Pose-to-pose is best utilised in situations that require smoother, more structured storyboarding. Timing is an essential part of pose-to-pose. It means animators can create the requisite number of frames to make the transitions smooth enough. By creating the key poses from start to finish, animators have more control over the contents of ‘in-betweens’ or ‘tweens’ that make up the sequence, in terms of pacing and creative.
Breakdowns are a clever combination of key poses and in-betweens – they help break down the action between key poses A and B by adding a further step to the mix. In a sequence depicting a character walking from the left of the screen to the right:
- The key poses would be the two poses at either end of the sequence, with others where key gestures, expressions, or steps need extra emphasis.
- The in-betweens are the frames on either side of the key poses, completing the movements smoothly.
- Breakdowns might involve the character stopping to look at their watch, or stumbling slightly – anything that breaks up the long sequence and adds spontaneous spice to a sequence.
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 it goes 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 it goes along, and can change shape seemingly at will.
Which is better – pose-to-pose or straight ahead?
Both techniques have their advantages and disadvantages when it comes to the process, as well as their finished look and feel.