The Passing Of Time, Wipes, Match Cuts. Where what is difficult in live action is easier in animation.
Animators have a control over their world that those working in live action do not. They do not have to insure against rain, or the illness of starring actors, or equipment lost in transit. Animation filmmakers do not have to sit on hilltops in the early hours of the morning, hoping for a clear shot of the sun rising. If they want to show someone ageing, they do not need their characters to undergo hours in make-up, or the application of complicated prosthetics. They can make the sun rise or set at will, age characters with a few strokes of a brush or pen, use a simple cycle of drawings, or a software plug-in, to make it snow.
As an example of what is possible in animation, I want to talk about ways of showing the passing of time. In live action films, you will often find this is done with a simple caption, two years later, or Pu’uloa, December 7, 1941. Earlier films use devices such as the hands of clocks spinning, or the pages of a calendar shooting into the air. As an example of what is possible in animation, I enclose a link to a film by Michaël Dudok De Wit, Father And Daughter. This is my favourite animated film, and, possibly, my favourite film of all time. All of his films are terrific, but this one never fails to move me to tears, perhaps because I have a daughter.
I am a firm believer that the aim of an animation writer, and of movie writers in general, is to use pictures to tell the story. Dialogue is for colour, or for character, or sometimes for gags, or to emphasise what is happening visually by playing against it with subtext. The perfect animated film (at least, short film) has no dialogue.
I shall talk briefly at some later point about alternative structures to the standard three act narrative. Father And Daughter has a musical structure, has no dialogue, and yet the story is clear and compelling. The film packs a hefty emotional punch.
Almost every image in this film is about the passing of time. The ageing of the girl is shown in several ways. There is the visual ageing of the way she looks and moves, of course, emphasised by the amount of effort needed to ride the bicycle up the hill. The relationships, first alone, then with girls her own age, then with a young man, then with a family of her own, and once again, alone. The characters she passes on her bicycle age in inverse proportion to her, thus emphasising her own ageing. The first cyclist she passes is a very old woman, the last a small child. Then we have the passing of the seasons, the drying up of the lake, and the gradual deterioration of the bicycle, which refuses to stay on its stand in the last sequence. Then there are more subtle, metaphoric images: the lengthening shadows, the dry leaves that blow across the ground, and the spinning of the wheel of the bicycle.
I Imagine that little of this will have been scripted, and that the filmmaker will have sketched the film out initially as a storyboard. All the same, writers can learn from films like this, and come up with their own visual vocabulary.
This film is very linear, and to mark the change from one sequence to the next, the filmmaker uses a series of cutaways, to waves, to rain, to a flight of ducks, etc. Incidentally, the ducks are part of the changing of the seasons motif, but also reflect the other visual strand of the film – images of parting.
Cutaways like these are a great way to show that one sequence has ended, time has passed and another is beginning. Traditionally, you would cut from one scene to another if the action is linear and straightforward, and use a dissolve (mix) or wipe to show the passing of time, or a dramatic change of location. It currently seems fashionable to use a fade to black as a substitute for a dissolve, but I find this confusing. A fade to black is very final, unless it is a POV shot of someone who has lost consciousness.
Wipes and match cuts or dissolves are more common in animation than in live action. Because of the graphic style of a lot of animation, designers will often design a series of wipes that reflect the style of the show. For our series, Hana’s Helpline, for example, the art director designed a series of colourful wipes in the shape of animals that punctuated the show. Writers should be aware of the possibilities of wipes if they are appropriate.
We have already discussed the importance of finishing a scene at the earliest possible moment, and starting at the latest possible moment. Both wipes and match cuts can help the transition from scene to scene, so they do not feel abrupt. In animation, almost anything that moves can be used as a wipe to ease the transition from one scene to another. It could be a vehicle moving across the screen, or towards camera, a cloud of dust, and explosion, a door opening, etc. Ultimately the director will choose what he or she wants, but, as explained before, there is no harm in suggesting visual ways to change scene, if they move the plot forward.
Match cuts and dissolves are also easier to achieve than in live action, and I use them frequently in my scripts. This is where you track in on someone’s face, for example, and then pull back to find you are in a different location. As well as helping to get into the next scene in an elegant and timely fashion, this device can be used as a reveal. You track in on a character saying I never want to see another giraffe in my life! and track out to reveal him in the centre of a herd of giraffes, saying Did you know there’s mud on your knee!
Next week: Short film and narrative structure