An animator’s job is the same as an actor’s job in live action pictures. Both should be masters of potraying emotions. Studying your own grimaces in a mirror is a must. Pick a character you know and go through the expressions with him, as I have here with Jerry Mouse. — Preston Blair
This is from Advanced Animation, a 30 something page book with golden tips on the action, emotion, and movement of the animated character. As I skim through the pages, I’m amazed on the level of detail that is required to bring cartoons to life. The animator must literally become one with the character. Regardless whether it’s an animal, a vegetable, or a random object, it must carry human qualities for us to connect and believe that this toon is real. Their walk, expressions with the face and hands, and body features must tell a story and represent their flaws and strengths as a character. It must imitate and at times exagerrate the human being. I read this book and look back at the work of Chuck Jones, Walt Disney, and other great artist with awe. We take it for granted, but these classic toons that we know of are a great study on timing, emotion, comedy, and action more than what we think.
Disney Animator Ward Kimball wrote a letter to Will Finn:
…you gotta know all the insides and outs of film making. And with animation in mind this means: BASIC DRAWING, LIFE DRAWING, DESIGN, LETTERING, ARCHITECTURE, COLOR THEORY, MATERIALS AND THEIR USE, PAINTING, MODELING, ART HISTORY, WORLD HISTORY, ANATOMY, HUMANITIES, FILM EDITING, SOUND CUTTING, RECORDING, STORY SKETCH,—You name it, you gotta be with it. What I am trying to say is that becoming an animator is a growth process that involves basic curiosities for all things, because man, animation is just not making things move, it is THINKING, THINKING, THINKING! You can’t know enough about everything. Curiosity is the key word. See everything! Do everything!”
So get in front of a mirror and start practicing your facial expressions.