Mar 7, 2019 in Informative

The Illusion of Life

The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation is a book written by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. According to the view of directors and animators, the book is considered to be “the bible” of the sphere. Moreover, character animation worldwide can find an enormous source of inspiration in The Illusion of Life.

The authors of the book are Disney’s animation masters. Both authors are representatives of the Golden Era of animation. Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas were members of Disney’s core animation group, known as “the nine old men” of Walt Disney. Besides writing an animating bible The Illusion of Life, Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas created famous Disney characters. For instance, the works of Frank Thomas include Cinderella’s Stepmother, the Queen of Hearts, and Captain Hook. Ollie Johnston created Mr. Smee, Cinderella’s Stepsisters, the Distinct Attorney, and Prince John. Thus, they had an enormous experience in animation and succeeded in writing a perfect book on the subject of animation.

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The Illusion of Life provides a history on the development of Disney animation. It also describes the components of animation process in simple nontechnical terms. The book contains color plates, as well as black and white illustrations. The Illusion of Life also encompasses stories about Walt Disney and people who worked at his company. In particular, the book provides an overview of their approaches to animation and ways to develop new kinds of animation. At the same time, The Illusion of Life covers several subjects. For instance, it provides an overview of technical approaches to creating an animation, including camera techniques, color effects, or background styles.

Animation practice of Thomas and Johnston allowed them to discover 12 basic principles of the sphere. As a result, the principles were described in The Illusion of Life. However, animators do not necessarily have to adhere to those principles. They provide a mechanism for discussion and critique of the animation process. According to Thomas and Johnston, the first principle is determined as squash and stretch. It provides a character with necessary sense of weight and volume, as well as with facial expressions. The frequency and intensity of the technique usage depend on a particular animation scene. However, squash and stretch is the most important principle that animators have to use. In particular, it is used for the creation of all forms of animation characters, such as bouncing ball or walking person. In addition, the principle of squash and stretch can be applied to the description of the feelings (figure 1).

Figure 1. Pluto Expressing the Emotions (Thomas & Johnston, 1995)

Figure 1. Pluto Expressing the Emotions (Thomas & Johnston, 1995).

According to Thomas and Johnston, the best advice to keep to the principle of squash and stretch is to compare the changes of shape, weight, or volume in regard to the half-filled flour sack. Indeed, it provides a perfect example how an object can change its shape. For instance, with the dropping on the floor, the sack is going to squash out. If the sack is picked up by the corner, it will stretch and reach its longest shape. Thus, the volume and the weight of the flour sack remain the same, while its shape changes. As a result, the lessons with flour sack were applied for the creation of the famous Disney characters.

Anticipation is the second principle of animation. The appliance of the technique allows an animated character to perform major actions, including running, jumping, or changing expressions. It also makes character’s actions realistic. It is applied for the creation of minor physical actions, such as attention focusing on something, as well. Anticipation also helps the audience to prepare for the development of activities. In particular, the preceding of every major movement with a particular action informs the viewers about the next action of a character. For instance, before Mickey Mouse is going to grab an object, he has to raise his arm and look at tan object. Anticipation is also considered to be one of the oldest principles, used at the theaters. However, the movements of the characters in early cartoons were sudden and unexpected. As a result, achieving of the anticipation was one of the first tasks of Walt Disney implemented into the animation. Anticipation gives power to any action.

The third principle of animation is staging. It is also used in theatre and filming. At the same time, staging remains one of the most general principles of animation. The aim of the staging is to attract audience’s attention to a particular scene. Thus, the principle can clearly determine the most important episodes and omit insignificant details in a scene. According to Thomson and Johnston, staging is defined as “the presentation of any idea so that it is completely and unmistakably clear”. Moreover, a sense of the continuity of the story line can be achieved with the appliance of the principle. An animation has a limited amount of time, so every scene or frame has to be related to the general idea of a work. Special attention is also being paid to the background of an animation, as it cannot obscure or compete with animation. Thus, during the staging only one action has to be seen. It is necessary not to confuse the viewers with too many actions at once. A Disney director Dave Hand underlined the importance and the purpose of the staging. According to Hand, the principle of staging can “eliminate from the mind of the audience anything that is less important than the particular point we are putting over at the time”. The purpose of staging can be achieved with the appliance of several techniques. The most popular ways to attract the attention of a viewer include the usage of light and shadow or positioning of the camera.

The straight ahead and pose to pose animations are the compounds of the fourth principle. Straight ahead and pose to pose animations represent different drawing processes. In particular, while applying straight ahead approach, animator draws the scene frame by frame. As a result, animator can create the illusion of a dynamic movement. It also produces realistic a sequence of action. At the same time, straight ahead principle cannot be applied for the creation of a set of convincing poses during the whole scene. Sizes, volumes, and proportions can be lost with the appliance of the method. However, it provides an opportunity to create spontaneity and freshness. On the contrary, pose to pose animation requires the drawing of several key frames at the beginning. Pose to pose animation is used for drawing of emotional scenes. In order to achieve better results, straight ahead and pose to pose animation can be used together. The appliance of both methods together also provides an opportunity to restrict the straight ahead action.

Follow through and overlapping actions represent fifth principle of animation. In particular, both principles provide an impression of the movement of the character’s body parts. Follow through is used to create the movement of loosely tied parts of the body, while overlapping principle is used to describe the movement at different rates, such as cloth and body parts. Figure 2 represents an example of the appliance of the principle.

Figure 2. Tillie blows out candles on cake (Thomas & Johnston, 1995).

Figure 2. Tillie blows out candles on cake (Thomas & Johnston, 1995).

However, sometimes it is difficult to distinguish two principles. As a result, Thomas and Johnston introduced five main categories to describe follow through and overlapping actions. The fist category includes the appendages of the character. They are represented by the long ears, tails, or cloths. They have to move for a particular moment when the character stops moving. It provides a perception of weight. The second category involves the movements of the character’s body. Despite the fact that the whole body of a character does not move at once, the parts of it work against each other. For instance, while one part of the body stops, the other can continue moving. Third category is represented by the movements that provide the feeling of life. In particular, they include the movement of cheeks of the characters, or the movement of their bodies. The fourth category is represented by the anticipation of the future action. Finally, the fifth category includes the movements, defined as moving hold.

The sixth principle of animation is represented by the processes of allowing-out and slowing-in. in order to male animation characters more realistic, it is necessary to provide an illusion of time acceleration or slowing down. As a result, the principle requires the creation of several drawings at the beginning of the scene that introduce the starting pose, and fewer in the middle. Drawings can make the character’s actions develop faster or slower. Thus, the character’s movements become more realistic. This principle is also used to achieve an element of surprise.

The seventh principle is defined as the appliance of arc path. Indeed, the majority of actions follows the arc or curve path. The only exception is mechanical movement that usually goes in strait lines. Thomas and Johnston provide an example of the appliance of arc principle. Thus, Figure 3 demonstrates the movement of the pointing finger. It follows a circular path while reaching a destination. An animator has to put drawings along the arc. He makes the main drawings, as well as the secondary drawings. Each of the drawings keeps the line of an action within the arc.

Figure 3. The Movement of a Finger of a Character (Thomas & Johnston, 1995)

Figure 3. The Movement of a Finger of a Character (Thomas & Johnston, 1995).

The introduction of principle allowed improving the types of designed movements. For instance, the early animation was characterized by rigid and stiff actions. Arc provides an animator with an opportunity to describe movements of characters more realistic.

Secondary action is the eighth principle of animation. The appliance of secondary action enriches the main actions of a character. It can also provide certain details or emphasize particular actions of the character. Secondary actions also provide more life to a particular scene. However, secondary actions cannot distract attention from the main actions. They have to support one another. Thus, there is a difficulty in applying the secondary action principle. In particular, statements have to be unified through the drawing and timing of separate, but related, parts of the scenes. For instance, in order to support the sad mood of a character, an animator has to create a particular expression. A character can slightly wipe the tear of the face. However, he cannot make an overwhelming gesture of covering half of the face. As a result, action has to support and emphasize the general idea of a scene. At the same time, secondary action can become an expression itself. In this respect, it is necessary to provide a value of secondary action. Otherwise it can remain unnoticed. Thus, the secondary action has to provide a change of a scene that comes before or after the movement. The change also has to be staged despite its secondary importance. In order not to lose any important information, building block technique can be applied. According to the technique, there are several stages. The first stage includes the animation of the most important move. The second stage foresees the revision of the scene and making the rest of the secondary drawings. Finally, an animator has to change and adjust the main and secondary moves until he reaches the natural way of movement.

According to Thomas and Johnston, the ninth principle is defined as timing. Timing represents a set of drawings that belong to a particular action. A set of drawings in its turn determines the duration of action on screen. For instance, simple and clear drawings tell the story quickly. Early animation works can be characterized as quick cartoons with fast and slow moves. At the same time, the personality of the characters was represented by movements rather than appearance. A scene consists of slow and fast timing. Thus, bigger amount of drawings makes actions smooth. Fewer drawings make actions faster. Thus, movement can become more interesting and textured. According to Thomas and Johnston, animation can be done by the appliance of twos or ones timing techniques. Two types of techniques are defined according to the number of film frames. As a result, timing represents the speed of an action in animation or filming. It is also used to describe the mood and emotions of a character. Thus, it provides an opportunity to disclose the personality of a character.

Exaggeration is considered to be the tenth principle of animation. According to Thomas and Johnston, exaggeration can be defined as the process of remaining true to reality. However, the reality in animation is represented in wilder and more extreme forms. Exaggeration helps to create a caricature of facial expressions, posses and actions. The forms of exaggeration can also include the alterations in personality characteristics, and storyline elements.

The process of solid drawing represents the eleventh principle of animation. It involves the creation of animation forms in three-dimensional space. As a result, characters receive the perception of volume and weight. The process of solid drawing requires special skills. For instance, animator has to be acquainted with the anatomy, weight, and other characteristics necessary for the creation of a character. Thus, often animators have to take art classes. However, Thomas and Johnston warn artists from creating twin characters. According to the authors, twins are defined as characters with mirrored left and right sides. It makes them look lifeless. Figure 4 provides an example of twin and live characters.

Figure 4. Example of Twin and Live Characters (Thomas & Johnston, 1995)

Figure 4. Example of Twin and Live Characters (Thomas & Johnston, 1995).

With the development of technology, animators usually draw less and rely mainly in computer drawing. However, there is a necessity of gaining animation skills and its integration into computer animation.

The last principle of animation is defined as appeal. Live actors possess charisma. In animation, characters have appeal. According to Thomas and Johnston, bad characters and villains have to be appealing as well as good ones. Thus, appeal provides characters with necessary features that make them interesting to the audience and realistic. Appeal foresees the appliance of several ways for making character likable. In particular, good characters are usually drawn with baby-like faces and symmetrical features. Characters that lack appeal are described with the help of the general composition, poses, and character design. Thus, the achieving of the appeal in animation requires the development of a character and involvement of the higher artwork quality. Moreover, according to the authors, every particular character has to appeal not only to the eye of the viewer, but to his mind as well.

However, the principles may vary depending on the type of animation. Moreover, with the development of technology, some of them are no longer used. In addition, other Disney animators have introduced other variations of the core principles of the sphere. For instance, Fred Moore suggested a list of the main points of animation. According to the animator, they include the appeal in drawing, staging, interesting way of the representation on an idea, the presence of two dimensional clarity, three dimensional solidity, and four dimensional drawing. Animator has also to answer several question while creating a character. Thus, according to Fred Moore, it is necessary to for animation to provide an answer for the following questions: Is it the most entertaining way? Are you in character? Is this the simplest statement of the main idea of the scene? Is the story point clear? Are the secondary actions working with the main action? Is the presentation best for the medium? Are you trying to do something that shouldn’t be attempted? Basic ideas and questions of Fred Moore have a lot of issues in common with the animation principles suggested by Thomas and Johnston. Thus, one more time animators try to underline that there are many things that should never be forgotten.

Another subject of the book describes the development of characters. According to Walt Disney, “you have to know these fellows definitely before you can draw them. When you start to caricature a person, you cannot do it without knowing the person. Take Laurel and Hardy for example; everybody can see Laurel doing certain things because they know Laurel”. At the same time, the development of the character, introduced by Walt Disney, was completely intuitive. Every character had been real for Walt Disney. The process of the character development is long and require a lot of efforts. In particular, an animator has to find the broad type of an individual who can perfectly fit in a particular story. It is also necessary to concentrate on the general aspects instead of discussing refinements.

In the book, there are several examples of the characters’ development. However, according to Thomas and Johnston, the most exasperating and elusive characters were the three Good Fairies in Sleeping Beauty. It was difficult to create these characters as they were supposed to commit only good things. As a result, Good Fairies could not have any weaknesses. According to the main idea of Sleeping Beauty, Fairies had to save the main heroin form the curse of evil Maleficent. In order to be capable to make this, all three characters had to possess certain qualities. In particular, they had to be possess strength and purpose, as well as aggressive in some scenes. They also had to be very gentle, but not just sweet and loving. Thomas and Johnston underline that the process of character’s development is difficult. Despite creating the appearance and personality of the characters, it is necessary to develop the relationship between them. In case of three Good Fairies, at the beginning Flora was described as being bossy. Indeed, the character had to be a leader. She could not all the time be right, but she had to the boss. However, according to the animators, it could have a negative influence on the development of the relationship between the characters. As a result, Merryweather had to point out every mistake of Flora. At the same time, fairy had to be wrapped up in herself. Finally, Fauna was described as wishy-washy. However, the mentioned above qualities could make characters boring. As a result, the personality of each fairy and the relationship between the characters have been improved. For instance, Flora was dominating all the time. At the same time, she did not realize that she was doing it. However, the fairy was created as a responsible one. In addition, Flora had a feeling and a clear sense of the things going on. Merryweather had to be completely opposite to Flora and contradict her ideas. According to Thomas and Johnston, constant arguments with Flora could result in conflicts between two characters. As a result, Merryweather could not be too impulsive. As a result, the fairy was created as a happy and outgoing character. Her feelings were on the surface, and she was able to express them easily. Finally, Fauna was the most difficult character to develop. In particular, she could not be a leader or be battered between Flora and Merryweather. As a result, Fauna’s character was developed as elusive. At the same time, the fairy remained vague, but she did have her own ideas. In addition, she was interested in small details. She was also responsible for smoothing all the conflicts between the other two fairies. Thus, the process of the creation of three Goof Fairies demonstrates that the development of the characters requires a lot of efforts. In addition, personal qualities, as well as appearance of the character, can change during the process of the character’s development.

After the creation of the character’s personality, it is necessary to develop its appearance. In case with three Good Fairies, the drawings of the little old ladies were too strong and too heavy. Disney writer Don DaGradi suggested that the character should be more winsome and appealing. As a result, he painted them as maiden aunts. The animators succeeded in creating of the good characters, which remained entertaining during the whole story. Flora, Merryweather, and Fauna provided an opportunity of telling the story of Sleeping Beauty in a new and surprising way. The not only changed the development of the story, brought warmth and imagination to it, but changed the general relationships between the rest of the characters. Thus, Tomas and Johnston provide an overview how a very single character influences the development of the whole storyline.

According to the authors of The illusion of Life, the next step in developing the character is the description of the relationships between the characters. The process of the development of the relationships is slow. It has to be completed through a set of actions, expressions, and emotions. Relationships can be determined during one key scene. However, often there have to be a lot of scenes. As a result, every scene will contribute the particular part to the general attitude. The development of the relationship between characters is the most evident in case of the creation of Ballo and Mowgli in The Jungle Book. Thus, at the beginning, the story tells about Bagheera and Mowgli. In attempts to return Mowgli back to the man village, they have experienced many troubles. They have also met a lot of animals. Each of them had his own point of view on life. The primary relationship of a boy were built with a panther, who tried to force Mowgli to leave the jungle. However, after the argument, the relationships between two characters were destroyed. As a result, Mowgli got independence, but lost his only friend. In order to describe the lonesome boy, animators used long shots that pictured kidlike actions. In one of such scenes, the viewers can see Baloo. After the first meeting of Baloo and Mowgli, it was necessary to describe the relationship between them. Despite the fact that he was not going to be one of the main characters of The Jungle Book, the bear became a character the story needed. In case Baloo remained a cameo, the whole animation would have been different. Thus, Mowgli did like the bear. Both characters found each other and filled an empty place in the life. As a result, animators succeeded in creating one of the warmest relationships. A boy finally found a friend. At the same time, Baloo found someone he could teach all important things he knew. However, the relationships between Mowgli and Baloo were opposite to the relationships of the boy and panther. While the Bagheera knew what was right for the boy, Baloo remained irresponsible and thoughtless. Through the sequence of the scenes, viewers can see how the friendship between the boy and the bear has developed. The following scenes demonstrate how the friendship between two characters has been tested. As a result, the powerful bond between Baloo and Mowgli provided an opportunity to get the picture together and made the viewers care about main characters. Character relationships and personality peculiarities made The Jungle Book one of the most successful cartoons.

Character development also requires the creation of costumes. Indeed, the value of costumes has a great importance in the development of personality. On the one hand, costumes remain an integral part of the eye appeal. Color and design are used in order to attract the attention of a viewer. On the other hand, specific objects in the character cloths create individual features of the personality.

Another aspect of the character development is determined as the creation of villain. Bad characters represent an integral part of any animation. If all evil characters were eliminated from the storyline, it would be monotonous. The main purpose of the villains is to entertain the audience. One of the core principles of animation is defined as the appeal. According to Thomas and Johnston, every character, including the bad ones, has to be appealing. Appeal makes characters interesting and more realistic. While the good characters are usually made with baby-like faces, symmetrical features, and colorful cloths, the appealing of villain character is more complicated. Thomas and Johnston define villains as “the most fun of all characters to develop”. Indeed, villains are often responsible for the development of the general storyline. They are the instigators of the majority of the interesting scenes. As a result, villains can often be more colorful characters than heroes. Despite the fact, that animator can be sure about the future character and its impact on the audience from the beginning, there is a necessity in developing the key features of villains.

In order to provide better perception of the creation of evil characters, Thomas and Johnston describe the process of developing of the most famous Disney villains. They include Shere Khan in The Jungle Book, Cruella deVil in 101 Dalmations, Queen in Snow White, and Capitan hook in Peter Pan. For instance, the tiger Shere Khan was supposed to be ill-tempered best that was going to kill a boy. However, animators had changed the villain’s appeal. As a result, he became powerful and feared by everyone. At the same time Shere Khan could be reserved or bragging, direct or scheming. That depends on the relationship between villain and the rest of the characters. As a result, the tiger has become an unquestioned king of the jungles. The character of Cruella deVil has similar to Shere Khan peculiarities. In particular, the lady is a fascinating character that can easy become wild. On the contrary the Queen in Snow White remains cold and ruthless all the time. Animators did not allow the audience to see her weaknesses. Villains often appear to be dramatic, insidious, or semiotics. At the same time, they have rich personality that has to be supported by the appealing. Without appeal, the viewers are not going to get involved into the story or the character.

Thus, the whole process of the character development is described with the help of examples from the Disney cartoons. This provides an opportunity for better understanding of the process and its main components.

Another important subject described in the book is the creation of sounds in animation. According to Walt Disney, “a good study of music would be indispensable to animators – a realization on their part of how primitive music is, how natural it is for people to want to go to music – a study of rhythm, the dance – the various rhythms that enter into our lives every day”. Thus, music surrounds people in their everyday life. Similarly, sounds and music in a carton have to complete the general story. Music is closely associated with the most important events in people’s lives. It has become the soul of the people’s memory. It has the same purpose in animation. Music is used to make the fantasy world realistic and believable. Moreover, music is often used to describe the feelings and the attitude that cannot be shown in moving drawings. In particular, hope, strength or devotion, as well as feelings of rejection or isolation are difficult to show. Music has the power to demonstrate all these emotions. It can add mood to any kind of animation.

Music has always represented an integral part of the theater. Before the days of the sound, piano players provided the magic of music to the audience. It was a primitive way to communicate with viewers and to lead them from one story to another. Later, movie theater musicians added the background music in order to recall the tunes from everywhere. Walt Disney managed to gather the team of great musicians in order to develop a new way of the music usage. Disney worked with Carl Stalling, Bert Lewis, Frank Churchill, Leigh Harline, Ollie Wallace, and Albert Malotte. Each of the musicians succeeded in the orchestrating every particular feeling in Disney animation works.

However, in 1928, the animators knew a little about the sound. In particular, they did not manage to put music and drawings together. Musicians could easily improvise a score to a complete film, but it was difficult to put music on drawings. Walt Disney wanted to solve this problem. He made it possible not only to work music and sounds together, but to control both of them as well. Wilfred Jackson with the help of the metronome determined how much music went by in a second and applied it to the animation. Since then, the director and musician have always worked together in order to plan the whole scene before the animator begins the scene. Thus, Thomas and Johnston provide an example of the creation of the music in animation. First, the musician has to provide the sounds and music to the particular set of scenes. As a result, the picture will receive the mood and general type of actions. Then, the music is being played to animation director in order to visualize the action. Musician, as well as animation director, can change some parts of the storyline or sounds in order to provide the better result. After that they move to another scene. In case the scene required the song to be added, it was recorder earlier and gradually integrated into the scene. As a result, the practice of Walt Disney has become a widespread. Musicians were added to the staff.

While providing necessary mood and emotions to the scene, sounds are also used to enhance the surprise elements. In order to achieve this goal, the sound has to appear in the most unexpected place in the music. Funny sounds, determined as sound effects, remain an integral part of every cartoon.

The Illusion of Life is an inspiring work of Thomas and Johnston for those who want to discover the world of animation. In particular, the book discusses several subjects on the issue of animation. They include subjects that describe the creation of exposition, applying the sounds, getting drawings on the screen, development of appeal and dynamics, expressing acting and emotions, description of expressions, etc. One of the subjects describes the twelve principles of animation. The book of Thomas and Johnston provides an overview of the history of animation. Authors also discuss the process of the improvement of the sphere. In particular, they provide examples from early animation and demonstrate the innovations introduced by Walt Disney and his team. Thomas and Johnston succeeded in analyzing of the process of making animation. They also have shown the development of animation and strengthened that characters have become more realistic. One of the aims of animation is to create interesting and realistic characters. As a result, characters have to develop certain expressions. In addition, during the filming of a cartoon, it is necessary to adhere to the main idea of the scene. At the same time, the main idea has to be supported by the appliance of the principle of secondary actions. Every movement of a character has to possess anticipation. Moreover, the characters also have to posses the appeal and emotional timing. Thus, the principles introduced by Thomas and Johnston were adopted by the number of animation studios worldwide.

The book also reveals the main principles of process of character development. In particular, the process had to be intuitive. As a result, the characters could become more realistic. The development of character is a long process that require a lot of efforts. Animator not only has to develop the appearance of a particular character, but to create his personality as well. An integral part of the character’s development is the building of the relationships with others. The establishment of relationships is often completed within several scenes. As a result, every scene will contribute the particular part to the general attitude. Finally, character development requires the creation of the costumes. Thomas and Johnston also provide an examples of the villains’ development. In particular, they have to be appealing enough in order to capture the attention of the viewers.

One of the most important subjects of the Illusion of Life is the appliance of the sounds and music. Walt Disney had discovered the connection between music and drawings. Sounds could provide the necessary mood and emotions to the scene. At the same time, it does not have to be a symphonic score, but it has to provide the essential element of the communication between the character on the screen and the viewer.


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