One of the advantages to having the Batman comic books be converted to the movie/ TV formats--both animated and "real life" versions--is that people studying the principles of animation get a side-by-side look at the physicality of the Batman character as a human actor and as an animated figure. A new "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, part 2" trailer dropped online on Jan. 3, 2013 just a few weeks before the DVD/ download's Jan. 29, 2013 release date. It features a clip of Batman in a fight sequence, and it offers a stark contrast visually between the animated Batman and the realism of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, which fans can now also see on DVD/Blu-Ray. For students of art and animation, it's an excellent and helpful study of the differences between human movement and animated human movement.
What are the Principles of Animation?
Although most people probably aren't away of it, there are principles of animation, many of which were originally developed by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston of Disney (to name a few) that now inform how an audience understands the movement in cartoons and animated features. While all are relevant to the discussion of "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns 2," a couple in particular stand out if you have recently watched Nolan's Batman trilogy. They are squash and stretch, staging--although Nolan does the really well, too--secondary action and exaggeration.
Squash and stretch is the technique that gives characters their "feelings" of weight and volume. In the case of the Batman cartoon, his jumps land just a bit deeper than a real human's would, his poses are grander, and punches have a deeper impact.
This effect has an even greater impact on the eyes due to the animators' use of staging. Singular images are often the emphasis on screen such as the opening of the clip's sequence in which Batman flies into the "battle scene" against a dark night sky being juxtaposed with simple shots of two people on camera showing these characters from the waist up. According to RMIT University in Australia, staging is
A pose or action should clearly communicate to the audience the attitude, mood, reaction or idea of the character as it relates to the story and continuity of the story line. The effective use of long, medium, or close up shots, as well as camera angles also helps in telling the story.
These scenes also get a boost from two principles, which work hand-in-hand, which are exaggeration and secondary action. Secondary action would be something like the movement of a character's arms as he runs whereas exaggeration makes everything look slightly bigger or smaller, slightly more menacing or more calm on the flip side. It means that Batman's punches are well, punchier, the burst of the smoke screen, smokier, and his landings more impressive and visually stunning.
All of these are present in "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, part 2," although like all really good animation, they are difficult to dissect one from another, and really they shouldn't be except for as an academic exercises in order to learn to understand more about how animation works.
Learning About Design and Animation Principles Through Batman Art
Additionally, many of the principles of animation also apply to drawing cartoons and graphic novels, which is something that interests me as an artist and therefore, something I've studied with a great deal of interest. The importance of watching an animated series like Batman and being able to juxtapose its images to that of Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy are invaluable. The two pieces taken together help me to better understand if my drawings don't contain enough elements like exaggeration or anticipation or on the flip side, help me to visually understand when my more realistic drawings contain too much. The role of drawing in design is so important, and learning how these principles work will be particularly important once I get into the video game development portion of my Master's degree, and they are principles that I practice often in my artist's sketchbook.
Although it's another couple of weeks before "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns 2" comes out on video even watching the trailer is helpful once you know what to look for.
Sources: RMIT University, "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns," "The Artist's Guide to Sketching"
To read more about the principles of animation and cartooning, take a look at the following links:
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