When Two Drawings Are Plenty
The art of hyper-minimal animation.
Happy Thursday! This issue of the Animation Obsessive newsletter covers one of the most limited types of animation there is: motion created with just two drawings.
As we’ve written in the past, “limited animation” has a dodgy reputation. The name implies cheap, low-quality work. Even so, most people get the appeal of the jittery movement in the Spider-Verse films — which trade smoothness for style. That’s limited animation done well. It’s not about cutting corners: it’s about leaning into the exciting, unique potential of animation as a medium.
Across history, the best limited animation has done exactly that. The American studio UPA was the first to master it, as seen in its purposely warped takes on Disney-type motion in the ‘40s and early ‘50s. Others followed — like the “limited animation on ones” developed by Zagreb Film, or the radical in-between reduction used in Japan.
But there’s a difference between limited animation — breaking away from Disney’s constant movement, or the “illusion of life” — and animating with just two drawings. It’s brash, and it borders on not being animation at all.
Some of UPA’s experienced animators felt that way when Fred Crippen, a young upstart, pioneered two-drawing animation at the studio in the ‘50s. As the book Cartoon Modern explains:
If the UPA animation style represented a rebellion against the fluid realism of Disney, then Fred Crippen’s animation could perhaps be labeled the first revolt against UPA itself. His animation carried the studio’s concept of designed animation to its ultimate conclusion with animation that was as absolutely minimal as possible. He could animate a person walking or playing the piano with a two-drawing cycle. Take away one drawing and the scene would be completely still. His style of animation was so unconventional that it confused many of the studio’s veteran animators; Crippen recalls that animator Rudy Larriva came over once to look at his exposure sheets and simply shook his head at the sparse animation timing before walking away.
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