It's Time to RE-ANIMATE!
This commentary on animation was posted by "George" on Dec 3, 2001 in our old Academy. Note that there are no pictures, but the thread was good enough for our Academy before, so we are posting it here as well.
Regardless of your chosen scale, it's what makes a scene of plastic, metal and wire come to life. Of everything we read on this site, as well as others, there's an acute lack of information being shared concerning moving objects in layouts.

Animation seems to have been sacrificed in the past twenty years in favour of more highly, if not overly detailed scenes. For my taste, it would seem there's a fair degree of overkill in this area, with excessive garbage and detail, crossing the line to clutter. I find clutter makes the scene unrealistic to the point of being almost surrealistic.

Look in the pages of the train magazines and you will see excessive numbers of people in strange parts of town at strange times of day, or garbage in streets of what might be an upscale neighbourhood. Some of
this over detailing seems inspired by pseudo Spielbergian set designers, rather than anchored in any semblance of reality.

Now I'm getting away from my intended point. Yes, clutter is a problem, but modellers have gotten so wrapped up in it, NOTHING EXCEPT THE TRAIN MOVES ANYMORE.

Some years ago, the magazines catering to this hobby were filled with all kinds of mechanized ideas. Homegrown concepts drove everything from small motors to rubberbands, triggered almost by magic to move something. I don't think I've seen a mechanized mine or even a turning windmill on a farm for at least 25 years. I wonder what happened? Could be the obcession with technology in the hobby? If so, why didn't it spread>

We used to read, and see ideas on layouts that were almost unique, while some were indeed ingenious. There was the small motor used to agitate the wire in the hands of an "HO" figure in a field. At the other end, a kite lazily wafted in the wind high above the ground. I must credit that to "Roadside America" in Sharttlesville, Pennsylvania. On another layout I saw crowds of people ascending and descending an escalator on an endless belt. Some rush hour!

I've mentioned the use of "HO" scale slot cars in another thread which has virtually fallen on deaf ears. Moving vehicles on layouts was a widespread practise in the 60's, and they were NOT being raced. Then there was my all time favourite sight. At a local layout, the host called everyone's attention to a platform (sans roof) with a sizeable crowd of waiting passengers,facing the direction of an oncoming train. Once the train pulled in blocking the view of the platform, a button was pushed and a small motor spun the platform around to an identical structure fastened underneath. When the train departed, the large crowd facing the direction of the arriving train was gone, replaced by a virtually empty platform with a few scattered figures heading towards the station. Now that was REALLY NEAT to see! You may never be able to ambulate a scale figure, but this was the next best thing!

The best animation is unexpected. That's what helps make a layout memorable.

Not only electrical motors were used, but there were all kinds of projects using hidden magnets to move objects, as well as the use of hydraulics. One article years ago told of using simple doctors syringes and plastic tubing filled with water to simulate a working auto mechanics lift.

These days, commercially animated kits are available from Faller with revolving signs, a working gravel belt and mine, amusement rides such as bumper cars and even a swimming pool filled with moving swimmers. From the states, IHC has a large selection of moving amusement park rides with a generous offering of midway booths. These are all very nice, but most people do not want to devote large segments of precious train room "Real Estate" to unsightly industries, or even to the circus.

Ability is another major factor in creating animation. Most of us are not electronic geniuses, nor solder jockeys. Another factor is personality. Everyone has their quirks, and you will have to admit that if you segregate scalers into groups, you will find different common approaches to a situation. I must say that I find dedicated "N" scalers a distinct breed, and by dedicated I mean they don't dabble in other scales at all.

Differences in two groups approaches to animation I've noted craftwise;

"N" scalers seem to concentrate on adding light and sound.

"HO scalers tend to go for movement, and in recent years, interior detailing that can be seen through windows of lit structures.

Nice touch, but I don't count interior detailing as animation because though it may help bring a scene to life, it still isn't movement.

Sound. Now there's a nice touch of animation that's not difficult to accomplish. About ten years ago, some enterprising enthusiast was marketing cassettes of crowd noise for baseball games, midways, street and factory sounds, stations, etc. Most enthusiasts took a clean Marantz cassette deck and a good Sennheiser shotgun mike into the world and captured the specific sounds they were looking for, like a long train banging across a trestle. Then they took it home and wired up the track on the approaches of their bridge to trigger the tape to a speaker hidden nearby. COOL!

Human voice. In the age of striving to monkey the prototype, would those of you trying to add individual human voices to scenes please give it up? If an "HO" scale person were to SCREAM, do you really think you would hear it?? Let's get silly and ask the same about screamers in "N"! I saw a friend's VHS of an "N" Trak meet in Philadelphia a few years ago. There was one urban module, though well detailed, which had a miserably failed attempt at adding sound. There was no effort made to mix the effects of street noise, vendors, nor sirens. Each sound was individually "Chopped", or separately edited together. Worst of all, somebody's sister or girlfriend's voice was shouting endlessly on a tape loop; "EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT!". The volume of the voice was louder than the passing trains which overpowered the entire scene. This oversight unfortunately detracted from the quality of an otherwise sharp little module that somebody put a lot of work into.

Success in animation lies in subtlety. No, you can't hear a human voice in scale unless it's through a PA system and even then, a spectator should have to strain to hear what's being said. Even in full scale, train announcements made over trashy PA systems are always distorted. Crowd noise is a low "hub-bub" murmer. In a sound mix for a miniature scene, the PA announcement will be in FRONT of the "hub-bub", and neither audio source will be overpowering. Background effect is the key. An auto horn isn't deafening unless you're right next to it, so turn the volume down on the layout!

With physical animation, it's same process. You don't want everything to "Hit them right in the teeth" as one producer I worked with used to say. You've hit pay dirt when a spectator says "Oh, look at that!" and they stare for several minutes at one scene or part of a scene. There's a time and a place for everything! Remember when people started ranting about moving trains at scale speeds? Keep it slow! Fan blades on rooftops barely move at times, and there isn't always a 60 MPH wind out there. Hit them in the teeth with a spectacle like the revolving platform. It's a surprise, yet subtle. The effect is right!

People have become far too involved with the CMRI (Computer Model Railroad Interface) while trying to totally automate train operations, or exploring DCC. These innovations to the hobby are technologically revolutionary, however we've become far too dependent on them. This facet of the hobby is not only taking us away from running a train as it should be (manually), but from what makes a layout intensely unique as well.

I'd like to hear about what you have done, and what you've seen. You can't make the little guy on the observation platform wave, yet the multitude of possibilities for animation in our miniature worlds are truly endless.

Let's return to basics and get things moving again!

Happy Rails To You!


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