Overlapping and flexibility

I’m trying to use various tecniques to make my animation characters move more fluidly( or show more flexibility) and I’m getting better at it. I read in Richard Williams book about over-lapping as one technique to achieve this.

I shop at Wal-Mart …and …many times at the check out they’ll have these old digitally re-mastered animation DVD for $1 …I have several of these. When I get a chance I try to look at these DVD to get ideas … or … examples of techniques.

Here’s where I’m going with all this… when I watch theese DVD’s …I’ll often freeze certain sections of the DVD and step through it frame by frame …just see how things are done. I see …this overlapping technique applied for maybe 90% of the frames.

But here is where I’m a bit confused. If a character moves his head …say left-to-right ( say using 3 frames for example). In the DVD, in frame 2 for example you’ll see the 2nd drawing … but then you’ll also see a ghost like image of either frame 1 or frame 3. ANd I believe thats what Richard Williams was talking about in his book when he tried to explain over-lapping. It is this technique that gives the fluidity to those old “Woddy WoodPecker Felix the Cat” cartoons. A Technique very noticeable absent in many modern-day cartoon.

I tried this in TBS …but not sure if I’m doing this right. What I did was palce a copy of the first frame in an adjacent row with the second frame. Ofcourse the first frame sits behind in the layered order. Bit I don’t think this is how it should be done. My layered first frame is not blurred or ghost and for a head movement …it just seem to make the head (for a split second) look bigger.

Can anybody help.

And please … don’t explain this at too high level …try to break it down a bit. My animation is raw …but quite good. The average joe will think my work is great …but I only see the flaws …and constantly search for ways to get better.

If I get this technique down it’ll be one of those “LIGHT-BULB” moments because these old cartoons use this technique for some 90% of the time …and clearly it does work …very very well.

Overlapping frames or “ghosting” I haven’t done myself so far.
so I experimented with one of my recent characters to try it out.

I created 3 overlapping frames for each head-turn back and forth,
and set the Alpha to 0.27, just to reduce the opacity a little.

The result is not really convincing yet - rather a little distracting,
maybe someone with more experience can give us some advice
how to apply this very interesting technique more convincing.

Here is my try: called “Kasimir/ghosting.mov”
If you like you can download the movie from my iDisk.

Sorry, file has been removed (06. May 06)
(if you like please have a look at the original file “Kasimir”
under the “General” section).



Here are a few “excerpts” about that issue”

Overlapping means to start a second action before the first action has completely finished. This keeps the interest of the viewer, since there is no dead time between actions.

Here is a quote about overlapping from Walt Disney:

"It is not necessary for an animator to take a character to one point, complete that action completely, and then turn to the following action as if he had never given it a thought until after completing the first action. When a character knows what he is going to do he doesn’t have to stop before each individual action and think to do it. He has it planned in advance in his mind."

Overlapping action implies that not everything happens at the same time.

Take the example of moving a character’s arm from a position of rest to that of picking up a set of keys on a table. A common mistake would be to advance a few frames from the at-rest position, then move all of the arm elements (objects) to the final position. This technique would result in a very lifeless motion (because everything starts and stops moving at the same time). The proper sequence requires that the upper arm begins to rise first. Then the forearm pivots out, followed by the wrist bending back. Finally the fingers curl around the keys. Each of these motions begins before the preceding motion is complete, providing the realistic overlap that your viewer expects. In other words, the motion of the arm rotating upward is overlapped by the wrist bending back.

Follow-Through is a companion to the overlapping action. An action almost never comes to a complete and sudden stop. Instead, inertia carries the object beyond the termination point, often causing the object to slowly reverse direction and settle back to the intended stop location. A golfer’s swing provides an ideal example of a follow-through. Once the ball is struck, the club (and golfer) follow through the point of contact to complete the swing. What about a pencil that drops to the ground? When it hits, does it stop dead in its tracks? Or, does it bounce around a little, then rolls to a stop? Two cars collide in the middle of an intersection. Do they hit and stick? No, recoil occurs, causing them to reverse direction. Again, an action almost never comes to a complete and sudden stop.

"There is no particular mystery in animation…it’s really very simple, and like anything that is simple, it is about the hardest thing in the world to do. "Bill Tytla at the Walt Disney Studio, June 28, 1937.

As far as i know (and the Richard Williams book says) overlapping action “is where things move in parts” as you no doubt read on page 226. Say for example you have an arm swinging during a walk. Without overlapping the upper arm would reach its maximum stretch on the down and then on the following frames it would start to move back down taking the lower arm and the hand with it. With overlapping action, when the upper arm starts to move down, the lower arm stays for a frame or 2 or even moves higher, the same with the hand, to give a more fluid movement.

Ive quickly made an example (Its not great as i only spent about 10 minutes, its on 2’s so its easier to see, and i havent inbetweened it much)



Notice how on the overlap one, when the arm starts to move back down, the lower arm and the hand stay up a bit longer to make it look like all 3 pieces move seperatley and more fluidly.

Anyway hope that clears it up a bit!


Great discussion. There are several things being discussed here and some confusion. Overlapping actions and follow through actions are important fundamentals. There are also tricks or “cheats” if you want to call them that which are different from overlapping and follow through. One of these that you seem to have “discovered” is the use of ghosting and the use of smearing. These are very useful techniques not normally included in listings of the magic 12 fundamentals developed at Disney Studios in the 30’s-40’s. Blurs and smears are used extensively in classical as well as current animation to smooth out actions using fewer frames and also to add a sense of additional energy to movements. The image is intentionally distorded into a smear to optically blend from one pose to another without inbetweens. Perhaps the best example to study and one of the real pioneeering efforts to use this technique was a landmark cartoon made by Chuck Jones at Warner Bros called “The Dover Boys” and employed the use of “smear” action where characters go from one pose to another with only a few frames of animation between each position. If you get a chance this is worth study on a frame by frame basis. -JK

I agree with JK’s assesment. The follow-through principle is seperate from what I’m trying to understand here. In fact …I’ve practiced the follow-through principle and see great improvements from it. But this only goes so far.

What I’m trying to understand is this overlapping GHOSTING/SMEARING technique. I see 2 HUGE gains from understanding this principle.
1. It actually reduces the number of drawing
2. The characters are much more flexible and life-like

I look at some of those older techni-color cartoons and marvel at the fuilidity of the characters. In fact …in many instances I’d say they over-use this principle.

I looked at your “Kashmir” example …and think your on the right track with this…nice work! I believe its a bit distracting only
because either the exposure for the ghosted images are too long or the frame-rate is too slow.

But to follow up on what you’ve posted I’d like to make just one point regarding this matter to clarify things …more so for my understanding.

The overlapped images I observed are GHOST-LIKE images. Often when the frames are frozen it looks like a bad photograph because the image appears very blurry… particularly when the movement is slight and the images are almost merged.

In addition most of the time …the GHOSTED image is the “before” image. The character moves from left to right …you’d see the solid shot to the right with the GHOSTED left shot. However I’ve seen the reverse a few times and not really sure what the rules are on doing it either way.

This technique is very very different from the follow-through principle …which actually increase the number of drawing and thus the work load …this GHOSTING technique actually reduce the work load!

At times I’m amazed at how much they do, how many in-betweens they skip by applying this technique

In a way its like having your cake and eating it too. You reduce the work load … and actually create better animation!

guys, hats off! you surely understand the topic, and i’m glad to be able to participate in your information exchange.

i have never applied any ghosting, i presume i’m too stiff in my current graphic approach, which is a mere economical reason, but ANY possibility to reduce the animation work, but maintaining a certain quality level, is worth to give it a go.

i have scrutinized frame-by-frame a.o. an animation film by the canadian cordell barker ‘the cat came back’ and i noticed a technique similar to the overlapping one, but not exactly the same.

cordell did some of his fast-action drawings using a direct and clear distortion of the shapes.
one example: the main character sawing a rope in a rapid pace has sometimes two right hands in one drawing, both clear and both holding a saw.
the overall effect is a stunningly smooth animation with a controlled and sometimes even breath-taking speed.

One of the more subtle observations that comes as you become more experienced at animation is the understanding that your art isn’t viewed as static images but rather across time in a stream of images. Many people struggle with this concept by trying to make each frame visually pleasing as a snap shot only to find that when viewed as sequence in motion their work has a stiffness and has no life. Distortion, smearing and blurring are tricks that help to visually blend the images and add that energetic and life like quality. Just keep reminding yourself that you aren’t doing illustration you are doing animation. Illustration is a snap shot, animation is a continuum. Every frame is very important but not for its individual appearance but for its synergistic contribution to the whole of the sequence. That is why gestural roughs are so important as the foundation of your work. You are trying to capture a flow not an instant. -JK

Thanks for all the feed back …now I know I’m not just blowing smoke. The next step is …how do I do this with TBS?

I did a simple head turn with 3 drawings. For drawing 2 I placed the first drawing in an adjacent element (before). Then I tried to ghost the image by duplicating the colors used, repainting the drawing then changing the transparency of the duplicated colors and adding a gradient. This somehow does not seem to work … in addition its actually more labor intensive trying to ghost the image!

The next idea I have is to place an object in front of the drawing, paint the object white and then adding transparency. and gradient This would mean adding more layers …but not so much labor.

I ready to listen to any suggestions. I’m hoping someone can provide some simple steps on how to do this.

Another thing I realized is …this pratice may have died in the 2D animation world. I bought an …“All Grown UP” …DVD and did not see this ghosting effect applied anywhere. ALL the DVDs I’ve seen this technique applied are in the very old Technicolor films.

My thoughts on your first post was that the ghosting you saw on your DVD is a result of the transfer of the old 24fps film to 30ish fps NTSC or even PAL 25fps. Run your 24fps TBS Quicktime Outputs through an editing package to get a NTSC frame rate and you’ll see the same ghosting effect. You see it on live action movies as well.

Then again, I’m not sure what DVD you watched and they may well have actually done that effect deliberately. I’ve just never encountered it being planned before.