During the final day of a principals of animation class in my youth the projects had been turned in, watched, and critiqued. But the clock still didn’t quite say it was time to leave. So our professor asked if anyone had any final questions. I took that moment to ask a simple but powerful one: What secrets can you tell us that you’ve learned over the years?

Like any good animator when asked such a question, his eyes lit up and we enjoyed 30 minutes of exciting tricks to take to heart. Here is one of them:

If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to see it, should it still be well animated?
(The answer of course is yes, and here’s how to do it!)

Much of animation is about FEEL. That can be tricky to understand sometimes, but essentially it means you can add little bits to your work that no one will ever truly “see” (it will be on screen for barely 1/24th of a second, perhaps) but the audience will FEEL.

In this example, we take a look at a falling tree. Maybe the tree is old and a gust of wind has finally tipped the scale, or perhaps an aspiring lumberjack has come along for some extra firewood to get him through a cold winter. Whichever the case, that old pine is coming down, and quick! Let’s take a look at the keys to describe this action: (Note – the style is kept as simple and bland as possible to stress the movement, not the art.)

Above are the most basic images we can make to tell this story. Much more could be added to give it even more depth, but we’ll leave that for many other Secret of Animation entries.

Using a few of the Principals of Animation, we could breakdown and in-between this sequence with the following result:

That, moving, would end up looking like this:

[quicktime width=”550″ height=”400″]http://www.animatorisland.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/treefall01.mov[/quicktime]

Not too shabby! It certainly gets the story across, and that’s our #1 goal as animators.

BUT could it be better? You bet it could!

The secret shared during that final class is a simple change to the inbetweens, but makes a HUGE difference in terms of feeling. All you have to do is add some tree hip-action.


In reality, a big strong tree like this would never bend quite so much (maybe if it were a rubber tree, har har) but in animation we are trying to do BETTER than reality. Often times that means pushing a frame past what might be “normal” if we saw it in image form, because when it’s sandwiched between two other drawings and playing quickly, it ends up working better than ever. Here’s a look at this second version with more feel:

[quicktime width=”550″ height=”400″]http://www.animatorisland.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/treefall02.mov[/quicktime]

As you can see (or perhaps NOT see, in motion!) this version gives a lot more impact to the movement, and makes you really feel like that tree is crashing to the ground.

Where else might this be used? The possibilities are endless.

This secret of animation could be applied in many different situations, from a tree falling to a character passing out and much, much more. Once it’s added to your repertoire there will be no limit to the places you’ll find it useful! And when you come up with a good use in practice, why not drop us a line and share?

Until then, keep animating!

[vimeo width=”550″ height=”400″]http://vimeo.com/32148004[/vimeo]


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