Some days ago, I had this conversation about realistic and toon animation, where someone told me that, if he were looking for animators (to offer them jobs) he would ignore reels and portfolios that only featured “toon animations” because he’d be interested only in realistic animations. Now, if you’re part of the Renderosity readership, or you’re involved in animation in general, you already know this sounds very wrong.
If you talk to any experienced animator, you will be told that, in order to learn animations, what’s important is to learn the principles. I’d dare to say everyone involved in professional character animation has had that conversation at some point. I certainly did, one time I met an animator that used to work for Pixar.
Also, if you are involved in character animation, you surely read (or at least heard of) “The Animator’s Survival Kit” by Richard Williams. I got that book over 10 years ago and it was a crucial tool to learn what I know now about animation. Now, there’s an animated version of the book, consisting of a collection of 16 DVDs with animated examples. I don’t own the DVDs because they are too much for my pocket (a little over $1000), but the book is still a valuable tool to learn animation.
The thing is, while the 12 principles of animation were invented a long time ago, at a time when we only had cartoon characters, the same principles still apply to realistic characters, albeit to a lesser degree. For example, squash-and-stretch is not applied to a cartoon the same it is applied to a realistic character, but applied subtlety will still add to a character. On the other hand, anticipation and follow through must be added to a realistic character to sell a realistic motion. Just imagine how weird a realistic animated baseball player would look like if he didn’t take impulse to swing at the ball, or if his arms stopped abruptly after he hits the ball.
In video-games these elements can be used not only to add realism to an animation, but also to tell players what’s about to happen. Bosses use anticipation and break the rules of timing all the time to let players know they are about to perform an attack, so players have enough time to react.
Finally, let’s address something. Humans are by nature somewhat stiff (both in body and facial movement). If you watch some making-of documentaries, or read filmmaking magazines, you will see animators saying they had to exaggerate the movements of the digital doubles, or digital-only characters (like Gollum, Alita or the Na’vi in Avatar), because motion capture always resulted in very stiff animation. You may be tempted to say “I only need a mocap suit, and the animation will be realistic right off the bat”. The short video about Alita Battle Angel is a good example. If you skip to the parts where they show the CG Alita and the actress side by side, you will see the CG Alita has slightly exaggerated movements, and that makes the character look “more alive” and overall better.
Of course, if you overdo certain things, the characters end up looking face. How many times have you seen a transition between an actor and a digital double where you can see the exact spot where they swapped the two? The most obvious example is when the actor is about to perform the jump, and then they cut to the digital double that performs the jump at breakneck speed.
So, going back to the original subject, your need of realistic or cartoony animations should not factor what kind of reels or portfolios you filter out. By that logic, you’d filter out all the portfolios of animators that have only worked on Pixar because you want to animate the next Gollum!
So, if one day you’re told you should filter portfolios based on the style of the animation, you should definitely ignore that request and remind that person the only thing that matters is the quality of the animation and how it makes use of the principles of animation.