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September 16, 2012


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A friend of mine is writing a book on animation fundamentals and asked me for a "paragraph or two" (which I can't do) on the subject of timing.  I considered it and ended up writing about my progression of learning while a Disney animator in the traditional animation days.  It was good therapy for me to really think this through and consider the order of things.  I hope you enjoy it.  "Like" or "fav" this so others will see it too.  Thanks!

My Progression As A Disney Animator
by Tom Bancroft

Walt Disney is quoted as saying that it takes 10 years to make a great animator.

When I was first coming out of California Institute of the Arts and joining a Disney internship in 1988, hearing that quote was devastating.  10 years?  That's FOREVER!  I wanted to be a full-fledged Disney animator in TWO years!  I rationalized that that was a way of thinking from the 40s and today, we move at a quicker pace, so- just like microwave ovens- we can speed up that process.  There.  Walt wasn't wrong, just wrong for THESE times.  

As an eager, young animator at Disney in the early 90s, my strongest desire (as was the same with my animator peers) was to get just one, strong acting scene.   Four or five LINES, beautifully spoken and with lots of drama dripping from them.  That's the kind of scenes that all Disney animators in training know look good on your animation reel and will get you promoted.  I look back at my progression of learning in my twelve years at Disney as a traditional animator and I can describe my leaps forward in my work in three areas I concentrated on and the order I understood them.  

First was DRAWING.  As an animation geek student, I hovered over Disney animation drawings by the Masters.  The Nine Old Men and some of the current Legends of Disney animation were my bread and butter as an animation student and throughout my early years at Disney.  I thought if I could draw really well, that would make me a good Disney animator.  It's not.  You will have pretty drawings that move odd.  I have seen- and made- quite a few animation tests like that in the beginning years.  

Later on, I discovered the importance of MECHANICS.  Almost immediately after I viewed my pretty drawing, oddly moving animated test I realized I needed to study the mechanics of movement.  I started to realize that behind those Masters' drawings were concepts of movement that I needed to understand to make my animation feel natural.  My first scene of Young Simba on "The Lion King" really brought this home to me.  It was the scene where he jumps down a cliff and ends up rolling down the hill into a thorn thicket (after being chased by the hyenas).  That scene of him tumbling over and over down the hill opened my eyes to the fact that I didn't know how a lion moved- or their anatomy- enough to do my job well.  I had to go and research more.  I took a few days and did that before I went back to my desk and start animating that scene.  I never forgot that scene and it made me a proponent of learning the mechanics behind how people and animals move naturally.

TIMING, was the last of the three hurdles and I discovered its importance last.  While at Cal Arts and at Disney I had always heard how important timing was to a scene.  I recited it back to younger animators many times myself through the years.  I USED the concept of timing in my animation for five or six years but it wasn't until the film "MULAN" and I became a supervising animator on the character of MUSHU the dragon that it became an essential part of my animation.  It was partly because I needed to use it more because Mushu was that kind of cartoony- quick moving character that his timing became a part of how I animated him.  I also animated more SCENES on "Mulan" than I had on the three or four films before it- combined.  So, I was getting much more practice using timing in my scenes.  Thirdly, the Disney Studios had developed better and better technology to aid us animators in shooting and timing out our scenes.  By "Mulan", we had a great digital pencil test system where you could change the timing of your drawings with just a push of the button.  Years before that, like on films like "Beauty and the Beast", we were shooting on clunky video based pencil test systems, where you would have to reshoot your scene to change timing.  At least part of it, if not all of it.  That meant you had to make educated guesses on your timing of each drawing, hoping that you were at least 90% correct and then make a few minor adjustments before you reshot it again to see if you could improve it.  With the advent of the digital pencil test systems, I soon became addicted to finessing my pose test timing to get the exact timing I was hoping looking for.  I would even do the unthinkable, trying things that I hadn't thought through- cutting out drawings on the fly even- to make something even snappier.  I discovered that many times I didn't need all the drawings I had created for a certain movement.  Mushu had made me a speed freak!

Okay, that's taking it a bit far, but my point is that timing became the last missing element of finesse that I could add to my progression of learning.  Not to say that I wasn't learning many things- and still am- during those years but I can look back now and see a road map of my progression.  Timing should have been one of the first things I studied and applied, but I think I didn't put enough importance on it in the beginning of my career.  It took many years of study to embrace all the concepts and how they worked together before I felt comfortable to try new things.  

About 10 years, actually.  I guess Walt was right after all.
  • Listening to: pandora
  • Reading: Invincible
  • Watching: Modern Family
  • Playing: by writing this journal
  • Eating: too, too much.
  • Drinking: afternoon coffee
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MaplepawTheNerd350 Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I'm only going into seventh grade but I want to animate for Disney more than I want to have a boyfriend (because everything is about looking "pretty" or liking Aeropostale or whatever) or a phone, I don't care if I'm "different", as long as I'm not stuck with three kids and no husband because I worried about being "beautiful" when I was in school.
MOONLIGHTluvsanime Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I'm like you (but I'm a freshman) :) I could care less about a boyfriend or anything. I just want to get a job animating 4 Disney. So me and you r different, and that's good!  Here is a website 4 Disney jobs. 
DalmationCat Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2013  Student General Artist
took me a month to learn to animate :meow:
michysoong Featured By Owner Oct 7, 2012  Student Filmographer
Thank you for sharing this! (:
funkyalien Featured By Owner Oct 1, 2012  Professional Filmographer
I just saw this on animationtidbits on tumblr, and I've gotta give this a +fav. A great read and a reminder of what we need to do to get as good as we hope to be. :)
CherishTree Featured By Owner Sep 22, 2012  Hobbyist
Thank you so much for posting this ! I've always wondered what we had to learn the most to be a animator. My dream is to work someday as an animator for Disney :aww: so I'd like to ask you : is it hard to be hired by disney ? How did you mange to work at Disney studios ?
KazuAC Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2012   Traditional Artist
10 years?!?!? How did I missed that quote?! Dang! Well, time to start sweatin' steel then. All for the love of animation.
8wingedSeraph Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2012  Student Filmographer
One day I hope to become an innovative voice in the world of animation, and that I can bring my ideas to life one day. But like all great geniuses and innovators, we all have to start somewhere small. So thanks for giving me some advice on this particular subject, so that I can be better.
chrismunro Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2012  Professional Traditional Artist
Now I feel a lot better about my obsession with getting the timing just right. I'll spend a lot of time tweaking posing and cutting frames until things hit just right. I'm glad I'm not the only one doing that. But I am really obsessed with it. I even do it with thumbnails and storyboards. Everything must hit perfectly.
Doodlz18 Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2012   Artist
such inspiration, ty for sharing your story : )
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