Like pose-to-pose, straight-ahead animation uses a key pose to dictate the starting point of a sequence. Unlike pose-to-pose, there’s just the one starting key pose before the animator presses on with the rest of the sequence, without the stabilisers. No inbetweening is used because there are no more key poses to sync up the action with.
Straight-ahead animation suits a much more experimental style. Without the projected arc of pose-to-pose, the images as they’re developed can take on a much looser interpretation even of a scripted sequence. Within a story, some animators prefer to use straight-ahead animation to depict a free-form sequence that strikes out from the rest of the tighter flow of a project.
Woolie Reitherman, one of the Nine Old Men at Walt Disney Productions during the 1960s and 1970s, says the technique served him well. “When I didn't know what I was doing in an action, I always went straight-ahead… To me, it's fun. You find out something you wouldn't have found out otherwise.”1
The popular depiction of a fight between two characters on screen - a cloud containing fists flying as it floats across a background - tends to shrink and expand as prn go along.
Until the fight’s over and a clear winner (and loser) are shown at the end, the fight cloud is a great example of a straight-ahead event that doesn’t need to pick out key poses. That’s why the size and even the colour tend to vary throughout - without key poses to adhere to structurally, a straight-ahead animation loses consistency as prn go along and can change shape seemingly at will.