Anim-Blog 3: Detail

Every animator recognises the importance of the small things. Each aspect comes together to create a wider picture from the clothes of the puppet to the flower on the street curb. Once you have understood the importance of details in characterising the underlying visual style and put this into practice the animation feels more lived in and less cartoonish. If you use details to build on the realism the viewer will recognise that the potential of the world is expanded and that the choice made by each character, large and small, is a decision with implications and alternatives. Furthermore, and on a pragmatic level it is important to have a scale with which to reference the characters against with the setting and particulars they are surrounded by. The experience becomes more immersive as the viewer forgets the fictionality of the story and is able to focus on the the film as a whole. Furthermore, it is easier to identify the characteristics of a character using the clothes they are wearing and how it accommodates their body ratio and posture. Therefore the physicality of what they wear informs their purpose as well as the figure they are representing in the fable of film. More importantly however, the correct use of attributes creates a sense of atmosphere as the exaggerated and understated elements of the environment and characters set the tone and impact the narrative purpose of each scene.  On another level, the steady and precise use of detail creates the impression that there is a world before and after the story and the film has a more outward perspective. Instead of making the film feel insular and contained the use of detail expands the story beyond the film so that we truly recognise this world as one with consequences.

The fundamental consideration of a character is their detail. From the design process through to it’s completion the puppet’s attributes must be dissected and analysed. In my mind it starts with storyboarding the character’s purpose, motivation and background. Diagram this with a pen and paper and then adopt the Aardman and Laika method of using an image board to storyboard and adopt their constituent parts. Ask how many costume changes their are and what fabric to use for the parts of the character. Then describe them in word format physically using heavy research and real life or cartoon inspiration visuals. A professional will then create a blueprint of this described character making sure to use an accurate scale for the model maker. As the artist creates a new iteration it is important to bear in mind that most, if not all characters in one feature must follow a unifying facial and bodily structure based on the exaggeration of features and shaping of eyes hands and faces. Do not be concerned if this process changes as you reach the last character. It is common to completely rethink their design when contemplating how they are designed to interact with one another. After this create a profile for each character with their image board. From a clothing perspective you should work in groups of threes by designing three types of spotted dresses with three frills and three heels types so that each aspect is chosen based on it’s merit as a whole rather than individually.

Focusing on the face the model maker must identify each of the components. From this springboard it is important to consider how the resting face might change as expressions and mouth shapes are pulled in sequence. One must consider how dramatically a muscle movement will affect the rest of the face as well as how dramatic each expression must grow to be. This comes down to the shape and size of the eyes, the crookedness of the knows, the flatness of the face and the joulines of the cheeks and chin in their movement. In my opinion it is better to use exaggeration so that the viewer can identify a character’s role before they speak and so that sudden shifts in expression can correspond with the narrative. Above all, however it is important to feel confident in the physicality of the character’s body. If the animator cannot grasp how to articulate the flexibility of and stress exerted on each limb under different pressures based on an unfamiliar walking pace or leg dexterity then it should not be attempted. One principle to work from is mirroring. This approach means observing a step forward and replaying these frames to repeat the levering onto the next foot in reverse of this process. This will create a consistent bounciness and movement even if it is not representative of the anatomical mass of the character. On a professional level, animators can be confronted by details that are unique and that require innovation. For example the snatcher in Boxtrolls has an allergic reaction at the midpoint of the film and his lip expands. The lip syncing for this swelling face requires a new replacement to be used for one frame in the process. To achieve this realistically Laika used traditional animation to reveal a guiding approach. 2D sketches were scanned and used as reference for a 3D model for the animators and sculptors to work by. Similarly, Aardman faced an issue in creating realistic beard texture with the Pirate Captain in Pirates in an Adventure with Scientists. They wanted each clump of hair on his majestic beard to feel mobile but not to move unnecessarily when being animated. This was easily achieved using a poly-glue coating. Unfortunately, although the beard would move realistically when the character spoke it would become completely still after instead of bouncing or moving momentarily. Therefore they had to create a whole new rig to attach to the chin  with horizontal and vertical movement to give it a gimble effect.

When approaching any type of machinery it is important to have a backlog of mechanical research or knowledge. For example in Boxtrolls it was important for the creators that the boxtroll killing machine moved in a mechanical way and not like the living puppets they otherwise would animate. This meant that is a right hook swing was attempted by the operator that there was a delay after each lever was pulled and that the margin for human error was included meaning that it would oversling the shot slightly. To achieve this the research team observed a hand-operated manufacturing station in Blackpool and imitated the physicality. For a more conventional piece of animated machinery it is usually very easy and involves recreating a non-functioning version of the machine. For example a knitting machine will involve a simplified version of the original to give the impression of a function. On the other end of the spectrum vehicles can be quite different. While the use of physics for the characters should be realistic throughout the animator has the choice of how closely they want to conform to the conventional model. By adding more spring or a greater bounciness or reducing the grip of the tyres an animator is able to inject more energy to a fast paced scene and this additional detail will compliment the cartoonish three-dimensional model of the character. On balance, I believe that it is important to have a foundation knowledge of the mechanics of the machine you are attempting to mimic and then from this stage decide on the purpose of the movement. From there the animator must decide on the whole how realistic this movement should be. This detail adds impact and character to each scene.

When approaching the setting in it’s barest form it is essential to think from an architectural perspective. Identify your budget and the tools available to you and then research different architectural inspirations for the setting. If the scene is indoors then research a similar setting for inspiration into it’s authenticity. Is it French colonial or English gothic or Modern? The details of this aesthetic are important. Although no live action footage will be used it would be an idea to examine the nearest area with these structural influences. From this angle one must keep the materials and base conceptions of the structural design and decide if they want to exaggerate or alter an aspect for aesthetic effect. A steeper, or more curved roof with more missing tiles and an added gutter might be an improvement on the atmosphere when set aside the more accurate design.  Picture the materials available to the characters as well as their class and the various narrative points to occur in these rooms. From that point, a clear design should become clear. If we shift our focus to designing a more rural, natural environment it is important to consider a few things. This process works in reverse of the building design process. Here you must decide what the atmosphere of the scene is meant to be – is it liberating and cheerful or dark and scary, mysterious and unclear or imposing and claustrophobic. From there one must decide how best to achieve this impact and how to over exemplify certain aspects. This can be done by creating less spacious trees, more or less grass and vegetation or altering the abundance of greenery. It is often easy to forget the rugged and sometimes steepness of the set. From here the animator should research trees and foliage that meet their specifications and recreate the desired constituent parts. I would argue that using realism in nature, although constricting, should be priority as we do not want it to detract from the main action. This should only be compromised to change saturation of colours and to make a more or less rudimentary structural design from the bark to the leaves the details are essential.

On a personal level I believe creating a realistic and captivating environment is essential. From creating moss on the pavement to designing a miniature poster for a lamp post it can have a great influence on the final result. Therefore I believe it is essential to  categorise the community of characters and fully realise the potential of these details. Firstly, categorise the purpose of this space, is it a lower class front-yard? If so, maybe the sidewalk should be more cracked and bumpy, there should be a bike leaning against a fence and this fence should be metal mesh rather than wooden and white. All of these influences come down to a few details. Is it a lavish meal in a castle? If so do you want plump cushioned throne chairs with a long table filled with different fruits and a chandelier or is the scene in the servants quarters and therefore is filled with grubby pots and pans with a dirty drainage system? It is important that each prop reflects the purpose of the item as well as the individual who uses or has created it.  A good example of this is Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands in which a fictional peruvian society has been created. from the bags of cement to the newspapers to the barrels and sheets of plastic each item is placed intuitively and functionally, as though they have just been put down.

In conclusion, I believe that the smaller aspects of an animation are far more impactful than the wider picture. To create a fully atmospheric, immersive world on a scene by scene basis with interesting characters and appropriate designs one must strike a balance between realism and exaggeration by drawing inspiration from the physics and design process used in the real world with the application of one’s own personal style.



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