Book Review: Timing for Animation, 2nd Edition

Timing for Animation, 2nd Edition
Harold Whitaker, John Halas
Updated by Tom Sito
Focal Press, 2009
157 pages, illustrations.
$29.95

The original version of Timing for Animation is arguably one of the best books on the basics of animation ever written. Along with Illusion of Life: Disney Animation and Preston Blair's animation books, you'll most likely find a dog-eared, heavily underlined copy of Timing for Animation next to the computer of practically every major animator in the business.

Originally written in 1981 by British animators Harold Whitaker and John Halas, creators of such classic animated films as Animal Farm (1954) and Dilemma (1981), Timing for Animation is the distillation of both authors work in animation over many, many years of creating every kind of animation you can imagine; industrial, commercial, feature films and personal works.

“Newton's first law stated that things do not move unless a force acts upon them. So in animation the movement itself is of secondary importance; the vital factor is how the action expresses the underlying causes of the movement”
-Timing for Animation, 2nd Edition

Timing for Animation provides foundation principles of animation based on the basic idea that animation (with either an object or a character) is “movement, not animation,” and that timing is the “part of animation that gives meaning to movement.” In other words, the many practical examples of animation timing in the book are all about bringing your character to life. A sphere moving up and down becomes a ball bouncing up and down for a reason; a character raising and lowering a hammer, with good animation timing, becomes a small man who can hardly lift the very heavy hammer which he slams to the ground nearly hitting his own foot. Each of these examples puts the animation in a realistic context, and timing is what makes the animation work.


Original illustration from the "Creating Mood in Animation" section

Disney was probably one of the first animation artists to “draw from life” in his work. Films like Bambi and Snow White are brilliant examples of animation timing bringing characters to life. And out of the Illusion of Life book (based on the work of Disney animators) came the basic 12 principles of animation which are still in widespread use today. But Whitaker and Halas are the first to systematically show you how to achieve these principles in a short, clearly written written book that can be understood by anyone attempting their first animation. In short, it's a more practical book written as a practical introduction to animation.

Organized into five sections (color coded at the tops of each section page) which begin with a basic introduction to the mechanics of animation (storyboards, basic unit of time, bar sheets, etc), then on to more specific examples (cause & effect, timing fast action, etc). The third section covers in detail basic types of animation (timing to suggest weight and force, character reaction, effects of friction and wind, etc); the fourth section continues with slightly more advanced animation timing (timing a walk, timing animals movements and characterization, etc). The fifth and final section covers lip sync, timing and music and traditional camera movements).


Updated photo of facial capture from the animated film "Monster House"

“The basic question which an animator is continually asking themselves is: What will happen to this object when a force acts upon it? And the success of their animation largely depends on how well this question is answered.”
-Timing for Animation, 2nd Edition

The original Timing for Animation was written as an introduction to 2d cartoon animation. Do the principles presented in the book still apply to the new generation of digital, 3D animation? Absolutely. And according to Pixar's John Lassiter, “the principles of timing laid out in the book are more applicable now than ever before.” Still, with respect to Mr. Lassiter, the original Timing for Animation was in need of an update showing how these principles applied to modern 3D. So, Focal Press called on Tom Sito, who knew John Halas personally and has extensive professional experience in animation, to update Timing for Animation and bring it into the modern age of digital 3D animation.

Faced with the choice of revising the original work or simply update this animation classic, Mr. Sito chose the latter. He has added newly written sections throughout the book that bring an original concept into the present world of digital 3D. For example, he adds a paragraph each for “Pre-Viz, “Digital Crowd Scenes” and “Digital Effects,” and takes an idea presented by Whitaker/Halas and describes how that idea is handled in a contemporary digital pipeline.

While this approach works for the most part, it might be a bit too reverential. Long sections of the book are left untouched and are not updated at all, leading to slight confusion with the original authors' focus on 2D and Mr. Sito's efforts to update that focus. Plus, all of the original illustrations are left intact in the book with too few color photos added as new 3D examples. These drawings are simple, but much too quaint and cliched to effectively make their point to a modern 3D animator. Also, the original authors often stress the basic “cartoon exaggeration”style necessary for their work, when most people reading the book will be working to make their animations as realistic as possible. Yes, as a principle, exaggeration still works, but many of the drawings are simply too old fashioned for a modern taste, although this point is probably debatable. For my taste, a mix of drawings (done in a modern style) and a lot more screen caps and color photos would have been more effective. However, Timing For Animation, 2nd Edition, is still an essential book for the modern animator. Mr. Sito's passion for animation matches those of the original authors, and his updated sections are well written and come at the right time.

“I was brought up in the animation business to respect the example of the past masters. I apprenticed under white-haired old heroes who created Pinocchio and Bugs Bunny. They said that part of my debt to them was to ensure what they learned, would continue on long after them. I feel proud that I had something to do with ensuring the ideas of Halas and Whitaker will now continue on. So in effect, I’m paying back my tuition.”
-Tom Sito

It doesn't matter if you are animating in 2D or working in 3D animation for the first time, I guarantee that if you sit down with this book and learn the principles it teaches, your work will be believable and convincing. Plus, you'll be putting colored sticky notes on practically ever other page so you can come back and study a section like “Timing to Suggest Weight and Force” many times.

Focal Press is to be commended for bringing Timing for Animation out in an updated edition and for producing such a beautifully designed book as well. Printed on high quality paper with high contrast illustrations, the book is very easy to read and, unlike many other computer books I own, easy to flatten out and prop in front of your monitor. In addition to the color coded pages I've already mentioned, the editors have made sure that important illustrations are on the right page with the corresponding text. It's obvious that a lot of thought went into producing this book.

I highly recommend Timing For Animation, 2nd Edition, for anyone just learning animation, and for animators with experience who want to refresh their work by going over basic principles with master animators like Harold Whitaker, John Halas and Tom Sito.

My sincere thanks to Focal Press for providing a copy of this wonderful book to review. And thanks to Tom Sito for helping out with this review. You can read a short interview I did with him here.


Ricky Grove [gToon], Staff Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here.
October 26, 2009

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