In the intro to my first VTS video about timing I made the statement that timing is one of those things that is so hard to put down into rules. In fact there's precious little recorded info on how to time things compared to the large collection of writings about drawings/pose, etc. So many of the principles of animation are about the actual drawings/poses themselves. We have the huge collection of Walt Stanchfield notes about drawing for animation. But unfortunately there's no real equivalent Walt Stanchfield of timing. When it comes to timing almost all the old masters just usually said "Well, it takes time to learn that. You just eventually figure it out." Milt Kahl just blurted out "Well, you just know!" Not much to go on for students who want the answers to making better animation today. Heh.
Well by way of backing up my statements here's an exerpt from an interview between Dick Williams and Ken Harris about timing. You should know who both of these gentlemen are, but if you don't, read the links for more info.
Anyhow, here you go...
DICK: How do you learn to time the actions? If you're acting it out in your
mind, how do you time it?
KEN: That takes experience. You just time it by timing it. You get to know how long it takes to do a thing the way you want to do it.
DICK: When you started, did you have stop-watches?
KEN: We had metronomes; You could set a metronome on 6's or 8’s or 10's if you wanted a walk or anything like that. We had Carl Stallings, the musician Disney first brought to Hollywood. Carl used to give us a lot of pointers on music timing. We would ask Carl about what music phrase or number of bars that he wanted to do a thing in. Also, the Director would time it out himself - the way he wanted to do it, and we would also confer with Carl in getting the music timing. Oh, learning timing comes so gradually; It's like Benny Washam's 12-frame yawn.
When you first start out animating something, it takes so long to make those drawings that you think, "Gee, whizz, this will take up a lot of screen time. It's taken me half a day to make 12 drawings, and that must make a long, slow yawn." Well, half a second for a yawn isn't very long, is it? It just takes experience in timing, and doing things, and tapping it out with a pencil - beating it out per foot, 'till you get to know.
DICK : So you get to know the length of time of a second. It’s completely set in your mind; You know exactly what you're going to do?
KEN: Yes, I know pretty much. And I know how many frames I need to
accent something, and I know how many frames I need to slow out of it; A guy says something like, "Get going!", well, "get" would be this picture here, and here, and an in-between, and that's the accent, and when the head is up here you slow out of it. You don't just bang it back down again - you use maybe 6 to 8 drawings to get back to where you started it. But that's all timing that you've gotten by experience which you've had. You know how fast the film goes through. A stop-watch is good to time the length of scenes and such, but the stop-watch doesn't cut it down to a point where you can get a quick accent.
It’s like that guy where you made him shoot himself. You took some frames out of where his head went back when the bullet hits his head. You even could take all the frames out. If his head was here and he pulled the trigger, and his head went clear over to here without any in-between, it would work. It works well the way it is - but if you want it to bang harder, and if it was a bigger bore gun, and you wanted a real blast you could just leave out the in-betweens.
Lots of times, we will take a little fish, or a humming bird going from one rose to another…this humming bird will flutter here and then, bang! - he's over there with maybe just one elongated blur on ones, and then a 'cushion'. You can do almost anything by just starting something here and cushioning it way over here. You don't need any in-betweens.
So there you have it. You learn it by doing it.