The top five list of...uh...lists.

In a lot of ways, animation school is very much a frou-frou "build your own education" sort of experience, and although faculty may push you toward one direction or another, you can always just claim to be a 2D guy and only touch Maya for the required classes, or vice versa. 

However, all that aside, I think there's a handful of "commandments" that every animator should learn verbatim. People have memorized far greater quantities of info, and therefore I don't think there's a good excuse for spending three years at school and not learning these by heart. (Although I admit, if you put me on the spot I might fall short of reciting everything perfect...)

So, without further ado, here's my top 5 list of lists! 

1. Disney's twelve principles of animation. Ideally, one should know the complexities and intricacies of the twelve principles, and although animation varies greatly based off of experience, passion, talent,  and resources, generally one thing instantly sets bad animation apart from good animation. In bad animation, it's usually not that you're using a principle poorly; you're not using it at all! 

2. Blake Snyder's 4 elements of a logline (taken from his book "Save the Cat!") As Pixar says and everyone parrots, animation is all about story. Similarly, story is all about the logline. If you can't tell me a story in one sentence, it's a crappy story. In case you don't have his book (although you should definitely buy it), his four elements are...
1. Irony (Peter Sellers' "Being There" is an excellent example: a mentally handicapped dude rises to national politics.)
2. A Compelling mental picture. I think the two key elements of this step are first, a protagonist, and second, a complete story arc. 
3. Audience and cost. A lot of this lines up with Disney's "appeal" principle, and arguably cost determines how much of #1-#11 you can afford. 
4. A killer title. 

3. At least one of several story beat methods, which include Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet (also in "Save the Cat"), or for a less screenplay-focused model, any number of the "Monomyth" structures, better known as the Hero's Journey. Several of these formulas are described in the wikipedia monomyth page, and I frequently use a version provided by Stephen Glover, but it's generally the same: you have to hit certain story notes in a certain chronology, or else it's just a series of vignettes. 

4. Andrew Loomis' four steps for informal composition, as highlighted in "Creative Illustration." Okay, maybe this one's a bit of a stretch, but I think it's desperately important for one main reason: knowing this method means that Artist's Block is pretty much unheard of. Once again, I think this is a detailed abstraction of a Disney Principle (Staging), and it's important to start seeing everything as composition. I remember making thumbnails as a freshmen, and I couldn't see the forest for the trees. I would make my first mini design, then just draw fairly identical versions of it. But Andrew Loomis' method is a brilliant staple of drawing; you throw down some abstract lines, it makes abstract shapes, you fit your concept into the abstraction, and you get a dynamic and surprising new composition every time.

5. Andrew Loomis' four essential principles of tone, also in "Creative Illustration." Light is a science, not an art; it becomes art in how we interpret its inalienable properties, and Andrew Loomis provides the exact foundation for you to jump off of. Additionally, read his exerpt from Howard Pyle, who Loomis was building off of. I've heard variations of these principles from a number of artists, but as far as an empirical printed form, here's where to go.  Another analysis of these principles is to break down tone into their five categories: Halftone, Highlight, Core Shadow, Cast Shadow, Reflected Light. The best illustrators I've learned from (including Dave Ehlert and Bruce Sharp) generally teach to some version of this formula. 

So there you go. And I think it's worth noting that, even though I'm more technically oriented than traditionally oriented, none of these concern a computer program. Curious, eh? I think there's a number of other lists that didn't make the cut (for instance, uh, every chapter outline Loomis EVER had), but these are the essentials I try to keep within arm's reach of my computer chair. 

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