October '09

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In the pantheon of Animation How-To books, Halas & Whitaker’s "Timing for Animation" has always been a long time favorite. Like Preston Blair’s "Cartoon Animation", it was an inexpensive, easily readable little workbook. For many animators around the world, it was their first real book on technique. Many an artist’s bookshelf has a dog-eared, spine-split old copy of Timing for Animation laying around somewhere, like a jar of honey in the back of your pantry.

John Halas was born Janos Halasz in Hungary and learned his craft under George Pal. He emigrated to England in 1940 and became the dean of British animation directors in the 1950s. His studio, Halas & Batchelor, created classic films like George Orwell’s "Animal Farm". Halas wrote several works on animation technique and was one of the founders of the international ASIFA movement in 1961.

Co-author Harold Whitaker may not be as well known outside the UK as Halas, but he was a top animator in London. He worked on films like "Ruddigore" (1966) and "When the Wind Blows" (1986). Like Maurice Noble and Eric Larson in Hollywood, Harold Whitaker took many younger artists under his wing and was a very influential teacher.

Because I knew John Halas better from his other writings and appearances, at first I assumed he had written the lion share of "Timing for Animation", and Whitaker had done the illustrations. But my old "Roger Rabbit" colleagues corrected me.  Harold Whitaker contributed a great deal to writing the principles in this book.

When Focal Press contacted me to help update this old chestnut, I was already deep into my next large history project - a book on computer animation. I was intrigued with the challenge of working in someone else’s style, and reintroducing their lessons to a newer audience.  Also, being an animation teacher myself, and being too lazy to write my own How-To, this was a nice way to work in many of my own teachings. For instance, no one had yet discussed the differences in storyboarding and timing for features, TV and overseas production.

I approached this project with great trepidation. So many artists around the world have a fondness for this little book. Just reading John Lasseter’s reminiscing about how much "Timing for Animation" influenced his career, had me thinking…” And I’m going to mess with this?”  It’s like when Giorgio Vasari was ordered by the Pope to paint underwear on Michelangelo’s nude frescoes.


The main reason for the update was that the book was written for a pre-digital animation industry. The basic rules of timing are still valid, but much time was wasted describing archaic 1960’s technology that has no further relevance to even the traditional animation production of today.  For instance, in the 1970’s I was taught how to direct from Bar Sheets, but very few studios use them today.

So, in some cases, I worked additions into the existing text, and in some cases I created new chapters. These were on topics like 3D storyboarding, Direction for overseas production, editing for early children’s programming, animating on-line content, etc.

My main thought throughout was- This is Halas & Whitaker’s book, not mine. I sought to augment the original text without changing it too much. Some suggested I correct the more eccentric order of some of the early chapters- but I insisted we keep it the way it read in the original. Another wanted me to expand the text to a coffee-table size work. But I argued it had to remain inexpensive enough for students to afford. Besides, if I bloated the copy up too much, people would spot it as padding.

Many know from my writings like "Drawing the Line", I love to add personal anecdotes and arcane historical references. But in doing this work, I did my best to keep to the writing style of Halas & Whitaker. I kept my entries short and concise.  I wanted to integrate the new material into the text without calling attention to itself.  People familiar with the older editions might read something and say, “ This is Sito talking here…”. If you can’t spot them, then I succeeded.

For the newer chapters, I consulted animation professionals like Dorse Lanpher, Paul Teolis, Steve Wood, Mark Farquhar, and Colin White. These are not interviews, per se - it would not be like H&W’s original.
I tried not to dwell on a particular software, like how to use MAYA or MoCap, the technology is changing so fast.  "Timing’s" strength is its timelessness.

I saw this update as a great chance to expand the visuals beyond the mid-twentieth century art of Halas & Batchelor’s English studio to the global industry this book is so much a part of.  Bill Plympton, Rhythm & Hues, Olive Jar, Pixar, Sony and Jib Jab all contributed images. I was very happy to put in a drawing by our old friend, the late Joe Ranft, who was a great teacher of storyboard.

I expect some to find fault, to say I messed up the original (Heck, I liked the original versions of "Star Wars"and "Close Encounters" better before they were Special Edition-ed). Naysayers, I think, will be outnumbered by the people who are happy to have their old friend back - hopefully even more relevant to a newer, modern audience.

Gil Miret, one of my original animation teachers at SVA, used to say:” The problem with animation is every few years some young filmmaker announces he just discovered the pan.” Meaning, artists who don’t know any better waste time going over ground that has been already been explored, when they could be advancing the medium.

Many of my generation of artists are concerned that the traditional skills of the Golden Age that were handed down to us might get lost in the maelstrom of CGI development. Everyone is so busy figuring out what file to open and what to double-click, that the rules of classic animation performance may get lost in the shuffle. Our last duty to our mentors is to ensure their ideas will advance to coming generations.

I hope that lovers of the older editions of "Timing for Animation" will still recognize their old friend. And I hope my additions will enable newer generations of people just entering the field to discover the value of this classic work in animation instruction.

Buy it!

Graphics for this article courtesy of Focal /Elsevier Press.

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