Monday, December 16, 2013

Layout Tricks (Part Five)

One more thing worth mentioning in regards to layout is the importance of silhouette value in designing your layouts.

Here's a quick review on the definition of silhouette value, and how it relates to posing characters:

Just as silhouette value is helpful in drawing poses that express what you're trying to say with your characters in a clear way, silhouette value can be helpful in making sure the audience knows what your layout is trying to say and reading it the way you intend for it to be read.

For example, here is a quick drawing of a house and some trees.

The trees are blocking the outside wall lines and the corners where the roof meets the walls of the house, so you don't get a good, strong clear read of a house silhouette and it takes you a moment to realize that you're looking at a house. Can you read that it's a house with trees in front of it? Sure....but it takes a moment. And a house is a pretty typical standard shape. If you start drawing objects that are a bit more unusual, you get into readability problems a lot more quickly when you don't silhouette them well.

You might be thinking that this is a subtle distinction...that the trees are obscuring the house and that's why you can't really read the house. But I think it's more than that. After all, it is possible to have trees in front of the house and preserve the readability of the house, as long as you do it in the right way....more on that in a second.

So in this next drawing, I've moved the trees to behind the house. Now you can clearly see the house shape....but now, the tree trunks aren't silhouetted well. They're right up against the edges of the house. They're cut off and they're a bit hard to read as trees. They're cluttering the edges of the house and now the readability of both the house and the trees is suffering.

Below is a better version of everything....the trees are moved away from the house far enough that they read as separate objects and you can see the silhouette of the house clearly. And the drawing has some depth because the foliage of the trees is tucked behind the house a little bit. If you're going to cut off part of an object, pick a part that is a big continuous shape (like the foliage of a tree). We know how trees work and we can easily make the assumption that the tree leaves continue behind the house.

Here's another version that works fine too. Here, there's a tree in the front yard that obscures part of the house, but it doesn't really hurt the readability of the house. Why is that? Why is it okay to obscure the corners and silhouette in some cases, and not in others?

I think, in this case, as long as one plane of the house is silhouetted well, you can get away with obscuring the other plane. And if only one plane is going to be silhouetted, pick the most distinctive side. Here, the front side of the house is silhouetted. That's what we usually picture when we picture a house in our minds: the peak of the roof, the front door, etc. So we are able to quickly "read" the familiar silhouette of a house.

This concept applies to big objects in your layout, as well as small ones. When you're drawing objects and props in your backgrounds, keep in mind that most objects have a distinctive silhouette that helps them "read" quickly to the viewer. If you don't stage them in the right way, you can create a lot of confusion in the viewer. Here are some common everyday objects staged from two angles: a confusing one, and one that exploits the silhouette of the object so it can be read clearly.

I chose extreme angles to make my point, obviously, but you see what I mean.

Silhouette value can be applied in more ways than just in the poses you choose for your characters, and can be very helpful for drawing successful backgrounds as well as successful character poses.


Richard said...

Great stuff as usual

Yon said...

Hi Mark, Thank you again for another wonderful post! Interested in both live action films and animation, I wonder if you'd have an opinion on breaking away from the conventional use of good silhouette to aid in the aesthetic of a certain story piece? I've seen live action directors like Wes Anderson who employ flat stagings to deliver visual interest and it almost feels like he tackles it from a graphical standpoint, stemming from his interest in perhaps, telling stories in the format of a storybook. I wonder if you have any opinion about such technique being used in animation to a certain degree if used purposefully to satisfy the theme/subject of the story?