The Animation Technique of Breaking the Joints
You must have noticed that if you wag a pencil in just the right way, it appears to be made of rubber. It’s an optical illusion that makes a rigid object appear to move fluidly. When we see people walking down the street or waving their arms, they may appear loose and rubbery to our actual eye in real life, though we know that their limbs are composed of rigid bone.
Early animators throughout the ’20s and ’30s simply “rubberized” character limbs. This is known today as “rubber-hose” animation, because there appears to be no joints in moving limbs, just gangly tubing. It’s a style that’s even lampooned today because it’s so antiquated. It would be impossible for cartoon animation to make the leap into serious art it had stayed at this prepubescent level.
Art Babbitt realized that if you bend a joint backwards, it would keep its rigidity and its believability. For both animals and humans, we can appear to move our joints every which way, keeping the motion fluid, but also grounded in realism. No more rubber hoses! For a gangly character like Goofy, Babbitt employed this ground-breaking technique. He called it “breaking the joints.”
From the 1970s throughout the 1980s, master animator Richard Williams hired Babbitt to teach classes in his studio, and he considered Babbitt a legend. In his book The Animator’s Survival Kit (a quintessential bible for animators), Williams discusses in detail how the method of “breaking the joints” actually works, and how to use it.
Stay tuned for part III: Character Analysis