The answers aren't in the animation.
I was hoping to post some student work but I'm still waiting for some files from a few folks, and where I promised Andrew I'd post something this weekend I figured I'd follow through on my promise and cover a topic that has come up quite a bit recently.
Our director was in dailies with us this week and the subject of the difference between contemporary animation and that of the classic golden age came up. It was observed and generally agreed upon that the largest shortcoming of present day animators is the ability to reference past work as a means of problem solving. Unfortunately, it's very easy to do. How can you not watch Bagheera and Mowgli struggling to get up that tree, or the dwarves sadly approaching Snow White's casket, or Stromboli tearing Pinnochio a new one without thinking that you've found the answers to everything you need to make your work great? The flaw in that reasoning however becomes apparent when you remember that the talents that generated that work did not have the luxury of such reference. I believe our generation easily forgets that and from there we develop movement and performance cliches that can make modern animation unsatisfying, if not down right annoying to watch. The answers to our problems are not in the work of our gifted predecessors, but in the same place they found theirs. In life.
It is nearly impossible to do this job well without a keen sense of observation. Your job as an animator does not stop once you get up from your desk. When you're strolling through a mall it's your job to notice certain things. It's your job to notice the look on the face of a husband following his wife around the store when there is only 15 min. before the game starts. It's your job to notice the body language of a mother with a stroller full of twins being followed by her four year old who is screaming for a toy in a shop window. Perhaps even pausing a moment to see the the way someone scarfs down a Hot Dog on a Stick. These observations will provide you with what you need to make those interesting and unique choices that will reach out and touch the audience watching your work, and separate it from the person who has ripped off the the ol' Baloo-rubbing-his-hand-on-his-neck-while-he's-thinking bit for the millionth, freaking time.
The work of the pioneers who have blazed the trail we walk on now should continue to be enjoyed and will always be a source of inspiration. However, in the interest of pushing the medium to be as great as it can be requires that we not use their work as a means to solve our problems. Frank and Ollie didn't write the "Illusion of Animation". It was "The Illusion of Life". Make the effort to take a good long look at it and let it strengthen your work.