Animation Tips & Tricks Tutorial:
What Can Beginning Animators Do to Improve Their Timing Sense in Animation?

By Kenny Roy

Timing is everything, isn't it? When starting out, beginning animators have so many workflow obstacles to overcome that a shorthand for timing choices would be very helpful. When you finally get to dialogue, timing sense comes naturally. But for physical and pantomime actions, it can be very difficult in the beginning to develop a sense of timing that naturally fits with your performance choices. Luckily, I have a little trick. What I like to do is use the character's "inner monologue" as a stand-in dialogue track to give me hints at good timings for a shot.

Here's how it works: Dialogue naturally follows certain rhythms, cadence and patterns. Listen to some dialogue for practice and see if you can pick it up – it shouldn't be hard. However, if you are not doing a dialogue shot, then where can you get that intonation and find those easy beats to hit? My advice is to invent it!

As animators, we are supposed to always have the character's inner thoughts in mind as we make our pose choices, deep into the progress of a shot. Take those inner thoughts out of your mind and speak them. Sound it out. Use an energetic performance out loud to let the natural phrasing that dialogue affords you come out of the scene.

Let's use an example. You are animating Kramer bursting through the door into Jerry Seinfeld's apartment, looking around, seeing what he is looking for, and walking to the counter to grab some cereal. Go ahead and be literal with the monologue. A potential inner monologue might read: "BOOM! Let's see here! Where is that thing? Is it over here? Over there? Aha! There it is! I'm walking to the counter. Aaaaaaand got it!"

Obviously, nobody would narrate what they are doing like this, and certainly not out loud. But as you read through the above inner monologue a few times and get comfortable with it, feel the timing come out of the words. Immediately the "Ah" of "Aha!" starts to feel like anticipation of the reaction of seeing what Kramer wants. Also, the long "Aaaaaand" feels like a nice stretch on the body when he reaches for the cereal. "...over here? Over there?" probably jumps out at you as evenly timed, but try reading it one more time, REALLY emphasizing the "OVER" and saying "here" and "there" quickly, and sharply. You might feel that the timing choice for Kramer looking around the room just changed dramatically.

Finally, if you get a reading of it that feels nice and energetic, natural, and has lots of variety (most important), it's not cheating to record it and put it into the timeline as you are animating. Time the animation to the beats and phrases of the inner monologue and watch your timing sense grow. Hopefully what will happen is with practice, you can use simple, on-the-fly re-enactments in your head while you work, further reducing this trick to shorthand.

So with pantomime and physical shots, there's no need to flounder with timing choices when the key to timing the shot might be talking about the shot!

Good luck with your work.

Kenny Roy is a mentor at Animation Mentor and the founder/director of Arconyx Animation Studios. To learn more about Arconyx Animation Studios, check out the site: