One shot, one frame. I always believe that each shot in a film can be done in one frame. I mean that for each shot there should only be one main story telling idea or pose. Now, I know every shot has more than one pose and some shots you need more than that but the overall feel and story telling of that shot can generally be summed up in one frame.
At the beginning of any shot I work on I try to find this frame. I usually reference the storyboards first because in story they are also trying to accomplish the same goal of telling the story in one drawing. Then I try and figure out what my acting is for the shot how that fits into the composition of the frame and what the strongest single pose is for my shot. I then look at my shot looping with this one pose in place, with the sound playing back and then I ask myself does this read? If the emotion or story point of the shot doesn’t come across in this simple test I then go back to the drawing board and try again. I always believe that animation is best when it’s simple, and uncomplicated. The reason I look for this one pose is so I start from a simple place that works, then I can start to build my performance from there and hopefully just strengthen what I already have. If you start with out this I find it’s easy to get caught up in fancy poses, nice arcs, and movement that winds up not telling the story but rather winds up looking over acted or not quite connected to the overall telling of the story. It winds up looking like you moved a bunch of stuff while trying to find the point of the scene.
There are many different approaches to animation and I’m only sharing what has worked for me. So give it a shot, see if it works for you too. The great thing for me about this approach is it really makes you ask questions too yourself about what’s important, what’s going on in the scene, how the character is feeling, what they want, all these things because you have to get all that in one frame. It really simplifies it for me and allows me to focus on what’s important rather than just creating a bunch of head movement bobbing to dialog that doesn’t mean anything or relate to what’s really going on the scene.
Again Bill Waterson was a master at this one panel story idea. These are so clear you can see them come to life in your head as you look at them.