Animating the Ninja Animatic inc. Reference Video

Last year taught me a major importance of TIMING. Seeing numbers come and go at the rapid rate as become so embedded in my thinking process that I’ve set time limits to each project I work on. Before we commenced our animatic, we timed our estimates for each shot of the storyboard then films a reference video. While crude and admittedly immature, it gave us a better idea of the timings for our film as well as giving us an understanding of our composition. We ran into an issue when shooting the tracking shot because while an iPhone as an efficient camera, it’s not designed for fast motion shutter speed, hence while trying to track the camera with my hands with no support resulted in shaky blurred footage. I basically took a pillow from the sofa in the lab, sat on it and had Tyrone or Micheal drag it back, as you can see from the video below.

Once we had our shots, I noticed during the editing that there was a jump cut which was out of place in the scene and disrupted the flow of the narrative. As a result, we went back and shot an insert take to make the pacing more fluid. Hence, we were able to make viable adjustments to the timings while also having additional camera angle to capture the action.

While the video didn’t give us an accurate representation of how we would shoot the film, I started developing a diagram for the animatic design for how the camera placement and movement would be done as well as an indication of the distance and blocking (positions of…) the characters.

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With the diagram we were able to get a sense of space and understand the movement of the action in accordance to the acting from the reference video – which admittedly needs to be more exaggeration. I suggested that our animatic workflow be much like how our team last year handled the animatic as well projects prior with James and Daryl. The workflow considered of a consistent pace of one person drawing backgrounds, one person drawing the characters, someone for clean ups and then myself animating on Final Cut. The flow as supposed to keep the cycle going. If the artists needed time to draw, I could adjust animation and focus on adding a soundtrack. If I stopped, then the artists could continue with other scenes.

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This list above is our ‘animatic asset checklist’ to give it a fancy pretentious name. Basically, we breakdown every element of the animatic that moves while also ensuring that character and effects layers are transparent and backgrounds are at an aspect ratio of 20x10in so that we can produce a tracking/panning shot as well as adding bleed to the image in case we need to move the framing of the background.

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 08.59.23 Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 08.59.53

In the animatic, I began be getting the geography of the backgrounds correct in accordance to the characters positioning then using composite mode to track the character movements. This is essentially a form of multi-plane animation. The background moves slower than everything in the foreground. It also allowed me to cheat perspective when transitioning between the severed victim. As the camera tracks the ninja to cover the victim, the movement is sped up as the duplication image is tracked in so convey a bend in the camera’s track.

To add a real sense of cinematography and stylisation to the animatic, I began to key frame glossy blurs into the characters so that the depth of field changes. In this final scene from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966), there is a real focus on long takes and close ups to establish a dramatic tension among the characters while also expressing each of their feelings towards the situation. The shallow depth of field isolates the audience’s view of the character and that characters perspective. Due to the pace of samurai films and our narrative, we have to keep the drama fast and focused, so the continuous adjustments to the depth of field maintains the sense of anxiety from jumping between the characters while also having enough time to react to the action. It’s not too fast, but it’s consistent enough to establish the emotional weight of the situation.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. (1966) Film. Directed by Sergio Leone. [DVD] US: United Artists

We discussed before about combining the samurai pacing with Western cinematography due to their similar stylizations, while also giving us the opportunity to play with the exaggeration of both genres.

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