I thought I’d continue on the point of my last post with an example of a full scene where the directors have chosen for more restrained animation and analyse why from a story perspective. I’ve also gone through and looked at why this is also great animation from the perspective of the 12 principles, despite being so minimal in those terms.
I recently came across this scene with director voice over on the New York Times. While the audio of the film is somewhat muted, there’s still plenty of information to glean how individual shots work within their sequence.
In order of sequence, here are some shots with minimal movement, and why in my view simple motion was chosen over something more complex. I should take this to point out that although I am working at Sony, I didn’t work on this film and views are entirely my own.
The second shot of the sequence is the establishing shot. The purpose being to give the audience a chance to take in the environment and have a sense of where the action is taking place. This would be a key reason for minimal character movement, along with the characters themselves having a chance to take in their surroundings.
This part of the sequence has 3 consecutive shots of minimal movement. Miles standing on his uncle’s shoulders to reach a high point is definitely a visual way to describe their relationship but the key here is also the spider. The outstretched held pose allows us to focus on its movement towards taking the all important bite that sets the story wheels in motion.
Another shot where the environment is the focus, not the characters. It also marks a tempo change in the scene, from enjoyment of their artistic process to contemplation, both of the artwork and thoughts & words being imparted. The amount of movement in the animation reflects the change in tempo.
Two shots of the minimal acting taking place. Again the focus being on quiet contemplation between a mentor and mentee, there’s no need for strong reactions or exaggerated acting. The shots feel natural even by staying within just one main pose.
The minimal movement here serves some comedy relief for the scene, Miles’s reaction goes against our expectations; we all know the importance and life changing events that will happen with the bite of the radioactive spider, we also know how over the top people often react to spiders. The acting is a massive downplay of both points and in doing so with such a whimsical slap, creates humour.
So now we’ve looked at reasons why simplicity in individual shots helps serve the sequence, we can also look at the shots in more traditional ways of animation appreciation
The shot has clear silhouettes, especially of the arm on the lever which hooks up with the previous shot. With the silhouette we can also make out Miles looking around, his little spring mid way gives a visual clue to his excitement. His uncle’s movement is completely restrained, letting our eye take in the environment and then Miles, there’s no conflicting motion on Uncle Aaron to draw our attention to places we don’t need to be looking.
The posing of the characters and framing of the shot lets us see all the way down to Uncle Aaron, keeping a visual continuity through the scene. The faster move of Miles’s hand at the tail of the shot adds a touch of texture to the timing.
I love the staging here, the characters framing the painted figure, the words “no expectations” are clear and also Miles is positioned to cover most of the light source. Given a viewer’s eye is often directed to the brightest point of an image, it makes sense to hide some of that to reduce its visual significance.
The posing here giving a clear differentiation of the two characters, Uncle Aaron looking far more confident and comfortable within himself. Also notice the staging, Uncle Aaron surrounded in dark shadow, the younger and innocent Miles staged in a vibrant and lighter backdrop, another visual way of telling story.
The posing here is spot on in telling us what we need to know, Miles is taking it all in and processing it. Notice the break up in timing of the eyes and brows, and also the subtle furrowing at the end of the shot.
Pay attention to the silhouette at the head of the shot, it’s designed to read the spider on the hand, the lack movement combined with this gives us a quick and easy read. Notice the break up in timing of the hand doing the slapping, moving from medium to slow to fast and back to slow, there’s nice texture to it and gives us a chance to read the motion. Also the acting choice of the slap feels dainty, it creates some nice humour.
I hope looking at a sequence and shots that comprise it have helped to garner thoughts of how important working with the sequence is. Animation isn’t just about the 12 principles, by all means we should analyse, understand and appreciate those aspects, but it’s only part of what makes a shot great. The other part is telling the story in a way that shot requires, even if it is just one held pose and a subtle eye dart.