If you have even the slightest interest in working in the field of animation, you’ve probably heard of The Animator’s Survival Kit.
Since achieving what then(and still now to me honestly) seemed the impossible with the flawless meshing of live-action and animation in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, author Richard Williams has been seen by many as one of the last torchbearers for the techniques pioneered by those early master animators who worked on those countless now-classic animated theatrical shorts.
It makes perfect sense then that The Animator’s Survival Kit would become thought of by many animators in the industry to be required reading for anyone looking to get into animation.
Let’s find out what makes this book so special to so many animators out there and dive right in.
- Format: Paperback, Hardcover
- Author: Richard Williams
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Edition: 4th Edition
- Original Published: 2001
- Edition Published: 2012
- Page Number: 392 pages
- Book Dimensions: 9.4 x 1.0 x 10.9 in
- Languages: English
- ISBN-10: 086547897X
- ISBN-13: 978-0865478978
It’s All In The Timing
The Animator’s Survival Kit opens with author Richard Williams giving us an overview of animation from Winsor McCay’s 1914 short film Gertie the Dinosaur up to the current-day animated shows we now see all over television.
After a brief overview of Williams’ life in the animation industry and several lessons he learned from veteran animators of the golden age, we’re given our first exercise.
I think most people will find the introduction of this book to be very interesting(especially considering they’re reading a book on animation) but one could always skip ahead a few pages if they wanted to get to the real meat of the book.
This is about as beginner as you can get with animation. The bouncing ball exercise has been the first thing apprentice animators have learned for years and Williams explains why.
As shown in the picture above, you’re learning the basic tenants of animation in this simple exercise: timing and spacing.
Of course there are other things you must learn to truly become a master(you didn’t think it was that easy, did you?) but it’s an invaluable thing to learn and certainly helped me begin to understand how to correctly begin to animate!
You can really feel yourself learning after just this first exercise and each exercise serves as a new lesson learned to look back on when the next exercise comes around.
The Animator’s Survival Kit really drives home that it want for you to learn the fundamentals like the old guys did.
This can be good or bad depending on what approach you like, but I personally loved it.
Seeing the diagram above for the first time was great because I not only got a helpful tool for dealing with spacing, it’s also a look into how animators used to handle this same problem before computers were around.
And the best part is a lot of people still make those little charts next to their drawings when animating on a computer! I guess these old guys really stumbled onto something that not even a computer can replace.
Knowing The Character
Richard Williams states in this book that animators are like actors who use their pencils to give their performance. Just think about that for a moment.
An animator needs to convince an audience that the drawings they’ve created are alive and have a personality. If an animator isn’t skilled enough the audience won’t buy the performance; just like an actor!
This is why The Animator’s Survival Kit stresses so strongly that you need to know the character to be able to animate them correctly.
Everything from the way a character’s eyes are shaped to their posture gives the audience different cues on what the personality of a character is.
But then the question arises: How exactly do you choose the right set of characteristics for a character?
What The Animator’s Survival Kit really does well is give many visual examples to accompany each lesson.
It’s actually a great cheat-sheet for when you’re actually out there animating because there’s a visual guide for almost every concept introduced in the book.
There many examples given of characteristics that give the impression of certain things: dumb, smart, cute, ugly, brutish. Of course these are directly related to cartooning but people interested in other styles of animation can get something out of this as well.
Williams says that a great animator needs to have a good knowledge of anatomy because without that not only will you not know how to exaggerate the figure, you also won’t know how it’s supposed to move either.
I came out of The Animator’s Survival Kit with a new understanding of character in the context of animation that I believe will serve me very well in the future.
You won’t be able to animate your own Bugs Bunny cartoon after reading The Animator’s Survival Kit; that comes with practice.
What you will be able to do is actually begin working towards the goal of becoming that good!
The Animator’s Survival Kit is a priceless source of knowledge for any aspiring animator looking for the absolute fundamentals for learning how to classically animate, but computer animators will get something out of it too.
Richard Williams starts off slow with the classic bouncing ball exercise and continues to build on each lesson in a way that isn’t overwhelming or confusing.
Sprinkled throughout are little tips and tricks gained from old animation masters Williams met and learned from throughout the years, as well as numerous stories relating to the same subject.
The Animator’s Survival Kit stresses that animators need to be like actors who use their pencils to give a performance.
You need to understand the character you’re animating to give a convincing performance to the audience.
The book teaches you how to do this with countless visual aids and clear instructions.
What’s great about this is that you can always go back and use the visuals as a cheat-sheet whenever you find yourself confused about something.
I mentioned in the introduction that many animators in the industry considered The Animator’s Survival Kit to be required reading and I can now safely say I wholeheartedly agree.