Classical Training vs Computer Training

I’ve decided to start a discussion on classical animation training vs. computer animation training because I’m very interested in the opinions of professionals when it comes down to what’s needed to produce great animation.

Recently, (over the past 10 – 15 years), it seems to me that there are many people who work in the animation field (animation companies and schools for example) who have no training or experience in animation, (producers and curriculum designers/administrators for example) who are under the assumption that classical animation has gone by the wayside. Just to clarify, when I refer to classical animation, I am referring to the process of hand-drawn animation that requires the animator or student to draw out the motion frame by frame.

It’s true, that there is far less classical animation being produced. It’s been taken over by 3D animation (or similar) and/or Flash animation (or similar), and this is largely due to efficiency issues such as time and cost, as well as the ‘look’. I’ll agree that as a final product, classical animation is becoming more or less extinct. (There. I said it).


I still strongly believe that the principles of classical animation need to be learned in the classical way! Animation is the study of movement and I believe very strongly that it must be taught, learned and applied with classical training and NOT with computers. (and yes, I suppose if you have access to a Cintiq, you could still learn classical style animation, but I am not familiar with its limitations enough to comment). My point is that students need to learn and understand the very subtle ways in which things move. Learning animation is the study of movement. It’s also learning how to act! I can’t tell you how many people have come to me asking me if I can ‘do’ graphic design because I can draw/animate. No! I can’t! I was trained as a classical animator! I could direct some actors in a movie better than I could ‘do’ graphic design!

So why do students need to learn animation the old fashioned way? Well.. to put it bluntly, computers are JUST tools! You have to know what to do with the tools before you use them.

Learning to animate on a computer won’t make you a great animator because:

  • Trusting the spell and grammar check feature won’t make you a great writer.
  • Following a recipe won’t make you a great chef
  • Having access to a key and a car doesn’t mean you can drive

See where I’m going with this? Ask ‘why’ of each of these and you’ll come up with a hundred answers on your own. It’s the same with learning how to animate.

If all you want to do is animate a flying logo, or a fancy spaceship that moves across the screen, or a small little Gif for a website, then sure, you don’t need classical training. But if you want to breathe life into a character and tell a story whether it’s to sell cereal, a blockbuster movie, a kick-ass video game or a kids TV show, then yes. You need to learn the basic principles the hard way.

I remember animating a bouncing ball in my first year at Sheridan. I did it once, and I understood. I watched the animation of other classmates and could see who understood it better and who didn’t get it at all.

The great ones seemed to have character! A sense of direction and purpose! They bounced up high and stayed there until deciding to come back down in the perfect amount of time and frames. They had the right amount of squash when they hit the ground and maybe even struggled a little to get back up again, knowing and understanding the timing they needed to make you feel their struggle and sense the comedy. Knowing how to change the shape of each little scribbled circle so subtly and get the inbetweens just right and calculate their timing charts to help achieve the result they were after made those students understand better than the rest of us. And they probably went through some trial and error getting there. Taking out two drawings here because the action was too slow or adding one in there because it was too fast.

The ones who didn’t get it had balls bounce and turn into piles of jello that stuck to the ground for too long. Remember? The balls had no sense of gravity. They either didn’t change shape or they changed shape way too much. They had no dynamic timing. No height difference, no weight, inconsistent volumes and no character.

But we all learned the same basic squash and stretch principle. We all drew the same number of drawings and we learned even more when we watched each other’s results.
How many different ways can you make a ball bounce?
About 137 different ways. Maybe more. But no less.

Take the same training and offer it to someone learning on a computer. They’ll punch in numbers and variables and make the ball bounce, but more often than not, the math will make it work in an acceptable manner, but the student won’t. The student has lost some control and is trusting the computer to do all the work for them. If they’re happy with the result, then then what more do they need to learn? They no longer need to be responsible for every frame. Their bouncing ball homework is done within the hour and likely looks the same as everyone else’s. They are ready to move on to the next lesson. Something more challenging, right?

All I can think of is everything they didn’t learn. And we’re only talking about a bouncing ball here!

So back to training the old fashioned way. I am very opinionated when I say that learning how to animate requires at least two solid years of classical training. First to learn the principles and then to put them all into practice on harder assignments. In the end, it doesn’t matter if you can draw well. It matters that you can demonstrate the knowledge and understanding of the basic principles! You can do this with a glorified stick figure as much as you can with a Disney quality drawing!
My intention with this blog is to open this topic up for discussion among professionals out there and shed some light on opinions that matter. I’m frustrated with schools who place little (or not enough) importance on classical training in their curricula. I’m also frustrated with animation companies that don’t recognize the importance of classically trained animators.

I used to love animation, but I don’t anymore. I’m bitter because no one seems to be doing it right anymore. Students aren’t learning the basics anymore and artists aren’t applying them.

Cost effective animation doesn’t have to be bad!!

Please.. discuss!

BTW: The last line of this interesting article reiterates my point!

Other great, relevant links: