I'm certainly no draftsman. I can't stand drawing in perspective. And I don't draw as often as I used to. But I have immense appreciation for those who do, and do it well. At film school I was lucky enough to have my first experience with analytical drawing/life drawing. At the time, I didn't fully grasp the impact it would have later on--but I had fun with it. Valery, our teacher, was an incredible character, and one of the most influencial teachers I've had to date. He always told us: "Making a nice drawing isn't hard, making a correct one is." Boy is that true! To him, correct meant anything BUT what we see in front of us. When we were starting out he explained: "Don't draw the model. Don't draw what you see---look at her and draw what you know!" It took me almost two years to really understand that. It's one of the single most important things I've learned and I apply it everywhere.
Ultimately, that's what animators, and most great artists, do. We spend everyday studying. Trying to understand what's around us. And it's not necessarily on purpose either. I tend to rely a lot on memories and draw upon that knowledge bank I've built up from, well, living! I think my love of animation spurs from that. It makes life so much more fun! It's a way of life in which every day has something to give back to you. Learning keeps us sharp; keeps us young. Getting to a point where you can "know" what you see, or rather understand what's going on is the hardest step I think. And you'll never, ever, learn it all (sometimes that's a bit of an addiction)!
Once you can comprehend what someone is doing, then you can express your INTERPRETATION of that. THAT's what makes our work unique. That's my number one rule for finding appeal. It's about "action analysis" and accentuating it to make it interesting, to show what you feel is important, to give it life; to give the audience a reason to want to look at your work. If you just copy what you see, what's the point? Take a picture---I'm sure you have an iPhone!
When I tackle a shot, I tend to take video reference. While I may stay very close to that reference (in terms of acting and other details), it's a mere template. I look at a pose, and I figure out what is happening with the body in that moment. "Okay. Where's the weight? What are my hips doing? Why? What's happening with my shoulders? etc." From there, my next question is: "What's important, and how do I show it? How do I make this interesting?" Most importantly, what's interesting to me and what do I want to show to the audience? How do I make it come accross to them?
I can take what I understand and push those elements, draw the viewer's eyes to where I want them to be. It's very complex, and no one does it the same. But that's what makes it great! That's why we recognize the works of great artists like Picasso, or animators like Milt Khal and Glen Keane. Everyone has their own interpretation of life and that's a wonderful feeling---because there's no right and wrong.
It applies to "realistic" animation too. The guys animating big monsters and dinosaurs have a lot of fun with it. They don't just copy what other animals do. They draw inspiration from that, and come very close to the real thing. But it feels dead if you don't "push" and accentuate certain things.
To me, the art and how you translate your ideas is the most important category in the heirarchy of a shot. And you can have so much fun with it! Technicalities come after. It's simple to make a character jump. But it's a lot harder to say, well, yes, he jumps. But how? and why? What are my choices? When a person jumps, where can I accentuate the forces? How can I really show people this person is heavy? And so forth...
Find the elegance in "real life" and expose that in your work---give it "oomf!"
Being an animator is loads of work. But I've been incredibly happy since I began to practice the art. I strongly believe it is one of the hardest things to do---but incredibly rewarding. We are forced to study and understand so many other things: physics, dance, choreography, rhythm, film, acting, psychology, and a whole lot more! I can spend hours waiting at an airport and time goes by quickly. It's almost therapeutic. I'll watch people walk or do things and attempt to understand why they do certain things. A woman yells at her kid. How is that kid reacting? Why is that?
That's what's cool about being an animator. You can find joy in the smallest things in life. It's very hard to make others understand why we get so excited about these things that seem redundant to the average person. That's probably why many animators tend to be introverts, or misunderstood. We've grown a certain affinty and appreciation for things that pass most people by. Since my move to Vancouver, I've been lucky enough to hang out with some amazing people and animators. While we actually rarely ever talk about animation specifically, we tend to always be on the same page about things. We have a seemingly deeper appreciation for things and that makes for great conversation. I can spend a day with Maxwell, Dave, and Tania and learn so much about life. It's as if everything is interesting to us, and that's awesome! And a large part of the population will never be lucky enough to stop and experience life the way we do. It's our job to show them and to emphasize those little things! That's probably why animated films are doing so well and are on the rise. It's a different take on everyday life, and "what we see". It's about understanding all the little things and making it come together in an interesting way.
So that's my two cents! My take was probably a bit philosophical. And I talked about this mostly for posing, but it applies to timing for sure, among other things! Mike Amos, a good friend and amazing animator wrote a post about "pushing" things on his blog, which is slightly more technical. And probably way better! http://action-analysis.blogspot.ca/2012/05/video-reference.html pop by and check it out :)