Join Dermot O' Connor for an in-depth discussion in this video Staging and composition, part of Animation Foundations: Storyboarding.
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- [Voiceover] Now let's look at how to compose the shot, where to put the camera in relation to the environment. First, the worm's eye view. And this is as extreme as it gets. The horizon is right in the bottom of the screen, the worm or the camera is looking straight up. The vanishing point is on the horizon. And when we go to the next view, we're up a few feet, maybe one foot, two foot, 10 feet off the ground. We see some ground very low on the screen. We'll keep going higher. Now we're at a bird's eye view. And as we get higher, we're looking down, the horizon goes higher.
And the worm's been captured by a bird flying in the air. If it gets dropped now, it falls. And we can continue this. The horizon goes off the screen. Now our viewing angle is even more extreme downwards. If we continue this process, now we're almost looking 90 degrees down on the ground. So a typical average shot would put the horizon at around 1/3, either at the bottom or the top. When I say 1/3, I mean anywhere within like a certain range something like here or this area.
Do not go grabbing a ruler and measuring 1/3 of the screen. By simply moving the vanishing point to one side, you can see we're already getting to suggest an interesting composition. And don't forget that any of these camera angles can be tilted. We don't have to be at an exact right angle or parallel to the ground. So now, let's look at some of these angles with examples of shots that can be built around them. First, the worm's eye view. We're looking right up at the sky. And this is an up shot of a scene we'll be dealing with later on. It's a Martian invasion and we're looking right up at a giant robot with the UFOs, flying saucers going overhead.
And there's the final image. Here's another example. The employee is walking to his workplace. In this case, I wanted him to be dwarfed by the building and the boss's image. So a low camera angle looking up was a great way to do this. It actually tells you something about the character relationship between the boss Happy Harry, the worst name boss ever, and the poor little employee at the bottom. Here's a less extreme worm's eye view. And in this case I didn't choose this viewpoint for any great emotional reason. I just wanted to be able to fit in a lot of material and do it in a really interesting way visually so we can see our two new characters in the foreground here.
I can see the bus sign and right away the former friend of this professor guy being hauled away by the paramedics from the diner. So I wanted the ambulance, the paramedic types, the cops, the diner, the bus sign, characters, and on top of that, I wanted it to look cool. So that was a really good way of getting everything into the shot. Now here's the same angle, but one in which I did want to use this angle for emotional and personality reasons. And again, it shows the employee lower in the frame and the evil boss higher in the frame.
So it's, again, suggesting this guy is more powerful than this guy here. The bird's eye view in this case is, again, used for practical reasons. I wanted to have an angle that showed the character doing the talking or the ranting, and the relationship and the reactions between all the people around him, including the frightened chef who's calling the police. Here's another bird's eye view. This time looking down at a sharper angle. And in this case, it's to show the cubicle firm and, once again, this is telling you something important about the relationship of the character to his environment.
In this case, he's like a tiny little piece of the big machine. And it's just emphasizing the fact he doesn't have enough power in his life. And here's the down shot, the extreme God's eye view. And this is after our little character has been knocked unconscious by the Martian invasion. Now, these angles are not commonly used, but they're very striking when you do use them. Another really nice compositional trick is to take the typical 1/3 horizon. And when I say 1/3, don't go grabbing a ruler.
I mean something within like a certain, you know, a range of regions around here or here or this side, for that matter. You then frame it with a dominant vanishing point on one side or the other of the screen. And my old boss Don Bluth, loves this particular trick and has built many fantastic shots around it. So here I have created a post-apocalyptic ruined city with most of the lines converging on the far vanishing point. Now you can see already there are other vanishing points. There's clearly another vanishing point somewhere off six feet to my right side, well off the screen.
So, of course, we don't have to have every single point, but it's the dominant visual one on the screen. This is the one our eyes are being drawn to right in here. On top of this, then I added other visual elements such as the leaning lamppost, tilting into the shot, and the power lines, these lovely-curved power lines. And these also create very strong triangular areas of interest. So, we just add this layer on top of the original powerful layer, and we get a lovely combination. So when we drop our characters into these environments, we get a complete package of appealing action in the believable and visually interesting space.
Now, I said before, don't be afraid of tilting the horizon line. In this case, I wanted to have an enormous robot chasing the tiny human, but it was driving me bonkers, because I kept running into the top of the screen and I just could not get the sense of scale that I really wanted. So the solution was to rotate the camera a bit to the right. And that gave me a lot more room to play with. And it also gives a kind of cinema verite aspect, as though there's really a physical camera guy down there trying to keep the action in the frame and he's following it and almost getting knocked over himself. And it's a good idea on boards like this to have arrows shown in depth so that there's no doubt that the action is moving towards us in 3D space.
And, you know, you might even have a second panel with another pose of the guy running with the robot behind him really, you know, maybe his foot's this big. Another popular method when trying to create a pleasing composition is the rule of thirds. And this involves breaking up the image into imaginary thirds and then placing your major visual elements accordingly. So here I put the horizon line at the upper line of the thirds for a bird's eye view. And here on the lower one for a normal eye level view. And, of course, you have the two vertical thirds as well, and you could place architectural elements or characters along these lines, for example, here a tree.
Now, I don't want you to start using this as some magic guide to correct composition. It's just one of many classical techniques. And I don't use it very strictly, I'll, you know, put this line somewhere within a range here or here, unless I really want an image to look classically composed. So you can eyeball these lines as long as they're, like I said, within that kind of, you know, furry little range here. Another Renaissance trick is to use some form of the golden rectangle or the golden ratio. You may have seen some version of the spiral.
I have friends who fill my Facebook feeds with images of the golden spiral, and usually it's transposed over a photograph of a galaxy or a flower or pineapple or something. So I don't want to get to deeply into the mathematics of this, but I'll just explain very quickly how it's built around this formula of a square. So to construct the rectangle and to find the mean, is a fairly simple process. You find the midpoint of a square, then you draw a diagonal line from the midpoint to the corner. And then you rotate it.
This thing gives you the right side of the rectangle. This is the golden rectangle. Some believe that this is the most beautifully proportioned rectangle possible. Now if all this seems a little bit mystical to you, well, it probably is. Many of these ideas were rooted in Renaissance magic. Nevertheless, it's a good trick to know if you want to create a composition similar to those artists who use this technique. Now, when you look at the square on the left and the rectangle on the right, notice that the rectangle on the right is yet another golden rectangle. And this fascinated the artists of the Renaissance, because this division can go on forever.
Now, to the ratio itself. Look at the length of the line to the left and the length to the right. That's the ratio. This is what it looks like by itself. Now, when I need to find the placement for an element using this, which isn't too often. I'll use a graphic like this and scale it in Photoshop until it fits the bounds of the frame of the picture. So in this case, I stretched it from the top here to the bottom and there would be this magical point. Now, I could use this to establish a horizon line or any other visual element that I think is important. So by using another golden ratio, this time from left to right, I have found not one but two.
So this here would be according to this theory, anyway, a little compositional sweet spot. I overlay a background, I can put the horizon line there or the window of a castle. And again, according to theory, this would be a point of extreme optical interest right here. Now, just because we have this golden ratio doesn't mean I have to slam the horizon line there. I'm an artist, I can make changes as my taste requires, so here I have nudged the horizon down. So now the only point of real interest will be this window that Rapunzel's going to stick her head out, then that's where she's gonna do it from.
And here I'm adding a dragon, because dragons are popular. And I want to remind you not to take any of these rules as a written-in-stone magic trick that will somehow allow you to create the perfect composition. They're beautiful rules of thumb, and their job is to get you near your target, not to hold your hands. So don't overuse something like the golden mean or the rule of thirds or your images will very likely become stilted and lifeless. So here's the image we'll be coming back to later in the course and it's my little running man. So what I did very quickly was I just positioned him where the golden rule might suggest he should go.
And that's a pretty interesting reposition. So, even though, this is fine for the physical action, I'm not gonna change it in terms of the animation. If I were going to make a poster of this, I think it's a much more appealing position. So take that for what it is. When you pick up how-to books on painting, they usually warn you against, like a very strict Union Jack composition where everything originates from a single focal point right in the middle of the screen. However, somebody pointed out recently with a video on YouTube that Stanley Kubrick loved this composition, and he used it time and time again to create some of his most striking shots.
So, it's one of these things where it may be not the thing to do in painting, but there are times, sometimes when you're making an animated movie or live action film where this actually is an extremely striking device. And here is one where I used it deliberately, myself to see if I could make it work. And I think that this does work. I think it's actually stronger than if I had made it slightly off center. There's something about it that pulls your eye in. And I wanted to also, you know, draw people's attention into the chef and the waitress and the other customers, the whole environment.
And I think you do, I think you take in the entire scene in this shot in a way that you might not do if it was off center to one side or the other. Once again, this is one of these compositions, good to know about, don't use it a lot, it's one of these devices you would use sparingly for when you think, right, this is the time that I want to use this tool. So to sum up, use the right composition for the shot. Sometimes it will be determined by the story that you want to tell. Is your hero weak or strong? Or are they fighting an enemy bigger than themselves? Other times the camera viewpoint will be more functional.
I just need a down shot to show the entire stage and what's happening. Don't be dogmatic, don't have a single rule for every shot, be flexible, be adaptable, and use the shot that you think is right. Don't be afraid to experiment maybe with a different angle. Sometimes you'll pick the wrong shot, maybe you'll come back to it the next day and go, "You know what? "A different shot's better for that." And your rule can be broken, but in general the rules are there just to make sure you don't go completely off the rails.
- Understanding aspect ratio and frame rates
- Developing your film grammar
- Storyboarding transitions
- Storyboarding live action vs. animation
- Creating a finished sequence
- Building animatics and layouts
- Character development