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.
Lead the eyes through the picture and make sure there is time to read it.
Use the design principles to avoid boredom and confusion.
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.