Animation Practice – The Bouncing Ball

Over the past year I’ve been putting extra effort into my animation skills. I am incredibly rusty from spending years in a career which has taken me far from the world of animation I want to be a part. In an effort to redirect my course, I am taking deliberate steps towards practising my craft and putting the “doing” of animation into my calendar, as opposed to the thinking, reading and ‘wishing’ to get better at animation. I thought it might be helpful for others who may be in the same boat, to see my progress and to hear what I am learning from each exercise.

I was incredibly relieved to came across this list of 51 animation exercises to improve animation skills. Deliberate practice already requires a great deal of discipline and motivation so if someone can provide the roadmap to get better, getting started is less intimidating. Now, I have no excuses and will begin working my way down the list. I plan to complete one exercise a week and will share a quick blog post with the completed exercise along with some of the takeaways I find from working through the exercise. For this first post, I will share the bouncing ball exercise.

As animators, we all understand that the bouncing ball as a fundamental exercise. Although it appears simple and quite boring, there is a great deal to learn. Each time I complete this exercise I discover something totally new and I am surprised that a silly bouncing ball can keep my humility in check. The skill of animation begins here, folks.

Below, I have shared a few of my attempts. But first, here is a quick list of lessons learned from doing the exercises (ie. not just reading, thinking or “wishing” them)

  • Timing and Spacing – a bouncing ball will slow down and speed up over time. As it falls from the starting point, it will accelerate. The impact of hitting the ground will transfer the energy of the ball up and then the ball will decelerate. Studying this slowing down and speeding up of motion has forced me to figure out how to space out my drawings and tune motion curves to match this.
  • Decay – Over time, the ball will slow down and lose energy. This is called decay and until working on it a few times, I really struggled with figuring out how fast or slow this rate of decay would occur. There are physics curves and equations to figure this out, but in the end, the correct timing for this decay is based on how it “feels” based on observing the real world and watching your animation over and over. Again, the only way to learn this is by creating the animation and figuring it out for yourself.
  • Weight – I deliberately chose 4 different types of balls to animate for these exercises. It forced me to study how each ball would bounce, how it would impact the ground and react to the surface. Creating the sense of weight in animation is the key to making an object feel believable so focusing on this aspect is important and challenging. As you can see, the golf ball is a bit too bouncy, I probably made the bowling ball too heavy, and my beach ball could probably use more “happy” bounce. This is certainly a work in progress.
  • Various Tools – I used both Flash and After Effects to create these exercises. It’s important to me that I draw the exercises so that I develop my traditional animation skills of staying on model and understanding positions and arcs of movements. For this reason I use Flash and Photoshop. But I also want to further understand the graph and speed editor which is the language of animation for the digital age. Understanding and mastering speed curves are essential to working with animation software these days so I’ve chosen to use After Effects and 3Ds Max for 2D and 3D digital tools. I also believe that once you get a handle of creating and tweaking animation keys, your confidence will take off and you will feel bolder about taking on more complex animation gigs.

Hand drawn ball bounce – created in Flash

Golf Ball Bounce – Created in After Effects  (artwork provided by Animation Bootcamp)

The Big Bowling Ball bounce – created in After Effects (artwork provided by  Animation Bootcamp)

And for fun, here is a quick animation I did for Reel Refresh, including a bouncing beach ball:

Reel Refresh – Beach from Sandra Tournemille on Vimeo.

So there you have it, the bouncing ball. I’ll share the falling brick next which presents further exciting and necessary animation development – hope you can contain yourself. Until then, happy animating everyone!