Sunday, July 29, 2012

Head, Ribs and Hips part 2

More on the relationship between the head, hips and rib cage (as it applies to humans, anyway).

When you open any book on anatomy, they'll usually start with a really basic fact that's helpful in trying to make figures look either masculine or feminine: the male body usually has wider shoulders and relatively narrow hips, while female figures have wider hips than men, with comparatively narrow shoulders.

 There are a few reasons for this; women tend to have bigger hips, for one, because the female pelvis is wider than the male pelvis. This is because women, in order to give birth, have to pass a baby through their pelvic bone.

Also, women tend to store fat on their hips, thighs and rear ends, but not around their waists. Even as they develop after puberty and their hips widen, their waists stay about the same as before puberty (at least according to this wikipedia article on Female Body Shape). So females tend to have thinner waists than hips, giving them that hourglass shape.

Why do women tend to collect fat in that area? I think I've read that women's bodies do that to protect the uterus and keep it warm, which aids in growing babies...but someone correct me if I'm wrong.

The female body shape changes after menopause. As women get older, they begin retaining fat in their waist area, and eventually, abdomen (again, see the wikipedia article). I suppose this is why it always seems to me that, the older women and men get, the more the physical differences between the sexes are harder to see.

The reason that men have wider shoulders than women, as far as I know, is because the male ribcage expands during puberty to accommodate the lungs, which also expand in males during puberty. Males, being larger than females, need larger lungs to supply their bigger bodies with enough oxygen.

Unlike women who collect fat in the thighs, hips and rear end, men tend to collect fat in the stomach area.

One important thing to always remember is that, even when the body shape of a person changes due to adding muscle or gaining weight, the shape and size of the ribs and pelvis stay the same. Obviously, bones don't gain muscle or weight. So no matter how muscular or overweight a person is, the underlying skeleton remains unchanged.

So all these factors are useful when trying to draw and design male and female characters and trying to retain their feminine and masculine traits. That can be hard to do, especially as they deviate from the ideal, and as you try to make them heavier or older.

But what about the exceptions? Obviously, these "rules" aren't absolute. Like any rule, once you understand it you can break it and subvert it when it makes sense to do so.

The first exception that springs to mind is female swimmers.

Female swimmers tend to have broader shoulders and narrower (by comparison) hips.

Obviously, all female swimmers weren't magically born this way. The ribs and pelvis of a female swimmer are exactly the same size as those of their everyday counterparts (that is, women who don't swim competitively).

The reason female swimmers look the way they do is because they work out to increase the size of their shoulder muscles (so their shoulders get bigger), and they have very little body fat (since women collect fat in their hips, and a fit female swimmer has very little fat, there's none to expand the size of the hips).

Finding men with hips that are bigger than their shoulders is a bit harder, but it does happen. It's interesting how each individual body distributes weight in a different distinctive way. Some men seem to gain weight and still preserve the typically male narrow hips, so that they retain the male standard of broad shoulders and narrower hips...

...and some don't. Sometimes you do see men who have wider hips than shoulders. Milt Kahl used this concept for Mr. Snoops in "The Rescuers", and, in that particular case, it lends a soft, bumbling, ineffective feel to the design that fits his personality.

But that's not the only way to use that idea.

Anyway, this isn't meant to be an exhaustive look at how many variations there are to male and female body types - the possibilities are endless. Look around and see how many you can find.

The point is, use the standards of what we expect from the male and female body and stick to the ideals when it helps you. Play against the expected body types when that helps you, as well. Once you know why our bodies look the way they do, you can change around anatomy to your heart's content to achieve whatever effect you want to achieve.

When you're designing your characters, always think about who that character is and what type of personality they have, and how you can reflect that personality in the body that you give them.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Staging and How it Affects Mood and Drama

I know I've already talked a bit about this topic, but I recently saw Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" and it inspired me to revisit the subject. It's a film with very deliberate staging choices, which has a huge impact on the mood and emotional experience of watching the movie.

In this previous post, I talked about how flat staging creates a different feeling than staging in depth. By "flat staging", I mean whenever the camera is placed so that the action is either perpendicular or parallel to the camera and where the characters are usually seen straight on or in profile. Basically, flat staging is what it sounds like: staging the action so that, to the viewer, everything looks flat and has very little depth.

Flat staging works best when trying to create a humorous mood. Many comedies use this (as do dramatic movies when trying to have a lighter moment). In animation, some of the most funny shorts tend to favor this kind of staging to maximize their comedic mood...

"Winnie the Pooh" is another good example. "Winnie the Pooh" is pretty much all staged flatly, but also in a "diorama" like way. What I mean by that is that there are few close ups or dramatic angles in "Winnie the Pooh". Everything is staged in medium shots,  where the action happens in the middle distance away from the viewer. You always feel slightly set back and separated from the action.

"Winnie the Pooh" doesn't have a lot of closeups, and there are no upshots, or downshots, or scenes that look inherently dramatic.

This affects your whole emotional experience while you're watching the film, because staging and camera placement have a huge impact in how we feel while we watch a film. Where the camera is placed (as well as how the scene is lit and how color is used) tell us how to feel about what we're seeing. It's impossible to separate how a scene is staged from how to feel about it.

"Moonrise Kingdom" has probably the most specific and deliberate staging choices of any movie I've ever seen. Wes Anderson chose to stage his film in a way that's a lot like "Winnie the Pooh" - every scene in the film is staged in a very flat way (many of his films have this kind of staging, of course). In every scene, if a character moves, they move either parallel to the camera or directly towards the camera. There's very little depth in almost any shot and many scenes are symmetrical in their design. The best way I can describe it is to say that watching the film feels like looking at the illustrations in a children's book.

This has a huge impact on the mood of the film and how the viewer feels while watching the story unfold. It has a very whimsical feel that gives the film a quirky and charming sensibility. That type of staging is a perfect match for the writing, which is very quirky and charming. So it seems like the perfect marriage - the way the film is shot complements the intention of the script and the feel of the characters in the movie.

That's our goal as storyboard artists; to storyboard in a way that uses every tool at our disposal to tell the story in the best way possible.

The interesting thing about this type of staging is that, as you'd expect, the emotional range of the film is rather contained. Because the whole film is shot in this flat and whimsical way, the film never goes to an extremely dramatic or emotional stays in the quirky, charming and "small" world that it starts out in.

I'm not criticizing that choice - it was clearly the film maker's intention. The film is a period piece and is meant to stay contained in the charming world that it's set in. An intense dramatic scene would feel as false and out of place in "Moonrise Kingdom" as it would in "Winnie the Pooh" or in a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

By contrast, films like "Tangled" or "Brave" have stories that go to a very emotional and dramatic place. If either of those films stuck to flat staging the entire time, I think it would feel very unsatisfying and frustrating to the viewer  - like the film makers weren't committing to the full emotional range of the story they're trying to tell.

Again, most films have a range of both types of staging....flat when they're trying to be humorous, and deep when they're trying to be exciting, emotional, scary or dramatic.

So the next time you're watching a movie or a TV show, be conscious of how the action is staged and why. Along with the color choices used, and the type of music in the soundtrack, staging is one of the most important tools we have to create the emotional response we want from our audience.