I am an avid fan of animation of all kinds, and I have recently developed a sudden and completely unexplainable interest in figure skating. I came to the realization that they are more similar than you would expect at first glance. The most important similarity the two share is the means of expression: The beauty of movement. The artistry is in the motion. For animation, this is thousands upon thousands of individual frames adding up to create the illusion of movement. For figure skating, it is the control of your body on the ice to create a mesmerizing program of dance, spins, and jumps. In other words: Movement.
I should preface this by saying that I am not an expert on either animation or figure skating, but as an avid fan of both, even with just a little research, I have found many similarities between the two. So many in fact, that I was simply astounded. This goes much deeper than you think.
Firstly, before I go into more detail, take a look at this scene from Walt Disney’s Bambi and this incredible performance from Yulia Lipnitskaya’s Free Program from the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. I will be using these two videos as reference as I explain how animation and figure skating have many commonalties.
The first major similarity that animation and figure skating share is the technique itself; how the movement is created. In figure skating, all jumps have five main components:
1. Preparation. Yulia looks over her left shoulder as she moves into the take-off position.
2. Take-off position. You can tell that this is going to be a Lutz due the exaggerated lean to the outer edge of the left foot. You do not want to change to the inside edge of the left foot before lift-off, as this changes the jump into the much easier flip.
3. Lift-off. She uses the toe pick of her free foot, in this case her right foot, to assist in takeoff.
4. Rotation. Three rotations in this case for a triple Lutz. Notice how she brings her hands in. This helps increase rotation speed, and it looks good, too. The Lutz is also a counter-rotated jump, meaning that the jump rotation goes in the opposite direction that the skater’s body was moving on the ice.
5. Landing. She lands on the outer edge of the right foot, the opposite of how she started the jump.
All of this is preparation for Yulia’s first major jump combination of her program, a triple Lutz followed by a triple toe-loop. These five crucial components all work together in tandem to create a stunning movement. This exact same concept is utilized in animation, but with different terminology, to create realistically portrayed actions:
1. Anticipation. You can see in this frame that Bambi is just about to jump.
2. Action. This is where the cool stuff takes place. However, the anticipation and reaction are crucial in giving the action emotional impact.
3. Reaction. Bambi begins to fall down after jumping, but what really gives the illusion of gravity is not so much the downward motion by itself, but the reaction. Bambi closes his eyes and his body adjusts as he gets closer to landing.
4. Follow Through. Landing and follow through. This helps create the full movement. He can not just hit the ground and immediately stop. That is not realistic movement. There has to be follow through.
I think it is incredible how two completely different modes of expression could share so many concepts with each other, but it does not end there. Figure skating is more than just fancy jumps and spins. It is also judged on choreography, interpretation of the musical score, and overall artistry. In a way, you could say that there is an underlying narrative in a figure skating program.
This narrative is told completely without words, but through movement (visuals), sound (music), and choreography (acting). Animation, too, relies heavily on its music and acting to add even more vibrancy to the movement itself. Take for example the classic cartoons of the Golden Age of Animation. Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry made constant use of classical music and exaggerated motions to aid in telling a story. Figure skaters often use classical music as their musical selection, which I find really interesting, because this is similar to the musical selections in these old cartoons.
If the jumps and spins of figure skating equate to the movement in animation, then the acting in animation equates to the choreography in figure skating. Combined with classical music, it is almost as if they are the same thing!