When I was first starting out as an animator, I was eager to learn the best methods for executing the illusion of movement. At first, I scoured the Internet for tutorials on anything animation related. If you’ve done this, you’ve no doubt found that there are a ton of tutorials out there. However, I’d often be 12 minutes into a 40-minute tutorial and realize that it wasn’t what I was looking for at all. That’s when I realized that there had to be something better for this pursuit of knowledge… something ancient and proven… something called… Books.
Like tutorial videos though, there are way too many books to choose from. An Amazon books search on “Animation” turns up countless titles, many of which are priced over $30. A lot of these may be great books, you may find that many are lacking in practical application. The list below features five books that were recommended to me early on in my animation education process. I’ve purchased many more books since, but these have proven to be the most crucial of all the animation education books. Whether you’re looking for a place to start teaching yourself, or you’re just tired of failed YouTube tutorial searches, I’d highly recommend the following titles.
Written by Who Framed Roger Rabbit? director of animation and three-time Academy Award winning animator Richard Williams, The Animator’s Survival Kit is the closest thing to an encyclopedia of cartoon animation out there. Appropriately, it was also the assigned text for my very first animation course. This book is filled with frame by frame breakdowns and handwritten explanations applicable to all styles of animation.
2. Tezuka School of Animation Volumes 1 and 2 by Tezuka Productions
Tezuka School of Animation vol. 1 and 2 are the educational offerings of Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka. Much like Williams’ Survival Kit, Tezuka’s books are filled primarily with frame-by-frame breakdowns of everything from natural phenomena, such as explosions and running water, to walk cycles of everything from humans to beetles. Despite the cartoon images depicted on the covers, these books offer motion that is more true-to-life than Williams’ bouncy cartoon walks and runs.
3. Cartooning the Head and Figure by Jack Hamm
Have you ever been drawing and realized that you only have one way that you draw shoes? Or hands? Or hairdos? In the case of character design, this can be a huge stumbling block. Even if you’re going for a cohesive style, having characters that look too similar can be confusing to your audience, or just come across as lazy design. This is where Jack Hamm’s Cartooning the Head and Figure comes in. This inexpensive book is filled with different styles of hands, faces, men’s pants, etc. all of which come in very handy when outfitting newly designed characters.
Though Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics is primarily (and obviously) about comic books, the book has enormous applications to pre-production and storyboarding of animated works. McCloud takes on the role of an on-page-narrator in this massive comic book about comic books, explaining the importance of efficiency in storytelling, and effective communication through visuals rather than dialogue.
5. Technical Manuals for Software
Pardon the lack of specificity here, but this section was included to stress the importance of owning technical manuals in general. If you’re an animator that uses software, you’ve no doubt had the experience described above in the introduction; clicking and scrubbing through countless YouTube videos, only to find that the specific tool or trick you’re looking for isn’t touched on in the slightest. In these situations, having a technical manual around can be a lifesaver. You’ll likely find that a table of contents can be much more forgiving than an endless list of online tutorials. There are many technical manual brands out there, but Visual Quickstart Guide and The Missing Manual are both among the highly reviewed. However, neither offers up-to-date volumes on Adobe After Effects or Autodesk Maya, so further research may be required to find the right technical manual to suit your needs, but I assure you it will come in handy.
If you’re an animator looking for titles to fill out your creative bookshelf, these five animation education books should certainly be among them. I assure you that they will spend more time off the shelf and open than most other creative books you’ve purchased. If you’re anything like me, though, you won’t stop here. Buying books on animation can quickly evolve into an addiction. It’s important to remember (for myself mostly) that one must actually read the books to get something out of them, and not just look at the pretty pictures. Let’s all be honest, though, that is the best part, right?