Review
Character Animation: 2D Skills for Better 3D, Second Edition
Mark Mayerson · June 7, 2007 | There are several traps that people who learn animation with 3D software sometimes fall into. One is that there are so many buttons and menus available in a software package that the learner feels it is necessary to try out each and every one. This is like knowing what every item in a Swiss army knife is for, but not knowing how to use any of them in a practical fashion. Another trap is that movement is easy to create because the computer automatically supplies inbetweens. This assumes that animation's end product is motion, not meaning.

Each of the above traps is a distraction from what's important. Software and movement are only tools; both need to be in the service of communicating something specific. Understanding how to use tools to reach a goal is the basis of the animator's craft.

Character Animation: 2D Skills for Better 3D, Second Edition
Written by Steve Roberts
Focal Press, 2007
304 pages

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The trick is to know why you're doing something and sometimes a computer can get in the way. Nothing comes for free with a pencil and paper. The artist has got to do everything, and the effort required is a powerful incentive to develop clear thinking and an efficient workflow. Character Animation: 2D Skills for Better 3D works both the 2D and 3D sides of the street, using drawings to get the reader to think about motion principles before tackling the complexities of software. The approach to drawing is simple; non-artists won't be intimidated by skill level required. By using drawings, the author is able to explain basics like keyframes, timing, spacing charts, and exposure sheets, giving the reader a necessary understanding of the animation process before the reader jumps to 3D software.

The exercises are first done with drawings and then the same exercises are translated to 3D. Topics include animating objects and characters, human walks and runs, animal walks and runs, acting, facial expressions and lip sync.

A CD-ROM that is included contains finished versions of the exercises in both 2D and 3D. The exercises are also shown as works in progress when they are only keyframes. There are also live clips for reference. Some show how to flip and roll drawings while others are reference for animal motion.

One good thing about the CD is that it is software-agnostic. It contains models you can use for the exercises in Maya, Lightwave, 3ds Max and XSI. It also contains PDF files of instructions for how to accomplish a 3D exercise in each of the above software packages. Finally, it includes a demo copy of Digicel Flipbook, a line-testing software application, with an offer to upgrade to the full package at a 25% discount. Digicel can be installed on either OS X or Windows XP.

This book is aimed at beginners who are unfamiliar with animation principles and just beginning to use 3D software. While it does a good job of covering the basics, it won't provide a higher level of instruction in terms of acting or software; the reader will have to move on to other resources to accomplish that. For example, the 3D lip-sync exercises don't include cheek deformation, so the resulting facial animation is crude compared to professional work. However, if you are interested in learning to animate but hesitant to pick up a pencil, this book will show you the benefits of thinking on paper by drawing out your action and establishing your timing before moving to 3D.
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