Ani-what?” was the general response I used to get when I told people I was an animator. That was three years ago. Things aren’t that different today, but they’re still better. We see a lot more animation on Pakistani television channels, a lot more animation studios cropping up, and a lot more Digital Media or Media Sciences programmes being offered at academic institutions.
It’s touching for us animators to see people from extremely diverse backgrounds and demographics enrolling for animation classes at the very few training institutes we have in the country. Some of my students come from a banking background, and some have crossed 50. This is very encouraging.
Animation is an extremely powerful medium of communication. If we take a closer look at what goes into the making of an animated work, we can appreciate that animation is in fact an amalgamation and culmination of all the art forms. An animator needs to be a polymath.
One doesn’t need much to assume that Leonardo da Vinci would have been very fond of animation, had he been alive today. And this is the bridge of fundamental respect and understanding that every beginner needs to cross. To the casual observer, animation appears to be a light vocation, without the worries of a regular nine-to-five routine.
While this is true, animation is an extremely painstaking and time-consuming work that demands a frame of mind that can only be found among the most dedicated of artists, scientists and philosophers. Animation is not all laughs or about having a good time. It is about concentration. It is a neverending study.
It requires a certain level of discipline that can only be nurtured by a fiery and uncompromising passion for this craft. Not everyone is cut out to become an animator. The key determinant is passion.
I have frequently witnessed people’s curiosity peak by the eye candy they see on screen, and then running for the hills when they realise how much effort is required to produce only a few seconds of animation. But the increasing awareness is still a very encouraging sign.
The “Ani-what?” responses are gradually transforming into “Wow! How do you guys do it?” The most common questions we get are regarding the software applications we use. This is an area where, I believe, animation enthusiasts need a fundamental paradigm shift. While ‘Flash’, ‘Maya’ and ‘3ds max’ have become impressive and geeky-sounding names, what the beginners fail to understand is that the software, as well as the computer for that matter, is just a tool, albeit a very expensive and powerful one.
Animators don’t treat the computer or these applications with any more respect than a pencil they use for drawing. Beginners tend to see the computer as some kind of messiah for animators. The reality is actually the other way around. A computer is nothing more than a very expensive calculator, and the onus of creating magic still lies with the person sitting in front of the number cruncher.
The fundamental principles of animation are still the same as they were decades ago when Disney’s legendary ‘Nine Old Men’ used to animate with pencil and paper. The principles stay the same because they have been derived from everyday life around us. As long as the human condition is constant, the principles of animation are constant, too.
There are a bunch of animation techniques, ranging from hand-drawn to cut-out to stop-motion, and then their digital counterparts. The key element behind the “illusion of life” created with animation is the way the animator observes the world around him. The more he absorbs the world revolving around him, the more life he puts into his work, and the more the characters become real to the audience.
One of my clients was very enthusiastic about some great ideas they had in mind, but were extremely disappointed they could not be executed because of time and budget constraints. What I told them about the kind of work required was a surprise to them. But the real surprise came when I started working. They were shocked to find out that it required 50 drawings to create two seconds of animation. And each drawing has to be meaningful and deeply thought over. My clients suddenly developed respect for all the “cartoons” children watch on television.
As mentioned earlier, the study of almost every art and science, including philosophy, adds to the dexterity of an animator. The most definite prerequisites include a fundamental understanding of physics, acting, body language, storytelling, humour, psychology, etc.
With the advent of computers and 3D animation, drawing and draftsmanship is not considered as important as it used to be. But from what I have experienced, drawing is certainly very important for animation as it forces the artist to closely observe the world around him. There are a number of good animators who can’t even draw a line, but there are many who can draw very well. I recommend drawing as a very important exercise for any artistic endeavour, including animation.
Shakaib Feroz is an independent filmmaker and animator based in Karachi.