again. There’s a reason they’re still around, and you might be surprised how much the quality of your work improves once you start using them.
In this blog post, we’ll explore animation timing charts and dive into all the ways you can perfect them for your own animation projects.
What Is an Animation Timing Chart?
Movement is what makes animation come alive, and in order to make it look as lifelike as possible, animators need to plan sequences meticulously.
Executing believable, lifelike movement requires some proper planning, and this is where animation timing charts come in. Timing charts do exactly what the term describes: It helps animators time the movement of their animations to a T.
This is done by drawing simple charts that indicate the timing of the smaller, less noticeable movements that take place between key movements. With the help of timing charts, animators can plan how fast or slow a movement takes place and get the timing just right to make it look believable.
Animation timing charts play an essential part when animators use a technique called in-betweening. One of the most fundamental animation techniques, inbetweening focuses on what happens between two main movements, and timing charts help fill in the blanks.
Why Is It Important to Perfect Animation Timing Charts?
Many freelance animators who solely animate using animation software find timing charts to be less crucial in their workflow. However, many animators still advocate for the use of timing charts because it’s such an effective tool for planning movement sequences.
It Helps Animators Create Seamless Movement Sequences
In a TVPaint forum, various animators discussed the value of timing charts, with one saying that animation timing charts are incredibly valuable when it comes to planning movement sequences where in-betweening is required.
Even Eric Goldberg, who animated for Disney, is a fan of animation timing charts. According to him, this method helps him figure out and plan the order of his drawings as well as the speed of various movement sequences (and if the guys at Disney think using animation timing charts is a good idea, you should probably consider mastering it too).
Another animator on the forum praised animation timing charts for helping them improve their inbetweening technique, saying, “Just taking the time to THINK about how the spacing is going to go has led to a reduction in guesswork and fewer drawings that need to be redone or thrown out.”
It’s Invaluable When You Work with a Team
Another animator added that animation timing charts work great when you’re working with a team since these charts are a universal language all animators can understand. This helps team members work together seamlessly, even if someone else originally created the movement sequence.
Know the Fundamentals of Animation Timing Charts
In order to create useful animation timing charts, you need to understand the basics first. Timing charts are built on key drawings and in-between drawings, which will eventually be translated to movement sequences.
Key drawings, sometimes also referred to as extremes or key poses (when you work with 3D animation), serve as the skeleton of an animation timing chart. Key drawings are the poses or images that mark the beginning and end of a movement sequence and are placed on either side of the timing chart.
Inbetween drawings fill the gaps between key poses to create a full-fledged movement sequence. This takes up the most time and is responsible for the lifelike end result people see on screen. The type of animation timing chart will determine the number of in-between drawings as well as the speed at which they progress.
Image via Clip Studio
Animators working in a team usually have specific people working on drawing the in-between drawings — they’re usually referred to as in-betweeners, and animation timing charts are vital tools to help them do their work.
Practice Different Animation Timing Charts
As mentioned previously, there are various types of animation timing charts. The type of chart you use will be determined by the movement sequence you want to create.
This is one of the simplest animation timing charts and consists of simply placing an in-between image right in the middle of two key poses or extremes.
Image via Parkland.edu
This type of animation chart has two inbetweens, each placed a third from the first, and the last key poses. This chart is usually helpful when creating evenly-paced movement sequences.
Image via Parkland.edu
This is where things get interesting. Animation timing charts containing favors allow animators to play around with how a character or object moves in a certain space. Favors help animators create more creative movement sequences that look more realistic.
Favors can be defined as inbetweens that are strategically placed closer to the beginning or end of a key pose to create an easing in or easing out movement. This ensures that movement sequences look more natural and not mechanical.
Image via Parkland.edu
This is sometimes referred to as cushioning. This takes a bit of practice since animators need to use their own judgment when it comes to adding favors to an animation timing chart. The more you practice it, the easier it will become.
Favors can be used with any animation timing chart, and you can choose where in the chart you’d like to incorporate them.
1/4's, 1/8's, 1/16's
This type of animation timing chart is used to indicate very small increments in movement.
Image via Parkland.edu
The smaller the increments, the slower the movement sequence will be. This is another way to create lifelike movements and is an excellent method to help animators plan them out.
Practice Using Animation Timing Charts to Define Objects in Motion
Animation timing charts’ primary purpose is to ensure that objects and characters move in a way that’s believable, while also making animators’ work a lot less complicated.
The timing chart you choose will depend on the movement you want to create. There are two types of movement: organic movement and mechanical movement, and each has its place in animation.
This type of movement will require more complex animation timing charts and requires animators to use techniques like favors to create more natural-looking movements.
Gif via Gifer
Easing in and out is important, as well as combining spacing between images to create sequences that look as natural as possible. 1percussus1 has an excellent video on his YouTube channel that explains this concept pretty well.
This refers to very simple movements, like a forward and backward motion, where an object moves at the same speed constantly.
Think of a car driving on a long stretch of road or a character using a saw to cut wood. The movement is linear and straightforward. In this case, the use of favors won’t be necessary unless the car comes to a stop or the character ends up sawing slower as they progress.
Why Perfecting Animation Timing Charts are Important
Practicing animation timing charts will help you to create quality animations for your clients, which will help you attract more business in the long run.
Animation timing charts might seem a bit tedious, but they can be invaluable when it comes to timing keyframes, making sure lip-syncing is on point, and switching between 2D and 3D animation.
Using Animation Timing Charts to Improve the Timing of Keyframes
Animation timing charts can help you improve the timing of keyframes, which, in turn, will produce realistic movement sequences. Animating sequences that move too slowly or way too fast will look unrealistic and unprofessional.
Using animation timing charts can help you plan and create sequences that are appealing while also abiding by the laws of physics.
Keyframes need images in between to successfully complete movement sequences, and timing charts have been helping animators to do just that for decades.
Using Animation Timing Charts to Improve Lip Syncing
Lip-syncing, like most aspects of animation, is all about timing. Once again, animation timing charts can help you sync up the movement of characters’ lips with the audio. Using a timing chart can help you plan the movement of the characters’ lips from the moment they open their mouth to the moment they close them.
When working on lip-syncing, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to animate every syllable. Focus on the places in the dialogue where your character’s mouth would open naturally and simply blend over the other syllables. Again, timing charts can be helpful when it comes to this step in the animation process.
Using Animation Timing Charts to Create Hybrid Characters
Another perk of using animation timing charts is that they can be a helpful tool when you want to create characters that have both 2D and 3D elements.
Drawing timing charts to map out the character’s movement will help whoever needs to add the 3D elements to see exactly where the keyframes should be placed as well as the spacing that needs to be used. This can really speed up the workflow for these kinds of projects.
Using other methods might work to some extent, but animation timing charts are the best way to prevent hybrid characters from moving in unrealistic ways.
Why Animation Timing Charts Still Play a Vital Role Today
Animation timing charts might be seen as outdated by some, but they still play a vital role in creating quality animations to this day.
The key to perfecting animation timing charts is to practice them regularly and then animate the movements as you mapped them out so you can identify any errors and try again.
Animation timing charts’ main purpose is to ensure animated characters and objects move in a way that is realistic and believable.
Timing charts are invaluable when it comes to timing keyframes, lip-syncing, and creating hybrid characters and are, thus, a vital tool every freelance animator should utilize.
Speaking of which, if you’re a freelance animator looking to level up your business but simply don’t know where to start, our Animation Accelerator program can help you do just that.
Not ready for that yet? Check out our free masterclass and marketing handbook. And if you’re about to build your business from scratch, take a look at our blog post on everything you need to start an animation studio.