Friday, November 28, 2008

Animation from Script to Screen

Skimming through Animation from Script to Screen by Shamus Culhane.

"I have observed that over 90% of any group of workers are unwilling to improve their abilities by study - unless it happens during working hours and the boss supplies the means... So, for the ambitious neophyte, these figures should be reassuring: The competition consists of less than 10 percent of the entire animation profession."

He tells the story of animating Pluto and the antagonistic crab. How for 3 days he just kind of dreamily thought about it, and drew occasional thumbnails improving upon the storyboard. And then he exploded and drew 700 drawings straight aheading the scene. The drawings were super rough: "That's what the roughs were - not so much sketches as information. Nobody else could have possibly used them to make cleaned-up drawings because they were mostly reminders that at a certain point in the roughing-out process, I felt a certain way. I was feeling the action of Pluto as he snarled at the crab, or the crab as he shoved his hat forward preparing to stalk over to the dog. So these doodles of snarling mouths, scurrying claws, and drooping tails were more memory joggers than drawings." He decided the trick was to completely tap into the creative side of the brain by shutting down the analytical, no stopping to erase or number or anything, just sketch out the ideas as fast as possible, no time for correcting, just starting a new drawing if it's not right.

There are 2 kinds of stories, the kind with a beginning middle and end, and the ones like a Road Runner picture which is just a string of gags. Gag stories, put your character in a situation and then riff off of that. Fatty the Elf as a clock cleaner, what props could get involved, what kind of clock is it, with little characters dinging gongs, what are his companions up to, what's outside the clock, a spooky tree full of owls, what about the weather rain or sleet or sunny, etc... Vs. a story that develops situation by situation from the beginning like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. A third type is really an outgrowth of the first, Disney studios found that having four or five sequences built around comic situations made for a very satisfactory picture, like Hawaiian Holiday.

In creating stories for motion pictures think in terms of the film being composed of sequences that, put together, make a story. Each sequence must have a high point, something funny has to happen. If the story goes along too long without some humor, the audience's attention span will not endure. Look for ways to embellish a gag.

Study Fritz the Cat by Ralph Bakshi. The negative aspects just about cover every aspect of filmmaking. Bakshi has no real sense of continuity or pace, so there are big holes in his story line and the picture progresses in fits and starts. It is the work of a man who had a message but lacked the intellectual means to put it on film. Another warning film is Raggedy Ann and Andy directed by Dick Williams. The writers were trying to write for children, which made the story mechanically coy, self-conscious, and deadly dull, despite the charm of the original characters. Some sequences were allowed to drag on way to long just because they were animated well. This film shows that the best talent and #3million does not guarantee success. Sound judgement and the ability of the director to handle the talent are more important. Bakshi went on to blow Saturday morning TV wide open with the fresh and new New Adventures of Mighty Mouse, and Dick Williams blew the doors off their hinges with Who Framed Roger Rabbit. "I believe the lesson that can be learned from these two men is that one should never be daunted by failures, great or small. Have faith in your talents.

When Pinochio got off to a floundering start, it was apparent as the rushes started to come in that there was a great need for some unifying factor. The picture seemed fragmented. The writers were not able to solve the problem within the framework of the plot they had created. It followed the original book fairly closely. Disney pressured them to go beyond the book and create a brand new character, the practical, conscientious Jiminy Cricket. Not only did he pull the plot together but Jiminy almost stole the picture from Pinochio. (so don't get myopic, take a step back and see with fresh eyes)

A good way to start making layouts might be to draw thumbnail sketches covering a part of a sequence, such as all the shots in a certain interior or exterior, on one piece of paper. That way, the chain of shots can be scanned to see to it that the camera angles conform to the principles of screen editing. (Pixar takes this up a step with color scripts, seeing how the color emotion also flows)

Compose the background around the required action to not distract from it but to emphasize it. Do not struggle to keep the camera still. Sometimes a slight pan will give the action a freedom and grace that would not be possible without the camera move.

Watch out for sequences of scenes that follow each other and have very similar compositions. The audience may find the film boring without knowing why. The human eye likes to work. It is a pleasure to have to keep making adjustments to variations of camera positions, different horizon placements, sudden moves from long shots to close-ups. All these visual exercises are a delight to the eye, completely separate from the plot or the acting ability of the players. Dull compositions can take the fine edge off a good story.

I have nothing against unusual camera angles, providing they are doing a job, showing some important piece of business in the best possible composition. But I do not want an artful shot just as an extension of the layout artist's ego. Sometimes I reject an odd point of view in a layout...I try never to remind the audience that it is being manipulated, forced to look at the action from a point of view that we choose. So the gnat's eye view in a shot is rejected in favor of a more normal and less obtrusive camera angle.

As soon as possible after establishing a long shot to set the locale, I want to move in and omit all extraneous detail.

Be careful about seeing to it that long stretches of dialogue are made interesting by some action germane to the plot. Make sure that important information is still interesting. A boss is ordering his salesman to go out to the wild west, (where the previous 3 salesmen were killed), instead of having a boring talking head shot, give the actors something to do, like the salesmen getting dressed where he can finger dubiously the bullet hole in the buckskin jacket he needs to wear as the boss assures him it is a great growth opportunity. The problem of providing enough interesting action often occurs in the singing sequences. Disney films are the master of this, study them for ideas.

Bar sheets come before x-sheets. Used for pictures set to a known music. At the top of the sheet is a box that indicates what the beat is, for example 2/12 would indicate that each bar of music would have last 24 exposures and have 2 beats in it. Bar sheets are even stronger then x-sheets for matching up musical beats with visual ones, because you can see the entire musical score easier. After the bar sheets are written up the information is transferred to x-sheets for the animators.

The audience of which you should be aware when you are animating is yourself. This is why when you are animating, you must surrender to the tug of your emotions and draw from your feelings. You do not share your thinking processes with others, because you have a unique life experience. What you do share are feelings, sense of humor, a wry appreciation that we are an odd species... so, as you animate, let yourself without reservation be both the entertainer and the entertained.

Norm Ferguson would initially sketch a number of key poses in rough drawings about an inch and half high. Then he would start to animate straight ahead, having solved in his mind the basic geometry of each important pose. Thus, he had the advantage of exploring his key poses, first, then arriving at some variation on them when he was animating straight ahead.

The impetus for the direction of the line of action can come only from feeling what happens to a body when it is expressing a particular emotion.

There is a way of drawing what will inevitably result in an uninteresting pose. That is when perspective is avoided. Very often, it happens because the animator started to draw an arm or a leg from the torso outward. A hand can express emotion; an elbow or a forearm cannot...The best way to avoid these boring parts is to start by first drawing the hand where you want it in the pose, then attaching the arm to it. Very often, it will be in such acute perspective that it is not noticeable.
One time, while I was working on a drawing of the Fox in Pinochio, the pose was giving me trouble. The character's head just didn't seem to be resting in his palm. Norman Ferguson came along and redrew it. He first drew the head at the angle that was needed. Then he sketched the hand cradling the head. Then he made an arm nd finally the body. In other words, all the elements that made up that drawing were done in the order of their importance. That was one of the most important things I learned at Disney's. Are you going to draw two characters glaring at each other eyeball to eyeball? With Fergie's lesson in mind, I would begin by drawing the eyes, not by laying in the two bodies.

Always think of eyes and eyebrows as one unit. The eyebrow is not something pasted on the forehead, independent of the eye. Feel how the eyebrow going into a frown is pressing down on the eye and changing it's shape. When the eyebrows go up in surprise, the shape of the eyes should change accordingly.

Most actions tend to start slowly, accelerate in the middle, and slow down to a stop. This is the main reason that spacing charts were developed.

While the poses tell the story, it is the timing that intrigues the audience. In a way, it is more important than the poses because it gives us such specific information about the personality of the actor.

The eye delights in sudden changes from slow movement, or no animation at all, to frenzied action. This unexpected change of pace captivates audiences the world over because it is part of the universal language of mankind.

Norman Fergusson, the Pluto expert, was the Disney animator who began to extrapolate humor from thought processes. To make this subtle form of acting enjoyable, the movement has to be kept to a minimum. For example, if Pluto was walking along and his paw suddenly became stuck on flypaper, he would come to a complete stop. Then his eyebrows would go into a frown. He would go from that to a slow blink. When his eyelids came back up, the audience would see that Pluto was now looking skyward-thinking. The only movement on the screen would have been Pluto's eyes and eyebrows. There is not much chance of putting over Acton such as that while the character is moving around. An exception is when Snow White kisses Grumpy good-bye. He turns brusquely and starts walking toward the door. His steps get slower and slower because he cannot maintain his pretense of being such a curmudgeon, and his heart melts. While Tytla did change the dwarf's expression as he walked, Grumpy's change of pace really did most of the acting. But as a general rule, since the thinking process is usually only reflected in the face, the elements there-the eyes and mouth-are too small to compete with large parts of the body, if those are in motion as well.

In order to "read" the emotions of a character, the audiences first looks at the face, then the hands, after that, the body, starting with the upper torso. Hands are very important in revealing attitude.

T.S. Sullivant is an interesting animal caricaturist.

It is necessary to know the skeletal structure and the construction of the muscles in order to caricature an animal's movements. In 4 footed animals, the shoulder blades, being upright, jut out from the silhouette.

Accented gestures always precede emphasized words or phrases by anywhere from 3-4 exposures to 15-20. They are never in exact synch with the words.

Animating dialogue, listen to the track until the words fall away and you think of it in musical terms, then choreograph the body with the cadence as well as the meaning.

Lip synch
First thing I do is draw in all the closed mouths, paying attention to the sound before and after this particular position to be sure I'm drawing the proper width. Then I do all the mouths with closed teeth showing. Then I pick out the loudest vowel in the sentence and draw it, then the next loudest etc until they're all done. Of course, the loudest vowel is going to have the widest open mouth, and the mouths are less wide as the volume diminishes. After that it's just inbetweening. With this system there is no way that a 2ndary vowel will have a bigger mouth then the louder vowels.

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