Animation Tips and Tricks: Loops

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Since we have to draw 30 frames a second, and 1800 frames a minute, let’s help ourselves out a little bit. An old animation trope that solves this problem is the loop. A loop is exactly what it sounds like, a piece of animation that starts and stops with the exact same frame so you can repeat the animation indefinitely.

The loop has been around since the birth of animation, and was used heavily in it’s early life. Early cartoons like Betty Boop used lots of loops to add time and content to their shorts, and Disney’s Silly Symphonies was practically built entirely on the idea of loops to music. If you ignore the awful racism that comes out of nowhere halfway through that Silly Symphonies short you can see how loops are used thoroughly throughout the entire short. The reason animators would do this is simple, they could draw one loop and repeat it 3 or 4 times in the cartoon without having to draw more frames. I like Santa’s Workshop as an example since the factory line design of it does a great job illustrating loops.

So since loops have been around for so long, I have to be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of them when I started animating. When I was new I thought loops were dated, cheap looking, and pointless. It was only after I had been animating for a little while that I saw the real value in them.

The amount of work it saves you is tremendous, and it speeds up your process while simultaneously letting you pay more attention to the whole film rather then having to turn on auto pilot and animate each repeated action individually. Loops can be tricky though, and there’s an important trick for pulling them off which can sometimes not be obvious to newer animators. When you’re drawing your loop, we’ll say it’s one second long, you need to make sure you only draw frames 1 through 29 and not include frame 30. I’ve seen a lot of new animators go to do loops where they animate the full 30 frames and have the first and last frame be exactly the same, this is going to cause your animation to hiccup. There will be a weird pause since if you’re animating on 1s, the last frame and the first frame are the same it’ll switch to 2s. You use the first frame as the last frame, so you only need to draw it once.

Looping animation has moved past being a way for studios to save money and expedite production, and has turned into a stylistic choice. Similar to rubber hose animation, loops can be used to harken back your style and design to the old style of animation like in this Augenblick short”Golden Age.”

Loops have also taken on a new life in animation, now they can be used as stylistic choices to push your animation into new and surreal places, like this short “Love and Theft” by Andreas Hykade. Or”Black Dog’s Progress” by Stephen Irwin which uses both loops and breaking of the loops to tell a story.

In both independent and commercial work, loops come in handy almost all the time and are one of those tricks animators like to keep in their back pocket incase they need it. A good way to start practicing loops is to think of an action and loop it, try lots of different actions both big and small, it sounds simple and obvious but it will pay off in the long run if you can get good at making loops quickly that come out strong.

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