There are three mistakes that amateur animators do, and if you spot them in videos from YouTube, then you know the animator is a beginner, so don’t be so hard on them. But be warned, people who make mistakes don’t know they are doing them, and nobody is telling them, so, how would you know if you are doing things correctly?
Only Action with no Anticipation or Aftermath
Taking the example of the amateurish animators posting videos on YouTube, have you noticed the problem has to do with the unnatural movement of the characters? That happens because there is no anticipation or aftermath
For example, a martial artist throwing a punch while training. You can think of three key poses: clenched fists in guard position, then the “punching arm” extended, then back to the original position. That’s what the amateur has in mind. A veteran imagines the guard position, then the elbow going back to prepare the punch (anticipation), then the arm extended (action), then the arm going back with the elbow up (aftermath), and finally the character returns to the guard position, breathing slowly. Do you see the natural flow happening all around?
Approach every action by thinking of its anticipation and aftermath. How do you prepare for that action and what do you do after it?
Let’s face it, when you see the timeline full of keyframes you feel proud of yourself, because right in front of you is all the hard work with millions of keyframes. Well, guess what? A timeline cluttered with a lot of keyframes can harm your animation.
The problem is not the cluttered timeline itself, think about it, if you need to make adjustments, you are going to go through hell and back, making little adjustments to every keyframe. A bigger problem would be that cluttered timelines usually lead to unnatural movement: Jerky knees, trembling elbows or weird vibrations of the head, to name a few.
The unnatural movement is generated when you make an adjustment to the movement of the character by adding keyframes to change the rhythm. For example, if you have a character picking up a box, maybe you need the character to take a little longer to extend the arm, then move a little faster to pick up the box. You can either use more keyframes (easy, but risky), or adjust the interpolation curves (harder but safer and more natural).
Interpolation curves are the answer to the natural flow of movement. The best timelines are the ones that have fewer keyframes and a lot of movement of the character. It takes time but it pays off, especially when you go back to make adjustments. For example, instead of trying to alter 5 keyframes, you only have to change one pose (one keyframe) and you are done.
Have this in mind at all times: A good curve can defeat an army of keyframes.
Impulsive Animation, No References
Amateurs are the best practitioners of impulsive animation. “Yeah! Finally, after all the preparation I can just go for it and bring my character to life!” Sounds familiar? I know how tempting it is to just go head and start animating, but the best way to approach it, is by having references.
What references do professional animators use when working on big projects? Short answer: Anything that moves. It can be a leaf floating in the air, a facial expression, a walk style, anything, even tiny details.
If you check any behind the scenes of any animation you will see that animators often do field work, like getting a camera to record nature, people walking or just record themselves doing silly actions.
The trick is that if you are willing to do it, references are the secret ingredient to get the perfect number of frames needed for the anticipation, the action and aftermath.
Try it out, if you have an action in mind, record a reference first, and try to imitate it with your animation. Do you want a tip? Search on YouTube for “Animation References for <action>” and you will get what you need. Trust me, it will be worth it.