“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” – Mark Twain
Sunday, 12 September 2010
argument conversation with my colleague, Andy Holden, of mine recently got me thinking about what I find appealing in animation, in terms of character movement, character design, and story. Appeal is notoriously difficult to quantify and working out how to introduce it to our work can be frustrating.
Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston defined it as follows: “To us, it meant anything that a person likes to see, a quality of charm, pleasing design, simplicity, communication, and magnetism. Your eye is drawn to the figure that has appeal, and, once there, it is held while you appreciate what you are seeing.”
But can we go any further in defining what we mean when we say that something is appealing? It’s probably not something that can be generalised as we don’t all like the same things, but I thought I’d have a go at working out what I personally like to look at, and maybe see if it corresponds to anyone else’s thoughts. So after some thought, I came up with the following formula:
Appeal = Honesty + Solidity + Clarity + Variety + Empathy
Now these terms are not in any particular order of importance. I define them as follows:
An honest piece of art will always be more appealing to see than something that feels false. What I mean by “honesty” is when the artist creates something based upon what he or she knows and cares about. An artist who has lost a very close relative will be infinitely more able to portray a character in the same situation than an artist who has not. The chances are that the latter will, perhaps unintentionally, resort to cliché, whereas the former will have a wealth of personal experience that they can feed into their work.
This applies on all sorts of levels, not just emotional things. An animator who can play the drums will be far better informed when working out a drumming character’s mechanics than someone who has never picked up a drumstick. An author writing about an explosive romance will be served well if he has experienced something similar himself.
As animators we are likely to have to portray characters that do things that we have never done. We can still get honesty into our portrayal in two ways though. Firstly, we can study in depth the things that we are going to have to show in order to give us as much of a clue as possible of what is involved. Secondly, and most importantly, we can look deep into the character and find some connection that we share with them. I have never been at the side of a stage waiting to go out and sing a song in front of thousands of people, but I have had plenty of nervous moments in my life that I can reach into for inspiration.
Basically honesty in art is talking about the things we understand.
This is a fairly straightforward one. It is creating something that invokes a sense of physical presence. I like to be made to believe that something I’m looking at exists. This can involve several things. In terms of drawing and traditional animation an object should have three dimensional form to it, feeling like the object could be turned around in space. This is something that comes for free in CG animation, but there is more to solidity than that. It involves texture and rendering, giving the viewer an idea of what the surface of the object feels like. Have you ever felt like reaching out to touch something on a page or on a cinema screen? Solidity also involves weight, making us feel like this object we are seeing has some influence on its surroundings and on itself, proving its existence in its world.
This is simply getting an idea across as strongly as possible, as simply as possible. Often artwork becomes over-complicated and the message becomes lost in a sea of colour, lines, shades, etc. Appealing images are always direct and to the point, hitting you in the face like a frying pan. Now I’m aware that some people like to re-watch films over and over to discover new layers of detail that they missed the first time around. I would argue that the main message of the film will always hit home on the first viewing, and most of these extra details may be things that the viewer subliminally takes on board, contributing to his enjoyment of the film on that first viewing. The repeat viewings reveal them to the conscious mind and allow appreciation of them. Similarly in a drawing, there may be lots and lots of details that we can admire, but on our first view of it we are hit by the whole message, with each of these little details combining to force that message home to the viewer. Ironically this paragraph could probably be written in a much clearer way!! Alas I am no wordsmith!
Whether we are talking about animation, film-making in general, painting, photography, music, dance, theatre, or any art form, variety is key (incidentally all of these terms that make up my definition of appeal apply equally to all art forms, not just animation). It is vital to avoid monotony. We do this by adding what is often called “texture” to our work. In animation and dance, “texture” means varying the timing of movements so that we don’t have everything going at a constant rate. In photography and film layout, we vary the composition of elements in a shot so as to avoid even spacings between them. An actor would avoid speaking in a monotone voice amongst other things. When drawing, an artist may introduce exaggerated angles to break up the monotony of horizontal and vertical lines.
In short, by adding variety, an artist builds visual interest, regardless of the subject matter.
In talking about “solidity”, I mentioned physical believability. Well by “empathy” I mean a sense of emotional believability. An artist in most cases needs his audience to care about what he is creating, and the best way to do this is to allow viewers to see themselves in the artwork. Selfishly, we like to see ourselves in things. We enjoy watching characters that are like us, we dislike characters that are not like us. A good villain shares very few morals with a “good” audience. A great villain shares a lot with them. By making us empathise with a character, a director, an animator, an actor etc, makes us believe that they exist.
Now as I said at the start, this is what I personally think appeal is, however I can’t recall ever hearing any argument that is against this one. I therefore wonder if maybe this could be a general definition, but with each term having a different level of importance to each person. We’ve all been in the position of absolutely loving a song or a film that someone else hates, but there are also examples of films that seemingly everyone likes (Toy Story 3 being a good recent example). Perhaps the reason why Person A loves a film that Person B hates is because it is strong on the elements of appeal that are most important to person A. And perhaps the reason why Persons A to Z might all like one particular film is because it is strong on all elements, so everyone finds it appealing.
What I’m going to do next is to look at each of these topics in a little more detail, using examples from lots of different art forms to illustrate them.
Saturday, 11 September 2010
It’s been a long time coming, but after 154 drawings (not counting the many I’ve discarded) I’ve finally completed the story reel for my short film! Given the number of projects I have started and given up on, this is quite an achievement for me. I still have a couple of slight changes to make to it due to poses not reading etc, but it’s a complete film for the first time, which is quite exciting – a surprising emotion for someone that has been glued to a computer screen for the past sixteen or seventeen hours!
I’m giving myself a weekend off now, where I shall not let anything animation-related into my head!