[mag cover]

From the March/April 1989 issue of the Society for Animation Studies Newsletter

"Animation, a Guide to Animated Film Techniques" by Roger Noake,
Macdonald & Co. Publishers Ltd. London, 1988. (160 pages, Illus.)

Reviewed by Phil Denslow.

Because of the title and the author's background (a teacher at West Surrey College of Art and Design, and president of BILIFA - an international organization for animation schools) this book should be evaluated on the basis of how it could be used as a textbook or as a self-teaching tool. While it is unrealistic to pretend that any one book can meet every need in animation instruction, one that combines a general historical background with explanations of common procedures and techniques would be very useful. This is what Mr. Noake has undertaken.

There are seven chapters, along with an introduction, glossary, filmography (author's favorites, presumably), bibliography, index, "useful addresses" list, and "animation kit" describing basic tools and processes. Most chapters have a "case history" section at the end illustrating how the subject at hand was dealt with during a production. Throughout the book there are photos of film and sound equipment in use, but most illustrations are stills from animated films. The stills are indicated within the index in italics. Unfortunately, the captions for the stills rarely include a production date, but films mentioned in the text do.

Chapter one, "The Story So Far", is a brief summation of the history of animation. The subheads "Beginnings", "The industrialization of animation", "The impact of Disney", "Animation in the East", "Mainstream decline and independent revival", "Advertising and independents", and "Television, new technology and the future" indicate how the subject matter is arranged. The perspective is a fairly international one. Naturally, the brevity may cause irritation-by-omission for the knowledgeable reader, but for the beginning student there is plenty of interesting material with which to start a discussion.

The next six chapters discuss the methods of production and technology available to animated film makers. "Script and Storyboard", "Sound and Image", "Staging the Action", "Handmade Films", "Studio Production", and "The New Technology" are the chapter headings. They each clearly describe their subject and reflect the author's experience as a teacher. There is a proper emphasis on pre-production planning as well as a concentration on techniques likely to be used by the novice. There are sequences of photographs demonstrating the breaking down of soundtrack material, the laying out of a complicated panning motion, manipulating cut-out artwork under the camera, and creating animation with objects.

With such a plentifully illustrated book about a visual medium, it is a shame that the selection of stills from films doesn't always meet the author's needs. Among the important studios and independents discussed in the text but unrepresented in picture are Disney, Fleisher, McLaren, Trnka, U.P.A. and Zagreb. Naturally everyone can't be included, but these gaps seriously undercut the text by failing to illustrate important information. To the book's credit, it has images accompanying the prominent references to Avery, Borowczyk, Breer, Cohl, Dreissen, Dunning, Fischinger, Gilliam, Godfrey, Jones, Leaf, Lenica, Lye, McCay, the Quays, Reineger, Svankmejer, and James Whitney. In addition there are examples from many others, including several newcomers.

This book, or any book on animation, should have flip-book art on the corners of the pages. This is such an obvious way to transcend the limits of written description of an artform based on motion. Flip sequences can easily be made from 35mm film frames or reduced pencil drawings common to most productions. Of course, flipping paper does not reproduce the theatrical experience, but it can certainly increase communication to the reader about an artist's manipulation of images in time. Unfortunately, this book did not take advantage of the opportunity. Most books about animation don't, which is too bad.

In conclusion, the text of this book provides a good general introduction to animation, but because of the inconsistent accompanying illustrations, the same cannot be said about the book as a whole. Ironically, for the collector of animation books, the wide variety of unusual stills provided is a good reason to get the book, but these more knowledgeable folks probably won't bother to read much of the text.

The SAS Newsletter: published by the Society for Animation Studies.