By: Francis Glebas                Categories: Books

In Directing The Story, former Disney animator and director Frank Glebas teaches classic visual storytelling techniques. In this excerpt he discusses the “design equation” and how to avoid confusing and boring designs with its application. Glebas will also publish his new Focal Press title The Animator’s Eye in August.  The Animator’s Eye teaches animators how to add life to animation with timing, layout, design, color, and sound.

So what was the mysterious design equation that the wizard created? The elements of design plus the principles create the magical effects of design.

Elements: What is actually on the page

Points, Lines, Planes, Edges, Shapes, Values, Sizes, Colors

Principles: How are the elements organized

Balance, Position, Dominance, Unity, Alteration & Repetition, Contrast & Similarity, Symmetry, Rhythm

Effects: The representational illusions that the viewers complete in their own minds

Design is a very important tool to help make sure we present one idea at a time in a pleasing way.

Elements of Design: What Is on the Page

The elements of design are what are actually on the film frame, such as points, lines, planes, shapes, and colors.

Principles of Design: How to Organize What Is on the Page

The principles are how the elements are arranged for aesthetics and dynamic excitement. Principles such a unity, balance, and dominance require that multiple elements be subordinated to a greater principle. The most important design principle is contrast. It is extremely important to note that the principles of design are not just for visual design, but apply to every aspect of film, including actors ’ performances, lighting design, story design, and sound design.

Effects of Design: Illusions Created by the Elements and Principles

The effects of design are the illusions created on the flat screen such as light, depth, volume, form, motion, temperature, and atmosphere. These are created by the elements organized by the principles.

Good design is based on our own body’s experience. The body contains rhythms, balance, grace, and directions; it reaches upward defying gravity. Let it be your guide. As we saw with gesture drawing, each activity has a dominant thrust, and all of the muscles are subordinated working together toward the main goal. The body also needs room around it in order to move. There needs to be negative space, or breathing room. Balance and counterbalance work throughout the body. Architecture is often a metaphor for the body. Landscapes are spoken of in terms of the body: foothills, shoulders of roads, mouths of rivers, and legs of a table.

The 171 Enemies of Good Design

My design class never taught me that there were enemies of design. The two main enemies of good design are boredom and confusion.

Boring! Evenness creates a lack of visual interest or excitement.

Better: The simplest change begins to create interest, in this case a simple gradation of tone.

Boring! Repetition or predictability can create boredom. We know what to expect.

Better: Variety can create interest and a feeling of motion and surprise.

Boring! Symmetry can be boring.

Changing the angle can bring it to life.

Confusing! Bad tangents flatten space and catch the eyes.

Simple realignment creates interest and restores depth.

Confusing! Chaos, unless you are artist Jackson Pollack.

Work for clarity.

Confusing! Crowding.

Leave breathing room and negative space.

Confusing! High contrast and spottiness is hard to read.

Provide transitions and cluster darks together.

Confusing! Without a center of attention you don’t know where to look.

Lead the eyes through the picture and make sure there is time to read it.

Use the design principles to avoid boredom and confusion.

This is an excerpt from Directing The Story. Directing The Story can be purchased at Amazon.com, BN.com, and wherever fine books can be found.

Francis Glebas

Francis Glebas worked as a story artist for Disney Feature Animation on Aladdin, Lion King, Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dinosaur, Treasure Planet and Hercules. He also directed Pomp and Circumstance starring Donald Duck in Fantasia 2000 and Piglet’s BIG Movie. Francis is also an award-winning independent live action movie maker with almost 40 years’ experience. He currently teaches storyboarding at Gnomon School of Visual Effects. Francis also works as a creative consultant, having worked with the Irish Government, Korean Government, General Motors, Los Alamos Labs, Walt Disney Imagineering and other film studios.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  •    Benjamin said on July 31, 2012 at 6:46 am

    Loved it! Thought the animation was relaly cute, and relaly liked the four different team representations through colors and shapes. The directions of what we’re supposed to do didn’t exactly sink in, but I’m sure in context the video will add to the directions in the event. Impressive that you all did this in such a short time, (while risking the health effects of whiteboard lung).

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