Well, it's September now and the kids are headed back to class. Which means that it's time to start stocking up on those essential school supplies: Pencils. Erasers. Lined paper.
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And if you've got a son or daughter who's heading off to Cal Arts, Woodbury University or some other college where they'll be soon be studying animation and who's now feeling ... Well ... a little intimidated because they eventually have to master this craft, have I got a paperback for you !
By that I mean: If you drop by your local Barnes & Noble and peruse the "Film" shelves, all you're going to find there are lots of "Art of ..." books. Handsome hardcovers that are loaded with conceptual paintings & preproduction art from recent animated features. But as entertaining & informative as these over sized volumes may be, they're still not going to tell your would-be animator how the modern masters of this medium actually got their characters to move.
Whereas Eric Goldberg's "Character Animation Crash Course !" (Silman-James Press, August 2008) gets right into the nuts-and-bolts of this craft. In plain simple easy-to-understand terms, Goldberg discusses often-difficult-to-grasp concepts like timing, how to break down a scene, the principles of squash and stretch, etc. Using clear & concise instructions that make it easy for any animation student to quickly put these lessons to use.
And when it comes to character animation, folks, you couldn't ask for a better teacher than Eric Goldberg. After all, this is the guy who brought the Genie from "Aladdin" to life. Not to mention being the co-director of "Pocahontas" as well as the supervisor of animation on "Looney Tunes: Back in Action." Name a classic cartoon character -- from the Pink Panther to Donald Duck -- and Goldberg has probably worked on them.
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These days, Eric is back at Walt Disney Animation Studios. He's actually part of the team working on "The Princess and the Frog," a high profile project that will (it's hoped) help bring about the revival of hand-drawn animation in Hollywood. So clearly Goldberg is the sort of industry vet that you really should be listening to if you want to learn the true ins & outs of character animation.
If I have a complaint about "Character Animation Crash Course !," it's just that ... Well, Eric's a guy who's worked in the industry for decades now and has had this incredibly colorful career. So you'd think that he'd sprinkle some juicy behind-the-scenes stories in there among the how-to-animate lessons. But -- sadly -- that's where you'd be wrong.
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Oh, sure. There are a few fun anecdotes here and there (Like how Goldberg likes to think of Phil -- the satyr character that he animated for "Hercules" -- as being the 8th dwarf, Horny). But for the most part, "Character Animation Crash Course !" is a book that just cuts to the chase. Its purpose -- plain & simple -- is to teach both beginners & professionals the principles of character animation. And on that level at least, this 218-page paperback delivers in spades.
And then when you factor in the DVD that comes along with "Character Animation Crash Course !" which features examples of Eric's hand-drawn animation that you can then step through plus Brad Bird's entertaining foreword ... This is a paperback that every fledgling animation student out there will want on their bookshelf.
Eric Goldberg signing copies of "Character Animation Crash Course !" at the 2008 Comic-Con International. Photo by Nancy Stadler
So if you're looking for something useful to toss into that Care package that you're getting ready to send off to RISD or SCAD, now might be a really good time to go pick up a copy of Eric Goldberg's 25-years-in-the-making instructional book. You (or the animation student that you know) can thank me later.
I had the pleasure of watching Eric create those drawings of Phil. He was giving a lecture on the differences between CGI and hand drawn. He was trying to illustrate that just because a character is drawn on model with the appropriate pose it doesn't necessarily have the correct emotional weight. If you instead start with the emotion as a series of broad lines and strokes as shown in the drawing in the middle you can then make the character anatomically correct and on model on top of it.