Sunday, June 23, 2013
"Knowing your way around a piece of paper"* pt 3
(*You may or may not use paper when drawing, (I rarely do any more) but let this notion of a "piece of paper" stand in for any surface you draw on, be it an external tablet, tablet pc, Cintiq, canvas or whatever.)
The most common view in drawing is a kind of "straight on" shot. This was often the standard in animation during the "low budget" years of the 1960's and '70's because flat, lateral action is the easiest thing to lay out, animate and photograph. A "straight on" shot is sometimes called "proscenium". This refers to the proscenium arch of a theater stage. From that view, everything is more or less on the level, medium distance, medium height and straight up and down. I keep picking on Charlie Brown, but the comic strip PEANUTS is a perfect example of proscenium staging, The artwork of that strip rarely used anything else, which is not a criticism. It's a standard view and sometimes nothing serves better for clarity.
Since this started with a post about a scene from DRAGON'S LAIR, I'll continue along that thread. The "angle" of this "shot" was a little out of the ordinary: high above the action and "behind" the main character. Really it began as lines on a piece of paper tho, and the angle is really just a function of perspective drawing. Because of that, there really is no angle or even shot, semantically speaking. Just symbols on a flat screen.
I touched on the mental aspects of drawing before, because drawing involves the artist's brain power to make the symbols on a page convey exactly what he/she means, and the viewer's brains have to be able to interpret them accordingly. If it fails on the viewer's end, you can rarely, if ever, blame the viewer.
In movies the view can be anywhere it wants to be, and proscenium staging is useful but runs the risk of becoming dull over time. Movies, even short ones, change the angle and depth of a scene frequently, but this should not be arbitrary either. For this DRAGON'S LAIR setup, the grid on the floor needed to be clearly shown, so the perspective is from a high point above the floor. A movie would have likely featured an identical "master shot" to give the audience a thorough vantage point.
Note that the horizon line (in red) and the convergence lines (in light blue) all guide the viewer's attention to the door at the end of the room and the knight guarding it. Note also that the whole image is slightly tilted (sometimes called a "Dutch" angle). The tilt is a choice that serves to keep any of the straight contours in the image from becoming parallel with the sides, top and bottom of the screen. The desire to avoid parallels is to prevent the image from feeling overly formal, static or even dull. That's a choice tho, sometimes you might either want or need to allow straight contours to parallel the screen. Just be aware that the effect is usually somewhat neutral.
Often when I was starting out I could not get over the sensation of pressing a hard pencil into a hard flat sheet of paper on top of a hard glass animation disc. The tactile experience was entirely flat. I studied perspective as a student, but it was more of an intellectual understanding. Having grown up watching a lot of low-budget cartoons, a kind of flat, rigid perspective dominated my consciousness. It took a while for my mind and imagination to be able to understand how to treat the drawing area (also called a "field") as a space with actual depth. Or really, rather, the illusion of depth. Illusions are tricks and the trick involved here is understanding that just like a photographic print (also flat), a drawn picture has infinite possibilities of depth and perspective. Sometimes the depth is shallow, sometimes as deep as infinity. I had to stock my brain with the repertoire of symbols, ideas and shorthand methods of execution to get past my artist's block on this issue. I also had to learn how to put my mind in a state of believing in and committing to these symbols.
Don Bluth directed and designed DRAGON'S LAIR. As with SECRET OF NIMH, he drew every story board panel for this project, and these became the rough layouts for both background and animation. His command of drawing characters and settings equally adept, he would always have a grid laid out in the scene to establish the perspective and a horizon line to establish whether the view was supposed to be high, low or neutral. This was usually done in light pencil with a wooden ruler, other times freehand. Even when a surface was curved, bumpy, twisted or otherwise organic, there would usually be a grid laid out over it to give everyone in the process a solid idea of what the dimensional contours would be. In some ways this was sort of the hand-drawn forerunner of the underlying mesh system now essential to all CGI objects, characters and spaces. These grids and meshes were never overly complicated in Bluth's artwork however, just suggestive enough to convey the cues that animators and background painters would need to complete a finished image that would make sense and be pleasing to look at.
I can't remember how many grids I laid out in story sketches of my own before I finally got the hang of this, but it was many. I don't enjoy doing technically perfect perspective, (sometimes it's necessary tho) but I did get a sense enough to "eyeball" perspective with a few simple cues. Eventually, especially when storyboarding, i'd be sketching away fast enough and would have a sense of what the appropriate angle for each scene could be and the requisite shorthand to make the spacial reality of the scene quickly understandable. Usually the quickest roughest sketch can suggest the essentials, and you can "work it up" as much or as little as you need to from there. I will post about some of those tricks soon.
at 1:49 PM