beings find aural and visual rhythms immensely satisfying. In fact
we are pattern seekers and take great pleasure in notions of 'return'
and the familiar. Animators have taken
advantage of this human disposition.
THE DELIGHT OF VISUAL RHYTHMS
There are lots of tricks that animators constantly use to cut down
the amount of work to be done. Cycles of repeating action are just
one of these ways - and whenever animators find an opportunity to
include a cycle in a sequence, you can bet they will seize upon
CYCLES - CUTTING DOWN THE WORK
Some of the very early cartoons were almost entirely based on cyclic
actions, especially when it was discovered that animation could
echo the rhythmic patterns found in music. Walt Disneys 1928
Steamboat Willie was the first sound cartoon to amaze
audiences of the day with its close synchronism between image and
sound. This relationship was exploited to the hilt, (giving rise
to the term 'Mickey Mousing' - a sound track which follows exactly
what the image is doing) as was the use of cyclic animation which
took its cues from the repeated phases and beats of the musical
Cycles can be cyclic in nature, that is, the artwork is
used in order 1,2,3,4 followed by exact repeats of that order again
1,2,3,4 etc. This type of cycle is useful for representing things
like a wheel spinning. Cycles
may also oscillate. That is
the artwork is used in order 1,2,3,4 but then the artwork is used in reverse order 4,3,2,1 to return to the
start position again etc - like the motion of a clock pendulum.
Or indeed cycles can be random, 1,4,3,1,2,4,3,1,2, etc -
to mimic a flag fluttering wildly in a stiff breeze. Using the technique
of cycle animation, it is possible for the animator to reuse such
a sequence of drawings over and over again to build up screen time
without any additional effort. Some cycles may consist of only two
drawings, while others may be involve several tens of complex actions.
an oscillating cycle. Fairings at each end of the above
movement, give the illusion of acceleration and deceleration,
resulting in a smooth change of direction.
a cyclic cycle. Again, fairings are used to make the
blob dwell slightly at the top of its rotation. In other words,
the inbetweens are closer together here and are spaced further
apart at the bottom of the rotation.
a random cycle. A set of drawings and images are shot
in any order at the whim of the camera operator.
over the man on the bike to the right to make him ride. There
are two cycles here. A 'resting' pant cycle consisting of only
2 drawings with asymmetrical timing, the breath-in pose being
held slightly longer, and the riding cycle consisting of 5 drawings.
Note the way the bicycle wheels are treated. Lots of fussy spoke
detail simply would not work (heavens! the wheels might even
appear to go backwards as cart wheels always do in the Westerns
- but that's another story). There is however a distinct smudgy
blur which helps the eye follow the rotational movement of each
An Endless Road - Roll
over this road with your mouse to travel down it endlessly.
simple 4 drawing cycle can fill the screen with rich motion.
It only needs a small number of drawings because of the patternistic
repeating elements in its design. One telephone pole, tree,
or road line only has to animate into its immediate neighbour,
not be animated all the way from infinity. We need to obey the
laws of perspective, however. As the elements recede into the
distance, not only do they get smaller, but the apparent distance
between them also gets progressively smaller. All we need is
a foreground element of a truck wobbling about, and the illusion
is very strong even though the solution is so simple.
of this machine cycle also work for the same reason as the road
example. Each tooth on the large gear animates into the tooth
of the next. Because there are many teeth on the big gear, it
appears to move slower than the smaller gear.
Besides these rotational movements, there are also translational
motions as well distortions involving squash and stretch. Some
parts move smoothly, while others like the rocker thingo at
the back, which has an oscillating arc movements, has a thump
to it courtesy of the arrangement of its fairings. An amazing
richness and variety of motion is coming from just 6 drawings.
over this machine to activate it.
of 3 drawings are needed to establish a direction of rotation
as in the fan example (right) and will keep it spinning forever.
Two drawings create a back and forth oscillating motion which
can be ambiguous when used for rotation.
keep this lady's hair blow'n in the wind of the fan. The tips
of her hair is a collection of wild shapes, while the decorative
line work starting at her forehead has ripples running through
them to give the wind a sense of direction.
in the wind, waves lapping on the shore, repetitive human or animal
actions and the workings of machines are just some examples of motion
which can be convincingly represented by a repeating series of drawings.
These complex movements can be represented through forms of abstraction.
Rhythmic visual patterns are also very meditative to look at.
are also two cycles involved in the movement of these reeds
in the wind (left). One cycle picks up the reed as the wind
blows stronger, while a second cycle sustains the action as
though fluttering in a constant breeze. Exactly the same animation
is used for the 5 reeds, but each is out of phase by a couple
of frames not only to make the animation far richer to look
at, but to suggest that the wind blows from the left and affects
each reed at a slightly different moment in time - the Mexican
wave effect. The sparkle on the moonlit lake is also a cycle
- an effect which was created automatically
one piece of artwork across some randomly placed holes in another.
By the way, there are only 8 colours in this scene.
3D version of a rich patternistic cycle (right). The apparent
complexity of motion within this sequence comes largely through
the cloning of one red frond and one green stem and
the way the staggered timing of
these elements move across each other. This test was made
in 1985 during research into 3D computer animation.
Of course, walking is also a rhythmic cyclic
action which can be described using a handful of drawings which can
be repeated over and over again. For more about walk cycles, <click
"Hey! I'm nothing more
than a set of repeated drawings" ...says dino dejectedly. "I think I'll just walk to the edge of
Mouse features in Walt Disneys 1928 Steamboat
Willie, purportedly the first sound cartoon film. A
rhythmic musical sound track provides the cues for various
synchronised visual rhythms.
Mouse at it once more proving time and time again that when
he hits a pot or a pan, there is a corresponding sound.
Special bonds connect film images to film sound. The animated
film, in particular, has always enjoyed an intimate co-relationship
with its soundtrack. The visual elements and the audio track
seem to share a more creative partnership.
The animated film-making process itself encourages a higher
degree of synchronisation than is practical within other forms
of moviemaking. The animation films images are designed
and executed frame by frame. So it is with the accompanying
sound track, which can also be studied and measured with frame-by-frame
precision. Hence, the inherent nature of the technology encourages
a closeness between picture and sound.
Animated images and sounds also
appear to share many common elements of structure. A musical
tune, for example, is often characterised by a simplicity
that is a lot like the graphic simplicity and the familiar
gestures we recognise in cartoon characters. In many animated
films, there exist close counterparts for certain musical
elements. Repetition in music is like repeating a set of drawings
or camera movements; tempo is related to visual beat; dynamics
in musical performances correspond to narrative and graphic
exaggeration; orchestration relates to the overall colouring
and structure of an animated sequence.
In fact, animators used to work with bar charts, sheet of
paper with columns indicating each second of film. They would
then graphically chart up the various action accents necessary
for each shot. The end result was sheets of paper with notations
which looked somewhat similar to a musical score.
9 frame GIF animation (below) was designed to suitable for
a web page icon. Felix Hude created this animation of Mr Pumpy
as a give-away link animation to attract people to his 'Cycling
Through Asia" web site.
The bike operates on a 3 drawing cycle, while the background
elements pass through on a 9 frame cycle (a multiple of 3).
Its a real funky site, so just click on the animation to go
The above animation occurs within a 48 x 48 pixel matrix.
At this scale, some pixels are just popping on and off.
For a research project which investigates the issues
of designing animation and interface icons at such small
resolution see "Developing Pixel Based Graphic
Images in a Data Restricted Environment" by AIM
research graduate, Joohyun Lee. Joohyun's work included
the collaborative development of 6 mobile phone "Lifestyle"
games in association with Korean companies.
new under the sun...
disc from the 1830s. Could this perhaps be one of the world's
first animated horror special effects? Working on a similar
principle to that of the machine (above), one rat animates into
the next - repeating elements. Although it is only a 16 drawing
cycle, 39 rats fit on the surface of this disc - enough to give
one nightmares if you suffer from Musophobia. The clever way
the rats scamper across the disc and seem to disappear out of
sight behind it, where the operator's hand is holding the device,
is added cause for concern. For a complete list of Phobias <click