Thursday, 24 January 2019

Why Every Animation Needs an Idea

Animators need an idea
Every Shot Needs an Idea. One of the most common mistakes made by junior animators is to animate a scene of dialogue without clearly thinking through what the shot is really about.

Animators are actors, with a pencil, or a mouse. Like stage or screen actors, animators must always think carefully about what their character is thinking about. Who is the character talking to, and what is the scene about? What do they want, and what do they fear?

These things are important because unless these questions are asked, and answered, the scene will tend to feel empty of meaning, and lack compelling interest.

What is the character thinking and feeling?
Animators working on a movie tend to have it relatively easy; someone else writes the script, and figures out what each shot is about. But when we are working alone, without a script, just relying on our own imagination, we have to find the meaning in our work ourselves. This means figuring out the back story to the scenes we are animating. Crucial questions we should always ask ourselves include:
  • Who is the character talking to?
  • What is the context of the scene - what specifically is going on?
  • What do the characters want? What do they fear? 
  • What are they feeling? What is their primary emotion?
This isn't abstract stuff; it can be the difference between a shot that engages the audience's attention, and one that doesn't. Consider the shot below, by Elena Scala, one of my students at Escape Studios.

This is a shot that works on an emotional level. We care about the girl, and what she is going through. I asked Elena if the character was talking to her boyfriend, or ex-boyfriend, and Elena replied sharply "no, it's her sister!". Elena was telling a story that she fully understood, possibly (though not necessarily) because it was something drawn from her own experience.  Because Elena has fully thought out the scene, including the character off-screen, and what the conversation is about, the result is a shot that has meaning, and an emotional register.

Animation isn't just a technical exercise; it needs to work on an emotional level. If we don't care about the characters, then the result is dry and meaningless.

So, before you start animating, figure out in your head the specifics of what the shot is about, and what the characters are thinking and feeling. Sometimes it helps to give them names, and write down the back story of the shot, so you know exactly what it's about.

To find out more about Animation Apprentice, click here for a link to Frequently Asked Questions. To sign up for our next classroom at Animation Apprentice, follow this link.

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