One of my favorite cartoons as a kid was The Flintstones, which is one of the finest examples of great limited animation. Everyone remembers the endlessly repeating backgrounds for the dialog shots in Fred’s car. Another moment I remember from childhood was a genius example of character animation.
Fred is walking away from an argument with Wilma or Barney and is mumbling under his breath while having to do something he didn’t want to do. Even though he’s muttering words his mouth isn’t moving. In fact, nothing in the animation reflects that he is mumbling at all. It’s a walk cycle of 8 to 10 drawings that took the animator less than an hour to make. Yet it works brilliantly. How did they come up with that? Had they given that scene to a Disney animator it would have taken a week to animate and every phrase of the mumbling would have had some corresponding head or arm movement, and at the end of the day would probably not have been as strong as Fred’s 8 to 10 walk cycle.
One of my first bits of animation was for a commercial and I spent two days roughing out my scene. The next day animator Mike Kazaleh dropped off some work and took a look at my scene. He had taken me under his wing to teach me how to animate. He flipped through my stack of drawings and started pulling drawings out tossing them on the floor. “Too many drawings! You don’t need these.” He renumbered what few drawings were left, scribbled down some charts, and handed it back to me. I made a pencil test of what he did and my scene worked so much better. The lesson, less is more. Get a few good strong poses that carry the emotion and action and let them do their job.
Don’t be afraid of limitations, and don’t be afraid of being understated in your animation. Sometimes the limitations keep us from overworking something that is better served by a simple idea. Just compare the original Star Wars with the re-released version embellished with new visual effects. Did the original film suffer by not having these fancy new shots, or did the new version suffer under their inclusion? I leave that for you to decide.