RamSinghKumaresh Animation Masterclass Module 2

Having missed Module 1 of RamSinghKumaresh’s Animation Masterclass, I wanted to ensure that I attend the remaining two modules. Braving crazy Mumbai rush-hour traffic, I reached the venue – Whistling Woods International’s Karma Auditorium, only to find myself 15 minutes late!

Luckily for me, Vaibhav (KUMARESH) was just doing a recap of the last module. The auditorium this time was much smaller and better suited to the size of the audience. It felt more intimate – like an actual classroom – and this was reflected in the way the participants were sitting in rapt attention.

“A walk is controlled falling.”

Vaibhav began Module 2 by explaining the basic dynamics of a frontal walk. “Babies have no control over their limbs and keep falling. Once they learn to control falling, they learn to walk.” Using drawings of skeletal structures, he illustrated the twists and turns the body goes through while walking, the changes in volume that the body experiences, the movement of the head and the torso and so on. The same up and down bounce that you notice when you observe a walk sideways is seen when you view it from the front. (continued…)

No matter what the medium, it becomes easy to animate once you understand the basic principles of movement. The most important thing is to observe, study and practice animation timing. Vaibhav screened specially created video clips of his assistant walking in different styles – casual, deliberate, aggressive, comical – and then played each clip frame by frame to show the breakdown of movement. He pointed out that the common mistake that most animators make is to miss the frame that shows the contact between foot and ground. The subsequent frame should have a squash, caused by the weight of the body bearing down upon the foot after impact.

He next showed a comparison between walk and run cycles. Again using a video clip, he tracked the movement of the head of a person walking and running. The waves formed by the bouncing action of the head while running have higher arcs than when walking. He then sketched key frames and in-betweens to further illustrate the movement.

“The Blink”

The key to convincing facial animation lies in the blink. Most of the time we tend to overlook the beauty of a blink. Like the blinking light on the CPU of a computer indicates activity inside the hard disk of a computer, the blink of an eye serves as an indicator of activity inside the character’s brain. Typically a blink occurs when the character’s attention shifts which may happen because the topic changes or there is some sort of distraction. Blinks occur also when one is concentrating or thinking hard. A blink may be used to convey suspicion. Rapid blinking occurs when a person is holding back tears. There are blinks and then there are half-blinks too.

An infant’s brain is still developing, therefore it doesn’t blink as much or in such a coordinated manner. Likewise, old people too do not seem to blink as much. To illustrate his theory, Vaibhav showed a video clip of his daughter at three months of age where despite all the activity and sounds around her, she barely blinks once during the duration of the video. He also showed a few recent photos of an ageing Indian superstar at film industry events, where he has a completely blank expression on his face. Perhaps brain activity at a very young or old age is far slower and therefore blinking is less frequent.

Vaibhav then showed a few clips from various animated films (Wallace and Grommit, Up and Wall-E) as examples of the use of blinks to convey emotions and to embellish dialogues. He even played some scenes with the volume on mute to highlight his point. Grommit the dog, for instance, has no mouth – but his eyes convey almost every emotion under the sun. In Wall-E, the eyes and the blinks are a constant indicator of the state of mind of the 2 main characters – Wall-E and Eve, who are mere robots. The blinks breathe life into the two of them.

Even in blinks, you can have brilliant stretches and squashes – Vaibhav screened a couple of cleverly executed TV channel promos to illustrate this.

{I have to say here that I really appreciated how Vaibhav had taken a lot of effort to go through several films and hunt for the exact clips to substantiate his points.}

“Lip Sync”

The most common mistake made by animators is to over-analyse and overdo lip movements to match dialogue. To demonstrate this, Vaibhav showed 2 video recordings of a person saying the same dialogue – one at normal speed and another of him saying the same lines very slowly and in a deliberate manner. When the second clip was played faster, you could clearly see that lip movements were exaggerated and looked incorrect. During normal speech, the lips move in a minimal manner – sometimes with the mouth just opening and shutting.

A very good example to study for lip-syncing would be Aardman Studio’s Creature Comfort series where an assorted bunch of animals speak to the camera. The dialogue is lengthy and one gets a fair idea of how best to animate lip movements. Vaibhav made it easier to understand by first showing a plain text version of the dialogue on the screen, then followed it up by playing only the audio of the dialogue and finally showed the actual animated clip.

“Timing for Audio”

To enable the audience to better grasp the tempo of a walk, Vaibhav played a video clip of people walking at various speeds and asked the audience to make a clicking sound with their tongues to match the footsteps. As different people walked across the screen at different speeds, some even changing their speed half-way, the audience clicked along, grasping exactly what Vaibhav was trying to convey.


When animating, the human body acts like a pendulum. Using animated matchsticks, Vaibhav demonstrated the movement of a wave – how the human body moves like a pendulum and creates arcs. The wave here is a series of joints which move in a coordinated manner. If you plot points along the line of the wave, you will see that the points closest to the controlling point (fulcrum) swing the least and the ones furthest swing the most. Similarly, as the motion stops, the point closest to the fulcrum stops.

The principle was demonstrated further through a scene from the Disney movie – Mulan.

Vaibhav’s Tip: “When you watch a movie for the first time, do so just to enjoy it. The second time, observe and learn from it. Watch a few more times if need be. Then recreate it yourself. Don’t stop at that – better it!”

Vaibhav teaches you to really SEE, not just look. And see with different eyes – an animator’s eyes.

Answering a question from one one of the participants, Ranjit (SINGH) explained different walk styles – the American walk is purposeful, the European walk is not purposeful but yet it is confident. The Indian walk is aimless, almost languid. Singh walked across the front of the class to demonstrate the different walking styles.

Mannerisms and Timing are crucial to make any animation convincing. People across the world walk differently, their mannerisms are varied. Men and women walk differently. Even a person being thin or fat makes a difference to how he or she walks. It is the same with running. Japanese animated characters mostly run in way such that their feet fall in line with each other. Western characters run along parallel lines. This makes a difference to the way the body sways during motion.

Vivek (RAM) added that whenever we stand, our body is constantly correcting the center of gravity. The center of gravity shifts between the two extreme positions of the hips. In women, the hips are wider, therefore the center of gravity has to travel a greater distance and that is what causes the sway. The wider the hips, the more the sway. The same applies for legs – the longer the legs, the more shift in center of gravity, which is why models with long legs are so in demand!

{Lunch Break!!!}

Vivek Ram began his session by screening a brilliant short film by Blur Studio and using the film to recap all that he had taught in the first module. The film, “A Gentlemen’s Duel”, is a brilliant showcase of character design and detailing, with a very simple story-line. Two gentlemen, one British and the other French are vying for the attention of the same woman and decide to duel, while the young lady and her butler watch. The anatomy of each character has been created in a certain way for a reason – to visually give us an insight into the background, nature and personality of the character. Be it the proud Frenchman or the Genteel Englishman, there is a reason for the way they have each been designed.


It is tough to explain using only words what Vivek was teaching – you ought to have been there in the class and watched him explain the structure of arms, hands, feet, legs in a very scientific manner by drawing on the white board using three different coloured markers. He explained the reasons for why certain parts were shaped in a particular way, how any kind of movement influenced the shapes and how gravity affects the muscles.

“Hands and feet give rhythm to the body”

Because muscles are attached to the bones only at the edges and not the center so the larger muscles dangle. They are influenced by gravity. Vivek then went into detailed structure of anatomy, bones, muscles, joints. The outer shape of limbs and their movement is determined by the internal bones, muscles and joints. He also explained how the structure of hands and feet have very little to do with muscles. The finger, even in the simplest form must not have its edges drawn parallel to each other, as fingers always taper a bit. The nails go under the skin at the base.

Vivek asked Vaibhav to draw a random character – so Vaibhav drew a funny looking one. Vivek then explained the anatomical structure in a scientific manner. Sometimes, a character can be very stylised too e.g. the Powerpuff Girls who have no fingers and no elbows.

“Anatomy is not a still frame. You have to consider it in movement. Everything needs to follow the motion principles. Especially when you simplify the drawing, anatomy becomes even more important.”

Giving the example of dance, he said it is very important to position your fingers. In dance, the hand creates the final rhythm, so a fist won’t do, the finger position is critical.

The homework assignment given was to draw/study 20-30 sketches of hands/feet in various positions.

Vivek ended his session with yet another brilliant film by Blur Studios – ‘In The Rough’.

Ranjit (SINGH) began his session with a quick recap of the last Module – an overview of the 4 basic components – Plot, Characters, Setting & Performance.


The Plot is the relationship between the cause and effect of events within a story. Someone/something/somewhere CAUSES an event that has an EFFECT on someone/something/somewhere as a result. If you miss the thread, you lose your way. If you stick to it, you will be able to keep it compact. You will remain focussed.

“Film Genres”

Singh showed a quick slideshow of the various genres and sub-genres of films and examples of each from Hollywood/Bollywood. When you write a story it helps to know which genre you are writing for (unlike typical Bollywood Khichdi). You can mix and match if you like but you must know what you want to do. Clarity is of essence. What is the core idea? What is the principal plot? What is the embellishment? Examples of genres are Action, Adventure, Gangster/Mob, Comedy, Horror, Epics, Musicals, Drama, War/Antiwar, Sci-Fi, Western, and Indian (Bollywood and regional Indian films are mostly a hybrid -of various genres).

“Advantages of Animation”

– there are infinite possibilities
– no one dies in the course of making the film and/or its sequels
– the size of digital camera
– you can do what you can’t shoot
– it is relatively inexpensive
– it is safe and nondestructive
– it is also repeatable, mouldable
– you can have bizarre twists and turns
– it pre-sells the unreal
– you have freedom from constraints of time and place

“The Plot is the action that happens in a story”

–> Every story has to have an event/conflict which will lead to a result
–> For the event/conflict to happen there has to be a cause that generates it
–> For the event/conflict to be resolved, there has to be action
–> For the action to happen, there have to be actors
–> For the actors to perform, they have to play the characters i.e. performance
–> The action should rise gradually for the audience to relate to it
–> Culmination is in a climax – a crescendo of emotions/events/action
–> Post-climax, there has to be be a settling down/conclusion to the plot

eg. What was the plot for Jab We Met?
– A chance encounter between two strangers that changes their lives.

EXERCISE:- Take a movie, break it down into its basic components – define basic event/conflict. Define characters – who are they and what are they doing? Understand and analyze the story.

“Building a 3 act structure”

– know the end, know where are you are headed for
– work backwards towards the conflict
– introduce the idea, the people and the setting
– write a ‘log line’ (a short description of the gist of what you want to say)

Another important aspect – your character has to transform across the film’s storyline – it makes the character endearing, it makes you empathise with the character

EXERCISE:- Build log line of a movie that you have seen and let the others identify the movie:-
–> Does the log line define the story completely?
–> What is missing?
–> Can you define what is not required?

Singh then showed a sample screenplay for the benefit of those who have never seen one.

Important Points to Remember:

1. One minute of screen time per page – 90 to 120 pages length
2. Two main components – Action (what is happening in the scene) and Dialogue (what are the characters saying)
3. Action is described as it is to happen – eg. Priya wipes a tear NOT Priya is wiping a tear i.e avoid ‘ing’ for actions
4. Act out the writing to check for performance as described (most people have inhibitions to act but must get over it – it will hamper your writing)
5. Focus on action that moves the story forward
6. Engage the readers through writing
7. Write only what can be HEARD & SEEN
8. It’s all about PICTURE & SOUND. Narrative description shouldn’t contain anything that can’t be seen or heard (like emotions and feelings)
9. Get objective opinions from performers, read others’ screenplays

“The Essence of a Story”

The Narrative is a structured set of sentences that relates a sequence of events. It is intended to amuse/interest audience – a tale. People usually go to the movies to see things that normally do not happen / seem to happen.

“The Importance of a Story

First get your story, then worry about how you are going to tell it. Singh ponderd aloud, “How can you think of a 3D movie?”

1. Don’t fall in love with what you have created
2. Look inside, there are stories, there are conflicts (experiences, situations, events, skeletons, guilt, pride)
3. Observe keenly – people, places, events, situations
4. Explore viewpoints, talk to others – get objective advice. Listen to it.
5. Collaborate with like minded people, multiple heads are better than one.

3 BASIC RULES OF A STORY:  1. Story,  2. Story and 3. Story”

A story requires the following basic elements:

  • problem / basic issue
  • threat causing the problem
  • conflict/complications – obstacles to resolution
  • change of fortunes – caused by threat which caused the problem
  • climax, highest point – extreme escalation before resolution
  • resolution – solution and consequences

Then using the second Munnabhai movie as an example, Singh elaborated on the above points.

“Character – The Who”

1. The Protagonist – the main character whom the audience likes & roots for
2. The Antagonist – the protagonist’s nemesis whom the audience dislikes and doesn’t want to succeed
3. Support Groups – the love interest, the family, group/associates, friends and story props (those who help move the story along – perhaps someone who has just one line in the film but a very important line – it changes the story)

There are many aspects to a well-defined character. Its appearance (the look/design), mannerisms (body language), mindset (intellect & sensibilities), voice (voice character & modulation) and behaviour (act/react). A back story provides valuable insight into the construction of a character – what created the villain, what made the killer, what made the vigilante? It provides an understanding of the basic motivation of the character and sets up the character’s path over the duration of the story.

Singh explained these points further with regards to A Gentlemen’s Duel, which was screened earlier. He also gave the example of Sholay where, with such a stellar cast of actors, the characters have not been overpowered. Each character is so well-written that you remember Jai, Veeru, Gabbar, Samba, Dhanno etc. rather than the actors who played those parts.

“Building Character”

The ground rule of building a believable character is to live your character. If Singh is making a movie about Ram, he has to become Ram, else it is not convincing. You need to know your characters inside out. Only then, when you sit down to define their performance, you won’t go ‘out of character’.

Basic guides to help you build believable characters:
1. Define Desires – What does he crave for?
2. Define Aversions – What is the character fearful of?
3. Define the Past – What is the history/backstory?
4. Define Behaviour – How does character normally behave?
5. Increase the Challenges – Push the limits of tolerance/severity of consequences
6. Don’t influence them with what you would be – this is a living person, let him/her react to its own being
7. Let your characters interact – define the interaction too

Exercise: – Take a character from any film and define what works/doesn’t work.

PERFORMANCE is critical to the success of a character. Dialogues many a times immortalise characters. To further reinforce this point, the memorable Gabbar Singh scene from Sholay was screened. It also served as the grand finale for the day.

Vaibhav regretted that due to lack of time, participants were unable to practice live sketching and hoped to make up for it at the next session. The participants were asked to send in their homework and exercises for assessment and also for their feedback on what they thought of the class and how it could be improved.

I thought it was well worth the time and money spent for anyone who wants to learn. I look forward to the third module to be held next Saturday.

Other Reports:

Module 1: click here

Module 3: click here