Silhouette – Early Man

This Early Man clip just popped up on my Facebook. I watched it through out of curiosity as a film goer and then played it back without sound, looking at it from an animation perspective. The thing that stood out to me most was clear posing, mostly through the use of silhouette.

I’ll start with a few examples of clear silhouettes in a kind of text book definition:

Here we have a rabbit’s most identifiable features and shapes clearly shown, 2 long ears, a fluffy tail, a head and a body. You can tell just by silhouette what we’re looking at.
Early Man Silhouette
In this one, the two thumbs clear of the body make them easy to read in the short time the character remains on screen.
Early Man Silhouette
The extended arm and club work well as they’re not foreshortened, their shapes are easily read in profile.
Early Man Silhouette
The negative space between the characters allows the poses and situation to read.
Early Man Silhouette

But is that all there is to it? Just putting limbs into negative space so they can read well?
It’s here that I think silhouette can be misunderstood. All of the above poses are great, but it’s only one use of silhouette.

In the below image the cave woman’s pose is very clear, making great use of negative space. But where are the rabbits arms and legs in terms of silhouette?
Early Man Silhouette
They’re both kept within the silhouette, because I would argue they’re not important to the shot. Having limbs with clear negative space can help draw attention to them, having them inside a silhouette can help downplay their importance. In the above screen grab the joke is with the cave-woman and our attention as a viewer should be kept there, all we need from the rabbit is to just to read it’s a rabbit. Its arms and legs aren’t important to the shot.

Take that same thinking to this pose, what’s most important for the viewer to read to understand the action and story?

Early Man Silhouette
It’s the club and the fact that she’s anticipating to hit something, the animator posed the arm and club to be easily read for that reason. Is the other arm important to understand the action taking place? I’d say it’s a lot lower on the importance scale, so it’s interesting to note how the animator used foreshortening to make the screen left arm smaller in screen space, you literally see no forearm and only a touch of the hand.

So if limbs inside the silhouette draw less attention to themselves, where do you focus your attention to in this shot?

Early Man SilhouetteIf you said “his face”, I’d agree.

If we look at these two silhouettes, which seems to convey strength and which seems more conservative? Why? They’re both large, strong characters holding weapons.

Early Man Silhouette
Early Man Silhouette
If you look at the silhouette of the above character what shapes would you use to describe it? And then what shape language would you use to describe the lower silhouette? Personally I’d say the top is formed using squares, straights and angles (strong imagery) while the lower uses circles and roundness (soft imagery). A conservative character tends to have a more contained silhouette, follow her silhouette through that shot and you’ll get a strong sense of that.

Last example, an object does not have to be in negative space to be clearly read in silhouette. Here the arm against the brown clothing is enough of a colour variation that it’s easily and clearly read, it’s an internal silhouette.
Early Man Silhouette

These are just all my own casual observations, perhaps different to what the film makers were intending, or perhaps you may also have your own different view of the use of silhouette. Either way I’d recommend doing a similar exercise with some great animation and try to ask yourself what the animator had in mind when they posed the character.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *