Friday, 9 May 2014

How do you know what's "good animation" and what isn't?

So on the forum i frequent the most someone posited the question "how do you know what's good animation or not?". Its certainly an interesting question and the answer i ended up delivering made me realise that while i don't generally think too much about it and can generally just tell, i do have a system in my mind that helps me tell what's good and what isn't. In this post i will be elaborating on my previous answer and offering an example of how you can teach yourself to identify an animators style as that ties into this as well. The animator we'll be using for this case study will be Takashi Torii so in preparation here's my new Sakuga MAD featuring more of his recent work.

Here's the link to the new video because like with my Masahiro Sato video, Blogger refuses to recognize that the video exists so the old one is available to view here but watch the new one if you can cause the old one has a lot of mistakes.

So to start off with, when you think of good animation most people tend to think of the Disney animated features as examples of excellence in animation and they are. Where i tend to start separating from mainstream opinion however is when they say that all anime is badly animated because of the of its inherently limited nature. That's a good example of false equivalency as obviously Disney have way more time and money to put into their features but also they are two completely different approaches. Disney uses full animation while anime generally tends to use limited animation (even in movies). It's because of this that anime is able to go into weird and unique places with animation because Disney has an established image that they generally tend not to stray too far from whereas anime has always been aimed at more than just family audiences not that there's an inherent problem but you'll just never see anything like Akira coming from Disney. The big difference between the two is the use of an animation technique known as frame modulation which to be brief basically means using a different amount of frames depending on the sequence. An example of this would be going from a talking scene animated on 3s (8 frames per second) to a fight sequence animated on 1s or 2s (24 frames or 12 frames per second). You can see an example of this in the fluctuating frame rates used in Yasuo Otsuka's scene in Horus Prince of the Sun in this video at 02:20.

So getting back to the main question, in my mind the difference between good and bad animation is largely dependant on adherence to the rules set up by Disney's nine old men. Badly animated sequences tend not to follow them very well. I do however fully admit that looking at it that way is slightly flawed but its worked well for me so far. Within the limited animation framework good animation is largely animation that can convey a certain sense of dynamism and expressiveness within said restrictions and get across what is intended where as bad animation tends to distract you and loose that message along the way as is evidenced in this clip of Gai vs Gai from an early episode of Naruto Shippuden. 

The storyboards for that scene probably required a bit more improvisation from the animator instead of repetition of the same frames over and over and an animator of more skill would have been able to deliver that. Another likely reason would have been a lack of time to get it finished up to a certain standard which is something that plagues long running shows a lot. Storyboards rarely look the same as the finished animation especially in anime as every animator has a different way of interpreting them. 

 In anime the factors that most look into to identify if animation is good or bad would be how well the effects animation (smoke, explosions, water) works in portraying the element and how well the characters interact with the effects animation and how the characters move and if that movement makes sense. Other things to consider is how clothing folds when characters move, the movement of the hair, how well they interact with the environment around them and finally checking if the character looks on-model in the sequence as a whole. The most important factor is if all these things together portray what they are trying to show effectively. Largely bad animation doesn't and you get something that just falls flat. Imagine a very emotional and expressive voice emoting but the image you see is still with just the mouth moving. That would look bad. 

These factors are also factors you look into when trying to identify an animators style and i find it usually takes about a week to nail down an animators style as to where you can tell it's them on the spot. As an example lets take a look at the style of Artland Animator Takashi Torii. His style wasn't always as refined as it is now as is evidenced by his work on the early Hitman Reborn episodes and you can chart the evolution of his style starting from Around episode 47 and culminating in his first "Sakuga" scene in episode 99 with Yamamoto and Reborn training with some amazing water animation effects. 

From that point on there are various features his scenes tend to have that make it a lot easier to spot. The first of which would be the almost sketch-like smear line art he uses when a character's hands or feet come really close to the screen

This is usually the visual tick that's stars a lot of his sequences. The next thing he features a lot in his cuts is his unique style of effects animation which is generally the biggest giveaway that you are looking at his work and that is the effects with sketchy motion lines that appear in the middle of the cut a lot but have already gone by the end of it. Here are the most prominent examples of this.

This style is also used for his water animation effects albeit with the motion lines substituted for individual water droplets accompanying the simple but fluid water effects animation. 

Another thing he has become known for is the ridiculously dynamic angles he uses in his sequences which wouldn't be out of place as cover illustrations and just look cool for lack of a better word.

Then the final tell that is mostly specific to Katekyo Hitman Reborn is the way that he draws the character Yamamoto. In the show after around episode 74 which is when the Future Arc started, we began to see the character of Yamamoto drawn completely off-model but in the best way possible. If you look at Masayoshi Tanaka's character design sheets you'll see that his design differs from Yamamoto's design in the manga and that was one of my biggest issues with the already somewhat slightly lack luster adaptation of the manga as a whole but all of a sudden we saw him being drawn like this ...

To being drawn like this ...

After some good old SakugaDaichi investigative work i noticed that he was only ever drawn like this on episodes that Takashi Torii was either Animation Director of or when he did Key Animation or both. So then this is where we'll transition onto how i was actually able to find out who animated these scenes in Reborn and pin down an individual style. After looking at all the aspects i listed above you should have an understanding of what Torii's style looks like and when you start to notice these stylistic tics the first thing you need to do is look at the episode credits. This is where a website i was pointed to by @braves133 on twitter. is the site i use to check japanese anime episode credits and to use the site efficiently i use the google translate plugin on google chrome as it automatically translates all the japanese text into english since i obviously can't read japanese. To use the search function on the site i always go to AnimeNewsNetwork and find the show i'm looking for then listed under other titles is usually the original kanji for the shows name and i copy and paste that into the search bar on the site i listed above. Then when you have all the episode credits in front of you generally look up all the episodes in which the particular visual style is present and you look for any names that pop up consistently. Usually you'll find that there are usually 2 or more names that pop up consecutively since certain animation directors tend to use the same team of animators when they can. Whenever this is the case you have to look into each animators other works and see their credits on the sakuga@wiki and if you find the style popping up on other shows by that one animator then that's your guy or girl. The one thing to be mindful of is that there are some times when you don't find as many of the visual cues and you'll be left uncertain as to whether your animator is the one behind the sequence and an example of this would be this from my most recent MAD.

When i was marathoning all the shows listed on Takashi Torii's credits i saw that he worked on the recent Yozakura Quartet show and when watching the episode his style did not stand out at all except in one sequence when only one of his visual ticks showed up. Its one of those blink and you'll miss it deals so looking at the two screencaps you'll see that the water flowing up looks like the black energy circulating around the minibus. Its a bit of a stretch which is why i used 2 question marks to show i was extra uncertain. To end this section here the one gif that showcases all the aspects of his style in one sequence.

But yeah generally while it is quite a bit of work, its always nice to finally put a name to a style especially when the animator was really prolific but wasn't really known by western sakuga fandom until that point which was the case with Toshiharu Sugie who works a lot more compared to Torii because Sugie is a freelancer so isn't kept locked up in the towers of Artland being forced to put out Senran Kagura Opening after Senran Kagura Opening with only little breaks in between when he gets kidnapped by Production I.G. to work on their OVA's every so often. So thats how it usually goes so i hope having that knowledge  can help someone else find some new animators that we have yet to identify.

So to bring it back to how i started this post and finish, good and bad animation is largely dependant on the skill of the animator and the time they have to do the work. Sugie and Torii most likely have plenty of time to put out their work (Torii especially ( ̄ω ̄;) ) and have it up to a reasonable standard. However speaking as someone learning animation via books since paying to go on a course isn't an option for me, ANIMATION IS BLOODY HARD. Take a look at my rough animation for my Psyren Project ...

You'll see that while the hair flows, its having a hard time staying the same length and that's because i didn't use arcs of movement which was my own mistake and one of the nine old men's rules. Just following that one rule would have made it look much better and even make it loop more flawlessly so yeah. 

My own point proven with my own bad animation. 


  1. This was a good read. I think good animation has a lot to do with mastering your timing/spacing as well as being able to draw really strong key poses. People often mistake "smooth animation" as "good animation", but if you're timing is good enough, you can sell an action or performance regardless of the frame count/rate.

    1. Yeah i pretty much agree. The best animators working in anime are the ones whose timing is so good you can hardly tell that they're limiting the frames at all.

  2. Ah yes Gai vs Gai. That was the reason i decided to read Naruto instead of watching Shippuden