Get a grip on those difficult concepts with some moving examples

January 9, 2004

In an era of instantaneous communication, the medium of animation has permeated our visual culture. From the annoying office assistant on your computer to animated graphics on your mobile phone, from the internet to television commercials, animation is everywhere.

The market for animation takes many forms, as animation is ideal not only for entertainment but also for the communication of abstract concepts. Animated characters are found in films and on TV as well as in commercials, educational and interactive products such as computer games and even in the business sector with corporate training and marketing videos.

If you are new to the subject, where do you start? One good place is Chris Patmore's The Complete Animation Course . This enthusiastic book is comprehensive in its coverage of animation production techniques, full of ideas and reasonably priced. It is clearly structured with case studies from animators and animation companies. Lavishly illustrated with diagrams, screen "grabs" and examples of different styles of animation, it is ambitious in its overview.

Technology is evolving at an exponential rate. The competitive nature of the software market results in computer programs dominating the market one year and becoming obsolete the next. Rather than foregrounding the technicalities of software skills, this book provides an overview of the craft of animation from traditional techniques to computer-generated animation. At the core of engaging and effective animation are the skills of characterisation and storytelling, which Patmore uses as a starting point. From there on, the book's structure reflects the production process.

It begins by looking at storytelling, character design and formatting of scripts; surveys ways of producing animation - stop motion, cut out, cel, 3D CGI and web animation; and then goes into postproduction and distribution.

There are masses of tips and a list of resources at the back. In the main, the book avoids information overload through simplicity and visual illustration, but at times this results in superficial coverage. In particular, it skims the surface on creating movement in 3D and the practicalities of animating for the internet. Furthermore, when read linearly the focus of the text sometimes jumps around; it was clearly designed to be dipped into. But overall the book is a good overview of how to create animation: the scope is broad, the illustrations are inspiring and the case studies display a "can-do" attitude.

Birgitta Hosea is course director of the postgraduate diploma in character animation, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design.

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