the Plausible Impossible

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Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

Rusty works in the animation industry doing Storyboards, Timing, Animation and Directing. Recently he has worked at Disney TV Animation and Universal Animation Studios. He's best known for his Directing and Producing for Warner Bros. on "Animaniacs" and "Pinky and the Brain".

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Angle on Angles

One of the ways you can change the mood of a scene is simply by changing the angle of the camera. In this post I have presented the same basic scene from 3 slightly different camera angles. I purposefully kept the camera on the same side of the character to help show how the change can effect the feeling of the scene. To begin with I have a level camera to the character. Here you get the feeling the lady is remembering something or someone. A scene like this often is accompanied by a camera move either in or out depending upon the point in the story that it appears. Next I have a low camera angle that give a more heroic or dramatic feeling. With this type of camera angle give the character a sense of accomplishment. Either that they will be able to overcome or have already have triumphed. It's basically putting the character on a pedestal. It harkens back to the age of Kings and Queens standing on their balconies looking down upon the peasants. Of course this camera angle can be pushed to the point that a character appears taller than they are. Even old propaganda posters used images of people from low angles. Accompanied with harsh shadows can make it even feel sinister. Often you will see films in which a character that is in a desperate situation use low camera angles with harsh shadows. The opposite of this is the downshot or high camera angle. It gives a sense of bewilderment or loss. That perhaps the character didn't get what they were after. Like the first example you will often find a shot like this accompanied with a camera move out. It can also be pushed to give a stronger feeling. A downshot also helps to give scale and place the characters into their world. In many live action movies a crane is used to bring the camera to this angle. No matter how you use these angles it's always good to keep in mind that the angle should not feel out of place. I find it is always best for you audience to not be so aware of the camera. This included camera moves.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Staging and Story pt 2

Often I find that the point of the story is being lost simply by unclear staging. To the left is an example of a scene in which a boy is showing his mom he got an F on a paper at school. The boy is giving excuses at this point in the story and fearful of his mom's reaction. Though the staging is interesting the focus has been put on the mom. This is a great opportunity for some acting on the boy but it's missed and most likely will have a long paragraph worth of dialog assigned to this single panel. Many times I will see a panel like this with both the boy's and the mom's dialog set to it. No matter if you are creating the dialog or it's coming from a script, you need to look for opportunities for acting where you can give the audience a chance to know your character.
To the right is an alternate staging for the same scene. It gives the boy a chance to act and it's easy to tell right away what the scene is about. I would probably add several panels of acting in this same staging.
Now you don't always have to be so blatant as this but it works. The best would be a combination of the two shots presented here. Start with the boy and cut to the mom's reaction. Even better would be to have the boy turn away from the mom in the shot where we see the mom. This could give him some good acting where he is making outlandish excuses that we know are lies. Then the mom could call him on it.
Some board artist also tend to misinterpret things like Over-The-Shoulder (OTS) shots, thinking in means the foreground character has their back to the camera and the character in the background is facing the camera. It really just means that one character is in the foreground(possibly partially cut off by the edge of the field) and the other in the background (or other action is in the background). Try to think of alternate ways to stage a scene so it's clear. Sometimes even simple straight on flat staging will make the scene clearer and actually more interesting. Especially if you've been doing more dynamic shots one after the other.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Staging and Story

I'm going to spend a few posts here to talk about staging and story. Because I deal with a lot of storyboards I find that although there are a number of good artists out there, few of them stage their scenes in an interesting way or even clear enough to understand the story point. Here are a several rules that I always follow to ensure successful storytelling:

1. Can I clearly see what is going on?
2. Is the camera angle motivated by the story point?
3. Number of characters in the scene, do they all need to be here)?
4. Can I tell where I've been, where I am, and where I'm going?
5. Has the staging become too obvious?
Over the next 5 posts I will discuss each of these rules. There is not always one way to successfully board a scene or sequence but these rules should apply to any and all ways it is done. They are great to keep in your head or to post on the wall to constantly remind yourself. If you get stuck they also can help you get out of a bind. You should always fall back on the simplest way to fulfill the story point. You can always expand on that.

The story panels I have included here are from a test I did for Dreamworks. Each gives you a particular feeling even though you don't have the dialog. Besides the way they are dressed you can tell simply by the staging who the sarge is and who the private is. The downshot above is an interesting way of showing the sarge is addressing a platoon without cluttering the scene too much.
So get ready for some storyboarding 101!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

An American Tail

Deleted Scene I animated
Over 20 years ago I was a new animator with vigor and an outlook to be a master animator. During that time I was hired to animate at Don Bluth Studios on "An American Tail". The first few scenes I was given to animate where on a section of the film that Don had not finished storyboarding yet. Some of the scenes had gone through layout and were ready to be animated. They were at a section of the film where the family was boarding the ship for America. As happens with many films the scenes get altered and some scenes get removed. Above is one of these scenes. Fievel in his excitement has stopped the line boarding the ship and Fievel is looking at the fish in the water below. He is holding onto his dads tail and his dad starts walking pulling Fievel along. In the final film the scene was extended and widened to include the other mice.
Though it is a short scene and my drawing skills have improved greatly there are some points about this scene that are worth looking at and reminding myself. Look at the weight that is due to both the timing and the poses. The slow start to his walk gives the feeling he's being pulled by his dad. There is a simple main action that takes place but other secondary actions and overlap were added later. These secondary actions give a life to the scene. His look back at the other passengers behind him gives a nice sense of a little boy.
Because the scene is so short he doesn't change his pose too drastically helping make the action and gesture read.
Sometimes it's good to look back at work you've done that either you like or others gave you a good response to. Analyze them and see what might be the reason they worked. It's easy to lose sight as to why a scene is successful. It's also easy to get wrapped up in deadlines and frustrations and lose the life the scene requires.