Ugh… Yes this is my first thought when I hear about beginning animators playing around in non-standard television and film formats for animation. Or that 17fps or 20fps is an acceptible delivery format for animation. It’s not that there is anything wrong with experimentation. In fact it’s great to explore the artform and deep exploration of alternate frames per second or alternating frames per second is actually a very advanced conversation of a greater artistic adventure. BUT!!! There are some serious things we must discuss and for pretty much all beginning animators I must caution on going outside of the standard television, film, and even video game frame rates. In short… STOP IT! DON’T DO IT!!!
HAHAHA… Okay maybe not to that extreme but you must understand why you do animation to a standard frame rate. Once you understand this you can pretty much break all the rules and definietly do whatever you want. Heck Picasso could draw the human form perfectly but he got tired of that and went outside of the norm to discover new ways to express himself. So basically you can do the same just get the understanding of why first.
So here’s the “WHY” based on history… In the beginning of filmmaking before there was television, filmmakers had to hand crank their cameras. This meant that the speed at which the playback of the film was not standardized and there was also no audio syncronization. Basically live musicians played to both the live action and the animated films being projected. Playback ranged from 16fps to 22fps in theaters at this time. So your film would look different each time it played in a different location. Motors were introduced to the cameras to give a better control of the speed at which the films were being recorded and this resulted in a calculation of how many frames of photography are being taken in one second. This is what we call “Frames Per Second” or “fps” for short. Also, projectors were produced with a set playback in frame rate which allowed filmmakers to calibrate their films to the projectors speed. Because of this calibration syncronized sound was invented and BOOM you had synchronized image and sound that caused the film industry explosion in the early 1900’s.
Film Evolved to Television and so did animation… Now there were two main inventors/manufacturers of cameras and projectors in the early 1900’s in two different parts of the world. The manufacturers agree on the standard frame rate of 24fps. Because these two manufacturers set a standard for both filming and projection the incoming future manufacturers of cameras and projectors followed the norms and thus an industry standard was agreed upon. This has lasted all the way to today and that frame rate is the norm. When television was invented a bunch of standards needed to be set because signals and their bandwiths are just as important as to the size and shape of the image. Video cameras functioned a specific way and to squeeze an image into an energy wave that is transmitted over a long distance takes a bit more science and technique. Also, the attempt at getting more out of the action of the played back image was important. So they settled on two standards. These were 30fps (NTSC) for the USA and Europe used 25fps (PAL). There’s a lot more to this story but I’m keeping it simple so bare with me if you are a technology geek.
Beyond Television we get a little crazy… Because television and film were the evolving media format the standards pretty much aligned to those two outlets but with the invention of the modern computer and video games there also came a lot more standards and practices. Now HD digital television and the internet added even more standards built ontop of the old ways. Because everything has switched to digital, filmmakers and video game artists have now seen a luxury in being able to produce framerates that playback at 60fps, 70fps, 90fps, and 120fps for many productions. Yet these framerates are not exactly necessary or even appropriate for all forms of animation or even live action. The human eye has shown to only be able to receive 10 to 12 images per second. So the smoothing produced by these higher frame rates can be a lot of overkill for a production.
Animation 1’s, 2’s, 3’s… As an animator you must understand that you would traditionally take a single photograph for each frame of animation. Since you were taking this single frame and playing all the frames back at 24fps you would be animating on 1’s at 24fps. As television got into the mix and budgets got smaller, animators needed to produce animation fast so they would take 2 photos for each piece of movement in the animation. This resulted in animating on 2’s at 30fps. This was also eventually done in filmmaking and that resulted in animating on 2’s at 24fps. Animating on 3’s was more for rests and transitions or for special choppy effects. So sometimes you will hear about artists animating on 3’s. Because the animation became standardized a whole science evolved in the study of movement and major animators started to set standards and levels of excellence that could only be reached if you understood how to achieve the movements in the standard frame rates.
Combining 1’s, 2’s, 3’s… As time went on animators soon discovered that you could blend different counting techniques such as using 1’s for actions and 2’s for dialogue or basic movements. This resulted in animators shooting on 1’s and 2’s in a 24fps, 25fps, or 30fps delivery system. Once again 3’s were used for transitions or rests between movements. This blending of counting frames of movement often results in a greater control of movement and performance while maintaining control on time and budget of a production. This allowed or all kinds of special performances and looks to be achieved and the bar for animation has been raised once again.
Resting and Holding Frames… There is a technique in modern animation that a subject in the animation holds for a specific amount of frames. This is part of the performance side of things. For instance you would have a character talking and all the movement expect that character in the frame would hold. This could be for many seconds. This is to prevent what is called “upstaging” of the main character. The other instance is to hold a character for a number of frames from a half second or for 1 to 2 seconds. This is called a rest. This is a technique in where the character is resting between the action and is often times a necessity since a character can look crazy constantly moving on screen and distracting from an actual performance. It’s not necessarily a rule but it is a technique. Many people confuse rests with frames per second. This is usually because they lack knowledge or education in the matter. You must understand the difference. Animation has a language and it is important to speak in that language in production or you will never fully reach your potential when working with others.
Beyond the Standards… Because we are now in a digital age the standard analogue formats are often times being ignored. So an animator can now animate on 1’s at 12fps or 15fps to meet the similar look of shooting on 2’s at 24fps or 30fps. The math is very simple and the softwares available for animation offer this option as a way to fast track production of animation for amateurs. Nothing wrong with using 12fps or 15fps for internet delivery such as to YouTube or Vimeo. But for animation delivery to television or film formats you must understand that downstream of the production a conversion will occur that converts the animation to 24fps, 25fps, or 30fps for playback. Film Festivals either request that you convert the animation to a proper frame rate or will usually splice all the short animations into a long playback timeline which will convert everything to a constant frame rate. So your 12fps or 15fps will result in either a 24fps, 25fps, or 30fps playback. This doesn’t necessarily change the timing but will add missing frames which can cause your animation to play back at a stutter or look bumpy if you are not prepared for it. You can also count on your sound to not perfectly match to the animation so sound effects can become mis-aligned and dialogue can seem off.
None Standards are Silly Accidents… So the whole point of this article is to demonstrate that you animate movement within a set standard of frames per second. There is a reason and a purpose for this. Animating outside of these standards can cause you all sorts of headaches when you finally plan on delivery for animation. I can give you a great example of an animation that was converted from 36fps to 24fps because the artist liked the way it looked better. David Daniels who now is one of the co-owners of Bent Image lab and a legendary animator shot his thesis film at 24fps. The animation was all Strata-Cut clay animation. This resulted in an uneven type of performance that he wasn’t happy with. He wanted the animation to move faster. So he played the animation back at 36fps and liked it better. But he then transfered the film to 24fps through a conversion process where he played the film back and recorded it to another film negative that recorded it at 24fps. So he eventually had the play back of the 36fps to a 24fps frame rate. The 36fps was just a happy accident that was then corrected. So he didn’t intentionally animate at 36fps. If you animated at something less than the desired frame rate such as 17fps (non-standard) and you change it to 24fps, youre animation will have to have frames digitally added. This will result in un-consistant movement of the animation and will look sloppy and unprofessional.
Digital Framerate Correction… Okay, let’s close this article with a quick mention that you can animate at whatever frame rate you want. It’s you animation, it’s your project, it’s your headache. When you are done with the animation you will however need to convert it to a standard animation/film/television/internet format. If you don’t then chances are it will never look right, your audience will notice, and you won’t be taken seriously as a professional animator. So how do you convert your wrong frame rate to the right one? Well pretty much all editing softwares allow you to change the speed or convert your framerate to another framerate. I usually do this type of process in After Effects since my export FPS can be different than my timeline FPS. The point is you as an artist shouldn’t be restricted by standards but should at least have an understand as to why you will need to eventually conform to the standards. With that I wish you luck and happy animating!!!