Key Elements of Successful Character Animation

Key Elements of Successful Character Animation
Written by Steph Greenberg

Stage 1: There’s nothing about a character’s movement that makes you (or other people if you’re not picky enough) sit up and say, “There’s something wrong with the way it moves.”

This would include animation that’s too stiff, has too few keyframes and looks like it’s occurring under water, moon walking (feet sliding), poses that make no sense, etc. You must be long past just doing walk cycles and such to get to that point. Also it would include breaking symmetry, so the exact same action or facial expression isn’t mirrored on the other side of the character. This just screams “COMPUTER”, which is a bad thing.

Stage 2: Characters must act. Show emotion, facial expression that conveys the internal thinking of the character without the character having to say a word.

The body language should also be demonstrating a character’s state of mind. Are they lazy, aggressive, do they have a limp, a backache? If they were trying to be threatening, would another character be threatened? If they do talk, are they convincing?

Stage 3: The character must have an absolutely unique and identifiable personality.

Subject the character to the “Twin” or “Brain Switch” test. You have two identical characters. You should be able to tell if you were looking at the good character or the bad character, even in silhouette. Or the smart brother or dumb brother. Trickier still would be the evil character doing his best to pose as the good character, and he’s *almost* there but just not quite.

The characters in Toy Story would all pass this test. Buzz in Woody’s body? Think you couldn’t spot that. Or Woody in Buzz’s. Or Rex in Buzz’s.

In live action I’ll give you an example: in the TV show “Taxi”, Andy Kaufman’s character, Latka, had an alter ego called “Vic Ferrari”. When he changed without saying a word, you could tell. When “Vic” was trying to return to Latka, he tried acting like him, and you could tell he just couldn’t quite get it.

Ask yourself, “How often have I seen this in computer animation?”

If you want to really call yourself good, *Stage 3* is the bar you have to achieve. I would presume it’s the bar that the various large traditional animation studios require you to reach before you can even be called an “animator”.

As for myself? Working on it as best I can. Not there yet consistently.

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