"We deliver to you the techniques that have proved successful for professionals, and inspire you to go further with your craft. Our books demystify ever-changing technologies and help you gain success."
-Focal Press website
Focal Press has been publishing books on Media Technology for 70 years. Founded in 1938 by Hungarian immigrant Andor Krasna-Krausz, Focal Press initially focused on photography books. But, as the digital revolution took hold in the nineties, they began to expand the books they published. Now, Focal Press is a leading publisher of books on animation, new media, broadcasting, film and digital video production, graphics, mass communications and theatre technology. And they still manage to publish an impressive amount of books on digital photography as well.
I've been fortunate over the last few months, to receive several recent books from Focal Press. All feature the distinctive, red "circle f" on their spines which makes them easy to spot on the shelves. I've chosen 3 recently published titles to review today, with a brief mention of the remaining titles which were published back in the fall of 2011.
Frame-by-Frame Stop Motion: The Guide to Non-Traditional Animation Techniques
by Tom Gasek
Trim: 7.5in x 9.25in
Publication Date: September 23, 2011
Format: Book - Paperback
"Animation concentrates on the single image or moment and the relationship of one image to the next. That movement from one image to the next tells us everything about how someone thinks, feels and reacts. It reflects changing attitudes or what remains the same. We can always count on movement as a constant. It is the flow of life in its forward journey and the very essence of animation. I try to tease out this concept with a little humor in my work, my characters, stories and animation."
-Tom Gasek artistic statement
Frame-by-Frame Stop Motion: The Guide to Non-Traditional Animation Techniques by Tom Gasek is a 200 page masterpiece of contemporary stop motion production techniques. With the recent revival in this wonderful art form, artists like PES and Dave Borthwick of the Bolex Brothers, are pushing the limits of what can be accomplished in this demanding style of animation.
Tom Gasek is an award-winning stop motion director and educator with over 27 years of experience. He currently teaches at RIT in Massachusetts while continuing to work professionally as a stop-motion artist. Frame-by-Frame Stop Motion is a real labor of love for Tom. Beautifully designed and illustrated with color pictures, the book focuses on very practical aspects of animating clay figures, cut-outs and even pixilation. The language is down-to-earth and the author stresses that the techniques he presents are all "means to an artistic end."
I really like the fact that the author includes information on using DSLR cameras for stop-motion (he even mentions using a smart-phone!). The end section of the book features several projects for the beginning animator to use in trying out the techniques discussed in the previous chapters. The plentiful illustrations are in color and well-placed in the text. My only complaint is that I wish there had been an equipment and film bibliography at the end of the book to help the reader find good equipment and look for inspiration from the films mentioned in the book.
Frame-by-Frame Stop Motion is a great book on an art form that is having a revival. If you want to learn creative and expressive techniques in stop motion, this is the book for you.
Animated Realism: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Animated Documentary Genre
by Judith Kriger
Publication Date: December 13, 2011
Format: Book - Paperback
"Does shooting live footage of a particular subject make the film any more truthful than drawing the subject matter?"
Our next book, Animated Realism: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Animated Documentary Genre by Judith Kriger, is a much-needed examination of an increasingly popular style of using animation methods to document reality. Judith is a professional animator and educator herself, having worked for over 20 years in the animation industry. She's brought together 7 interviews with animation artists such as John Canemaker (The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation), Yoni Goodman (Waltz With Bashir), Chris Landreth (Ryan) and Marie-Josee Saint-Pierre (McLaren's Negatives), who have all contributed significantly to the animation documentary movement.
Judith does a fine job of drawing out a diverse group of animation artists with questions about their background, what inspires them and, of course, their work in non-fiction animation. Illustrated with color storyboards, sketches and stills from the films discussed, the artists discuss how they came to create specific films. I read each interview on successive days and spent time watching most of the films mentioned and came away inspired and fascinated.
Animated Realism is a beautiful book with color-tabbed chapters for easy reference and superb reproduction of film-related images. And Judith's well-written introductory essay lays out the history and aesthetic ideas that are discussed in each interview. She also doesn't simply feed questions to the artists she interviews, but engages in constructive conversation that provides more than one point of view on documentary animation.
I recommend Animated Realism for anyone who wants to expand their awareness of the creative possibilities of animation, and for those who want to try their hand at this unique and expressive style of animation.
Character Animation Fundamentals: Developing Skills for 2D and 3D Character Animation
by Steve Roberts
Trim: 7.5in x 9.25in
Publication Date: November 21, 2011
Format: Book - Paperback
"One of the most valuable things I've learned over the past twenty five years of animating is to keep things simple."
Character Animation Fundamentals: Developing Skills for 2D and 3D Character Animation by Steve Roberts is our final book in review. While the book is more traditional than the previous books discussed (and twice as long), the author has done an excellent job of covering contemporary animation techniques and styles. Although the book primarily uses Maya, 3ds Max and Blender as the software of choice, the essentials of animation are so clearly presented you can easily translate them to your own particular animation software.
Animation Fundamentals lays out a strong foundation of the basic theories of animation in the first two chapters, and then over the next 8 chapters develops these theories more specifically by focusing on body language, facial expression, walk/run cycles and lip sync. There are side-by-side discussions of human and animal styles of animation as well.
The book is more technical than the previous two books I've discussed, but Steve writes clearly and the step-by-step tutorials are easy to follow. The author has extensive experience in animation and considers the book to be "the culmination of nearly 20 years of teaching drawn animation techniques to 3D computer animators."
I really like how Steve integrates 2D drawing techniques with 3D animation in this book. His amazing support website (www.characteranimation.com) includes video, .pdf files and several fully-rigged characters available for use in working on exercises presented in the book. He plans on updating the site regularly with new tutorials.
As usual with Focal Press, the book is beautifully laid out with a plethora of black & white illustrations. There's a nice end section on animation suppliers, too. I really like this book and have a much better grasp of the animation workflow in 3D. I've also gained a healthy respect for the 2D animation process as well and plan on using it much more in future film projects.
If you want to learn foundation lessons in character animation, look no further than Steve Robert's Character Animation Fundamentals. I recommend it highly.
In addition to the three books I've mentioned above, I'd also like to quickly mention a few other titles that came my way from Focal Press:
Focal Press is an outstanding publisher of books on digital media. Their books are well edited, smartly designed and cover a range of subjects that is impressive. Plus, they are reasonably priced (a big plus). Glancing at my bookshelf, I have at least a dozen or more Focal Press titles on subjects like Blender, Cinema 4D, Motion Graphics and How to Develop Ideas for a Short Film.
Every title I've gotten from Focal Press has been helpful and inspiring. This is a publisher that pays attention to detail and makes every effort to live up to their motto of "learn, master, create." They also have a fine website which provides detailed information on each book they publish, including the ability to view sample chapters from each book. Be sure to head over to their main website and spend some time browsing.
My thanks to Focal Press for providing copies of the books listed above for review. I'm looking forward to visiting the Focal Press booth at SIGGRAPH this year in Los Angeles.
Be sure to visit the Focal Press website
Editor's Note: Be sure to check out more Renderosity Focal Press book reviews 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.
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