Saturday, December 27, 2008

Disney Principles 6 - Staging -1 - Clarity

This establishing shot of Mickey lets us know what is happening in the whole scene. All the elements of the scene are carefully arranged so we can see each important point in one shot.

Main point: They are playing pin the tail on the donkey (Pluto).
2nd point: Mickey is blindbolding a clone. This is the focus of the scene. Everything else is framed around this acton.
3rd point: More clones are watching. They are grouped together and set away from Mickey and clone 1. That space between them makes it easy for us to see what Mickey is doing and helps to frame the action.

The pin the tail on Pluto poster is big and not hidden by the action so we can see it easily.

Composing the elements to focus on the main point:
The shadow of the tree helps to frame Mickey and make it even clearer that what he is doing is the focus of the idea in the shot.

Having this many things to set up in one shot could easily be mishandled. The extra Mickey clones could all be in separate poses, to close to the focus and the image would be cluttered and hard to see what is going on.

Like this mess of clutter:

Obvious clear staging show exactly what Daisy is doing and is artistic and appealing at the same time.

Staging the Scene Itself - Purpose:
To make things clear and understandable to the audience

The Story Point Most Important

Carl Barks was a story board artist/writer at Disney's. Storyboarding is the first step in staging the cartoons. You figure out how to present each idea of the story in sequence and decide how best to present it to the audience. You are telling the story first logically, by choosing the framing and angle of each idea so that the audience can easily follow along. You can get artistic with it too, but clarity is the most important function of telling a story.

Geting more artistic with the staging is usually the layout artist's job. The basic clarity of the storytelling and gags is the storyboard artist's, but these duties can overlap.

This idea of staging things logically had disappeared from the animation world when I started working. Each studio in the had storyboard and layout manuals that told you to stage things at random, for no reason.

They would tell you crazy things like: Vary the shots to keep things interesting. Mix long shots in with close ups and medium shots.

They would tell you to start shows on a down shot to establish the room and let the audience know where every lamp, pen holder, desk blotter and bald patch on the top of someone's head were in the room in relation to each other. I wish I could find a Dic Storyboard Manual. Anyone have one?

More on staging to come...


Paul B said...

this is what was missing!
hey, i was seeing the documentary ChuCK Jones: Extremes & Inbetweens and this part explains many of the things you've taught

Here's the link:

The whole documentary is in youtube, is really great!

fedemilella said...

Wow always great to read your blog (although I should comment more often)!!!
I take the chance to wish you all the best.

Timefishblue said...

That Star Trek storyboard is highly illogical, captain.

depotato said...

Hey John, my name is Mario DeMatteo. I’ve been going on your blog now for about 3 years off an on. I grew up watching Ren n Stimpy every morning before school. My mom regretfully bought me a set of videos that were an early morning must. I am 24 now, so I was about 7 years old then. I distinctly remember cruising to school and before a word was spoken, I kicked my best friend in the shin and said, “’Yooouuu Stuuuuupid Idiouot.” Before Ren n Stimpy, I demanded a juice box every morning to watch Looney Tunes re-runs. These two cartoons are what largely shaped my entire perspective on life.

About 4 years ago, while on a surfing trip to Costa Rica, I broke my neck diving into a swimming pool, ultimately confining me to a wheel chair. Although devastating, it was a twist that may have changed my life for the better. Before my accident, I had a driving passion for only two things: surfing and girls. After my accident, with surfing a bit out of reach and getting girls a gnarly challenge, this void was filled with reading, watching cartoons, and drawing. Drawing cartoons mostly. For a few months, I went through and copied 4 Zap comics I had, cover to cover. That was my first session of home art school.

About 2 years ago, I started a design/B2B screen printing shop with a friend of mine. At the same time, I was working on a couple children stories that I thought might be cool children books. Since then, I have fervently worked on the story and more importantly, the mythology, of my characters. Over the past 3 months, we have explored the potential of going straight to cartoons or even a live action/cartoon variety show like Peewee’s Playhouse. A nice lady named Caroline Manolo, who’s been in the animation world for a long time, asked me, “If I could have anyone from past or present work on the cartoon, who would I choose?” I instantly answered, “Chuck Jones, Hanna-Barbera or John K.” She suggested I write you for kicks, so hear I am.

I know you’re extremely busy, so I’m not expecting much. You may not even get this email. I guess I really just wanted to show you some of my storyboards and character boards to hear your thoughts. I also wanted to send you some cases of Monster energy as a token of appreciation for all you’ve un-knowingly done for my life. I have a big hook-up there. I know someone in your studio would drink that stuff. I used to post on the blogs under Mongo, but lost my password and mail account, so I started this one. I also wanted to thank you for your blog. It has been a blessing, especially the art school section w/ Blairs book. I printed every lesson and the binder sits front row on my shelf. I am constantly referencing the lessons and/or Blair’s book.

Thanks for your time John. Hope to hear from you. You have been a huge inspiration in my life.

Mario DeMatteo

Aaron said...

thank you. very informative.

petebob said...

I hope you don't mind a big long ramble (with the odd bit of shouting & fist waving).

I could go on at length about the fact that kungfu movies suffer from the same problem these days - you may as well watch a half-arsed fistycuffs between cyclists on youtube because, when you're watching a kungfu movie these days, you CAN'T SEE THE ACTION. Then when you watch the "making of" section on a dvd, you go "when did he do that?" because the documenters took a better shot than the main camera. Pans & closeups are useless on such fast action, but that's what they do - never the same shot for more than 1 second, or even 1/2 a second in most cases, which totally destroys the credibility of the situation - you say to yourself "they're not really doing that" - and the coreography of the whole ballet. Would you close in on Nureyev's face just as he lifts Fonteyn on one hand? (hmmm. where would you close in on?)

And about the Chuck Jones vid from Paul B's comment, he really understood the function of all elements of a cartoon, and knew that design follows function. Your quest is to tell a story & make it funny, so you design things that do just that.

It seems to apply to everything between 1900 and now, where at around the turn of the 19th-20th C, design USED TO BE ABOUT function. You designed something to work, not to look good. It only looked good because it worked! (which follows on from your Wolverton blog). Everything was built to serve and to last. And as you also already put it in about so many words: nothing seems to last these days.

Anonymous said...

Here is a storyboarding manual Brad Bird and Chris Roman wrote for The Simpsons and King Of The Hill. It's unintentionally hilarious.

They keep saying to make the camera pan down, to break up the characters, and to show at least 3 planes in a room.

Someone tell Harold Lloyd he's doing it wrong.

Anonymous said...

I also like John's comments on storyboarding in his manual:

"Don’t add actions. Do not rewrite scenes by adding actions that are not in the storyboard. I understand
the urge well. At the normal studio that uses scripts, the shit never works. It isn’t funny
and the artists are thought of as low-life forms. So to do something to make it entertaining, you add stuff to at least make it weird, which is better than being boring.
Our storyboards do work, and they are funny, and now what they need are great drawings that tell the story even better than the storyboard."

Niki said...

Those guys must have been taking a film class, and failing. That look-around-the-room or whatever shot is an establishing shot, and it's supposed to show where they are not what the f-ing room looks like. It's cause we try to explain things that we most don't understand, I know I tried, luckily the shows were awful so hopefully none will follow it.

Oh and on a topic of colours, Mr. John, Do you know if there is a way to make an animation that looks REALLY colourful without colour clashing? I was thinking about mixing a number of colours like blue and red (or purple even) in one frame, but laying a green tint on all of it to make the whole frame match but still have a wide varying look in colours. this is my first try, but I really want it to look nice.

The Jerk said...

daisy has ecstasy? egad!

but seriously, this is good stuff, essential to learning how to properly create a scene. thank, john k.!

HemlockMan said...

Interesting how things go lost over the years. You'd think that once it was established how to do it right, that it would pretty much stay that way.

Nice to see you mention Barks. I have loved his comics since I was seven years old. So I've been looking at that stuff for 44 years.

colemeister said...

Hey, I've just discovered your blog yesterday AFTER ordering my own copy of Cartoon Animation. I have started following along with your lessons (so far 1) and my eyes are beginning to open to this wonderful style that I loved so much when I was younger (I am now 17). I printed all of the original sheets from Preston Blair and am studying them.
I work with 3d right now, but suddenly stopped when I realized that I can't draw very well, and if I can make something in 3d, I should be able to draw it. My imagination has grown too, and I am very impressed with all that you have done/doing. Thank you!

Zoran Taylor said...

If there's nothing going on and the characters are stupid cliches, what's the point of doing daring shots? But I see nothing wrong with unorthodox shots. There are plenty of things that COULD be happening that would justify doing such things. If only the people who are interested in doing that stuff didn't consistently come up with inane plots that make artistic approaches look stupid by virtue of their pointlessness in the context of a bad show.

Zoran Taylor said...

BTW, anyone who wants to give me lip for daring to support the evil idea of putting cinematic touches into the staging of a cartoon would be advised to go watch so Frank Tashlin and put a lid on it. Thanks.

The enigmatic Wayne C Spencer said...

"decide how best to resent it"

I think you meant present or represent here.

Also, great post.

JohnK said...

Whoops! Thanks Wayne.

I need a proof reader!

Zoran Taylor said...

I actually like Bird's staging, but it goes over the top sometimes. But at its best that stuff is funny BECAUSE the angles are weird - like upshots on flab! Like you're saying, "HOLY SHIT, THIS GUY IS SCARY!!! oh yeah, and he's fat too." One dramatic emphasis, plus another ironically "accidental" one in the same shot. There's a perfect example of that idea at work about halfway through "Stimpy's Pregnant" - when Stimpy is about to plunge into his specialty feast. It's a hilarious shot!

Oh, and I don't mean to be touchy Jorge, but from experience here, let me just say don't waste your time starting an "argument" with me. I already know how little we agree on. There's no point.

Adam T said...

Here is a storyboarding manual Brad Bird and Chris Roman wrote for The Simpsons and King Of The Hill. It's unintentionally hilarious.

I checked it out. I wouldn't totally dismiss it. Some of it's good information too. They provide lots of actual storyboard drawings so you can judge for yourself if the techniques work as well as they say in the text.

Elana Pritchard said...

Confuse the audience so they forget that your show is boring.

Hans Flagon said...

That Star Trek storyboard reminds me of Adult Swim making fun of the exact same sort of staging, on shows like Sealab 2021. Well I assume they know it is bad, then toy with making it worse.

Alex Toth could design a page, but when he storyboarded stuff like this, like SuperFriends, he was transcribing at least 8 scenes if not more to a 8 1/2 x 11 page in thumbnails, just cranking it out. One shot Two Shot wide shot close up.

But you get the idea that the Mickey Cartoon, probably at least had an individual index card dedicated to the set up shown. Also assumed is that the same story pitch shown so many times as "the Disney Way" was taking place, so those who submitted a story point or gag made damn sure it was readable to people sitting in the back, or Walt strumming his fingers at the end of the row itching for a smoke.

colemeister said...

I'm pretty new to using Blogger (blogs in general), but I've started following and copying Preston Blair's Cartoon Animation (until my copy arrives I'm using the printed papers I got off this blog - thanks), and I was wondering if the book, The Animator's Survival Kit would be a good companion..? Thanks!

Nate said...

great stuff as usual, John. Happy New Year to you!

The Butcher said...

John, this is off subject, but I'm dying for a post that goes more in depth about digital verses analouge sound.

Joakim Gunnarsson said...

Great post.
Too many artists, including myself, forgets to stage things properly. Always good with a reminder.
Looking forward to part 2!

Raff said...

I hate those Filmation face closeups. Hate 'em, hate 'em, hate 'em. Then again, their shot choices have always been senseless.

The He-Man series is about as entertaining as those guys ever got, even if only for the catchy color schemes and an unintentionally funny Skeletor.

Good posts.

MistahB said...

Darn it I'm a doctor not a storyboard artist!

JasonPayne said...

Zoran's comment is very misguided. It's one thing to have interesting shots and variety, but it's quite another to use the process sloppily without direction.

I'd advise anyone who thinks that the "language of film" (or even visual storytelling in general) is one of just interesting angles and pans and zooms and dolly shots for the sake of "interest", to go read director David Mamet's book entitled "On Directing Film." A competent director will use staging that directs our attention to what's important in the shot, the shot as it's used to further the story. A masterful director, an auteur, will perhaps be able to find a more "interesting", however the same principles remain.

But very much like the inbred natured of cartoon characters today, movies have become horribly inbred as well as it's become all about the technique and not the substance. And unfortunately the same thing has happened to comic books too (I honestly find most mainstream comics nauseating. Give me good ol'standard solid layout, please!)

I remember John said in a post awhile back that he bets he could direct a movie better than most doing it today. I'm willing to bet that he could!