Live Action and Single Framing
We already mentioned how important it is to exaggerate images and actions with some of the alternative stop-motion techniques. Time-lapse photography usually does not include acting or contrived scenarios, but it still requires a sense of drama if you want to capture an audience’s attention. Choosing the right subject matter that reveals real transformation over time makes this technique effective. Setting the camera so that the composition is dynamic becomes important to a time-lapse study or any form of filmmaking. This can be done by utilizing foreground and background elements in the same shot, thinking about the use of diagonal lines in the composition to lead the viewer deeper into the composition, placing the camera in an unusual point of view, playing with scale, and including an interesting color and lighting palette.
An artist also has to consider how a composition changes over the course of a shot. Knowing where your camera will move and what will transform in front of the camera is critical to maintaining great dynamic compositions. It is usually more interesting to have a subject enter the camera composition from a diagonal direction than directly in from the side. There are many ways to build interest in your animation, and many of these principles apply equally to live-action filmmaking.
Good art direction is critical to any film, but two elements are even more important. The first element and the one that everything rotates around is the idea. We touched on this in preproduction, and Focal Press has several books that cover this immense subject. The next element is performance. Having good actors can make or break any film, and the same is true with animation. When it comes to animation, you, the animator, are really the actor and what you do with your inanimate object, person, or artwork in terms of perfor mance is pivotal to the success of your film. Live-action filmmakers know that there are two kinds of realities. First, there is the way life unfolds from one event to the next. We live this reality every day here on Earth. Sometimes, it is exciting and usually it is not. Life is full of dull tasks and activities that are necessary to our survival. When we go to see a film or a stage production, we do not want to be reminded of these mundane tasks and realities. We are interested in the compressed, interpreted high and low points and emotional expressions of an event. We want the icing without the cake. This is true for animation as much as any other sequential art form.
One example of this reality in animation is the use of the everyday walk. Walks can be very revealing about an individual. When we observe a walk, we take cues about the energy level, determination, and attitude of an individual. If this is essential to understanding that character, then animating a walk is an important element in the storytelling process. Normally we do not need to see a character walk from point A to point B. We want the filmmaker just to get us to point B and move the story along. We are interested in the emotion and highlights of the story, not the everyday realities like a long walk. There are some exceptions to this premise, but for the most part, this is the dramatic reality that animation should consider.
PES describes his approach to his 2003 pixilated film Roof Sex . Even though he is approaching this film in a documentary form, there is still a great sense of drama and compressed and interpreted shot sequences.
“Would the idea of two chairs having sex conceptually work as a drawn animation? Yes, definitely. In CGI? Yes, definitely. But, in my opinion, the execution gains power when using real objects on a real location … it’s much, much closer to real life and it hits a more absurdist note. I believed that stop-motion was the best technique for Roof Sex because my intention was to treat the idea like a documentary. I fancied myself spying on these two specific chairs that escaped from their owner’s apartment one day, and almost as a voyeur, I recorded what they had done for posterity. There are no cartoony sound effects; everything was done with an eye to being as believable as possible. As in much of my work, there is humor to be found in the earnest—almost documentarian—approach to the fantastic. For me, photographic images combined with absurdist, yet oddly logical, ideas are like rubbing two rocks together to create a spark.” – PES
Excerpted from Frame by Frame Stop Motion, written by Tom Gasek. © 2012, Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.
Tom Gasek has over twenty-five years of award winning stop motion animation production experience as an animator and director, having worked with directors like Will Vinton, Art Clokey and Henry Selick. At Aardman Studios, he contributed Nick Park’s Wallace & Gromit short, “The Wrong Trousers.” Gasek co-directed and animated, “The Inside-Out Boy” (Nickelodeon), which is a part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Most recently, Tom has worked on Aardman’s “Creature Comforts America”, Sony Bravia’s “Play-Doh”, and Laika’s “Coraline.” Tom is currently an assistant professor at the School of Film & Animation at Rochester Institute of Technology.