Much to my surprise, I was recently asked to review the new edition of this book by the publishers Thames & Hudson. I’m not sure why they picked me, but I’m not complaining as I received a free copy of the book! I thought I might start doing more book reviews on here from time to time as I love animation books, and indeed books in general.
Cracking Animation is in it’s third edition now. Appropriately, the previous incarnation was one of the very first animation books I ever obtained when I started down this ridiculous route of film-making! Written by an army of animation brain boxes, the book promises to provide all the knowhow necessary to create an animated film in “3D” (which here encompasses the differing but not unrelated subjects of stop-motion and computer animation). This is indeed a bold claim and of course the book does fall short of it by some distance, but all the same it holds a significant place among the torrent of modern animation books.
The first section of the book, written by animation historian Brian Sibley, is a whistle-stop tour of the history of the 3D media. As an animator with experience, this section is perhaps the one that now appeals to me the most, as Brian’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject provided me with substantial education.
The rest of the book, written mainly by Aardman’s Peter Lord, concentrates on the actual process of 3D animation as it exists today. As the back-cover blurb states, every component of animated film-making is covered, from storyboards to model-making, from audio to lighting, and of course animated performances. However where the book perhaps falls short is the pace at which it zips through these subjects. I can’t honestly imagine that one book could cover all these subjects in the blissful detail that I would like, so this failing is perhaps only a small one……if it is even a failing at all. You see, contrary to what one might expect, the lack of detail is, in my view, perfect for this book.
The reason is that the book is clearly aimed at people who are in the same boat as Peter Lord and Dave Sproxton were when they first started out on their animated adventures. In fact, early in the book Peter states that he hopes that this is the book that they wished they had had back then. The greatest selling point Cracking Animation has is bags of inspiration. A teenager playing around with a camera and a handful of Plasticine doesn’t need to be fed pages of instruction. What the book does well is provide a board from which ideas can spring in the mind of the reader. In my teenage years I so desperately wanted to be an astronomer, and I loved nothing more than staring up at the stars and planets with my telescope. I later studied the subject at university and became swamped with the real essence of it – pages and pages of algebra and calculus. Had I been supplied with how-to books on these things in my early years, I would have been put off before I began. I believe the same applies for all subjects, animation included. Supply just enough information to spark a child’s brain and leave the rest to them. I think this is one book that has achieved this. I’m still in animation after having purchased it after all!
My one small discomfort with the book comes from the location of the historical first section. As much as I enjoyed the contents of it, I can’t help but feel it would better serve the book’s inspirational purpose by coming last. I think it could be very easy to put an animation newcomer off by showing them the whole history of the subject. So many brilliant and wonderful things have been made in the past and as inspiring as such things can be, they can also be massively demoralising when compared to our own ability. In my own personal experience I find that having a go at something oneself first is of greatest benefit. Once the bug has bitten, then is the right time to inject some history.
So what’s new in the latest edition? As well as a few updated paragraphs in the history section, there is a new chapter devoted to computer animation. The section is quite short and so can do little other than explain the basic concepts of each skill that goes into CG film-making, but again perhaps this is no bad thing for newcomers to the field. Computer animation, being a leviathan of technicalities, can easily be overwhelming.
So in summary, I’d say that this is a perfect book for encouraging an animation newcomer. It gives enough insight to lubricate the creative gears without flooding the engine.