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Date: Sunday, 14 Sep 2014 23:28
Sorry it's been so long!

The Atlantic Monthly published an interesting article about the creative partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, focusing on how the two of them accomplished great things by both complementing and challenging each other.

Part of what I really like about the article is that it challenges the common assumption that art is best created by a single person with a single voice expressing their vision without interference or compromise. From the article:

For centuries, the myth of the lone genius has towered over us, its shadow obscuring the way creative work really gets done. The attempts to pick apart the Lennon-McCartney partnership reveal just how misleading that myth can be, because John and Paul were so obviously more creative as a pair than as individuals, even if at times they appeared to work in opposition to each other. The lone-genius myth prevents us from grappling with a series of paradoxes about creative pairs: that distance doesn’t impede intimacy, and is often a crucial ingredient of it; that competition and collaboration are often entwined. Only when we explore this terrain can we grasp how such pairs as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, William and Dorothy Wordsworth, and Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy all managed to do such creative work. The essence of their achievements, it turns out, was relational. If that seems far-fetched, it’s because our cultural obsession with the individual has obscured the power of the creative pair.

You can read the whole article here.

I've worked on a lot of movies in my time. Some are good and some are, frankly, bad. The best ones I worked on all have one thing in common: there was healthy collaboration among the people that made the movie. When several smart people get together and trust each other and challenge each other and listen to what each other has to say, there is no limit to what can happen. On the other hand, when ego intrudes and people stop letting themselves be questioned or challenged, there is virtually no way that the project will end in a successful way.

Because of the way that the media writes about films, only a very small number of people ever get any credit or acknowledgement of their role in the making of the film. That's totally understandable…the public has little interest in reading too much about any one movie, usually, and we just want one or two faces so that we can say, "oh, that's the author of the movie", and then we move on to the next thing. But don't let that fool you into thinking that one or two people are responsible for making a movie great. In my experience, it takes a great creative team to generate a successful movie, and an atmosphere where everyone can challenge each other is a safe supportive way. It's easy to say and hard to do, but when you can get that kind of environment to work, it seems like you can accomplish anything.
Author: "mark kennedy (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "Atlantic Monthly, John Lennon, Paul McCa..."
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Date: Monday, 11 Aug 2014 21:35
One of the things I like about "Game of Thrones" is how the art direction is employed in telling the story. The nature of the show is to cut continuously from location to location as several different stories unfold simultaneously. This could easily lead to confusion in the viewer's mind because there are so many locations that there's a danger of being disoriented as you go from place to place over the course of an episode. But the creators of the show have carefully crafted each location to have it's own color scheme (as well as architecture and costume design) so that you always know where you are when locations shift.

Some examples (no spoilers):

Winterfell

King's Landing

The Dothraki Sea



Pyke

The Wall

Castle Black

Qarth

Dragonstone

The Aerie

Not only does this technique keep you oriented, but it keeps your excitement level high. Each story is so interesting that you always want to stay with it. If you are at a bit of a "cliffhanger" moment when you cut away from one story (as you usually are), then later when the story goes back to that location, you get a rush of excitement to see how the story will continue to unfold. So the instant you cut back to a place and you recognize the color palette of that location, you get a burst of excitement that now you will get to see what happens next in that story thread.

Also, changing locations and color schemes help to give a sense of "gear shift"; or that the story is changing from one speed to another. The first three Star Wars movies were great about that. They moved through different environments as the story progressed and each one was distinctly different. It felt like the story was building and moving.

For example, in the very first film, you start in a clean, white spaceship. Then you go to a desert plant that is all warm reds, yellows and browns. The next part of the story takes place on a run-down spaceship (which has a totally different feel from the one at the beginning of the movie), and then you end up on a cold, severe, clean mostly black space station. Then, of course, there's the space battle at the end. That's a totally new kind of environment then you've seen in the film before that. Even the final scene--the ceremony where the heroes get their medals--takes place in a high stone room that looks like a cathedral…a place unlike any you've seen before in the film.







And all the other little locations you visit in-between all feel unique and different from each other as well.

The succeeding Star Wars installments, of course, take you to an ice planet and a forest planet…new locations that make it feel like the films are progressing, moving and building and not staying static and repeating the same places and events over and over.

The climactic battle of "Return of the Jedi" is another great use of art direction to keep the audience oriented. There are three epic battles going on in the final act of the movie--the fight in the forest on Endor, the fight above Endor in space, and the battle in the Emperor's throne room--and the film gives each a distinctive look so that you always know where you are as you cut between the three. Also, the constantly shifting visuals of the three locations make the battles even more intense and exciting.





The reason this has been on my mind lately is that I saw a couple of films recently that I thought were rather visually monotonous and I found myself craving a bit of visual variety while watching them (no spoilers ahead).

I enjoyed "Rise of the Planet of the Apes", but there were basically two locations in the movie: the forest where the apes live and the city where the humans are gathered. Both are basically green, grey and brown. I know this makes logical sense--it's the natural color of those two locations--but I didn't get the feeling that the film was progressing and building the way I do when a film has the kind of visual "gear shift" that I'm talking about. I don't have a good solution to this dilemma offhand...I guess I would have made the city (San Francisco) where the people live less overgrown and grey and possibly found a way to make it cleaner and slightly more colorful. I think a more clean architectural feel to the city would have contrasted well with the organic nature of the forest where the apes live and supported to story point that humans need civilization and infrastructure to survive whereas apes are more comfortable in the natural world. But that's just me.

"Guardians of the Galaxy" was another film that I felt had a few environments that were more similar than they needed to be: a few of the locations (like the prison, the mining camp, and a few of the spaceship interiors) were a similar blue-grey kind of color and seemed to all have the same kind of dark, worn, junky spaceship feeling to them. There was one distinctly different location: a pastel colored planet (and the color scheme for it well--it's a very peaceful, civilized place), but several of the other locations seemed very visually similar. So watching that film made me think about the importance of having visual variety in your film as well.

It's not just true for film, of course. Whether you're working on a movie, TV show, graphic novel, or whatever it may be….think of how changing and evolving the color palette and art direction can amplify the feeling of progression and building to make your story feel more compelling (and also more interesting to watch).
Author: "mark kennedy (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Wednesday, 30 Jul 2014 23:13
One of the differences between 2D and 3D animation that people don't talk about much is how differently you have to approach costume in each medium.


In 2D animation, the characters are all individual drawings, so giving your character a new costume is simply a matter of designing the new costume and then drawing it on the character. 3D is different because it's much more difficult and expensive to design multiple costume changes for the characters.

But even so, costume changes for animated Disney characters is rare, and always have been, even in the 2D films. This is because we want the characters to have one iconic look that represents the way you think of the character. When I say "Snow White", you think of the character with her distinctive blue, red and yellow dress. The dress is a big part of her distinctive appearance. If she changed dresses three times during the movie, her appearance gets diluted and she loses her iconic appearance. If that were the case, you might see a sketch of her and have to look twice to figure out if it's her, based on her face....as it is now, you see the dress, and instantly your brain knows it's Snow White. End of story.






So, other than Disney princesses and princes wearing wedding clothes at the end of the movie, most of them wear the same iconic outfit all through a movie (no matter how many days the film covers....yeech).

The grossness factor is not why I'm bringing it up, though. The reason I sometimes wish we could play around with this rule is that costume design--and how it changes and evolves over a movie--can play a really important role in giving the audience an insight into what the character's mental state is and how it's shifting over the course of a movie. And that can be a powerful tool for giving the audience a glimpse into the thinking and emotions of the characters.

Live action movies, of course, do this all the time. Usually, it's done in a way that isn't obvious to the viewer and works on a subconscious level. The Star Wars films [SPOILERS AHEAD] are a good example. In the first film, Luke wears all white, which represents his simple, naive nature and his lack of experience and uncluttered moral nature. He's pure good and believes in a simple, clear version of what's right and wrong.



In "Empire", Luke wears grey clothes, which represent the moral confusion he's starting to face. He is being confronted with much more complex truths than he had to face in the first film.



In the final film, Luke wears black. A big point of tension in the film is whether Luke will become evil like his Father, or remain true to his better instincts and resist the lure of the Dark Side. So it makes sense to dress him in black, both to illustrate how far he's come since his youthful days, and create tension in the audience's mind that he might follow his Father's footsteps....after all, they already dress alike!


"The Godfather" [SPOILERS ahead] is another film that I remember as having very smart costume design. I haven't seen it in years (so someone correct me if I'm wrong), but when we first see Michael, he's wearing his marine uniform. He's a returning WW2 hero, and in the huge party of people seen in the beginning, he's the only one we see wearing a uniform. He's heroic looking and stands out. He tells Kay (his girlfriend) that his family is connected with the Mafia and that he wants nothing to do with them. He's very different from them, and he doesn't like the moral compromises they've made. He's similar to Luke, in that he sees things in black and white and believes very strongly in right and wrong.

In the middle of the film, I remember him wearing a lot of black as he's forced to accept more responsibility in the business his family has created. Black is a strong, forceful color, and I don;t think it's meant to represent evil here. I think it represents Michael's belief in his own strength and how he sees himself as a force for good. He's only done what he had to do to protect his family from people who are worse than they are, and he fully intends to get his family into legitimate business and get them out of organized crime.


By the end of the film, Michael wears a grey suit and hat to represent how far he's slipped in terms of moral certainty. He's lost sight of what's right and wrong and he's become completely corrupted.





Anyway, you get the idea. I'm no expert in costume design, and I don't know of a great book or website on the topic of using costume to tell story. I wish I did; if someone knows a great resource on this subject, drop me a line. In any case, it's not hard to learn about costume design. Great film makers use it to their advantage constantly, so just look at how it's used in films that are well put together. Ask yourself why certain choices were made, and you'll see that it's not that much of a mystery how costume can help tell a story.


I've been working on my own graphic novel for several years now, and I enjoy working on it because I get to do many things that I never get to do as a storyboard artist. Costume design is one of the things that I never got much chance to do before, and I really like the challenge of coming up with clothes that help illustrate the changing mental state of each character.



Of course, there are two types of film characters: those that undergo a transformation (like Luke and Michael Corleone) and those that remain the same throughout a film and change the world around them. When I think of the latter type (the type that don't undergo a transformation), it's no surprise that those types wear the same costume throughout a film. Their mental state doesn't change, so they don't need evolving costumes to reflect that change. Characters like Mary Poppins and Indiana Jones are the first kind to come to mind when I think of that type of character, and it's probably no coincidence that they both have very iconic costumes.



Actually, if you wanted to nitpick, I guess you could say that Indiana Jones changes a little during the first film, but not in the major way that Luke and Michael Corleone do, so he doesn't require drastic costume changes. Also, Mary Poppins does change outfits in the fantasy sequences...but hopefully you get my drift.


Anyway, I'm a big believer in using every resource available to help tell stories, and I think that costume design is one area that animation has yet to fully exploit for emotional impact.
Author: "mark kennedy (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "costume design, Mary Poppins, Raiders of..."
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Date: Wednesday, 23 Jul 2014 07:53
Many years ago I bought the classic book "Rendering In Pen and Ink" by Arthur Guptill. Like most of the art books I buy, it seemed important to own when I bought it, and ever since then it has sat on a shelf, neglected and unread.

By chance, I picked it up a while ago and flipped through it. There are a couple of chapters on composition and directing the eye, filled with little thumbnail examples. I thought they were interesting and, although they're simple, I always feel that the key to drawing is learning the simple principles and then applying them in more and more complex ways as you tackle more complex types of drawing. So I think they're worth sharing and discussing.

Anyway, here are the composition examples:


Yes, these are all still life examples, but they are good principles that apply to any drawing. Example 99, which points out that having all of one type of shape (in this case, rounded) in a drawing gets monotonous. Always look for ways to include variety in the type of shape and line in each drawing.



Here, Guptill suggests the three type of possible composition: triangular, square and round. Also, in panel 5 and 6, he suggests that you can create contrast in your composition for interest by grouping objects that contrast in form or contrast in size (basically, look for ways to get variety in each composition). Again, this doesn't just apply to still life studies. It applies to any type of drawing or composition. And he makes another interesting suggestion in panel 7: whatever objects are in your composition, you don't have to fit them all within the confines of the drawing (as is usually our first instinct). You can include just part of an object (or figure, or whatever), provided we can tell what the object is without seeing the part that's been left outside the border.



Some interesting advice about composition on this one, and more suggestions that the artist find a variety of forms (such as straights and curves) to include in any composition to create variety and interest.



This one just has some simple thoughts on composition.


These next examples are all about a few different ways to draw the eye to where you want it to go (something I talked about a couple of posts ago). In all of these, Guptill is using either contrast or detail to attract the viewer's eye. The eye will always be drawn to the area of the most contrast in a drawing or, if the contrast is pretty evenly placed, to the area with the most detail. So Guptill has a few examples of the same drawing with different treatments so you can see how he places the focus in a different place each time. Sorry about the bad scans….it's a thick book and it was hard to mash it onto my scanner.






These are all helpful for pen and ink drawing, and the same concepts can be helpful to the board artist that faces the challenge of how to get the viewer to look where he's or she's supposed to. As I cautioned before, be mindful (if you're a board artist) of giving the layout department and the animators something that they can replicate and not something that only works in a pen and ink drawing. However, contrast and detail are also tools that the layout artist can use, so usually they can utilize those tools to get the same effect that the board artist achieved.
Author: "mark kennedy (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "arthur guptill, Rendering in Pen and Ink"
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Date: Wednesday, 09 Jul 2014 08:50
Another page out of Vance's internal Disney Story Manual. This time, it's a list of 6 principles about storyboarding, simplicity and clarity.


All great straightforward advice that sounds absolutely simple but is hard to master in execution.

For point number 4, where Vance says "Originality often leads to obscurity", I want to add a bit for clarification because I think that might be confusing to some. What I interpret that to mean is "don't re-invent the wheel just to be different" when it comes to drawing story sketches. For example, if you have a character picking up a heavy box, you might draw it and say, "that looks like the cliched pose of a guy picking up a heavy box. Let me come up with a new pose for that action that nobody has ever seen before."

Although I always encourage people not to rely on clichéd poses and to come up with poses that fit the personality of the character and aren't stock re-hashes of what we've seen before, there are times when you just need to go for readability and re-inventing the wheel just leads to confusion.

To give another example, you might have a scene that takes place in a library. You don't want to draw a background of bookshelves because that's the boring, obvious cliché of a library. So you research libraries and find an amazing one in Sweden where the shelves are all glass and the books are all kept sideways. Great! That's so much more interesting than the typical dull library background! So you draw all your layouts that way.

Then, when people are watching the scene, they can't focus on the conversation of the main characters because the background is so interesting that it overwhelms the scene. Or they can't tell what they're looking at because it's so foreign looking and doesn't relate to any type of building they've ever seen before. So they're so busy trying to figure out where the characters are that they miss the important and emotional scene that's happening between the characters.

Anyway, hope that clarifies. Let me know if you found any of the rest of it confusing.

Also, as a bonus, here's the handout Vance is talking about at the end, if you haven't seen it. I've posted it from time to time, but a refresher is always good.

This was drawn by Carson Van Osten when he worked on Disney Comics, and it's a great primer on avoiding common staging and compositional problems.







Author: "mark kennedy (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "Carson Van Osten, Vance Gerry"
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Date: Wednesday, 18 Jun 2014 12:14
Another gem from the Vance Gerry Disney storyboard book is this section on how to pitch storyboards, written by the great Joe Ranft.

I apologize for the number stamp over the text. This used to be considered confidential material and everyone's book was stamped. I actually never received a copy of the book…someone let me copy their book at some point.

I don't think this material is considered secret anymore.

So this handout is full of helpful pointers for back when story artists used to do sketches on paper, pin them to a board, and pitch them to a group. Story isn't really done that way anymore at Disney. Everyone at Disney works in a digital format and pitches their boards onto a big screen with a projector. Nowadays, you don't have to face your audience….you get to sit behind them while you pitch. It takes a lot of the "facing a firing squad" feeling out of pitching, I can tell you that.

Check out these tips, along with Joe's great illustrations:






Almost all of Joe's advice is still very relevant to pitching in the digital age. The main point of pitching boards is to give a sense of what the sequence will feel like when it's turned into a film, and that means not slowing down to over-explain anything or get off-track from communicating the story and characters to the audience.

Here's a video I found online (I think it's from one of the "Toy Story" DVDs) of Joe talking about storyboarding and pitching a sequence.



Hope you enjoyed the handout. If you have any questions (or can't make out the text), let me know.

And to end things, here's a photo of Vance Gerry himself, pitching the old school way to an audience that includes Woolie Reitherman, Larry Clemmons, and Milt Kahl.



Author: "mark kennedy (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "Joe Ranft, Vance Gerry"
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Date: Wednesday, 18 Jun 2014 10:30
In one of my recent posts about Vance Gerry handouts, I mentioned the challenge that every board artist faces about how to direct the eye of the viewer. Often, a story sketch will be on screen for a second of screen time (or less) and it is vitally important that the viewer grasps the meaning of what you are trying to say in an instant. So a big part of doing this is knowing how to get the viewer's eye go where you want them to look and not focus on the unimportant parts of the sketch.

(In this post, I will be referring to the "layout department". For anyone unfamiliar with what that means, they're the department that takes to storyboards and turns them into actual film frames by designing the "sets"'  figuring out what the backgrounds of each shot will be and how the characters will move through each scene.)


In the earlier days of storyboarding, often the story artists would just draw the important part of the action and didn't always put much thought into how to direct the viewer's eye. There wan't a lot of extra information to distract from the primary idea, so directing the eye wasn't much of a consideration.










Much as I love those drawings and all the personality in them, times have changed. These days, story artists are expected to utilize every tool at their disposal to help tell the story in the best possible way. This usually means more layout, more camera moves and more character poses. With all of that extra pencil mileage and those extra elements to juggle, it becomes more important to know how to control the viewer's eye.

Obviously, these ideas I'm about to discuss are suited to painting, illustrating and designing as well. They have been used for centuries by all kinds of artists. So hopefully everyone will get something out of this discussion.

Here are some examples to show you a few things I've found helpful over the years to help direct the viewer's eye where I want it to go. They're all incredibly simple.

For our first example, I did a quick, crummy drawing of a guy taking a picture of a bird in a forest. I did this sketch with two objects of interest (the guy and the bird), which, by the way, is a big "no no" when you're doing story sketch. One of the cardinal rules of story sketch is that you should only have one idea presented at a time. Each new idea needs a new sketch. Otherwise, the audience is confused and doesn't know where to look.

Also, if I was going to sell the idea that this guy is taking a picture, it would require a closer shot of him and his camera phone, or just the phone, or something. This is too wide and far away to see such a subtle action clearly.

But the point is, I did a drawing with two focal points (and a lot of pencil mileage) to show you how to control the viewer's eye. So here we go...

Here's the original. Yikes! That's a lot of pencil mileage. How can I get the viewer to look where I want them to look?

Here, I added detail to the bird (in the first drawing) and the guy (in the second drawing). Adding detail to an area of a drawing can help draw the viewer's eye to that area of the picture.



The same thing with adding a texture. Your eye is drawn to the texture first because it's a contrast to the rest of the frame, which is all lines of the same weight and empty areas of white. SO simply adding texture can help create an area of interest.



Always remember that the eye will always be drawn to the area of greatest contrast first. The maximum amount of contrast possible in any drawing or painting is absolute black against absolute white. If there's an area with black against white in a picture, the eye will always go there first. If there isn't an area of black against white, the eye will go to the greatest area of contrast, whatever that may be.

Here, in each example, I put black against white in one area and then added grey to the rest of the frame to reduce the amount of contrast in the rest of the drawing. You can see how your eye goes to the area of the most contrast. The big grey areas are minimized and you take them in secondarily.



Remember that it doesn't have to be black against white to get the maximum contrast. Anything in the frame that contrasts everything else in the frame will do. Get creative and look for different ways to use this effect to your advantage. 


Anything that's different from everything else in the frame will attract the viewer's eye.


If there's a spot of color in a black and white drawing, the color becomes the place of the most contrast and does the job of grabbing the eye quickly.


This is a good point to pause and remember, though, that storyboarding isn't just about being clear and getting the audience to look where we want them to look. You're also trying to tell a story in an effective way, and also provide a blueprint that can be turned into a film. So just because you create a shot like the one above, and it works as a story sketch, it doesn't mean that it works as a film frame. Once the film is finished, the whole frame will be in full color and the trick I used above will be useless. If it's important that the audience focus on the man in brown, I'll have to insert a close up of him first…or start close on him and pull back to this wide shot…or something else that does the job of telling the audience to focus on him. No layout person or lighting person can take the wide shot above and put that much focus on the man in the crowd without creating some sort of weird, stilted effect. So keep that in mind as you balance the problems of where to place contest and the audience's attention with actual film language that makes sense and tells the story in the best way.


Speaking of storyboarding with an eye towards creating a useful film blueprint, let's diverge for a moment to talk about tone and how useful it is in minimizing contrast to get the viewer's eye. As I touched on before, in the older days of storyboarding, artists would often just add tone and contrast in a way to center the eye on what was important. Very little thought was given to how the actual scene was eventually going to be laid out and lit. The storyboards were just a tool for figuring out the story and characters.

So if you had a scene like this, you might just throw in some grey tone to make it easier to see what's going on. The layout team would take your boards and figure out how to lay out the scene and light it after it was approved to move into layout.


These days, with compressed production schedules, we tend to expect our story artists to put more thought into exactly how the scene might be lit. That's because the people that have to turn the storyboards into an actual film (the layout artists, animators, lighters, etc.) have, in many cases, very little time to do their jobs. As amazing as these people are at solving problems, if you give them a storyboard that makes no sense from a layout or lighting perspective (or acting wise, for that matter), they're going to have to do a lot of extra work to rework your boards and figure out how to get what the directors wants while retaining what works about the boards. So we try not to create big headaches for the people that will be using the boards as a blueprint for the film, and we try to do things that make sense wherever possible. 

So to create light in this room where our character sits reading a book,  I would figure out what the best solution is within the bounds of the story. Is a fire in the fireplace right?



Is a reading lamp?



Could I use bright moonlight from outside? I doubt this one would ever fly (who would sit inside a room and read by the moonlight coming in the window?), but it all depends on the situation.



So consider the lighting when you're boarding a scene, and what will be possible and impossible. Are you solving problems for other people while you board, or just creating headaches? Lighting is such a big part of how you create a mood for a scene that it must be considered at the storyboard stage. For example, if two people are walking along a deserted road at night, you have to think about how to set the appropriate mood. Is it a scary scene? If so, then maybe it's a moonless night and they have only a small flashlight between them…and the flashlight's batteries are running low.

But if you wanted the same scene to be a romantic scene, you'd want to create different lighting altogether. Maybe there's a full moon that casts light everywhere. Maybe there are fireflies. Maybe the two of them are carrying a lantern, or a torch…whatever creates the best lighting to sell the mood you're trying to create and is appropriate for the time period and the characters. And by putting some thought into it at the storyboard stage, we can help everyone else down the line as they build the film.

Depending on the mood you're trying to achieve, a harsh contrasty light might be best (for example, in a scary or dynamic action scene) or a soft, gauzy light might be better (for a romantic or lighter type of moment). All these things should be considered by the storyboard artist as they think about a scene. Our job is to tell the story in the best way and lighting and mood are a valuable tool at our disposal. Even if you make a choice that ends up being rejected as the wrong choice for the scene, you've helped everyone have a better understanding of exactly what the right choice is in that particular case.


So, why are some other simple, easy ways to direct the viewer's eye?

Perspective is always an easy way. If you have strong lines created by the vanishing point of your drawing, use that to point to what we're supposed to be focusing on.



I'm not a stickler for straight lines in my perspective (as you can tell). I just draw whatever looks right (of course, I don't do anything that's so much of a cheat that it'll be useless to the layout department). I don't draw super straight lines and make sure everything converges exactly…a lot of times when people are precise with their perspective it looks distracting and stiff anyway (at least to me). So know how one, two and three-point perspective works but don't be a literal slave to it. A good composition is always more important than exact precise perspective (layout people might disagree with me though).

Also, you can draw everything in a composition to point where you want it to point in order to get the viewer to look at what's important. Things like plants, trees, roads, signs, etc. are all endlessly malleable to tweak so that they point at the center of interest.



Line weight can make a big difference in creating a hierarchy of what's important to look at and what's merely background. Look at this drawing of a man in a gallery:


All the equally weighted lines are creating confusion. Everything is equally important. But if I redraw the background, unimportant paintings to a smaller line weight...


It eliminates all the graphic confusion and you can focus on what's important.

This is another useful storyboard trick that has to be considered when you're asking yourself what will be helpful to layout. In a case like this, I would find out what the lighting situation in the gallery would be. I would definitely add lighting to this story sketch to accentuate to two important parts of the sketch (the man and that one painting). But I provide it here as an example of how to use line weight to minimize confusion and enhance readability.

(Personally, I doubt we'd ever design a gallery like that anyway. That's a pretty jumbled mess of paintings!)

Speaking of paintings….the last way I can think of that I use to direct the eye is the old frame-within-a-frame trick. If you create a frame within your composition, you can put the most important element (or elements) in the frame and the eye will be attracted to that spot as a center of interest within the composition.


Again, get creative with this one. Yes, you can use doors or windows, but the possibilities are endless. Any type of "smaller stage" within the bigger frame will work.


I hope that helps and it all makes sense. Sorry for the janky drawings, I did them in a hurry. All of these techniques fall into the category of being so simple that they seem a bit useless, but if you look at the work of great illustrators and painters they've been using these tricks effectively for a long time. And, as I always say, the simple things are the things that people take for granted and forget about first. But if you remember the simple things, they can have a huge impact in effective communication and make the difference between something that works and something that falls apart!
Author: "mark kennedy (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "composition, contrast, Peter Pan, storyb..."
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Date: Monday, 19 May 2014 22:52
 Some more handouts from Disney Story artist Vance Gerry about basic storyboard drawing composition and clarity. In the first example on the page below (titled "Perplexing Annoyances"), Vance illustrates why you should leave a little "air" or white space around your characters instead of continuing the background lines into the lines of the characters. 

In the second example, Vance points out how awkward it looks when you cut off the hands and feet. Part of what Vance is pointing out is how bad it looks when you cut off a character by placing a joint at the edge of the composition. If you place a character's wrist, ankle, knee or elbow right at the edge of the frame it always looks clunky and wrong. Always change the composition so the character is bisected at a place other than the joint (like halfway up the lower leg between the ankle and the knee, instead of right at the ankle).

At the bottom of the page, Vance shows how creating tangents can lead to confusion and hurt clarity.


Here, Vance shows how turning things and seeing them in three dimensional space leads to clarity (and a more interesting drawing).



More examples of how depth can make a drawing more clear, more dynamic and more interesting. The last part at the bottom is very interesting to me, and, like the last post, provides a bit of an intriguing peek into Vance's unique way of thinking that makes me wish he would have written a book on drawing (or at least left us some more notes like these).


Again, I will try to interpret what I think Vance is saying,  but I may not be completely accurate: depending on how you draw figures and objects, you can either encourage the eye to move through it quickly or encourage the viewer to take their time and linger over the drawing. I think Vance is saying that--in general--you want to use simplified anatomy and direct lines for readability and to get the audience to grasp the point of a story sketch quickly and directly. Usually the goal in story sketch is for the audience to grasp the meaning of the sketch in a quick glance. Many times, when story sketches are cut together to make a story reel, they are on the screen for a second (or even less time than that). So you need to eliminate any confusion that might arise in the viewer. The audience won't have time to hunt for the point of the sketch and decipher what they're seeing.

So in most story sketches, it's important and desirable to have simplified anatomy as well as simplified objects and backgrounds that help direct your eye and focus your attention on the important part of a drawing (see my last post on "scale"--that's all part of making everything in a drawing read quickly). This isn't as important for other types of illustration where the audience can take time to observe and absorb the piece and find layers of meaning. But in story sketch, simplicity and directness are key, and I think Vance is reminding story artists that sometimes accurate anatomy and creating a nice drawing are not as important as being simple and direct for readability's sake.


 In these last three drawings by Vance, he demonstrates how tone can be used for simplifying and prioritizing information, and how that can help readability and mood. The caption of this first drawing is "overwhelmed by information", and it's easy to see why. Every aspect of the line drawing is given the same amount of weight and importance.

 This next example is captioned "information partially dramatized". It's the same drawing, but now there is tone to "group" the shapes so the viewer can more readily see where the planes are, which makes it much easier to tell at a glance what is happening in the drawing and where the eye is supposed to focus. The other effect that happens when you begin to add tone is that the drawing starts to have a mood; the storyboard starts to feel like it's illustrating a dramatic moment where something important is happening. The more tone you add to a drawing, the more moody and dramatic it starts to feel.
 This last example is captioned "information subordinated to emotion", and you can see how much more dramatic the drawing is now that there's so much tone added to it. This feels like a very dramatic moment where something momentous or foreboding is about to happen. The scene is the same layout as the first two examples, but suggested with well-handled tones as opposed to all of the meticulously drawn lines that are used in the first example. For story sketch, this type of treatment is much better--it's more direct, and as Vance suggests, the sketch implies a powerful emotion that isn't present in the first one at all. The tones give the drawing a point of view that goes well beyond the simple suggestion of a man standing at the bottom of a staircase. Now, the drawing tells a story.

Of course, because adding tones adds a lot of weight and drama to a sketch, this type of treatment isn't appropriate for every sequence. If you're trying to do a light, funny sequence, the same concept applies...think of what will communicate the emotion you're going for, as opposed to a dry, boring sketch that suggests the layout clearly, but has no point of view or mood to help tell the story.


In the next post, I'll share some ideas for getting clarity and readability in ways other than using tone, for those times when you need to make a sketch read, but you don't want to use an abundance of tones because it might make a sketch too dark and moody.
Author: "mark kennedy (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "Vance Gerry"
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Date: Friday, 09 May 2014 16:37
Years ago, legendary Disney storyboard artist Vance Gerry wrote a short book intended to help teach beginning storyboard artists. Most of it concerns knowing the difference between things like beat boards and storyboards and the process of production. It also includes a few pages with tips about drawing for storyboards, and a few of those pages deal with the concept of (what he termed) "scale".

Reading these pages years ago was a bit of a revelation for me. I had never heard anyone talk about this topic before, and I still have never seen anything that has written about this or seen it mentioned in any form.

I will do my best to try and paraphrase what (I think) Vance meant by that and make it as clear as I can.

Basically, here's my interpretation: Vance was using the term "scale" to say that, when you design and draw objects, you should emphasize the most distinctive parts of the object to make them recognizable to the viewer and make them read clearly. He also used "scale" to mean that you should de-emphasize the uninteresting parts of an object to make the best drawing you can by not wasting space on uninteresting parts. And lastly, and most importantly, he talked about "scale" as a way to make things (and people) seem closer to the viewer, more intimate and more expressive.

Here is the entirety of his thoughts on the matter:




Vance used Robert Crumb as an example of an artist that uses "scale" well.


This one he captioned "R. Crumb...ugly but have great scale". Hopefully that won't offend any Crumb fans out there.



I have always found these pages--a rare glimpse into the way Vance's mind worked--fascinating.

Scale is not an absolute value, at all. Obviously, it is very subjective and depends on the subject matter. For example, big balloon-y cartoon tires work just fine if you're drawing a car in a Mickey Mouse short, but if you're storyboarding a movie like "101 Dalmatians", you can't draw Cruella's car with big balloon tires. It would undermine the menace of her character and look completely inappropriate for the art direction and tone of the movie. So you have to find a way to draw her car (and tires) in a way that's simplified and reads without being "out of tone" with the subject matter.

Many great artists and illustrators have developed their own sense of "scale" to emphasize certain parts of their figures and environments to get the results they desire. Take a look at some of your favorite artists and see how they have adapted this concept, and what results they have achieved by interpreting reality with a unique sense of "scale".

If anyone would like more clarification (or has some clarification to add to my interpretation), please let me know!

If you're interested in seeing more of Vance's work, visit Ed Gombert's "Vance Gerry Memorial Blog."
Author: "mark kennedy (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "storyboard, Vance Gerry"
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Hands   New window
Date: Wednesday, 30 Apr 2014 23:52
Hands present a unique challenge for the artist. Hands are notoriously difficult to draw because they are very complex and have a wide range of motion. They can maneuver in so many different ways. Adding to this, every person in the world sees hands every day, so every one of us knows exactly what hands look like and we can tell instantly when they don't look right. An artist has to know what they're doing, then, when it comes to drawing hands. It's impossible to fake hands in a convincing way.

Like any difficult, complex problem, people often try to come up with "formulas" to draw hands in the hopes that that they can learn how to draw hands consistently without any effort or struggle. 

In addition to certain formulas for hands that get passed on from artist to artist, everyone in animation has seen those pages full of disembodied hand drawings (often by Milt Kahl) passed around as examples of how to draw hands.

I understand how valuable it can be--especially to a young artist starting out--to find a system for drawing things that helps take some of the struggle out of drawing. In that way, a formula or system can be helpful as a starting point. The problem comes when artists stick with a formula or "stock" way of doing things. As artists we should always question any formula we might be falling into, and we should constantly push ourselves to find new and inventive ways to draw everything in an original way.

There's nothing wrong with looking at the way someone else tackled the problem as a method to understand how another artist found their way. I do that all the time. I like seeing how great artists were able to simplify complex problems. But I don't like relying on formulas because they stifle imagination and creativity. Also, when you look at a page of disembodied hand drawings, it's easy to forget that hands should always be an extension of what the body and face are expressing. Hands don't carry the expression of the character; they work in concert with the whole pose to tell you what the character is thinking and feeling. 

Also, no two characters should ever have the same hands, just as no two characters should ever have the same face. Heavy characters have different looking hands than slight, skinny characters. Short characters should have different hands than tall characters. Old characters should have different hands than young characters, etc. The hands of each character should be distinctive and original.

 Just a few minutes of Googling "hands" gave me all these different varieties:











Each pair of hands gives you a different idea of what the owner of the hands looks like, as well as what their personality and character might be.


Also, no two characters should have the same hand gestures. The type of character tells you what kind of hand gestures they will tend to have. An excitable character might use their hands in a vigorous way while they're talking, while a character who is more guarded and tends to be sit calmly won't have hand gestures that are very extreme. 

Hands can provide a great resource for acting. Someone who is terrified but trying to maintain their brave façade might be given away by their trembling hands. A character that is trying to avoid facing an unpleasant conversation might busy themselves with an action that involves their hands, to distract themselves from the uncomfortable situation.

As you storyboard or animate, all of these ways to exploit and utilize a character's hands should be considered, and I think learning formulaic ways of drawing hands (and studying stock poses that have been used before, for an entirely different character) can make you lose sight of just how expressive hands can be and how individual the hands can be according to the personality and physique of your particular character.


The best way to learn how to draw hands (or learn how to draw anything, for that matter) is, in my opinion, to study the real thing. The best place to start with hands is to learn about what's under the skin. Any good anatomy book can help you understand the basic structure of your hands, and the good news is that hands are actually really easy to comprehend. Hands don't have a lot of muscle on them; they're mostly bones and tendons (and some fat pads on the underside of the fingers). So their structure shows pretty clearly on the surface.

The first anatomy book I ever owned was "Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist" by Stephen Rogers Peck. I spent hours and hours reading that book and trying to make sense of how to draw the human body. I got a lot out of his illustrations of how the hand bones work and his simple diagrams which explain some simplified ways to look at hand anatomy. Here are the pages from the book concerning hands:








Sorry that the last two pages are a little light; they are pencil sketches and don't scan well.

In general, when people ask me what anatomy books I like, I always tell them my advice is to read as many different ones as you can. You never know what tidbit of information will stick with you or unlock an insight you didn't have before. Also, no anatomy book is perfect, so it's best to read a few and make sure you're not absorbing just one person's mistakes!

The other bit of good news about hands, obviously, is that you have your own hands to use as models as you're drawing. We always think of animators as making faces into a mirror, but I have probably used my mirror to aid in drawing hands on many, many more occasions than I've used it to aid in drawing expressions.

When it comes to drawing gestures, the book "Manwatching" by Desmond Morris has a lot of interesting reference concerning hand gestures. He describes the hidden meaning behind many common hand gestures and what the speaker using the gesture is trying to say with his hands (on a subconscious level, of course). Morris also talks about hand gestures that have a specific meaning in one country, but have a totally different meaning in another country (or no meaning at all). Here are some samples of his interpretations:

This diagram serves as a handy way to break gestures into categories:


A few of his observations about particular gestures and their meaning:





The caption to this one says, "The Hand Chop, in which the flattened hand slices through the air, emphasizing the speaker's need to cut through a problem."



The caption to this photo reads, "The Palm Up baton of the speaker who implores his audience to agree with him. His hands adopt the posture typical of a begging man."


 Just as I don't believe in relying on formulas to draw, I don't think an artist should take Morris's interpretations as gospel and treat his book as a way to "plug in" the right gesture for each type of acting scene. Every artist should use his or her own instincts and sense of acting to find the right acting for each pose and attitude. However, Morris's book can be a great aid for getting you to recognize gestures and start to think about what each gesture might impart to the viewer about the speaker and what they are thinking and feeling.


When I tried to think about artists that drew particularly good hands, I drew a bit of a blank…after all, as I said, I think I focus on artists that draw expressive poses and I don't really think about hands as a separate element…to me, they're just part of the pose, and if they're done well, they don't get noticed! But here are some artists that I think draw expressive hands (and some that are also good at finding the right hand design to fit the personality of a character):

Some great, expressive hands that fit the pose well by Rembrandt:







Willard Mullins








Chuck Jones




Abe Levitow

Ronald Searle






Quentin Blake




Jack Davis



Kathe Kollwitz



Mort Drucker







Hopefully, this wide variety of examples shows that there isn't one way to draw hands, and that the best artists find their own individual way of tacking the subject. Also, you don't need to put a ton of drawing and anatomy into hands, if that's not your style…a squiggle that's expressive and reads as a hand can be just as effective as a detailed, precise anatomical drawing of a hand when it comes to communicating.


In any case, when it comes to drawing hands, I hope you won't be satisfied with relying on formulas or drawing stock poses that have been done already…look and observe, experiment and don't be afraid to fail! Finding a new way to do something is the most exciting and satisfying part of being an artist, and the only way to become a true original instead of a pale imitation of someone else.
Author: "mark kennedy (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "Abe Levitow, Atlas of Anatomy for the Ar..."
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Date: Saturday, 12 Apr 2014 13:45
One of the key aspects of being an animator is that you really need to know who a character is and what their personality and character are before you can animate a single frame of film. How does this character think? How does this character move? Do they do things deliberately and methodically...or abruptly and instinctually? Are they a passionate character? Or more reserved? Exuberant? Or more contained? Of course, what they're thinking and feeling in each particular scene has a profound effect on all of that as well.

The consequence of not considering all of this is that you will end up treating your character like a puppet, moving them from place to place within a scene and having them go through meaningless, mechanical motions. This, obviously, defeats the whole purpose of creating animated characters and trying to get the audience to see them as living, breathing creatures that can generate an emotional response in the viewer.

I didn't spend much time as an animator before I got into story, but I feel that the time I did spend in animation helped me very much when I was trying to develop an approach to storyboarding. It made the character's personalities foremost in my mind whenever I think about how to board a sequence. I feel like my best ideas and the genesis of the best "moments" I've created have always come out of figuring out ways to mine and exploit a character's inner personality and quirks to come up with entertaining, original and meaningful moments.

If I was going to humbly offer one piece of general advice to a prospective storyboard artist, I would tell that person to develop their sense of character and how to impart a personality in every aspect of a character's being: the words they choose, how they speak, how they move, how they think...literally, everything about a character should have some basis in their deep personality and character. Otherwise, characters become uninteresting, lifeless robots and you won't be able to create a scene that's funny...or emotional...or dramatic. You won't able to get anyone to care about anything you board.

"Dr. Strangelove" is a movie that I recently re-watched after I noticed it was available to stream on Netflix. I hadn't seen it in a while, but I definitely recommend it to anyone that has never seen it before. It's one of Kubrick's older movies. Personally, I actually prefer Kubrick's older films to the work he did later in his career (the internet will now descend on me with pitchforks and torches, I'm sure).

Anyway, spoilers for "Dr. Strangelove" ahead...

I bring up the film as an example of great characters that are embodied by actors who flesh them out by making great choices. Part of what emphasizes the fact that the characters are played well is the fact that Peter Sellers plays three parts in the movie, and plays them all very distinctly and differently. In the character of Mandrake, he does a great job of portraying an English soldier who tries to maintain his dignity and calm as the world unravels around him and he tries to deal with a couple of madmen (Sterling Hayden and Keenan Wynn, both also great in the film). Also, Sellers plays the President of the U.S., and really does a great job of playing him flat and straight (as you'd expect a President to be) and I like how you sense he's trying to maintain his professional demeanor and be a good leader...but you really sense how out-of-his-depth he is as he tries to deal with the crazy people descending into chaos around him. The most well-known character he plays in the film is Dr. Strangelove, and it's definitely the broadest character, but for me it's not as interesting as the others because it's so broad that it becomes a bit of a cartoon. There's so subtlety to the character. There's no subtext to the Nazi scientist...he's just a crackpot. Sellers does a great job of playing the character though, as he always does. I don't know who's idea it was that his character has no control over what his right hand does, and he's always fighting to keep his hand from giving the Nazi salute. It's a crazy idea, and a memorable one, and leads to some physical comedy.


Some clips of Sellers in his various characters:

As Mandrake, the British RAF officer who has realized that he is dealing with an off-balanced lunatic in Sterling Hayden's character, Sellers tries to keep his calm and deal with a character that is clearly beyond reason (I love how Sellers focuses on the gum wrapper in the scene, and how he folds it and fusses with it to show his inner turmoil in a restrained way):



Later, Madrake tries to desperately reach the President to give the "recall code" that will avoid nuclear war and the end of the world. He's thwarted by a phone operator that doesn't understand the urgency of the situation, and Keenan Wynn, who also doesn't really grasp the importance of what is happening. I love how Wynn's deadpan demeanor plays against Seller's barely contained frustration and panic. This is a great scene for Mandrake, as you see him trying to stay calm, but finally he is pushed too far and allows himself to bark at Wynn's character...but in a very reserved, mannered way. Wynn comes off as a soldier who was given orders, and has already completed those orders (in a previous scene), and really has no idea of what needs to happen next, and no interest in taking any initiative in making anything else happen beyond what he's been told to do. I really love this scene:




In the next clip, Sellers appears as the President, having to call the Russian Prime Minister (who is partying with his mistress, apparently) and break the "bad news" that bombers are headed for Russia with nuclear warheads. This type of "hearing one side of a telephone conversation" comedy seems to have been very popular in the sixties. I love how you can tell exactly what "Dmitri" is saying by Seller's reactions and responses. Sellers does an amazing job of playing a guy who's trying to be friendly and break bad news in the nicest way, and then starts to struggle as the conversation goes off the rails quickly. As a side note, look at the great variations in staging that make a simple, talking scene feel dynamic and interesting. Also, "Strangelove" has great cinematography. It's a great example of how to control values in a black and white medium.




Sellers as Dr. Strangelove (playing against himself as the President), as the Nazi crackpot pitches the idea of going underground to avoid the nuclear devastation and is constantly distracted by his hand, which has a mind of his own, and wants to give the Nazi salute:




I have to say, though, my favorite character in the film is Buck Turgidson, played by George C. Scott. Buck is a great character: he's an American general more interested in "beating the Commies" than avoiding a nuclear holocaust, and the one person that truly seems to be enjoying the descent into chaos that happens during the film. He seems unable to grasp the gravity of the situation (as a side note, oblivious characters are always great for comedy) and his priorities through the film are completely out of whack.

A quick aside about writing: there are a lot of scenes in "Strangelove" that are about what is the most important priorities, and characters who are funny (and create conflict) by placing the wrong things as priorities over more important considerations. As a nuclear apocalypse approaches, Scott's character is more concerned that the Russian ambassador will see the American War Room and "the big board" than saving the world from destruction. The Russian ambassador is more concerned with taking secret photos of the War Room than avoiding nuclear war. Wynn's character is more concerned with how the Coca Cola company will feel about vandalism to it's property than stopping the errant nuclear bombers, etc. As you create characters and stories, one way to give characters a comedic flaw is to give them the wrong priorities and place them in conflict with people who are rational and trying to focus on the right things.


Anyway, as far as Scott's performance, it's a great example of how the character's personality comes through in everything he does. His high energy, great attitudes and expressive poses would put many an animated character to shame! Everything he does in invested with an absolute certainty that everything he does is right. He's cocky and flamboyant. He's a ton of fun to watch.

I wish I could find his character's introduction on youtube, but in lieu of that, here's a great clip showing an amazing piece of performance. Scott lays out his plan for committing to all-out nuclear war and "catching the Russians with their pants down". I love how enthusiastic he is about such a grim subject, and he has so many great little acting beats as he goes from conspiratorial as he lays out his plan, to petulant when the president shoots him down, to indignant at the idea that the Russian ambassador will see "the big board". Scott's character always seems to think he's the smartest guy in the room and can't figure out why nobody is agreeing with him, and he always seems to be place importance on the absolutely wrong things. Playing both of those characteristics make him such a great character:



In the War Room, Scott talks about how good the Air Force pilots are, and as he tells the President that a nuclear accident is unavoidable, he acts with all the exhuberance of a toddler who just got an amazing gift for Christmas:



This clip ends with a very original bit of acting (some stories say it was an accident), but maybe my favorite Scott moment from the film: Scott rolls to the ground and leaps up as he gestures towards the big board. It makes him feel excited and kid-like, and I love it. That final pose is great. It's amazing. Any animator or story artist should be proud to come up with a pose and attitude as good:




Anyway, I only mention "Dr. Strangelove" because I re-watched it recently. Any time you watch a film, be on the lookout for actors who are great at really inhabiting a character and investing that character with attitudes, poses, tics and gestures that communicate who they are and what they're feeling. As an animator or a story artist, this is an invaluable tool to have at your disposal and will make the difference between scenes that come to life and ones that just sit there, flat and lifeless.
Author: "mark kennedy (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "Dr. Strangelove, George C. Scott, Peter ..."
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Date: Thursday, 03 Apr 2014 22:35
A couple of commenters pointed out that they thought the "How to Draw Comics Comic" post was a bit underwhelming and not the best example to show as advice on how to draw comic books. To be clear: I was not posting the pages as a way of saying that they were the greatest resource ever created on making comic books. I thought that when I discussed the questionable pedigree of the book, that much would be clear. My motivation in posting it was more in the vein of making it available as a rarity for people who've never seen it. Yes, "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way" is a better resource (and I've talked about that book before), but it's also still in print and readily available to anyone that's interested. The "How to Draw Comics Comic" is not.

It may not be a perfect resource, but I still think it's worthwhile. I think that--even though the text may not be written in the best way, and some of the illustrations are a bit crude--there are some kernels of good, solid, basic information within the book.

I say it often, but maybe it bears repeating: I would hope that with every instructional book you read--no matter who wrote it or who endorses it--you read it with a critical eye and question every line that the author writes (and that advice goes is doubly true when it comes to blogs). There's no one right way to draw a comic, or paint a painting, or do a drawing. If there was one book that was full of dead-on accurate advice that worked for everybody, then everyone would be a great artist and we would all only need to own that one book. In reality, every art book is full of some advice that makes sense to some people, and just doesn't work for others. That's how art works. There's no absolutes, no "right" or "wrong" way to do anything, and if you tell yourself otherwise, you're limiting yourself in a really prohibitive way.

Personally, I don't read art books thinking, "let me download this info into my brain and then I'll know exactly how to do exactly what this artist does". The reason I like reading art books is because, as I read them, there's a debate going on in my head: does what this artist says make sense to me? Or would I approach this problem differently? Do I have a way of working that could be improved by adapting some of the techniques the author suggests? Or does my approach work better for me as it is? By reading about their technique and comparing it against my own, I'm able to sharpen my own understanding of why I do what I do and test my methods to see if there's a better way I could be doing things. One of the worst habits an artist can get into is doing things the same way over and over the same way without questioning why they're doing things the way they are. And even if you don't end up changing your work habits after reading the book, you'll still have a better understanding of why you do things the way you do and why they're the best approach for you.

The idea of exposing yourself to many different viewpoints is the same philosophy that explains why I watch a lot of movies. Some people feel you should only see the best movies, and that seeing any movie that might be sub-par is a waste of time. I would say that I get a lot out of seeing movies that aren't "perfect" (as if there was such a thing as a "perfect" movie), because no matter how imperfect the film may be, I like to see what the film makers tried to do, and it gives me an opportunity to ask myself: would I have approached the subject matter that way? Is there another way to do it that I think would work better? And by having this debate in my head, I learn a lot about what different possibilities there are for tackling problems and I find it sparks my imagination to think of new ways to tell stories.

Another way I like to test my perceptions is by reading film reviews. If I like a movie, I'll read negative reviews of the film. If I dislike a movie, I like to read positive reviews. That can help me get insight into questions like: did I miss something about the film that connected with other people? Did I have a different interpretation of the movie than that reviewer? Was there something in the film that didn't work for the reviewer that worked for me? Or did we have the same impressions of the film, but the deficiencies weren't enough for me to dislike the film? And so on.


Turning this philosophy to art books, let's talk about "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way", since it was brought up by commenters, and it is definitely a book worth reading if you're interested in drawing (and especially if you're interested in drawing comic books). The goal of the authors is to tell you how they approach that subject at Marvel. And the book does a great job of that. But is the advice given in the book the only way to make a comic book? If you deviate from the advice given in the book, are you doing it "wrong"? Are there "right" and "wrong" ways to create a comic book, and if your approach isn't one described in a manual about making comics, how can you tell if your choice is valid?


As an example, let's limit our discussion to two of the iconic art elements that give classic comic books their comic feel: the use of primary colors and the use of black areas.

First, let's talk about how those elements of comic book style came into being. Both of these things, as I understand it, came out of necessity. They were limitations forced onto artists by circumstance. They weren't choices that artists would have made if they had the choices available to them that we do today. So it doesn't make sense to adapt them without questioning whether they're the right choices for you. Let me explain…

I'm not a comic book expert, but as far as I know, the idea of inking thick black lines and adding black areas started out as a way to make comic art easier to reproduce. Obviously, when comics were in their infancy, the printing technology that existed had certain limitations. To overcome these deficiencies, comic artists had to make their artwork as easy to reproduce as possible. So adding thick black lines ensured that the artwork would reach the reader in a way that looked as much as possible as the artist intended, regardless of how poor the printing equipment was that was being used. And with a limited palette of colors that could be printed, black areas (as well as "white" areas--or, at least, parts that had neither black nor colored ink on them) became important tools at an artist's disposal. The best artists did a great job of maximizing these limited tools and started using areas of black ink (plus the white of the paper) to create clarity, dimension and mood to the best of their ability, in a way that would make them work even if the color was never added or was added in a thoughtless way. Some examples from around the web (by Milt Caniff, Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Joe Kubert, and Noel Sickles):






Of course, most comic pages were meant to be colored, and again, the limitations of early printing dictated how color choices were made. I'm no expert on the history of printing, but choices were limited and printing pages with a wide range of subtle colors was not an option back then. Early newspaper comics (and comic books) had to be colored in a limited way, which lent itself to bright primary colors, and the limited options forced colorists to be inventive with color choices and prevented them from being literal when it comes to coloring characters and objects.







I like the way color is used, in these examples, more for clarity and expression than in a literal way. The same wall in a room may be colored green in one panel and yellow in the next. It's all about readability and contrast. Even the shock lines radiating from a punch are a separate color from the rest of the panel. The bold line drawings carry the story and express so much of the story that color is just there to help fill in forms and give the story a dramatic punch.

So the limitations of early printing contributed to the choices made by early comic book artists and contributed to the development of the "Marvel" style that continues to this day. Even though the style came partly out of limitations, the style is a good match for the subject matter. There's something about clean black and white lines with areas of black that is impactful and dynamic. It lends itself well to the subject matter favored by traditional Marvel comics, where good and evil are cleanly delineated and the emphasis is on dynamic, straightforward action. Even the use of primary colors is well-suited to Marvel superheroes and villains, who are clearly either good or evil. Older Marvel comics don't tell stories that have a ton of ambiguity or nuance. There aren't a lot of "grey areas" in the storytelling, and the bright primary colors reflect that. The choices of how the art is handled reflects perfectly the choice of subject matter.

And if you read "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way," it would tell you to make those exact choices.

The question becomes: what if you want to do something that isn't exactly a Marvel style comic? I would think that you'd still want to read the book, to hear their advice about what makes a comic book succeed or fail. You'd still want to know whatever advice you could glean about comic books, drawing and storytelling.

But of course you'd want to read the book with a critical eye, and ask yourself as you read: what aspects of this book apply to my work and will make my work better? And what aspects of this book won't fit with my style, aren't appropriate for my story and might undermine my subject matter? How can I deviate from the advice given in the book to find the best way to tell my particular story?

Modern comic book storytelling encompasses a wider range of subtlety and nuance than it used to, obviously. And a big part (I would think) of what makes that possible is the more varied options at the disposal of artists these days due to advances in the printing process.

Here are some examples of comic books that have styles that differ from the Marvel "house style" and show a concerted effort on the part of the artist to find a fresh style that accentuates their storytelling in the best way possible. The list could go on and on, but here are the first examples that popped into my mind...


I haven't read "Jupiter's Legacy", but I've flipped through the comic, and right away you get a totally different feel than you do from the Marvel examples above. The lack of thick black lines, big black spaces and the more subtle, monochromatic color choices give the comic a much more nuanced feel than, say, the Captain America pages above. The tiny touches of detail and subtle gradations of color shift tell you that this is a comic that is about more nuanced topics than the type of broad, straight forward subject matter that your typical Marvel Golden Age comic is attempting to tackle.






Which isn't to say that it's in any way superior--or inferior to--Captain America, Thor or Hulk comics. It's just different. It tackles a different type of subject matter. And the artwork and color palette are a reflection of that. The choices made by the artist are the best ones to match the subject matter the writer has chosen for the story.


Chris Ware is another artist that draws comics, but his work is very far from the advice given in the Marvel book. I am not that familiar with his work, but clearly, one look at his precise lines and lack of black areas and you can tell his work has a very different feel from Thor and Captain America, and from Jupiter's Legacy as well.





One of the central themes of "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way" is to make every choice--whether it's staging, posing, or storytelling--as dynamic as possible. This is good advice for any artist, and it's a good skill to know how to make a drawing more dynamic, when the situation demands it.



That works well for Marvel subject matter. On the other hand, when you look at Ware's pages, the people aren't posed dynamically, and the camera is not placed in the most dynamic manner. This is, obviously, intentional, and is an integral part of what gives Ware's work the unique mood and tone that it has. Would his work be improved by being made more dynamic? Would that help him tell his story better? No, it would undermine the type of story he's trying to tell. And again, neither choice is "better" or "worse". They're just choices, and it's up to the artist to decide what choices fit his story and which would fight the type of story he or she is trying to tell.


Jeff Smith's "Bone" is another example of style and how it affects storytelling. "Bone" has been colored at some points, but originally it was all printed in black and white.

To accentuate the lightness of the storytelling and help carry the humor of the writing, Smith doesn't tend to use a lot of black areas…just simple, crisp black lines and lots of open space. Usually there's not too much detail. It gives his work a light feeling that fits the humorous tone.







When the situation calls for it (like in a dramatic moment, or when a pretty landscape drawing is called for), Smith will add more black areas to help accentuate the mood, add a more dramatic tone or bring depth to the landscape. But the artwork always retains its simple, clean style.




Another comic book that was originally reproduced in black and white is Will Eisner's "The Spirit". But Eisner's treatment of black and white is very different from Smith's…in order to create a darker, more mysterious feeling, Eisner uses black areas liberally and frequently has his characters and environments shrouded in shadow to create a feeling of mystery and unease. You feel like anything could pop out of the dark and scare you at any moment.






The large amount of space devoted to black (and dark grey) gives the pages a more weighty and dramatic feeling and a darker mood than pages with more space devoted to white (like "Bone"). Whereas Smith doesn't use a lot of detail to keep his pages light and easygoing, Eisner uses detail to make scenes feel more atmospheric and to give objects in the scene more weight and gravity.

Jordi Bernet's "Torpedo" is another example of using black areas to create a darker mood, while also using black to create shadows that obscure characters and throw menacing shadows over their faces. Again, a great choice of style to reflect the tone and mood of the storytelling. When you see colored versions of "Torpedo", they don't have the same "film noir" feel and there's less contrast in the images. I think the black and white versions are superior to the colored versions.









Anyway, I could go on, but I hope I've made my point! All of these artists deviate from the ideals set forth in the Marvel book to various degrees. Does that make them wrong? No. Does it make the Marvel book wrong? No.

That there's no one "rule book" for doing any kind of art, even comic books, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. The storytelling and subject matter should dictate the choices, not how some book tells you how it should be done. Following a rule book is not how great art is created. The first comic book artists are legends because they created the style from scratch. They weren't following a book. They were experimenting, trying, failing, and learning what works and what doesn't. That's what an artist does! An art book can only shed a tiny bit of light--like a single candle--onto the dark, foreboding path of becoming an artist. The only way to cast a wide, bright light onto the path is to gather a giant fistful of candles, each candle representing the things you've learned from your own experience, the things you've read and been told by teachers, and your own taste and internal compass of what's right (now that's a twisted metaphor)! Don't look to any book (or dumb blog) as the ultimate bible on art or absolute rule book on how to succeed. Only you can find your own way through experience and experimentation. That's the only way to find your voice and become an original instead of a pale imitation. The only artists that get remembered are those that find a new path that's never been traveled before.


"If you can see your own path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it's not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That's why it's your path." - Joseph Campbell
Author: "mark kennedy (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "Bone, Captain America, Chris Ware, How t..."
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Date: Wednesday, 02 Apr 2014 10:44
Here is the final part of "How to Draw Comics Comic issue #1". Take a look at the final page, which teases what will come in issue #2…sadly, it was not to be.









Author: "mark kennedy (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "Allan Fromberg, How to Draw Comics Comic..."
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Date: Sunday, 30 Mar 2014 22:09
Here's part two. I'll post the final installment in a couple of days.












Author: "mark kennedy (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "Allan Fromberg, How to Draw Comics Comic..."
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Date: Friday, 28 Mar 2014 22:32
My friend Nathan gave me this comic as a Christmas gift, and I finally got around to scanning it and posting it here. Apparently it's been floating around the web for a while, but I made some high resolution scans so I think these are better than what's been out there.

I'm always a sucker for any kind of book or tutorial that talks about the artistic process and gives you insight into how any artist works, even if it's kind of remedial and basic. I just like seeing the process of other artists, and as I always say, there isn't much to drawing except the few basic concepts that make up the core of good drawing, and then it's all about using those concepts in increasing sophisticated ways as you become a better and better artist.

I don't know much about this comic, but I hear it has a bit of a controversial history. It was published in 1985, and credit for the art goes to comic legends John Byrne and John Romita Sr., but they didn't write the text (the text is credited to Allan Fromberg). I've heard rumors that John Byrne wasn't even involved in the making of the book, and that all the artwork in it was taken from sketchbooks of his that were bought by a third party. So when the book was published, as I heard it, Byrne felt like he was misrepresented and prevented them from printing any more issues of the comic (the last page contains a tease about what's to come in issue number two…which, of course, never materialized).

Anyway, that's just the story I heard, and I'm sure one of you can straighten me out and tell me what really happened. I can't seem to find much information about it online.

I'll post the comic in three sections over the next few days; this is part one.














I'll post parts two and three in the next couple of days.
Author: "mark kennedy (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "Allan Fromberg, How to Draw Comics Comic..."
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Date: Thursday, 20 Mar 2014 10:00
Much has been said about the HBO series "True Detective", but I particularly liked this article on Vulture.com that talks about how the cinematographer worked with the director to get 9 of the series' more interesting shots. It's a short read (but it contains massive spoilers). The reason I recommend it is because the article spends a lot of time discussing how story influenced the choice of the staging and camera use, as well as the palette of each shot. The story should always be the basis of how you make all these decisions. Everything should reinforce the story you're trying to tell and every choice should work in concert to help tell that story the best way possible. No great film (or TV series) was ever created by making choices based on "I don't know why I made that choice, I just thought it would look cool".
Author: "mark kennedy (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "Adam Arkapaw, Cory Fukunaga, HBO, Matthe..."
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Date: Thursday, 13 Mar 2014 22:29
Anyone that aspires to be a great writer, story artist or animator ought to be an avid observer of human behavior and an obsessive people watcher. The better your understanding of what makes people tick and why people do what they do, the better you will be able to get those behaviors into your characters and create characters that feel real, unique and like three-dimensional living, breathing creatures. Creating characters that seem to be thinking and feeling as they move through the story will go a long way towards getting an audience to engage with your characters, feel something for them and believe in your story as it unfolds.

On the other hand, if you create characters without basing them on real behaviors or things you've experienced about life and human behavior first hand, you invariably end up basing them on characters that are just obvious clichés or copying characters that have already been created, and they will end up feeling flat, lifeless and dull.

Understanding what makes people behave the way they do is a big subject, obviously. There's no replacement for studying the people around you and observing people "in the wild" whenever you can. You should always try and analyze what people are doing and why. This can really open your mind to new ways of thinking about how people think and how their mental state shows through in their expressions, gestures, body language and speech.

There are, of course, many books on human behavior. I definitely recommend spending some time reading about and researching this area. It can really help you make sense of what you're seeing when you're people watching, and it can lead to ideas for acting and behavior that you wouldn't have thought of otherwise. Here are a few books that I've enjoyed on the topic (although I read all of them years ago, so I can't give you too much in-depth information about them):


The most comprehensive book on the subject of human gestures (that I know of) is Desmond Morris's Manwatching. Morris has written several books on human behavior, as well as ones dedicated to dog, cat and equine behavior. Manwatching was published in 1977 and is out of print right now, but if you are interested in a copy, try alibris.com or abebooks.com. It looks like you can pick up a copy staring at under $2.00. As a note of caution: it appears there is an abridged version called The Pocket Guide to Manwatching. I don't know how much shorter it is…I've never seen it. I'd recommend getting the full version of the book.



From the Amazon description of the book:

This is a book about actions, about how actions became gestures and about how gestures transmit messages. Psychologists have long studied what makes people tick. Now Desmond Morris reveals what makes people twitch, stare, grimace, point, poke and shrug. Here is a complete and fascinating catalog of human behavior, closely examined in Morris's lively text and hundreds of telling photographs, drawings, and historical prints. In this captivating anthology of body language are the postures, hand gestures, and facial expressions that accompany our true feelings, often hidden under the mask of convention. Here is how we pantomime the meaning beneath our outward behavior in the whole range of social situations.

I photographed and transcribed a few examples from the book, just to give you an idea (click to read the caption of the photo below):





The text referencing this picture reads: when a man and a woman have to squeeze past each other, the man twists towards the woman, while she twists away from him.



Manwatching is full of things like this: seemingly small pieces of observation that you never thought about before. But after reading the book, you'll suddenly start to see that these things happen around us all the time---without the participants even realized they're exhibiting any kind of learned behavior!


And the text for this picture reads: the Body-cross-a temporary barrier formed at moments of tension. When individuals feel exposed or threatened they often form a barrier across the front of the body by making contact with themselves. This may be done with a simple arm fold, or may be disguised as a small grooming action, such as (below) a cufflink adjustment, handbag attention or bracelet checking. This need is felt even by experienced public figures, especially as they cross a threshold on a formal occasion.



Manwatching is truly an exhaustive study. Morris does a good job of tracing the history and evolution of many gestures, and he goes to great lengths to describe the differences in gestures from culture to culture. What's considered perfectly acceptable in one culture may be horribly offensive in another, and many gestures with deep meaning in one culture are completely meaningless in another.

I definitely recommend Manwatching, but I should warn you that it does read like a bit of a textbook, and the overwhelming amount of information may make it seem like a daunting read to some. If you want a simpler, lighter version (or if you, like me, are fascinated by the topic and want two different sources on the subject), you might take a look at The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan and Barbara Pease. It looks like the hardcover is still in print and available. But it's been around for a while, so I'd bet you can pick up a used copy for less, if you're interested.



This book is definitely easier to read and more digestible than Morris's book, but (if I remember correctly) isn't as in-depth as Manwatching and doesn't devote as much time explaining how the gestures evolved over time. Here are a couple of examples to give you a feeling for the book:

An explanation of what the gesture means when someone stands, holding their hands clasped behind their back:



The book seems well-researched and has some great insights. One strange side note: it is full of very simply drawn artwork to illustrate certain gestures (as opposed to Manwatching, which is prodigiously illustrated with photos as examples, but also has some detailed drawings for reference). I'm surprised the authors of The Definitive Guide… didn't seek out a better illustrator. But the illustrations serve their purpose, and that's all they need to do, I suppose.

Here's one of my favorite bits: an explanation of why people act so strangely on elevators (it's because we are not used to people being in our personal space, but that's a necessity of being on an elevator, and so it causes us to adopt weird behaviors for the duration of the ride):





Along similar lines, one last resource to recommend is The Human Face, by Brian Bates with John Cleese. Again, it seems to be out-of-print (I've really taken too long to write a blog post about these books, I apologize) but the DVD covering the same material seems to still be available (I haven't seen it, so I can't say how good it is). As the previous books were concerned with gestures and mannerisms, The Human Face is all about how the human face evolved, how we recognize our fellow human beings by their faces, how expressions work, etc. Again, I think it's worth reading for anyone interested in being an animator or a story artist…expressions are such a key to showing emotions, and anything you can learn about how the face works as a tool for expression is bound to be helpful. The book is written in an interesting way and it's very accessible. It's not too dense with text and it's full of lavish illustrations to explain the points made in the book.



I hope you find these recommendations helpful. Obviously, none of these books is a "Bible" that must be followed absolutely, and they should not be treated as formulas for acting or emoting. The best characters are always based on the thoughts and ideas of the people that created them, and not based on a catalog of human behaviors. But all of these books can be helpful at setting context of what certain gestures mean and helping to understand why we act the way we do, as well as giving insight into what a person is thinking and feeling when they move or act in a certain way. I've definitely found all there of these books to be interesting and inspiring and I hope you will too.
Author: "mark kennedy (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "Allan Pease, Barbara Pease, Brian Bates,..."
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Date: Sunday, 23 Feb 2014 14:29
I know this article has been making the rounds (I saw it on reddit's front page last week), so many readers have presumably already seen it, but if you haven't, check out Emily Asher-Perrin's article entitled "Erased By Time and Blockbusters-the Cautionary Tale of Ron Weasley".

It's a good illustration of the difficulties that you face when turning a giant novel with a lot of character development into a two or three hour movie. Also, it shows how hard it is to balance three characters in a movie and give them all equal weight (it's much easier in a novel, which can be much longer), especially when you're dealing with three human actors who will--naturally--give different levels of performance.

One can only wonder how it might have been if the Harry Potter novels had been turned into a miniseries instead--like the Game of Thrones books have been. Turning a single novel into 10 hours of material instead of 3 hours obviously gives you more time to dedicate to each character and the unfolding of the plot can be handled in a slower, richer and more fulfilling way. It allows you to explore each character's motivations and thinking in a way that I feel the Potter characters deserved but didn't get from their film interpretations. Who knows, maybe someday someone will re-interpret it that way!
Author: "mark kennedy (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "Emily Asher-Perrin, Harry Potter, Ron We..."
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Date: Saturday, 15 Feb 2014 14:07
In the comments for my last post, J. Kelley asked in the comments if I could write about what makes a good story portfolio. I thought that was a good suggestion for a blog post, because people e-mail and ask me that from time to time.

As I wrote down some thoughts, the post got longer and longer (sorry about that) and suffered from a bit of "scope creep". It went from being about portfolios to encompassing a wider perspective about what (in my opinion) makes a good story artist. People also ask me about that topic from time to time, so maybe some of you are curious. I apologize if it's too much. I feel like the qualities I think are important might sound abstract and vague, so I felt like I should explain them as thoroughly as possible.

First, some disclaimers:

I am not representing the Disney company in any way in this post. If you want to get their official information about being a story artist and applying for a job as a story artist, they have a website here that is the best way to read about applying for a job and contacting the Disney company if you have any questions. What I am posting here about portfolio advice and the job of a story artist is entirely my opinion.

I also want to point out that I've never worked at Pixar, or DreamWorks, or Blue Sky or anywhere else. Please be aware that those studios have (I assume) completely different standards and expectations when it comes to story applicants. Also, the definition of the job "Story Artist" means something different at every studio.

Furthermore, it is worth setting context for this post by pointing out that most of my colleagues at work would say that I am way too hard on portfolios. I am the first to admit that I look for a lot in a portfolio and that is because--in my experience--for better or worse, there is not a lot of time for "on-the-job training" at Disney. Story is different from some departments in that there isn't a lot of ramping up or training within the department and there is very little in the way of group assignments. Story artists are given a chunk of the movie to board on their own and they need to be able to do that in a short amount of time without much help, guidance or supervision. In story, everyone needs to be able to deliver a sequence quickly that works at a certain basic professional level. It can be hard to tell who will be able to do that from a portfolio, but I look for certain things as clues to the abilities of the applicant. What follows are some key ingredients I look for in submissions (as well as things that I think make a good story artist):

Clarity

This is extremely important. I can't over-emphasize how important clarity is, and yet I don't think people grasp how fundamental it is to the job successfully. Storyboarding is all about making sure that every story point is clear (without the crutch of dialogue or having the artist explain what's happening), and if you can't do that, nothing else matters. Once the viewer is confused, whatever comes after is lost on them. Period. Also, I don't think people realize how incredibly hard it is to be clear about what you're trying to say. It takes a tremendous amount of work and thought. I think most people don't put nearly as much effort as they should into this discipline.

The whole point of looking at a story portfolio is to see how that person handles the telling of a story. If I get confused at some point about what is happening in your boards and I can't tell what's going on, nothing that comes after that will register with me. I need to follow every step of the story to understand how the cause-and-effect of your story is unfolding. I need to know if the applicant understands how action and reaction work to progress a story. You may have great sketches at the end of your sequence that show your character crying and being upset, but if I don't understand why they feel that way, I don't know if you can tell a story. I only know that you can do nice drawings of a character crying.

So if you want to be a story artist, you need to put a lot of effort into learning to draw things clearly (this is difficult) and learning how to present ideas in a way that makes them crystal clear and idiot-proof to everyone who looks at them (this is also difficult). There is always the old advice to show your work to as many people as possible and see if they can understand it. That can be a great tool. If you do this, remember that you have to let people look at your work without the benefit of you standing there and explaining it to them. Because that's how we will be looking at your portfolio….you won't be here to explain what you were thinking. It has to be clear to us from the images alone.

The other way to get perspective on your work and see if it's clear is to simply take a break and come back to it. I frequently look at my work in the morning and see problems that I couldn't see the night before. Distance will allow you to have a fresh perspective on things.

One crutch that people try to use to make their ideas more clear is that they start adding dialogue to clarify what's happening. That's not a good way to fix clarity problems. In storyboarding, it is always our goal to try to tell the story with the visuals alone so that the audience would understand what is happening even if they watched the movie with the sound turned off. This is because visuals are more powerful than dialogue and can convey the story much more powerfully than lines of speech can. We know people (and characters) can lie to us, so we don't always trust dialogue. We trust what we see with our own eyes. So visuals always have more power. Because of that, we look for story artists that can tell a great story without any dialogue. That said, a little bit of dialogue is okay. Sometimes you need it to help tell the story in the best way. Just don't rely on it to cover over confusing parts.

Look at other artists you like--especially ones that tell stories in their work--and examine what they've done to achieve clarity. Look at films you love and ask yourself how they achieve clarity, and if there are confusing parts, what makes them confusing? How could they be clearer?

A couple of hints I can give you to help with improving the clarity of your work: number one, only present one idea at a time. Only one idea can be communicated per story sketch. Often, people will try to present two (or three) ideas at the same time. This always leads to confusion. Change one idea per sketch to help the viewer follow along and get each new piece of information in a clear, digestible manner to minimize confusion and misinterpretation.

When story sketches are cut together in story reel form, each sketch is typically onscreen for a couple of seconds. In action sequences, each sketch may be onscreen for less than a second. So it's important to present one idea at a time (as well as draw clearly) so the audience can grasp what is happening in each sketch.

Here is an example:




In the first sketch, a man in a kitchen drops dishes as he carries them.

In the second sketch, a cook tastes soup in a kitchen.

In the third sketch, both ideas are presented at once.

I made these examples for use in a talk on storyboarding, and during the talk I show each sketch for about two seconds (with a frame of black in between). It may not be as clear here in blog form, where you can stare at the image for as long as you want, but hopefully you can still see my point. Two ideas presented at the same time create confusion because the viewer may register one but not the other. Also, everything in a film is about action and reaction. If action and reaction are happening at the same time (or two actions, or two reactions), it creates a confusing narrative. The order of events is unclear.

The other tip I would say to help with clarity is to draw as simply as possible (while retaining enough detail to convey the acting, emotions and required subtlety of the scene, of course). Avoid unnecessary or extraneous detail. Everything in a story sketch should contribute to the story point of the sketch. Anything that's there for the sole purpose of making the drawing prettier may add confusion. And we look for people who are able to draw their ideas up quickly and efficiently. Story artists have to work fast. Adding a lot of extra detail and/or color to a drawing always makes me suspicious that the artist didn't understand what the point of the sketch was, or might have trouble working quickly and roughly when deadlines are tight.

What would you add to these sketches to make them more clear? Adding anything to them would only hamper their clarity and unity of message.








Deciding what to leave in and what to remove from a sketch is an art in and of itself. Obviously, if the point of a sketch is that a woman is admiring a very expensive dress in a store window, I might take the time to draw the dress in a way that makes it look fancy and ornate, because that helps sell the story point I'm trying to make. But if the story I'm trying to tell is that a woman is pretending to admire a dress in a store window so that she can spy on her husband across the street, I'm not going to put time and effort into making the dresses look ornate. That would be distracting and confusing from what's really happening in the scene. So a big part of being a great story artist is knowing what to include in a sketch…and what to leave out.

I have always been a big fan of Quentin Blake's work because I feel that he has a great sense of how many lines it takes to say what he's trying to say. He doesn't embellish with unnecessary frills and flourishes.





I have met a few people who find his work too simplistic and plain for their tastes. The thing I admire about his work (other than the obvious energy and life it has) is that I think it takes a lot of experience and sophistication to know just how much you can leave out and still communicate. Animation is best when it is clear, direct and forceful without unnecessary nuance and baggage.

If you look at Bill Peet's Disney storyboards, his early work shows a level of detail and rendering that is completely absent in his later work.

If you go here, you can see Michael Sporn's post with some of Bill's work from Dumbo, which was released in 1941. I've seen more than is shown there, and it all has a high level of rendering that characterizes Bill's early work.

By the 1960's Bill's work is much more efficient and streamlined. Obviously, storyboarding is about getting the idea up and trying it out quickly. So working faster and getting it up sooner is a big help. Also, decades of having to redo and redo your sketches as the story changes and improves will convince you to draw simply, if nothing else does. It's not worth putting a ton of work into each sketch if it might get replaced by a better idea tomorrow.



 Even when he does render things, it's about selling the environment and still feels much more dashed off than his careful Dumbo work.





One last important point: a drawing doesn't have to be clean to be clear. A rough drawing that communicates is much, much better than a cleaned up drawing that is confusing.

So those are some thoughts on trying to explain what I mean by clarity. The bottom line is that your drawings and ideas must communicate clearly to viewers and you must be able to tell a story without confusing or losing the viewer.


Character and Personality

Storyboarding has changed and evolved over the years. Storyboard artists are now expected to put more information into their boards than ever before. In particular, story artists are expected to deliver boards that contain specific expressions and poses for every character in every scene. At Disney, nobody is expected to draw the characters exactly on model (we don't even have designs yet when we start boarding anyway), but the poses, expressions and acting for each character is expected to be clear and readable, as well as the right kind of acting for the character in that particular moment. We are trying to develop the characters and explore their personalities. So we need to be as specific as we can be about who they are, how they act and how they think.

Some people don't really see the point of this. Sometimes people say that--if a story was really working--you could simply block in stick figures and still have a good version of the story reels.

I understand where this type of statement comes from. Sometimes directors want extremely subtle nuances in storyboard acting and they can expect so many poses that it no longer seems like story boarding…it's more like animating. That's frustrating and causes board artists to question why we're putting so much work and polish into the boards when the audience will never see them.

But at the other end of the extreme, I would say that stick figures wouldn't suffice to tell any story, no matter how "good" the story was. Stick figures don't really convey personality and don't do well at conveying expressions and acting. And it's very important to get a sense of who the characters are, what they're feeling and thinking, and why they're doing what they're doing. It's hard to get into a stick figure's "head". And those things are important. After all, what the characters are thinking and feeling are the things that drive the story forward and make the viewer care about the events that are happening on screen.

In other words, to say that stick figures are sufficient to storyboard a movie is to suggest that the characters are of minimal importance within a story. That a story is merely events that happen, and who or what is affected by these events is not of consequence. But in my opinion that's fundamentally wrong…it's impossible to separate the characters from the story. Story and character are the same thing. The events of the story happen because the characters make them happen by their decisions and the actions they take. And they make their decisions and take actions based on the events that unfold as the story progresses.

So I would say that stick figures are not sufficient for storyboards because they wouldn't give you insight into what the characters are thinking and feeling, which is of vital importance to making the audience care and feel emotion. At the same time, I agree with people who say that you don't need to get super specific and belabor subtle expression changes in story boards. When you focus too much on details in storyboarding, you tend to lose sight of the shape of the overall story. And feature storyboarding is all about finding the shape of the overall story. Animation is the place for nuancing subtle expression changes….once the story and characters are figured out.

So with all that in mind, when I look at story portfolios I look for people who can draw characters in a way that expresses personality and character. I look for people who draw poses and expressions that are appropriate for each character and give me some sense of who they are. I don't like it when people draw the same "stock"poses for everything….when every character has the same walk pose, or if every character has the same cliched pose to convey that they're "thinking", or if every character has the exact same expression when they get angry…that's a sign to me that the artist doesn't really think deeply about character. They're just using the same poses for everything and not pushing themselves to find distinct expressions and poses that are unique to that character and to what is happening to them in the moment.

By way of example, "anger", in particular, is an expression that people tend to draw a stock version of on every character. But every character has a different level of anger that they can reach….someone like Cruella deVil has a much deeper level of anger than say, Rapunzel does. And they're going to express their anger in vastly different ways. And how often is a character really "angry"? That's a broad term that doesn't imply specifics. Rather than drawing a character that's "angry", ask yourself: what is the specific thing they're reacting to, and what is the response this character would have? Are they irritated in this moment? Or livid…or infuriated….or ready to cry in frustration…or in a murderous rage…or whatever. Know exactly what your character is thinking, and push yourself to find the best pose and acting that fits the specifics of their inner feelings. And don't use the same acting twice, even for the same character! Always find a fresh take for the acting of each moment, a new angle on the character that makes them feel alive and real (to both the audience, and you, as you try to learn who they are and get inside their heads). Which sort of leads to a bit of a sidebar…the subject of portfolios that contain:

TV Boards

It is very hard for me to look at boards from an animated television show and judge whether the applicant can be a successful board artist at Disney. I know that probably seems unfair and unreasonable. But the problem is that--when you're working on a TV show--the character designs are dictated by the show, the character's personalities are defined by the show, and the script pages have contributed a lot to the content of the storyboards.

Now, I boarded for TV myself and I know it's not easy. I'm not saying it's easy at all. It's extremely tough and demanding work. But when I look at boards from a TV show, I don't know how much the board artist contributed in terms of developing the characters. They may be copying poses right off a model sheet. The little character touches that make the boards shine might have been put there by the board artist…or they might have come from the script pages. It's really hard for me to get a sense of how the board artist thinks and what their taste and sense of entertainment are, because in TV so much of that is set by people other than the board artist.

An even bigger problem is that I can't tell what the applicant's drawing style is. Because TV boards have to be done in the style of the show, I don't know if the artist can draw in a way that will work at Disney. That's not to say that there's a strict house style that you're forced to draw in at Disney…far from it. Story artists are totally free to draw in their own personal style. But at the same time, when we look at a screening of the storyboards cut together, we want it to feel like one whole story with all the characters as consistent as possible throughout…not a bunch of unrelated mini-movies cut together. If the drawing style of the boards switches radically between each sequence, it can be jarring. So some sort of communal style is helpful. Too many disparate styles is distracting and takes our focus away from the main point of story reels: to figure out if there's a movie in there, and how to move forward and make it better.

Also, a big part of story reels is to convey the tone of the finished film. So a drawing style that gives a reasonable approximation of what the look and tone of the final film will be is helpful. It just gives everybody a better sense of what the finished product will look and feel like, which is a big component of our job. Speaking of which...

Appeal

I think that it's very important for Story Artists to have a drawing style that is appealing (that is, pleasing to look at). Again, this is one of my more controversial opinions. Not all of my co-workers agree that appeal is an important requirement for story artists. After all, as I pointed out, nobody outside of the studio will ever see the storyboards. They're just a tool, a blueprint of the movie. Who cares if the story sketches are appealing?

Years ago I would've agreed with that sentiment. But over the years I've noticed what a difference that appeal can make in story sketch. After all, the way story sketch is viewed is that we edit all the black and white story sketches together and record our own voices as temporary dialogue to represent the whole film. So we end up watching 90 minutes of story sketches without the benefit of (real) actors, color, or the movement and life that animation will (eventually) bring to the film. It can be tedious. And if you add unappealing drawings to look at on top of that….it can affect the way you feel about the story and you may end up finding problems where--if the sketches were just a bit more appealing--you wouldn't see the same problems.

That probably sounds crazy. I understand that. If the story is solid and working….who cares if the sketches are appealing or not? Well, part of it is just human nature. People like looking at things that are easier to look at. And when story sketches are easier to look at, it just makes the experience of watching them more palatable and enjoyable. It draws you in and encourages you to keep watching and follow the story and characters. And you can focus on the story and what works and what doesn't, instead of being distracted by clunky drawings that are unpleasant to look at.

It's just like software. You can write a great, useful program that works well but has an ugly interface. And people will use it….but they will have a better experience using the program if it has an attractive interface. That's just the way humans are wired. And you can rail against it and complain about how unfair it is…or you can put work into making your drawings more appealing.

And again, appealing drawings have the advantage of giving viewers a better sense of what the finished product will look and feel like, which is important. The closer story sketch can replicate what the finished product will look like (within reason, of course), the more everyone will get a sense of what's working and what isn't. When people discuss the film and talk about how to make it better, they all have one clear impression of what the film is going to be. They aren't all having to make judgements about how the story reels will be changed as they're translated into the finished film. This helps everyone talk about the film and get quickly on the same page about what works and what doesn't. There aren't huge gaps in the understanding of what everyone is looking at.

So I look for applicants with a certain amount of appeal in their drawing. It doesn't have to be Mary Blair, but if you like to draw like Robert Crumb (and there's nothing wrong with that) I might feel like you're not the best fit for the job.

Staging, Blocking and Storytelling

I've dedicated a lot of space to talking about characters and acting and posing and how they relate to story sketch. The other big component of story sketch, of course, is that the story artist has to have a knowledge of film making. A story artist has to know how cutting and editing works, and have a good understanding of how to use staging (where the camera is placed to best tell the story) and how to use blocking (how the characters move through the scene) to tell the story in the most powerful way possible.

I've written many posts on cutting, staging and blocking if you want to get my thoughts on those things (simply type "cutting", "staging" or "blocking" into the search bar at the top of the site to find them). There are some good books that talk about these things as well. And, of course, there's no better education than looking at movies and asking yourself why the director placed the camera where he placed it and why the actors are doing what they're doing within the scene. Does it work? Does it not work? Could it be better?

I really look for Story applicants that aren't afraid to move the camera and pick interesting angles--not just for the sake of interesting angles--but to tell the story in the best way and make the viewer feel what the story artist wants them to feel and to enhance the telling of the story.

This is another new wrinkle that has become the job of story artists in recent times. For many years, story artists at Disney would concern themselves more with presenting ideas in a clear way than with picking specific camera angles. As camera work has gotten more sophisticated, and production schedules more compressed, it's become more important (and expected) for story artists to make decisions about layout and where the camera ought to be placed. The layout department will still interpret the work as they see fit and they will change and improve the staging to better tell the story, but if the story artist has made choices about the best place to put the camera, it gives the director a better tool to discuss when he or she issues the scene to layout. And again, it'll give everyone a better idea of how the scene is working when they look at the film in story sketch form.

Entertainment

I look for Story Artists that are able to get a sense of entertainment into their work. At the end of the day, every moment in a film should be entertaining. That doesn't mean every moment has to be funny. Dramatic moments should be compelling. Action sequences should be exciting. Sad moments should feel genuine and real and not cloying and manipulative. So I always look for people who know how to present each idea in a way that's interesting and draws me into the story and characters. It doesn't matter how great the idea of a scene is if it's not executed in an entertaining way. I've been doing boards for a long time, and on every movie scenes get boarded and re-boarded and re-boarded. There are always certain scenes that just aren't working until the right person re boards them with their own personal "take"…and suddenly the scene works for the first time. It's all about taste and knowing what each scene needs to work just right. I can't articulate it any better than that…more than anything, it's about having good taste and good instincts.

So I look for portfolios that have a good sense of entertainment. Whether the portfolio contains storyboards of a dramatic scene, an action scene, or a comedy scene, I look to see if they've been handled in a compelling and interesting way.


As far as life drawings and animal sketches go, I don't personally look at those things when I'm viewing a portfolio. I really go right to the boards….being able to draw great animals doesn't really tell me if you know how to storyboard. But that may be important to other people, and I think many studios still set a requirement that portfolios have to have these things, however….so check the requirements of whatever studio you're submitting to.

Another valuable resource to look at is any of the recent "Art Of" books from any Disney film. They should give a good idea of what we look for in storyboards.

I hope this has been helpful to anyone who's ever wondered what qualities make a good story portfolio (in my opinion, anyway) and what qualities a good story artist needs to have. Let me know if you have any questions or want any further clarification.
Author: "mark kennedy (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "Disney, portfolio, story artist"
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Date: Monday, 27 Jan 2014 22:00
Sorry it's been so long....Happy New Year.

I hope the layout posts have been interesting. When I first went to CalArts, I was so convinced that I was going to be an animator that I paid no attention to learning about layout. Then, when I found my way into the story department, I really struggled to grasp how to (as I saw it back then) "fill out the background behind the characters". But over the years, I realized that layout is so much more than just a backdrop for characters. The layout and the characters should work in harmony when it comes to telling a story and informing the audience about the emotions that the character is feeling.

So I have a certain passion for layout because I had to work so hard to understand how it works. And because I had to search high and low for answers and look at tons of artwork to get a grasp on how to work with layouts, I guess it's easy for me to articulate a lot of information about it. So I hope you don't mind and that it's not boring or tiresome.


Anyway, a few more thoughts on layout (and how it relates to storyboarding):

Create a clear "stage" for the action.

This may seem obvious, but a big part of the layout's function is to create a "stage" for the action that's going to happen within the scene. The characters should be able to act and move through the scene without foreground elements covering up their actions or background elements cluttering up the scene and distracting from the characters. In general, you don't want too much detail or clutter behind where the characters are going to be performing.

This sounds easier than it is in execution. There's a real art to laying in background elements that don't distract from the characters because they're overworked, confusing or odd-looking (you don't want viewers to be wondering what that thing in the background is...if it's a streetlight, it needs to read as a streetlight)! It takes time and experience to know how to fill in an environment so that everything you draw works in concert with the characters to create a good composition (no matter where the characters move throughout the scene) and also provides the right mood and tone for what the story needs of the scene are.







When I say that the layout needs to function as a "stage" for the action, that doesn't always mean creating a big blank empty space in the center of the composition where you place the characters. The characters shouldn't always be right in the center of the frame, and the "stage" can be whatever it needs to be. Everything should service the story. So make the best choices to fit what the story demands.

Here, a feeling of being trapped and desperate is achieved by putting the dogs under the stove. It might seem like a cramped place to stage the action, but that's exactly the point.


Being under the stove creates an interesting composition and breakup of space, and seeing Perdita being graphically weighed down by the heavy shape of the stove is a nice visual way to communicate how she feels.

A similar example, from the same movie: the archway of the bridge is another nice use of layout to make Pongo and the puppies feel "trapped" as they hide from Cruella.


Creating the best "stage" to tell the story may involve different heights and levels in order to tell the story. As I've often mentioned, the layout of this scene from "Tangled" needed to support the story point: that Mother Gothel was in power, and the Stabbington twins were subordinate to her.


 So we created an environment where she could be above them and we could get shots of her above them, shots looking up at her so she appears powerful, and shots looking down at the twins so they look powerless.

Sometimes, a scene calls for a stage that can accommodate compositions making the powerful characters look big in the frame, and powerless characters small and minimized (artwork by Vance Gerry).


Another Vance Gerry sketch (from "The Rescuers"), showing that a large empty stage can be the right choice for making a character feel small, alone and powerless.


Many times, creating a frame within the composition can be a nice way to create a stage for the action (and crop out blank, uninteresting areas of the frame).




As I've often repeated, creating a "flat" stage will tend to give more of a comedic effect to a scene...





...while creating a stage with more depth to it will feel more exciting and dramatic.






Direct the viewer's eye where you want them to look.

One of the most important aspects of layout is that it needs to work in concert with all of the action in the scene to make sure the audience is looking where you want them to look. Obviously, we want to make sure the audience is always seeing exactly what we want them to see. That way, they always know what's going on and what each character is doing and feeling.

This can be a challenge, especially in action scenes with quick cuts and fast action. It can be very easy for the audience to become confused or disoriented, and if they miss certain key actions and emotions, they may not be able to follow the plot or understand what the characters are doing.

The most basic way that a good layout achieves this goal is by making sure that the viewer's eye remains focused within the composition and that their eyes are directed towards the center of interest.

Again, as I pointed out above, many times you can create a "frame within a frame" to get the audience to look where you want them to look. Here, the characters head is contained within the frame of the doorway so that we look right at his expression and he doesn't get lost within the composition.


Here, the layout creates a blank portion of the background as a frmae-within-the-frame so the hair can be seen clearly.


Here, the curtains behind the character's head create a nice frame to contain his head and gives extra emphasis to his expressions.


Also, remember that he eye will always go to the area with the most contrast...that is, the whitest white against the darkest black. It doesn't have to literally be pure white against pure black, but just wherever the greatest contrast is within the frame. So place the greatest contrast where you want the viewer's eye to go.

Here, by turning these images into black and white images, you can see how the film makers put the most contrast where they wanted the viewer's eye to go.



Also, you should always be conscious of everything in the frame as graphic elements. In a linear way, you should always be pointing the viewer's eye where you want it to go.



Always be aware of how perspective is influencing the graphic lines in your scene. Is the perspective helping to point everything where you want the audience to look? Or are the graphic lines pointing the viewer's eye out of the fame and creating a weak composition?

Most of the time, the way I use layouts to contain and direct the viewer's eye is pretty simple. A lot of shots in dialogue scenes just need some simple framing to give the character's expressions a clear stage and keep the viewer's eye from sliding off the edges of the frame.


I tend to create frames around the character's faces (if possible) and to direct lines towards their faces and eyelines to help emphasize their expressions.

Here's one by Franquin. Notice how the surfaces of the road and hills aren't flat surfaces...they curve towards our characters. Also, there's a grass hill behind our characters, and it bisects the eyeline of the character that is speaking to draw your attention to his expression.



A great example by Pyle. Everything leads to the character's face. Again, it can be helpful to place lines that travel right through your character's heads. It seems like that would be a compositional no-no....but it works great for leading the viewer's eye right to the subject's face.


Another by Pyle, using frames around the character's faces for emphasis and lines that are directed towards the subject's faces.


Yet another framing of the face, courtesy of NC Wyeth.


When it's converted to black and white, you can see another example of how contrast can draw your eye to the important part of the frame.

More great use of lines to keep the viewer's eye looking at the most important part of the composition, courtesy of Wyeth and Pyle.




Directing the eye to where you want the viewer to look is even more important in story sketch than it is in the fields of painting and illustration. A story sketch will only be on screen for a few seconds, or even a fraction of a second, in some cases. In a good story sketch, there should be no ambiguity about where the audience should be looking.



Okay, I'll stop there for now....more to come soon!
Author: "mark kennedy (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: ""Tangled", 101 Dalmatians, Charles Schul..."
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