This is the first of what may turn into a series of tutorials covering some of the basic exercises used to teach those new to animation the core principles. This and any tutorials that follow will all be the same exercises I did while going to college learning animation.
If you're serious about learning to animate, I strongly recommend a book called "The Animator's Survival Kit" by Richard Williams. It is a very good reference guide to have on hand whether you're just starting out or are a pro at animating.
Step 1: A brief look at animation methods
This is the method I'm using with this tutorial, but using Flash in place of pencil and paper. It is also known as frame-by-frame animation because there is no automatic means of doing the inbetweens. It results in smooth, lively animation.
To animate with paper and a pencil, you will need a light table (or in a pinch, a sheet of plexiglass and a small lamp) and a means to register your paper. In other words, a way to line it up perfectly.
Traditional animators achieve this with a peg bar which can be bought at art supply stores or online. If you go with the real deal, you will need to either buy pre-punched animation paper or an animation punch (neither is cheap). With a little patience and creativity you can construct a peg bar of your own that will be compatible with a standard 3-hole punch instead of the ACME standard registration used in studios.
To animate, just pile pieces of paper on your peg bar and number them as you work so you can tell what order they go in at a glance. The backlight helps you see where your previous drawings are in relation to the one you are working on currently. Once you are comfortable, you can flip your paper frames to get a feel for how a few frames at a time are working together - kind of like the flip books you had as a kid!
After you animate, you have to scan the frames and then line up the drawings properly. It's as simple as lining up the peg holes in the images. Then you can load them into your software of choice to create the video from the still frames.
The principles of this exercise can be applied to 3D. If you are familiar with Maya, 3D Studio Max, Lightwave or any other 3D animation software package, follow along! If you don't know the software, look up some basic tutorials before you tackle this one and they should explain the basics of manipulating primitives in 3D space. This method is more like sculpting than traditional animation is.