Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Writing for animation - 12

Doing the work of the cinematographer – Manipulating the response of the audience.
As a writer, you are not going to be framing the shots.  All the same, some understanding of how they might be framed is going to inform your writing.  I have talked earlier about how the placement and movement of the camera, real or otherwise, can influence the reaction to what is being shown.   The shots you describe in your script should give the storyboard artist some idea about what you want to achieve. 
How you arrange your shots, or place your characters in each shot, will set up certain expectations in the minds of the viewer.  Normally, when you are starting a script, or a new sequence, you will start with a wide shot that establishes where you are, and then either track or cut in to show your character and the action.  If you start your script with a close up, the usual implication is that when you widen the shot, it will reveal something unexpected.  You might start close on your character who is using a phone, and then widen to show he is in a cooking pot about to be eaten by cannibals, or start close on a lovesick woman spouting adoring words and widen to show she is talking to a six-eyed alien.  In spaghetti westerns, you might start on an extreme close-up of a pair of cold, evil eyes to set the scene and then widen to show the victim about to be shot.
It may be an old fashioned concept now, but when I worked in the theatre, a great deal was made of “making an entrance”.  It was important for an actor to make an impression the moment he arrived on stage.  Comic actors would arrive with a pratfall,  character actors with a piece of business, and leading actors would swan on like divas.  In animation, writers should take time to think about how they introduce their characters.  Often, of course, they will simply be there when the scene starts, but the medium allows for more imaginative introductions.  A powerful character may burst through a wall, a mysterious character might literally bleach out of a shadow, a comic character might drop into frame from the top of the shot, etc.  
Once you have introduced your characters, you can manipulate the way your audience responds to them by where you place them in the frame. I want to examine how you might want to make your characters vulnerable, powerful, or conspicuously out of place with a few straightforward and very obvious examples.
Making your character vulnerable:

There are several reasons why this character looks vulnerable.  It’s a baby.   It’s not wearing any clothes.  The pose it is in reveals the tender parts of the body.   We can see its baby fat. It’s doing something that puts it in a vulnerable situation – having a bath.  The warm colours, the domestic setting. It’s a high angle shot – we’re looking down, and so the character looks small. And, of course, it’s a misfit, with ridiculously big ears.

This character is quite the opposite.  The low angle of the shot emphasises the character’s size and power.  The facial expression, the rippling muscles, the aggressive pose, the violence of the action, the tension, the mask, the black marks on the background as if something is falling, or has been torn – all these things set up how we feel about the character.
Writers should not be proscriptive about this, but should be aware of the implications of what they are writing.  If you want to make your characters vulnerable, show them small in shot, from a high angle.  If you want to show Red Riding Hood is in danger in the wood, you would not have a tight shot from a low angle, unless you were suggesting it was the POV of the wolf in hiding. You would have a long shot, from a high angle, of her making her way tentativeley through a dark wood.  If you want to show the wolf as a threat, you would show him from a low angle, fairly close, ready to spring, with his teeth bared.  If the wolf was a comic character, you might first see him when he falls out of his hiding place in a tree, or when Red Riding Hood accidentally steps on his tail.
Here is another still. 

I am going to leave it to you to give reasons why this character looks conspicuous.  I can think of several.  Can you?
Next week:  Writing for the editor 


  1. Food for thought... Must admit, I have never thought about a character making an entrance. Have to work out a good one for my next Chloe!
    Nice one Robin!

  2. The long neck extending above the horizon, the different colour and markings from the Zebras...do I win a prize?

  3. Oh yes Giraffe looking to camera, others looking away. Also Giraffe in focus Zebras blurred!

  4. Centre of screen, low angle looking up at it, also verticle angle compared to the horizontal angle of horizon and Zebras!

  5. Yes. It's slap bang in the centre of the frame. I know this isn't something that a writer can influence, but the fact that it is in the centre is very unequivocal. If the giraffe was sticking his neck out in the backgound, in the corner of the shot, the expectation would be slightly different. We'd be wondering why we have been asked to seek it out, and what was going to happen to it. As it is, it is simply a bold statement, very in your face.