Friday, May 09, 2014

Vance Gerry on "Scale"

Years ago, legendary Disney storyboard artist Vance Gerry wrote a short book intended to help teach beginning storyboard artists. Most of it concerns knowing the difference between things like beat boards and storyboards and the process of production. It also includes a few pages with tips about drawing for storyboards, and a few of those pages deal with the concept of (what he termed) "scale".

Reading these pages years ago was a bit of a revelation for me. I had never heard anyone talk about this topic before, and I still have never seen anything that has written about this or seen it mentioned in any form.

I will do my best to try and paraphrase what (I think) Vance meant by that and make it as clear as I can.

Basically, here's my interpretation: Vance was using the term "scale" to say that, when you design and draw objects, you should emphasize the most distinctive parts of the object to make them recognizable to the viewer and make them read clearly. He also used "scale" to mean that you should de-emphasize the uninteresting parts of an object to make the best drawing you can by not wasting space on uninteresting parts. And lastly, and most importantly, he talked about "scale" as a way to make things (and people) seem closer to the viewer, more intimate and more expressive.

Here is the entirety of his thoughts on the matter:

Vance used Robert Crumb as an example of an artist that uses "scale" well.

This one he captioned "R. Crumb...ugly but have great scale". Hopefully that won't offend any Crumb fans out there.

I have always found these pages--a rare glimpse into the way Vance's mind worked--fascinating.

Scale is not an absolute value, at all. Obviously, it is very subjective and depends on the subject matter. For example, big balloon-y cartoon tires work just fine if you're drawing a car in a Mickey Mouse short, but if you're storyboarding a movie like "101 Dalmatians", you can't draw Cruella's car with big balloon tires. It would undermine the menace of her character and look completely inappropriate for the art direction and tone of the movie. So you have to find a way to draw her car (and tires) in a way that's simplified and reads without being "out of tone" with the subject matter.

Many great artists and illustrators have developed their own sense of "scale" to emphasize certain parts of their figures and environments to get the results they desire. Take a look at some of your favorite artists and see how they have adapted this concept, and what results they have achieved by interpreting reality with a unique sense of "scale".

If anyone would like more clarification (or has some clarification to add to my interpretation), please let me know!

If you're interested in seeing more of Vance's work, visit Ed Gombert's "Vance Gerry Memorial Blog."


josh bauman said...

Great post! The second page took me a while to come to terms with, but definitely great examples!

What are some of the other topics in the book?

Miro Souto said...

Thanks for sharing this thoughts, im trying achieve a better scale and these words are very helpful.

Jack Noel said...

This is great.

In the film Crumb you can see Robert Crumb himself discussing this when he's talking to his son (I think) about his drawing. He says something like "You haven't learned to cheat yet…" and goes on to explain how he means that you need to emphasise the key bits.

kevinzico said...

Thanks for this golden bit of information!

mark kennedy said...

Josh--I'll post some more of his drawing stuff. Most of the book, though, covers technical topics, like the difference between storyboards and beat boards, and the steps of production. Much of it is out of date now. There's also a section that Joe Ranft wrote about how to pitch. People would probably be interested in that...I will scan that part as well.

Miro--glad you enjoyed it!

Jack--Interesting...thanks for the comment!

Kevinzico--sure, glad you enjoyed it!

Pulpo Designer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pulpo Designer said...

Thanks for sharing this, I've never heard of this before but once I could understand how an artist emphasise o rest importance to some parts of the drawing I saw it everywhere. However, I still don't get what is going on in the second image. The idea is to give more detail to the drawing looking for a change of perception in the viewer?

Sorry about my messy english, and thanks again for this amazing blog, you have no idea of how helpful and inspiring that it's been to me.

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