The force and locomotion of the lower masses drive all the action in this marvelous Wile E. Coyote production drawing by Chuck Jones.
One of the fundamental attributes of high quality, naturally believable animation is the ability of the animator to execute fundamentally sound “lead and follow.” This alone can separate the average animator from the reputable.
The nose knows! (and it leads too!) In this delicious little shot, animation director Michael Venturini demonstrates delicately placed execution of the “lead & follow” concept. From Pixar’s Ratatouille, directed by Brad Bird.
Understanding the concept of lead and follow means understanding the basics of forces. You need to ask: what came first? Where does it come from? And what are the ramifications of that initial exertion?
In most cases, the forces begin internally – in the form of intention – it defines the drive and purpose of the action in the first place. We normally call that motive. Unless that is clarified first, you can’t make the next move. In other words, notes legendary teacher and Nine Old Men member, Eric Larson:
“Action will be prompted by the character’s emotions and his physical capabilities.”
Let’s take a closer look at the above shot of Remy, to see where and how all these internal and external forces play out:
Moment of realization; eyes and brain catch on as olfactory sense becomes activated sense of purpose. This nice pause creates the break needed for the audience to read and relate.
Here, the nose, head and left arm lead the action, reaching out towards the items of interest. Clear direction and thrust of forces is evident.
As the eyes marvel and upper body settles (correctly on the right ‘third’ of the screen), the lower half catches up, following up the shift in weight and balance, allowing the moment to read nice and clear.
The next bit of business occurs as the body stabilizes, and Remy dives in to grab the goods.
As he heads back to screen left, you see that this time, his lifted right leg leads the action, while the upper body follows. The head drags behind as the point from his nose to the feet form a nice line of action indicating torque, turn and twist.
Excellent, yet seemingly unremarkable shots like this one from Ratatouille, are scattered throughout in well-animated features. They are often overlooked and go unnoticed because they are mere seconds long despite being so beautifully executed. Understanding forces is the key to believable action like momentum and follow thru.
In the words of Glen Keane:
“Allow the momentum of and already animated movement suggest the next drawing. Draw the leading edge of forces.”
Animation of another rat, the villainous Ratigan from Walt Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective. This gorgeous pencil test by the masterful Glen Keane, shows how the forces drive one pose to the next, creating weight and personality as varying regions of the body lead and follow one another.
Therefore, when you get the chance to watch good animation in isolation, pause and re-watch it. Look for places of where and how concepts like lead and follow are being handled. Your respect for the artist and the art itself will grow, and so will your understanding and inspiration.