Faber and Faber, 352 pp., $30 (paper)
As anyone who ever created a primitive flip book in the margins of a junior high textbook can attest, creating animation is a gas ... and is hard as hell to get right. Making figures move just by altering a drawing ever so slightly over several pages provides a rush unlike any other. But making them move smoothly, with a sense of weight and character and a continuity from picture to picture, demands skill and focus of a kind not typically possessed by adolescents in a brain-numbing social studies class.
Now, what seemed so baffling to those crude animators has been made plain in a richly detailed and fascinating book, The Animator's Survival Kit, by Richard Williams. The man responsible for Roger Rabbit and the brilliant credits to the Pink Panther films has given his life to mastering this pleasurable/painful form, and while he's picked up some Oscars for his troubles -- for Who Framed Roger Rabbit and A Christmas Carol, one of the finest adaptations of that story ever and a largely unknown masterwork of animation -- he feels he's still learning the trade. Perhaps it's that sense of being a perpetual student that led Williams to take pity on all the textbook doodlers and share the bounteous knowledge about animation he's acquired through the years.
In illuminating text and drawings, Williams breaks down step by step how things move and how we perceive them moving, and how motion can be exaggerated for comic or dramatic effect. It's prime information, much of it gleaned from his mentors, the legendary animators of Disney's Golden Age, whose craftsmanship in the field is still unsurpassed. By book's end, you've received a grounding in physics, anatomy, art, storytelling, and acting, because all that is essential to understanding animation -- and that's what makes the book absorbing, even if you don't know Fleischer from Freleng; it covers so much ground. As for the aspiring animator: Well, Williams' Survival Kit won't make the job any less hard, but it will give you tools to ensure that after you sweat like hell over all those drawings, it'll be right.
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