Over the years I’ve collected a bunch of books on animation. I might review some of them more in depth later but right now I’m going to give you my list of the most useful ones.
Cartoon Animation by Preston Blair
Pound for pound this book contains the most information stored in an easy to understand format. It’s deceptively simple. It covers everything from drawing and character design to the basic elements of animating and production. The layperson can flip through it to gain an understanding of the essentials while the student and professional will regularly flip back to the super useful charts illustrating the differences between all sorts of bipedal and animal movement.
The Animator’s Survival Kit by Richard Williams
Where Preston Blair’s book is the essentials, Richard William’s book is like the expanded manual. He provides detailed and analytical breakdowns of movement. The copy I actually have from college is a pre-expanded edition so I need to update myself. There’s even a 16 DVD box-set which I would love to have someday.
The Animator’s Workbook: Step-By-Step Techniques of Drawn Animation by Tony White
This book is a nice primer on the basics and a decent addition to the reference shelf.
The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation by Frank Thomas & Ollie Johnston
This is a beautiful book showcasing a lot of behind the scenes art from Disney classics. My only issue is it’s more of a retrospective of the studio’s achievements so you’re not going to glimpse the same understanding of what the artists are doing in this one as you would in the how-to guides on this list.
Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist by Chuck Jones
This book is a really great read. Jones walks us through his formative years and how he got started down the life path to cartooning. I almost want to say it’s like The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance for cartoonists. There’s bits of animating advice and art throughout but this book really illustrates the thinking mind of a great director.
Chuck Reducks: Drawing from the Fun Side of Life by Chuck Jones
An interesting follow up to Chuck Amuck, this book focuses on character – specifically key characters throughout Jones’s career. His other book dealt with the discovery that characters in his cartoons are really parts of himself personified. This time around he analyzes what makes each particular one tick and how he identifies with them so we in turn do the same. An important part in understanding how a character moves is understanding what they’re thinking and feeling. Being better aware of what the character is all about leads to better acting in the animation.
Make Toons That Sell Without Selling Out by Bill Plympton
“King of Indie Animation” Bill Plympton shares his thoughts on making cartoons. This book has a very personal voice, which isn’t surprising considering it’s from a guy that animates shorts and feature films by himself. He explains his methods of production and how one man can make cartoons outside the system. It’s a good overview and makes you think about every stage in putting a film together and getting it seen.