There are some terms that I find students struggle with, some of which come from traditional animation but tend to get mangled on the CG side of the fence. First, let’s start with one that isn’t a word: animations. I can’t tell you how much this grates on the ears of anyone who comes from traditional animation, be it hand-drawn or stop motion. I think the word animations comes from the early, junky Internet-specific stuff that was done by people who had absolutely no connection with the world of animation. Unfortunately, the word is creeping into general use by non-animators. As my friend Tom Owens puts it:
There is no such thing as “animations.” “Animation” is already plural… You don’t say “I make musics,” do you?
Shots are individual pieces of animation. Scenes is sometimes used with shots, though some like to reserve that word for a related series of shots, with a series of related scenes making up a sequence. It does get complicated, but in any event, please save the term animations for that stuff that not really animation.
Now a few more that people tend to mess up:
Key frame, key, key pose, secondary key, extreme. Key frame is a CG-specific term. Milt Kahl never did any key-frame animation. He would have talked about drawings and key drawings. The key storytelling drawings would be his keys. The drawing of the extreme of an action would be called an extreme (duh). A key might be an extreme, and an extreme might be a key, but not necessarily. A secondary key is pretty much what it sounds like, a storytelling pose that is crucial but, well, not quite as crucial. Realize that there is a certain fluidity among these terms.
I don’t think key frame in CG is used in exactly the same way as a rough key or key was used in hand-drawn animation. For example, in 2-d a shot may be a long, subtle, complex shot that has a single key pose, along with dozens of subtle extremes. In CG, all of those tend to get talked about together as key frames, and many people refer to every frame they’ve set a key on as a key frame. That’s fine, but one should keep in mind the difference between building your key storytelling pose(s), defining your extremes, and setting your breakdowns.
By the way, all this talk of keys is separate from the 2-d job titles, like key assistant, or simply key. A key was the clean-up artist who was at the top of the clean-up food chain, and who usually cleaned up the rough keys (rough animation drawings tended to be shorted to ruffs). The key would then supervise the clean-up done by the assistant, breakdown artist, and inbetweener. So on a hand-drawn production you might have said, “You can tell Kay is a fine key by the time she takes on her keys.” One might even turn key into a verb, as in “Ken keyed the entire scene and now he’s ready to hand it off to his assistant.”
By the way, the word tweening was never heard in any classic hand-drawn studio. Inbetweeners were inbetweeners, and inbetweening was inbetweening (with or without the hyphens). Unless you’re using Flash, skip the word tweening, please.
Breakdown. This is the drawing or pose that defines the arcs and general spacing and timing of a movement. One might say that the story part of a scene is in the keys, and the animation or nature of the movement is in the breakdowns. That’s an important concept. The most obvious sign of “computery” animation is that the computer has been allowed to define the breakdowns. This is very, very bad. Computers tend to suck at inbetweening, and they absolutely suck at breakdowns (well, actually, they’ll just make a perfectly even inbetween, instead of a breakdown).
Breakdown is also what most people go through either in the middle of the crunch, or immediately after. I always preferred the immediately after version, since it allowed me to completely waste my vacation time staring at the wall while I waited for the cramps in my hand to subside.
Okay, those the terms that stick out to me as being most often misunderstood or misused. I’m sure there are others, and you’re welcome to add to the list.