Mastering Character Animation Fundamentals: Anticipation

You experience some type of anticipation almost daily, whether it's eagerly awaiting the next blockbuster movie that's barely a month away, or maybe you're anticipating playing the new video game on release day. Not only do we anticipate things to occur, but we're anticipating our movements in just about every action we take. It's an entirely different kind of anticipation than the examples given above, but it's more or less the same thing. While you may be anticipating the new video game, you're also anticipating changing lanes while driving by first turning your head to see if there is traffic in the next lane. In the previous Animation Fundamentals articles, we've talked about Timing and Spacing, Overlapping Action and Squash and Stretch, now it's time for Anticipation. The principle that can achieve several important factors in your animations, and without anticipation, your animation can feel unrealistic, and void of any character. There are really two types of anticipation, the initial is outward, before an action can be taken there has to be an anticipation or the action cannot be completed. For example, if a skateboarder is doing a trick, they first must bend down low, before jumping into the air to do their trick. Without first bending down it's not physically possible for them to gather enough energy to actually jump into the air. The second is inward, anticipation of the mind, and not of the body. It's not the type of anticipation that first needs to be done to complete an action, for instance, a pitcher anticipating back before throwing a baseball. Instead it's the type of anticipation that is often unique to a character, or rather the mind anticipating an action. Going back to the above example, when changing lanes you first look to make sure you're clear before actually switching lanes. This is an anticipation for the action, (changing lanes) however, you're certainly capable of changing lanes without looking for other cars, there's nothing stopping you, although it could quite possibly lead to a crash. You're physically capable of changing lanes without anticipating the action (looking for other cars), but you wouldn't. That's the type of anticipation that can add a thought process to your animation, and make your characters truly feel alive. It's also the type of anticipation that can be a little trickier to grasp, and more difficult to figure out how to add it into your animations. So let's take a closer look at each type of anticipation, so you can have a better understanding of how to implement them into your animations.

Physical Anticipation

1 The physical anticipation is one you may already be familiar with, and is often what's first considered to be the anticipation in your animations. Looking at the 12 Principles of Animation, the definition is really the preparation for an action that is about to occur. Before a solider throws a spear, they first need to bring the spear back behind their shoulder in order to get enough energy to throw it. It's important to know how much anticipation you really need for an action, because the anticipation can certainly be exaggerated. Take a look at some of the older Warner Bros. Cartoons; if the anticipation was big enough, there wasn't really a need to have any other animation after it, because the audience understood what was going to happen. For instance, when a character got ready to run off the screen, there would be a broad anticipation back, which was held for several frames. You knew what was going to happen just by looking at the anticipation; the result after the anticipation was just a puff of smoke. The audience knew what happened, without actually seeing any animation. No matter what type of anticipation it is, the number one result that you want to achieve with your anticipation is to prepare the audience for something. Let them know that something is about to happen, a big change in motion, so they're ready for it, and they don't miss it. Not only do many actions that don't have anticipation look unrealistic, and literally physically impossible; the audience can get lost without it. Think of it this way, the bigger change in motion requires a larger anticipation. If a character is simply going to slowly walk forward, the anticipation may hardly be visible, something as simple as the body moving backwards slightly before moving forward. However, if the character is about to sprint forward, then the anticipation needs to be more pronounced, to get the audience ready for it. Even very small actions have anticipations to them, for instance, a character reaching for a cup. Their hand may go back slightly before moving forward to grab the cup. You can even exaggerate it for a more cartoony effect like in the video example above. Conversely, a character pressing a button, their hand and finger might arch backward before pressing the button down. The longer the anticipation is for an action like that can give a unique feeling to the animation. If the anticipation is very long, the character may be nervous about pressing the button. Typically, with a longer anticipation, the resulting action will be faster. That's what the audience expects. If a character bends down, ready to sprint, and instead they slowly walk forward after the anticipation, it will not be what the audience expects, and would look weird. Alternatively, switching up the action after the anticipation can be a great way to add a more comedic feel to your animation, and to switch up the audience's expectations. It really comes down the style of the animation. With all this being said, it's definitely okay to leave out anticipations when it's needed. You don't need to have a broad anticipation for every single action the character takes, because things can start to get muddy. You'll get more comfortable with anticipations the more you practice with them. One important thing to keep in mind, though, is that any actions that cannot be physically possible without some sort of anticipation will likely need an anticipation.

Anticipation for Acting

The second type of anticipation is considerably more subtle, and as talked about previously, it's the type of anticipation that is more along the lines of a character's thought process. It's the anticipation of the mind, where the other anticipation is often more physical. While this is really more closely related to acting, which is something you'll learn about later in this series, it's still important that you understand this early on, and have a strong knowledge of how you can make a character feel more alive. It's the type of anticipation that you do unconsciously in everyday actions. Something as simple as putting on oven mitts before opening the oven can be considered an anticipation. When you see someone put on oven mitts you expect them to grab something out of the oven, because no one just walks around with those things on. It sets the audience up for something that is about to happen in the story. Alternatively, if a character opens up the oven, and the audience sees no cue that they put on oven mitts, they are likely going to expect something bad is about to occur, like the character getting burned. These types of anticipations are key for establishing a character's thought process, and really making them feel like living and breathing characters, and not just some 3D geometry. You'll learn more about that in the Acting for Animation series, although it's important that you have a basic idea of how anticipation can be used in different ways early on. In the example above, you can see a jump animation with an anticipation, and the same jump animation without the anticipation. You can clearly see how unnatural the second version looks, it's not really physically possible to jump without first bending down.  Of course, this example has been exaggerated, but you can see how important the anticipation is. When it comes to the principle of anticipation, the difficult part is not really how you create an anticipation animation, but rather where to put it, and understanding what actions should have an anticipation tied to it. Remember to think of the anticipation as the cue for the audience, it lets them know that a big action is about to happen. Without some type of anticipation, they can miss an important action. Even though you may be just learning the fundamentals of animation, it's still vital that you consider the second type of anticipation, which is more closely related to acting, and giving your character a unique thought process. Something as simple as grabbing a pencil can be considered an anticipation for the action of writing on a piece of paper, and it shows the character having a thought process. In the next article in the animation series we will dive into body mechanics, and look at more advanced applications of the basic principles. If you're new to the Principles of Animation, be sure to download our handy PDF to keep as a reference guide.