How Fast Should You Animate?

Recently I’ve seen a lot of discussion between animators regarding how fast you should be animating. How many seconds per day need to be complete? What’s “normal” in the industry? Are you going too slow? Let’s step back and take a look to see if we can set the record straight.

First it’s important to understand that “animation” is a very broad term. If you’re attempting to do very limited Flash animation, you’re probably going to seem to produce work at cheetah-speeds compared to a frame by frame animator drawing by hand. Likewise some animators simply animate faster than others. That doesn’t make them better or worse, it is just how they work. And finally the actual SHOT you are animating is going to determine a lot as well. Is it simple, without much movement? Is the character performing an intense action with a huge amount of objects involved? On top of all that, there’s framerate to consider!

As long as we go into the discussion understanding that there are so many variables it’s nearly impossible to truly have a “normal speed,” we can start to compare the apples and oranges that are “how much animation in a particular amount of time.”

Ye Olden Days

Taking a look into the past, animation was once measured in feet. That’s because everything was done on actual film (no digital) and so instead of referring to individual frames regarding productivity, people just said “I managed 2 Feet of work this week.”

Feet of Film in Animation

A foot of film is equal to 16 frames. Since most animation for film runs at 24 frames per second, a foot of animation is over one second if on 2s, and under a second if done on 1s.

Editor’s Note: As Geoff points out in the comments, it is 16 frames regardless of if it’s on ones or twos. It would just be only 8 drawings if on 2s, vs. the full 16 drawings on ones. Thanks for the heads up, Geoff! Sorry I missed that.

In the earlier days of Disney Feature Animation, it was not uncommon for the animators to produce 3.75 feet of animation per day. That comes out to about 14 seconds of animation a week.

And that’s nothing compared to Disney’s FASTEST animators, who could blaze trails at 23-24 seconds of feature quality animation per week.

How does that compare to the current day and age, though? Surely with the technology we have now we go faster, right?

Animation Today

Truth be told, 14 seconds per week of film-quality animation is unheard of today. If asked to attempt that, most animators in the industry would laugh (or cry) and say it couldn’t be done. Today it’s not uncommon for feature animation (in 3D) to go at the pace of about 3-4 seconds of animation per week. A far cry from the 14 seconds that the Nine Old Men would churn out.

Meanwhile if you’re looking at direct-to-video film, it’s often in the 12-18 seconds per week range. Closer to the olden days of 14 second, but with a huge drop in quality by comparison. If you’ve ever seen a film produced direct to video, it can’t compare to the stuff that hits the big screen.

Emperor's New Groove vs. Kronk's New Groove

Side note: If you ever want something terrific to study, check out The Emperor’s New Groove directly compared to Kronk’s New Groove. The difference is staggering.

Television Animation varies a great deal, and also depends on where it’s being produced. In the US, some studios request their animators maintain around 25-30 seconds of animation a week, especially if it is limited style. That’s not particularly troublesome to do since limited animation has a large number of holds and focuses heavily on dialogue.

Game animation also varies a great deal, but speaking with a few folks at various studios it seems like “normal” ranges between 5-10 seconds per day, or 25-50 seconds a week. Something more important drops it down to 2-4 seconds a day, and during crunch time it can increase to 10-20.

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Variables Variables Everywhere

Again, everything above is based on such a variety of situations that it would be foolish to say there was a hard and fast rule about speed in which to animate. The biggest variable is going to always be quality. Quality will dictate your speed. Ferdinand and I once did a 48 hour animation competition together, and by the end we were producing 10 seconds of animation an hour! However the quality was rather terrible at that point. Such is a deadline of two days.

On the flip side, the Disney animators of days gone by could, and often did, sit for hours or even days at their desk contemplating a SINGLE FRAME. Keyframes are so important, as story-telling drawings, that no amount of time was set to make sure they were spot on. The poses of such frames required near-perfection, so rushing was not an option.

Time is ticking!

The final word is that speed really only matters “whence a deadline fast approacheth.” If you are working at a large studio that needs things done ASAP, you may have to work at a much higher rate (and lower quality) than if it’s a personal shot or short in front of you. And when it’s a personal short, don’t WORRY about speed. Focus instead on doing the absolute best animation you can. Because at the end of the day, it’s very similar to a quote by game designer Shigeru Miyamoto:

“A delayed game is eventually good, a bad game is bad forever.”

Delay if you must, but don’t sacrifice forever just to go fast.

So how slowly or quickly do YOU animate? Leave a comment below and share your stories of studio work, personal work, or any crazy deadlines that caused your normal speed to shoot through the roof!