Demystifying 9 Aspects of Animation
During these uncertain times people look to video to get their information and entertainment, and in a climate where shooting live-action is out of the question, we are seeing an increase in demand for animation.
The lack of creative boundaries and hypnotising aesthetics of a well crafted animation can engage an audience more so than the multitude of other mediums out there. This cascades through industry, whether that be entertainment or health, because it is so successful at doing the simple, yet paramount things – like connecting with us, the consumer.
Animation’s ubiquitous nature and an audience constantly consuming video has, naturally, had an impact on how we absorb information, but also on what we expect from creators. That is what Edward Perryer, one of our resident animators/ editors at Element 26 delved into when I sat down with him for an interview on the topic.
Ed has been working in animation for the best part of a decade, from stop-motion shorts and corporate explainer videos, to closing titles on a recently released feature-length horror film. In this telling and rather honest chat, we discuss today’s clients’ wants and needs, how to get into the industry, and delve into how difficult it really is to animate… spoiler alert: VERY difficult!
“So the first thing is the client usually gives us the criteria… in that brief they’ll have visual references and an idea of a story and we’ll sort of collate together all the pieces of information, and ideas will just start popping out of that.
And once you’ve got your ideas and you start sending these ideas and storylines to the client, the client then decides which one they like and we go from there. Then we start the animating and then we finish that with lots of feedback… and then to final delivery. That’s it in a nutshell.”
Ed continues to stress the importance of collaboration with the client, “As much as we can, because remember we are trying to get their vision, and their dream essentially.” On the other hand, being a creative working alongside a client with a non-creative background can throw up some challenges.
Perhaps surprisingly, Ed takes a rather interesting approach to collaboration, a sense of DIS-ownership, which helps him get the clients vision onto the screen. He does this by managing to keep an emotional distance from the work meaning he keeps intact the clients vision.
“I usually think of it like it’s not my piece of work, even though I’m doing it, it’s not my creative idea. I’m doing it for the client. I’m trying to get what they have in their mind out… to make it more fun for myself, I’ll do some wacky ideas as well as some straightforward ideas.
So the clients can choose. We can feel out how far creatively they want it to go, but at the end of the day I don’t really mind being like, ‘right, let’s scrap that idea, scrap that idea’. Because it’s always their vision that we’re trying to get down.”
Ed also delves into the types of animation jobs he has been commissioned to do more recently, without going into too much detail – don’t worry, no more spoilers here! Animation is a pathway in which you can not only show, but also tell, helping drastically increase user engagement and therefore allowing more time for other important aspects of your business.
STAT: 93% of businesses who use video believe that it has increased user understanding of their product or service whilst 36% of businesses believe that they’ve received less support queries as a result.
When asked whether he believes clients and the general public underestimate the time it takes to create even a short, simple animation, Ed simply exclaimed “Yes… definitely.” Although he later explained that it is not their fault, and that it is due to the ubiquitous nature of the beast that is at fault.
“It’s not a problem necessarily, but what happens is because everyone consumes so much visual media these days, they’re seeing animations and typographies and character animation constantly. It’s going through our minds all the time. Unless you’re in the industry, you don’t know how to do it. And how many hours it actually takes.
And because there’s so much of it, there’s a lot of competition with it, which basically means that people have to do better and better and better work. And your average consumer doesn’t know how much work goes into it, but sees so much of it, that they definitely know when it looks wrong.”
Ed continues by saying that the general public often undervalues a simple animation at times, because of it being part of our everyday. He goes on to say that animation’s omnipresence has made it so that most people can now tell when something is slightly off, which has an overall effect on the viewer’s experience, leading them to often dismiss the work. “So the criticisms can be harsh just because so many people consume media.
For example, people see Pixar and they go, ‘That’s what animation is. That’s the standard.’ That isn’t standard. That is far and beyond the mastery. That’s like going around the gallery and seeing a Van Gogh and being like ‘ah that’s just the standard painter”. The Uncanny Valley is a theory that you should look into for more information on this topic.
An integral aspect of animation is character design, something all artists struggle with at times, but when working with a client Ed takes inspiration from their words and ideas, collating with his team enough information and detail to design the characters from the story.
He continues with a recent example, explaining that he begins by creating the “most stereotypical version of the moods and traits of the character” but then begins to refine and develop aspects of the composition.
“There was a project we did recently about a ‘super branding agent’, like a Superman sort of thing. So the first thing we did was create something that was like an obvious Superman. Then you try and think of ways to refine it and make it slightly less obvious and slightly more interesting. And you give them features that are archetypical of that character, because people are familiar with those things.
If I did a lazy guy with unfitting clothes and say he’s a superhero, it wouldn’t really work with the consumer’s minds because that’s not what they are used to seeing. The hardest thing with characters is the artistic theme because that’s harder. We have to go through a lot of references and try a lot of different versions and colours and that takes a lot longer than actually just making a character.”
Each artist has their own stumbling blocks they come across when drawing, Ed’s is hands. He explains that there are numerous components and complexities to a hand that a normie like myself is ignorant of, but like our previous points covered regarding consumer expectation, we would be immediately aware of when done incorrectly. “…when it’s drawn right, people go, ‘Right, there you go, there’s your hand.’
If it’s drawn slightly wrong, we’re like, “I don’t like it. There’s something weird about it.” Even though it’s taken, let’s say their artists, ages to draw. Hands are one of the biggest things for that. And they’re used to gesticulate and they’re used to create the characters emotions and things like that. So they’re quite an important part.”
Feet also stop Ed in his tracks, pun definitely intended, whilst designing characters. He points out that perspective is incredibly difficult to get right, especially when you think that there are often parts of the body, like feet, that are at a different perspective, angle and depth of field.
Ed goes into further detail regarding the human eye, “…not just an eye, an eye is quite easy to draw, but eyes themselves, they show so much emotion. Any tiny tweak of an eye drawing can convey a massively different emotion that we take for granted. It’s almost like you’ve got to really learn the slight nuances in people’s faces, relearn all those to understand what emotion you’re trying to show.”
This makes sense to me. Trying to put human features onto a cartoon is more difficult because you’re trying to show something that maybe a normal human can show quite easily, but when you have something simplified, or on the other side of the spectrum, over the top, transferring these aspects can be difficult. “A classic example of that is when animators animate objects that don’t have eyes and noses, but they’re able to show the object’s emotions as human emotion, as if you animate a phone, chair or a lamp, like in Pixar.
Even though they don’t have eyes, you can show their emotions, through things. But as soon as you put eyes into it, that’s the part that people are actually concentrating on. So the eyes are really important.”
Being an animator is an incredibly busy role, right now he is working on a number of different projects, from character designs for a comic book and the company’s team, to designing the background for this very interview to be placed on. With these numerous projects comes deadlines, some sooner rather than later, and it is here that Ed opens up about how compromise is a common utility.
He explains that “There’s always an element of once you’ve finished something in the timeframe for the deadline, in your mind, you’re not necessarily finished. There’s always something more to smooth out or something in more detail to create or refine or… There’s always something.
I’ll never finish a project and go, yep, that’s absolutely perfect. But the timeframe didn’t allow me to refine and refine and refine.” The curse of a creative eh!
In these testing times, animation is as popular as ever, and with lockdowns in place all over the world it does give people time to hone particular skills. If you’re passionate about something you should dedicate your time to it, so now could be perfect for it.
But knowing where to start and how to get into animation can be difficult. Ed tells me that people should not worry about the technical side but should focus solely on creating content, whether that is for you or not does not matter at the beginning.
“Drawing is a good place to start. Illustration… or graphic design. But at university, we had a woman come in for my Master’s degree in animation, and she showed how she animated. All she had was the most basic things, and she did massive 10 minute long animations.
So really if you’re starting animation, you can actually just start animating anything. And her whole setup was the sketch pad, a camera, a light box and a pencil. She just simply had the most basic things. You can always start learning animation. I think 2D drawing animation is extremely difficult. If you’ve got even a slight understanding of that, then everything else comes a lot easier.”
For the past 2 and a half years Ed has been at Element 26, working on a multitude of production and animation work, developing his knowledge of the intricacies of the trade. He once told me that he grew up loving stop-motion works of art like Wallace and Gromit, Aardman Animation pieces like Creature Comforts and timeless cartoons like Tom & Jerry – these being the basis for inspiration and honing his skills.
So for someone looking to get into animation, Ed says there are no excuses not to animate. And for someone that needs animation in their life, you know who to contact!