Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Paul Felix Layout Notes

The great Disney artist Paul Felix wrote some great notes on perspective and layout years ago. They are full of great information and very clearly written. If you've never seen them before, check them out - even if you're not particularly interested in layout they're full of useful knowledge about drawing.

Links to them at the "Unofficial Paul Felix Blog":
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

Or all in one spot at Dan Caylor's "On Animation":
Paul Felix notes

Friday, November 25, 2011

Probably the Strangest Drawing You'll See Today

Sometimes people ask me to post more of my drawings....which I usually can't, because most of them are for movies that won't be out for a while. So here's a card I did recently for my wife for our Anniversary. It's our two family pets - a Miniature Schnauzer and a corn snake.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

More on Caricature and Creating a Believeable World

More on this idea of "Creating a Believeable World" and how the level of caricature and exaggeration can affect the emotional range of the movie. Animation is a wonderful medium because you can create any kind of amazing world for your characters to inhabit. But the animated films I love the best create a world with a lot of control and consistency so that the audience can relate to it and project themselves into that world, believing in it and relating to the characters as real, living breathing characters.

 Animated animals are a good way to illustrate varying levels of caricature in Disney movies. Maximus in "Tangled" is a horse, first and foremost. He has some human traits that make him entertaining, but he's always a horse. He doesn't talk, he doesn't stand on two legs, he doesn't drink tea from a teacup....first and foremost, he's a horse. Although he has human-esque expressions and emotions, we buy that because we all have a tendency to look at animals and project human emotions onto them. So we're primed to believe this already.

People get choked up at parts of "Tangled" and are able to engage with the characters, emotionally. Now maybe it's just me, but I honestly think that if Maximus stood up in the middle of the movie and started speaking, it would be very jarring within that world and it would throw the audience off. I think that would destroy the credibility of the world of "Tangled" so much that many viewers wouldn't be able to engage emotionally with the end of the movie when things start to get very serious.

"Lady and the Tramp" is another good example, where the animals talk and express emotions, but stay enough in the "realistic" world that we buy them and the world they live in. Sure, the dogs in that movie talk....but only to each other. Which isn't that much of a stretch for us to buy, because anyone who's seen two dogs interact with each other can tell that they have a wide array of body language and vocalizations that are universal and makes them able to communicate with each other very clearly. So they already seem able to "talk" to each other in real life. It doesn't take much for us to believe it within the film.

However, if, within the movie, they could talk to not just dogs but people as well, we would be confused and we wouldn't believe in the world of the movie. We wouldn't invest in it emotionally and wouldn't feel anything for the dogs and their problems.

And I think the emotion in the movie works like gangbusters. SPOILER ALERT!

I love the ending of "Lady and the Tramp", starting with the part where Jock thinks Trusty has lost his sense of smell, and how offended Trusty gets when Jock mentions this....that's such an amazing moment to me, when Trusty gets offended and is taken aback for a minute...then just puts Jock's offensive comment aside and gets back to work to save his friend Tramp. That's such a great moment of thinking, feeling character animation that works because of the way the characters have been set up in a believeable way, and because you buy the reality of the world, you really believe the gravity of the situation: Tramp's life is at stake.

The part in the end where Trusty gives his life for Tramp (or so you think) is very emotional for me as well. And again, I think the way the world was handled and how realistically the dogs are treated really helps me relate to them and worry about them and feel empathy for them...and all that makes the emotional beats in the movie work really well.

If you're interested in the climax of "Tramp", start at about four minutes in on the clip below. This sequence is handled phenomenally on every level, one of my favorite sequences from any Disney movie.

For counterpoint, I love the Disney film "The Wind in the Willows" but I don't feel the same range of emotions as I do when I watch some of the other Disney films. The world of Mr. Toad is totally different from the world of "Tangled" or "Lady and the Tramp". In Mr. Toad's world, humans co-mingle with animals, animals wear clothes and live in houses, etc. In contrast to Maximus, Cyril in "Willows" is a horse who is really a cross between a person and a horse. Sometimes Cyril pulls a carriage like a horse, and other times he wears clothes and even gives testimony in a trial. I love the world of "Mr. Toad" and I love that movie, but I don't feel much emotion during the movie (to be fair, it doesn't try to play much, either) and I can't imagine that, if there were a heavy emotional scene in Mr. Toad, that I would feel much. It's just not that type of movie. There's nothing at all wrong with that. But the worlds of "Tangled" and "Mr. Toad" are built to tell two totally different types of stories.

"Alice in Wonderland" is another example of a movie that I personally don't really engage with, emotionally. I'm impressed by the imagination of the artists that came up with all of the crazy stuff in the movie, and I enjoy the look of it, but the "world" that the story takes place in is so crazy - where anything can happen - that I can't really emotionally invest in the characters. When anything can happen at any moment, it's hard to feel afraid for Alice when she's on trial and the Queen is threatening to cut off her head. Because you know you're in an off-kilter, surreal world and you know anything can happen and save Alice's life (which is exactly what happens), you can't really ever get the audience to engage with and feel worried or stress about what might happen to your characters. There's no real tension or conflict in a movie when it takes place in a crazy world where you know things can change at any moment in a completely random way.

Again, I'm not saying there's a "right" or "wrong" to any of this, or that any of these films are better or worse than their counterparts. But their worlds have big differences that influence the types of stories and emotions that can be played. When you're creating a world and the characters that inhabit that world, be aware of the level of caricature that you want to play, and think about if it's appropriate for what you're trying to do.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Squash and Stretch (part 3) and Creating a Believeable World

This post about Squash and Stretch is more of a conceptual discussion. I talk about this sometimes when I'm giving talks to students, and it's a very important concept in my mind, but I get the feeling that people usually think I'm overstating the case or just crazy. But in my mind this is a big deal.

My first year at CalArts, I made a short animated film where I gave every object a lot of squash and stretch. Every object was bouncy and pliable. It was a lot of fun to animate (Early animated cartoons were often this way too - in early Mickey Mouse cartoons, Mickey could easily stretch out the tail of an airplane and make it longer. An airplane or a car was animated as though it was made out of the same material as a cow's udder or an animal's tongue).

As a worked at learning to draw and animate, I thought more and more about what I was trying to accomplish as an animator. I realized that I wanted to animate fun characters, but gradually I also realized that I wanted to tell stories that made people feel real emotions. I wanted to make films as funny as Chuck Jones' Warner Brothers shorts, and I also wanted to make films that could make you worry over the fate of the characters, like "Pinocchio", or "Lady and the Tramp", and make you get choked up or maybe even cry over what happened to the characters, like "Bambi" or "Dumbo". Those things seemed like great magic tricks, and I was always searching for answers about how that was possible using only drawings.

One day when I was at CalArts the animator Glen Keane gave a lecture and a handout on "Dynamics of Animated Drawing" (full handout can be seen here) and it contained a sentence that I didn't really take notice of at the time, but over the years I've realized that there's a lot of wisdom contained within that thought.

It says, simply: "Your character is bound by natural laws - we can fudge and cheat these to a certain degree, but the audience relates to these laws."

I think this has a larger implication that can really make or break an animated film and can be the difference between a film that can tug at your heartstrings and give you a satisfying emotional experience, and one that is fun to watch but doesn't really have deeper, more involving emotions and characters (and there's nothing wrong with just making a fun film, if that's your goal).

In order for an audience to really engage with your characters and feel empathy for them - even thought they're just drawings, or zeros and ones in a computer - the audience has to be able to believe that they're real characters in a real world. It's a contract that your audience can enter with you if you've done your job right, and I think a big part of it is portraying a world that your audience can believe actually exists. Intellectually, I think it's impossible for people to care about characters if they are conscious while they are watching the movie that the characters are too weird to be real, or live in a world that's too weird to actually exist, or if objects in that world have too much squash and stretch and don't react like the type of objects we experience in our world every day that make our world feel real to us.

 So I'm not saying that you can't caricature materials or give objects a little more squash and stretch than they have in our everyday world. Certainly that can be a lot of fun, and people have pulled it off just fine without destroying the credibility of the world they're creating. But be conscious of this and I think you'll find that if you don't overdo it it'll help the believeability of the world you're creating and will give people "anchors" to relate to that help them get immersed in your world and help them believe in your world as a real place and your characters as living breathing entities. Because that's really a great feat when you can pull it off, and probably the best magic trick you can accomplish in animation!