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Crafting a Feature Shot – PLANNING

Nov 14, 2012

in Mechanics

Planning a Shot: Looking for Ideas

Planning: Looking for Ideas

Now comes the part that’s the hardest in my eyes… planning! In theory, we Animators would love days to plan the shot, until we have every little part of it figured out and really get at the heart of it while keeping it entertaining, but, in reality, we have around half a day if you’re lucky. So keeping your addiction under control means you need to plan and work through what you have in mind for the shot.

As mentioned in the previous post first thing I do when I am tasked with executing a shot is go over the boards/layout (since both are Director approved) and the audio. Below you will find how I breakdown the audio to give me an idea of the highs and lows of the pitch in the audio and at the same time helps to drill the audio a little more into my head and get ready for the Director’s launch.

When going into dailies it’s always a good idea to let the Director give his pitch to what he has in mind first, then with the right questions see what was left out. Few very important things to keep in mind, I’ll call them WWW+GOAL (that’s “Where, What, Why + Goal” or “three double u-s and a goal” for you).

    Here we go WWW+GOAL:

  • Where is the character coming from / where is s/he going?
  • What is s/he feeling thinking at this point of the story?
  • Why is s/he doing whatever it is s/he is doing?
  • What is the goal of the shot?

Find the One Idea

After you have all this information you can start to plan your shot. At this point I start drawing thumbnails to help give me ideas for the shot. Important thing to note, and this is something that has come up quite a bit in the last few years when I have talked about my workflow, my “thumbnails” are not meant to be key drawings / frames or even extremes. They are an idea – no more, no less.

Thumbnails are an idea – no more, no less. Tweet it

In these drawings I search for what the shot is about, those questions I looked to get answers for. What the idea of the shot is in the SQ, what the character needs to accomplish in the shot, where they are coming from, where they are going, why are they there. I try and find one pose that when I see it I know what the character is thinking and feeling.

In a long shot like this I usually find one to three poses because the character could have a lot of ground to cover, not only physically but emotionally as well. These storytelling poses help me to begin and plan the shot.

I then take this one (to three) idea (which, by the way, might take upwards of 2 to 3 pages worth of drawings to find) and go into the reference room with maybe another Animator to try work out the most honest way to bring this character to life. Usually, before I start recording, I have a pretty good idea what I want to happen in the shot. The reference recording is more of a check system, it helps me make sure that I have enough time for what I want to do and to see how it will look filmed. The other big advantage that ties back in my post about Honesty, is the use of live action reference as they did way back, in the good old days, to help figure out the actual mechanics of the movement.

Really knowing how something moves and trying to reproduce and caricature it – is what sets great animation a part from the rest. Tweet it

Now, in the past I have talked about being the right person to shoot the reference, keeping in mind every shot I do is different and sometimes I’m not the person that can act the shot out the best I might use someone else. This time it happens to be a digital version of me, – so I took a guess that I’d be a good match ;-).

Shoot and push it

While shooting reference I try and keep in mind those same questions that I put in front of the Director – WWW+GOAL. I record for a while with the audio and sometime – without, so I can get a feeling for the rhythm of the shot. Every so often I stop so I can see if it’s hitting the marks I need it to, as well as if it is working the context of the SQ. To me this is very challenging, you need to make sure that the character comes through in the performance. Be careful that it doesn’t look like you in a suit of that character. One of the best things to do is to stop and ask yourself if you would act like this in the same situation – so you are trying to get the most genuine performance you can (I could go into several other posts on acting theory, and the many levels help construct it, but we can save that for another time).

After I have recorded my reference, I will try and cut it down to the best two or three takes. I’ll play the reference back a few times to see if it really is what the shot needs to be – WWW+GOAL. When looking for the right take, I try to find a take that has something… Something that sparks my interest to animate, something that might give a little comedy to the shot. If I am not sure I’ll show it to my Sup or fellow Animators to get their take on it and see if something stands out to them, good or bad, something they might see that I wouldn’t. Sometimes I might need to edit two or three different takes together, but most of the time I will try to use one take. I find when I edit too many together it throws off the rhythm and pacing of the shot. You want to try and find a take that has a nice feel to it. A nice balance between movement and quiet reflective moments.

Digital Thumbnails and Corrective Drawings

Last step before we finally dive into our software of choice. I go over the reference footage and try and pick out the most important poses – those that will become our keys. After picking them out I export them as single images and go over these and draw on them to see where I can push them and make sure that I’m not just copying my reference but pushing the poses and making sure I get the most I can out of it. Basically, creating digital thumbnails, now, with these in hand, I dive into the next step which is blocking!

Kyle Nov 15, 2012 at 10:17 am

Wow that is a great way to use reference! I never thought about using thumbnails and drawing polished poses over the top! This is going to change how I animate!

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