NOTE: The following essaying is a brief version of the entirety of my work. For a full understanding on my research and processes, see each blog post for greater detail.
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Broadly defined by the Hollywood model as simply ‘cartoons’, Wells (2002, pp. 4) corrected this laypeople’s misconception based on veteran animator Preston Blair’s description that it is a ‘craft-oriented process’ which involves the creation or recreation of simulated movement. As a newcomer to animation, the ignorance of the process and my background in live-action drove me to follow closely along the process of storytelling in this medium. In this reflection, I will discuss my study into the traditional model of animation based on the concept of storytelling through expression, timing, sound, stylization and cinematography. It will include an analysis of a professional example to show an understanding of the significance of animation and narrative devices, in addition to delineating group assignments in Design Discourse and Creative Elements to show how my understanding of the processes was put into practice. This will focus on the basic physics of a bouncing ball; the live-action perception film which focused on exaggeration and colour theory; storyboarding Winnie The Pooh; the metallic world animatic which involved a heavy emphasis on story, timing and sound design; and an animation based on a script with no context to develop a original scene. Overall, this essay will focus on my interest and development in storytelling in a generalist perspective that introduced me to a new medium of the creative industries.
Firstly, my initial introduction in animating was through Richard Williams’ The Animator’s Survival Kit (2001), which described the process of animation in an understandable and accessible way. The first animating task I was involved in was using Flash to make a ball bounce down stairs. What sounded easy led to an immensely frustrating attempt to control the physics of a soft ball. Pardew (2005, pp. 4) stated this frustration as an early obstacle to animation, in that strong animation can only be achieved once the individual understands ‘real motion’ and the effects of weight and gravity. This led to me researching basic physics to get a general grasp of the logistics of movement from both Isaac Newton’s gravitation model and the mechanical model. Williams (2001) stopped me getting too ahead of myself as he defined the physics of a ball as simply the relation between timing plus spacing equals the number of frames an animator needs to make an object bounce. I took a small sponge ball and a dodge ball to follow his example and timed the number of bounces in accordance to the distance in travelled. I found myself doing an elementary science experiment, but it revealed to me that I forgot to take the notion of force and acceleration into account. Having realised my mistakes, I noted the inclusions to remember and gradually became aware of the purpose of physics, especially during the animatic assignments where the movement of the character and the object were dictated by realism.
For example, in the context animation, when the character dropped the shiv (0:55), before animating I needed to time both the fall of the object and the propulsion of it caused on the impact of the solid ground. I found an object of equal weight, in this case, a marker with blue-tack wrapped on the end to recreate the weight of the blade opposed to the handle of the toothbrush and timed the fall with a stopwatch. The whole idea was to get an accurate number of frames in relation to the distance it takes for it to fall so I could tween the object in Final Cut. In all, my understanding of physics allowed me to think more deeply about the material of objects and the state of the world. When working with the ball again, I was able to question how heavy or hollow the ball was – it may not bounce due to its weight, but it could have a conscious and thus have a more disciplined fall.
Furthermore, as I began to think about how physics could impact the audience’s understanding of the world and it’s properties, the importance of stylisation became an intriguing part of storytelling and emotion. In Pardew’s later book, Character Emotion In 2D and 3D Animation (2008), he encouraged animators to act, even if it was just in front of a mirror, in order to learn the expressive nature of human emotion – ‘Animators are actors’, he remarks (2008, pp. 3). Keeping with the consistency of science, I moved towards psychology to understand expression, something which could be physically exaggerated for effect. Humans aren’t always vocal about their emotions and tend to show subtle expressions rather than emphasising their feelings. Confirming what Pardew said in his previous reference book (2005), stylizing emotions and making them visually evident adds energy to a scene, but again (staying within the logic of reality), exaggeration should only reach the point when it doesn’t alienate the audience from sympathizing with the character (2008, pp. 48). As I continue to perform short and long form improvisation, a performance art based on the principles of exaggeration to reveal information about a character and the process of heightening to develop a situation beyond the realm of the mundane, I’m taking my studies into account. From this, it generates an understanding of form outside life drawing, as I’m able to see the dynamic created from movement to display emotions and responses to actions. It links well with Pardew remarks about how exaggerating expression accentuates the drama. For example, if a character is injured onscreen by hitting a wall, emotionally the audience feels the pain; however, using pain as a set up can lead a scene in to a punchline if the animator puts a transparent silhouette through the wall. This way, the emotional expression of pain is juxtaposed with an exaggeration of the physics. The fact the character crashes through the wall shows how much force was applied to the impact of a solid object.
In our live-action perception film, we decided to embrace the quirkiness of our studies and focused on going outside our comfort zones to act. The film involves exaggerating two polar opposite emotions of happiness and sadness through facial expressions and movement. For example, Micheal dancing would be a representation of happiness and confidence. My character was slumped over and showing little movement to convey insecurity. These emotional states were heightened by the art direction as the cast wore blues, blacks and whites and I manipulated the white balancing and colour correction to stylize shots with greens and blues to show the coldness and grittiness of the world as opposed to the character’s emotions in the same vein as Dancer In The Dark (2000). The happy character dancing around a rather miserable setting creates an ironic image to highlight the humour.
Moreover, I wanted to extend beyond body language to focus on the impact of cinematography and sound. In The Film Experience (2012), Corrigan and White talk about the necessity of film language in order to disguise the process of filmmaking in favour to guiding the audience’s vision and generating emotion. The use of carefully framed compositions such as tracking and canted angles allow for the manipulation of the audience such as inferring to a sense of movement and chaos using handheld camerawork and creating ominous atmosphere through canted/’Dutch’ angles which skew the plane of the composition. Corrigan and White (2012, pp. 114) also show that the use of colour within the ‘mise-en-scene’ (everything visually presented in the shot) such as the lighting, costume and set design establish the film’s tone and intensify the emotion such as using yellows, oranges and other ‘dry’ colours to establish the blazing heat in the western genre. Even early cinema attempted to capitalise on the importance of colour such as in King Lear (1910), which hand-tinted each frame. Yet, it wasn’t until the 1930’s, with the introduction of sound and three-strip Technicolor, where colour became more apparent will the release of Disney’s Flowers and Trees (1932).
Additionally, sound also compliments cinematography by driving the visuals and perpetuating actions. Corrigan and White (2012, pp. 184) highlight why I needed to draw more attention to sound as they argue that the hierarchy of visuals can dominate over sound, despite an almost even significance. In my assignments, our group’s workflow usually consisted of me producing the sound mix using diegetic (sounds that exist within the logic of the world such as birds chirping) and non-diegetic sound (sound external from logic that acts as a commentary such as the soundtrack or narration). Traditionally, parallelism (2012, pp. 185) is used to synchronize the sound and image that have the same representation.
For example, in this scene from Tom And Jerry, the editing, sound and cinematography work together to convey the humour while also keeping the logic outside exaggeration ‘invisible’. As Tom takes the lawnmower and chases Jerry and the Duck, Tom exiting stage right while the camera remains static establishes he’s speed and accentuates his actions. While intercutting between two tracking shots, the background plane and the number of frames per run cycle is shorter for Jerry and the Duck as opposed to Tom. The multiplane camera device shows that Tom is catching up in order to heighten the drama. Cutting to a slow track of the mother contrasts the emotional impact of the previous shots as the reduced tempo and the minimally calm soundtrack is disrupted by the abrupt entrance of Jerry and the Duck (stage left) who carry the intense piercing music with them. The music synchronises with the action of the running characters while the use of the 180-degree rule within the framing keeps the staging consistent and understandable to the audience. Once the mother has a fight with Tom over the Duck, the sound effect cue isn’t foley sound (recreated diegetic sound). Instead, the use of a ‘pinch’ sound exaggerates the action of ‘pinching’ something (parallel sound) and heightens the humour. A comedic ‘bounce’ is then used for the father duck to infer to the irony of the physics due to his weight (established by his buffed chest). There is a pivot placed by his small feet to show where the balance is shifted. Acting becomes prominent in this shot due to the process of blocking. ‘Social blocking’, defined by Corrigan and White (2012, pp. 76) as ‘the arrangement of characters to accentuate relations among them’, is used give dominant status to the father duck over Tom as the father takes much of the visual space, suggesting to the audience that the father is powerful which is visually signified by the symbol typography of an anchor to convey strength. It thus generates sympathy towards Tom as the audience expect (playing on the element of anticipation) something bad to happen. The final shot of Tom moving from a running pose to hitting the solid tree emphasizes the force combined with acceleration as the tree makes no movement but Tom bounces off it to show the comedic impact.
Similar to the bouncing ball practical, storyboarding also highlighted the simplicity of storytelling through simple movement and expression. Initially, I drew storyboards in order of key movements within a shot that highlight elements within the story such as a character’s entrance/exit, a prop or a particular action. However, when taking the time to storyboard a sequence from Winnie The Pooh, keeping with the notion of expression made the story readable as each key pose suggested the details of the action. For example, in the top frames, an expression line crosses through to show the direction the leaf flows, which describes how Piglet got caught in the leaf. Using the rule of thirds to my advantage, the force of the wind is made evident by how Piglet to propelled along the right side of the frame and moves to the left as he manages to get away from the leaf. Then just as he tries to walk away, his weight is reflected by the wind forcing him back to the right side before hitting a heavy Pooh bear. The fact Pooh bear remains in his blocking position continues the continuity of the temporal logic as the match cut to a close up of him following his eyes along the bottom of the frame conveys to the audience that Piglet is still being pushed away by the wind. The storyboard however does require more frames in order to convey the expression more seamlessly much like what the final outcome (the animation) would be.
Finally, expanding beyond storyboarding to an animatic was a major transition with a new team, but using the same process and keeping true to the components of animation, a consistent and effective workflow was achieved. We delegated roles based on our strengths. After drafting an in medias res story, I scripted the story and created a shot list to sequence the continuity of events before we storyboarded. James created each extreme pose of the characters while Daryl would complete the breakdowns and the group mixed the task of finishing inbetweens. The reason for delegating specific roles was to maintain volume control amongst the designs that could hinder both the stylisation and disturb the continuity. Yet, there is a noticeable lack of inbetweens in order to finish before the deadline, but there was careful thought put into which pose fits the time we were given. Every pose was timed in frames by performing the actions in order to keep within the logic of real movement. For cinematography, panning, tracking and POV shots perpetuated the focus on expression and kept the scene moving to generate the emotional rush of being chased. Fast cutting served to create the sense of disorientation with an attempt being made to create the Vertigo effect (0:33). The intention was also to keep the story feeling voyeuristic as shots were framed behind walls, through windows and POV’s to give the sense of paranoia and ‘always being watched’. The cinematography was thus an extension of the character development. A risk was also taken to completely shift the suspense to absorption as I slowed the frames of the fall to infer slow motion as the music dies and only diegetic sound is heard to suggest the character was at his last moments (0:42).
In conclusion, I learned to focus more on the expressive elements of design to tell a story in addition to discovering matters of importance such as physics, colour and composition to heighten the emotional drama. I became more aware of the process of staging scenes and highlighting the logic of the world through properties, characters and settings. The gradual shift away from the ‘art’ and more towards the ‘design’ allowed me to become more confident in conveying the idea through form rather than tedious detail. Focusing on the significance of timing and contextualizing poses has become an importance to me as an editor as I find my comfort in animating. I only expect through practice, that my speed increases and my work becomes more fluid.