How is the Ball Bounce the Foundation for Every Animation?
The infamous ball bounce, the animator's most important exercise for building a strong foundation, yet the animation that should never be on your demo reel. How can something be so important to an animator, yet at the same time, be the one animation you should never present to recruiters?
Well, if you've studied animation before you've probably heard more times than your fingers can count how the ball bounce can relate back to just about every single animation you do. Sure, it's easy to say, but how's that really possible? What about a walk cycle, a combat animation or even something like a dialogue shot? In a ball bounce exercise all you're doing is making a ball bounce up and down. What can really be learned from that? Other than you're pretty amazing at animating a ball. Well, you're going to have to hear it said just one last time; the ball bounce is the foundation for all other animations. However, this time you're going to learn exactly why that is.
It's All in the Timing and Spacing
That's right; one of the most important things you're getting engrained into your brain as you're animating a ball bounce is the principle of timing and spacing. You're learning how timing and spacing works, and why it's so vital to your animations. By simply animating a ball bounce you're learning how objects move in the real world, and how to get them to appear like they are moving with the same laws of physics that we are constrained to.
Not only are you learning how to animate realistic movements in a ball, but it's teaching you how other objects or even animals and people should move. The things you learn while animating a ball bounce will stay with you throughout your animation career.
You're Learning More Than Just How to Animate a Ball
While it may not appear that way while you're doing it, but as your working on the ball bounce exercise you're learning more than just how to animate a ball and you're also learning more than just the principle of timing and spacing. For example, you're also learning about the principle of Ease in and Ease out as you're figuring out how the ball needs to descend and ascend.
Once you start implementing things like Squash and Stretch into the ball bounce you'll start to have a strong understanding of how this principle works, and how you should be implementing it. It's also a good idea to do as many different animations with a ball as you can, before moving on to more complex shots, find ways to implement every principle into the mix. For instance, you can incorporate anticipation into the ball bounce to add life and character.
You'll also learn about the path of action while animating a ball bounce as well as learn how arcs add fluidity into your scene.
Using the Ball Bounce Exercise for Other Animations
It may seem hard to understand at first, but as you're working on more complex animations you can always go back to what you learned on your ball bounce exercise to get you out of a road block you've hit. For instance, a walk cycle is actually prime place to use the ball bounce to help you work through it. The hips should move basically the exact same way that a ball bounces on the ground, of course, it's not as exaggerated but you're essentially trying to capture the exact same pattern that a ball travels. If you were to track the arcs of the hips, it would look just like a ball bouncing on the ground. That's why many animators isolate everything except the hips of the character when animating a walk. The rest of the character can be added on once the motion of the hips is correct.
The same goes for animating a character jumping, or falling to the ground. If you're having trouble figuring out how to make it appear realistic go back to what you've learned while animating a ball. The same techniques you used to animate the ball will be applied to the character as they are jumping, or as they're falling.
As you're getting into facial animation, you can use what you learned on the ball bounce to incorporate squash and stretch into the expressions.
Something as simple as a ball bounce suddenly has just about every animation principle you'll need wrapped up into one. The great thing about it is that it's relatively simple to do, so you're not trying to learn the principle of squash and stretch on a characters face, or the principle of arcs for a character's arm. You're learning how to apply them to something simple, like a ball and in turn you'll be able to incorporate the same techniques into more complex animations. The same principles you used for the ball bounce can all be applied to any other animation you do, no matter how complex, and that's how the simple ball bounce is the foundation for all animations.
If you're unfamiliar with all of the principles of animation, be sure to download our hand PDF of the 12 Principles of Animation.
If you have your own animation questions that you want answered be sure to post them in the comments below! We'll get to them as soon as possible, or we'll even dedicate an entire article to answer your question.