There are two methodologies you can use to create animation. The first of these is known as Straight Ahead.
This is where you start at your first frame, then animate forwards through time one frame at a time until you get to the end of your shot. Straight Ahead offers spontaneity that can create fluid, fresh animations, which can be full of surprises. In some media, such as paint on glass, mixed media or stop-motion, Straight Ahead is more or less the only way to go.
There are several weaknesses to this approach: things can begin to wander; it can be hard to clean up or tweak; and you can miss timed marks.
This is where you create important key frames (sometimes known as ‘extremes’) that describe the whole action, then go back and create the frames between those key poses to fill out the action. Pose to Pose is a great method for achieving well-timed animation: you can get a sense for how your shot is coming together and make sure that your characters are where they’re supposed to be at the right times.
To the right, we have Remy going through 6 poses (reduced for simplicity), or keyframes, to convey the idea: 1) animation begins, 2) he smells the food, 3) turns to take, 4) smells the cheese, 5) opens mouth to bite and 6) closes down on deliciousness.
However, Pose to Pose also has its disadvantages. It can often come across as staged, and you’re less likely to come up with happy accidents along the way.
The most obvious way around the respective cons of these two methods is to derive a ‘combo’ approach. This way, you get the best of both worlds: the spontaneity and freshness of Straight Ahead and the planning and arrangement of Pose to Pose.
Or you might do a rough Straight Ahead run and see where it takes you – then go back, select poses from that run, and rework and re-time them.
Straight Ahead also works beautifully on secondary motion such as cloth or floppy ears. Once your character is moving the way you want, you might do another straight ahead pass to put in extra dynamic motion.
There’s no one right way to create great animation. Having a tried and true method is all very well, but it’s best not to let it become a formula.
From Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson: