Monday, July 14, 2014

T Dan Hofstedt reveals The Secret of Animation

T. Dan Hofstedt - animation supremo
My old friend and former kumrad at Disney animation, T Dan Hofsted, recently posted at Facebook a reply to a student asking how to become an animator. T Dan is one of the best animators I know, a veteran of countless Disney hits including The Lion King, Pocahontas, Hercules and Mulan, so he ought to know a thing or two about how to make it as an animator. Here is what he wrote:

"I recently received a letter from an aspiring animation student asking me how to become an animator. I have been asked this question many times over the years. I myself asked that very same question when I was first starting out, so I try to give back and offer some kind of guidance that will hopefully give them some insight.

I also get asked by friends and relatives who have a friend or son or niece or nephew or grandchild who shows some talent and interest in animation. Here is one answer...

T Dan brought Mr Arrow to life in Treasure Planet


"There is no "secret formula" other than good old fashioned hard work and dedication. The more you do something, the better you will get.

Drawing is the foundation of all good animation, even if you are working mainly on a computer. Therefore, make a habit of carrying a sketchbook and drawing the world around you. People, pets, buildings, zoo animals, athletic events, dancers, bus riders, people in meetings, actors off the television, etc. Draw draw draw.

Getting the acting right. Photo: Wikipedia
How do I choose acting shots? There are so many possibilities, it is difficult to choose. But a simple contrast of emotions is a good place to start. A character going from happy to sad, or tired to awake, or from concerned to relieved, or from confident to scared. Anything that shows that the character is experiencing a change in emotion that the audience can believe and identify with has the potential to be a strong animation scene.

My last tip for you is what I used to tell all my students at Animation Mentor. I call it "The Secret of Animation."

What is animation? The word animation means to "give life" or "be alive," or as Frank & Ollie's famous book describes it, "The Illusion of Life." So, LIFE is at the core of what animation is. By definition, anything that is alive is animated, right? You, your family, your friends, your pets, the animals at the zoo, the grocer down the street are ANIMATED because they are living and breathing creatures. They possess life. So, the art of animation is to portray LIFE in the characters you draw or manipulate in the computer. Living creatures possess the ability to experience life around them through their 5 senses: Seeing, Hearing, Tasting, Touching and Smelling (you can add a 6th sense of inward intuition to the list). Only living creatures possess this ability to see, hear, taste, touch and smell.

The Five senses. Photo: Wikipedia
So, when you animate something, the only way to convince your audience that your characters are alive (truly animated) is to show them experiencing their world through their senses. If they see something, show them seeing something eye direction, attention to the object, etc. If they hear something, show them hearing something. If they taste something, show them tasting something. If they touch something or are being touched by something, show that clearly. And if they are smelling something, show them smelling something.

But that is only the start. After you show them experience their world through their senses, your character must then have a reaction to what their senses have just experienced. What they think and feel about what they are experiencing is the rest of the job.

This is the Secret of Animation. Only living creatures possess the ability to experience their world through their senses, and only living breathing conscious creatures can have reactions to what they experience. These reactions reveal their personality. And then you have a truly ANIMATED character.

Anything you put on your reel should be your best work, and anything that shows a character with convincing portrayal of life is a good scene, in my opinion.

So, good luck with it."

To see more of T Dan's excellent work, visit

1 comment:

  1. Most excellent advice from an excellent animator. Thanks for posting this.