Even though I do not know all animation books out there, I would dare saying that Richard Williams’ book, The Animator’s Survival Kit, is the most important one and any animator should have it in the bookshelf. My experience with this book has been absolutely fantastic, and it was because of it that I was able to start as a self-taught animator.
Whether it be stop motion, computer animation or traditional animation, it is important to remember that animation is not just about the use of a particular software, but firstly about the study of movement itself. In this book, the director of animation of Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) explains all principles of animation, relying on the use of both detailed drawings and abstract stick figures that describe movement in a way that is very clear and easy to understand.
I am sure that all animators, regardless of their skill level, will find a high amount of value inside the 342 pages of this book. Its content ranges from the basic bouncing ball timing and spacing exercise to its use in more complex bouncing walking cycles (and many other interesting types of walks and runs), and also includes sophisticated techniques like the use of successive breaking of joints to create fluid movements (a basic example of this technique can be seen on the second picture above).
The book’s teaching style is really friendly and easy to follow, and feels just like if you were sitting with the author or reading his personal notes (he even uses a very clear hand-written font). Apart from the main animation principles and movement studies, you will also find many tips and tricks developed by Williams after his many years of experience.
While all examples are made frame by frame with traditional 2D hand-drawn animation, they explain the principles of animation itself. Williams does not teach you how to draw, model, compose or work in a certain format, but how to create graceful and believable movements for any character or object. Characters will move through the same key, breakdown and in-between positions, and believable movements will be believable regardless of them being made in 2D or 3D.
There is also an animated version of the book, which includes the animated exercises from all chapters and recorded lectures by the author in a 16 DVD box-set. Just watching the amazing animated intro makes it clear that this book was made by an authentic master at his craft.
I also wrote a post showing the techniques used for two animation exercises, which can be a little preview of some of the concepts explained in depth by Williams.
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