Animation for me starts with the thought process of analyzing each scene and asking questions: What story point(s) do I wish to accomplish with this scene, Why is the scene placed here, What is the scene's purpose in the telling of the story, What insights can be given to advance knowledge of the character or the plot?...These and other questions need to be asked to justify the scenes purpose in the film and give reasons for animating it.
The first scene I animated in The Hunchback of Notre Dame was Djali's introduction in the film. The camera pans over from Phoebus, follows a lady and her young daughter (also animated by me). Then the camera stops on the action of Esmeralda who plays a tambourine and Djali as he skips around a hat that is on the ground to collect any coin tips given by the crowd in appreciation of their performance.
|(Story sketch for scene introducing Djali)|
The story sketch is plain and to the point. It is up to the animator to bring entertainment to the scene.
My question: "What could I do to make Djali more entertaining than just hopping around a hat? How far could I push the animation and still maintain believability in the character?
Thumbnails are an animators best friend, at least they seem to be to me :-)
I thumbnailed out possibilities...
Not shown in the story sketch was a water fountain the layout person had drawn in. Why not put that fountain to use.
I thumbnailed out the action.
Djali's path of action would take her around the hat, with a jump up on the fountain, a twirl around the edge of the fountain, another jump down and a back flip back over the hat (diagrammed on the bottom of the thumbnail page)...all this action completed in the time allotted for the scene; being careful not upstage any other action that is happening, and remembering there are other characters in the scene too.
|(Thumbnail sketches of Djali's action and path of action on bottom)|
Since goats cannot physically do a backflip, I had to convince the directors of what Walt Disney referred to as the plausible impossible. In other words, if it could be done, this is the way it would be done by this character. These thumbnails helped sell the back flip idea to directors Kirk and Gary. Though it is impossible, it is plausible. Djali got to do the plausible impossible.
|(Back flip action worked out in thumbnails)|
Thumbnails also helped work out the business of the hat and coins.
|(Djali's run with hat and coins)|
Thumbnails can also reveal what is not working...
After working out some business with Djali at the Hunchback's work table, I was about to show the thumbnails to the directors. Will Finn, the head of story on the production was passing my office. I called him in to look over the thumbnails. He said, "no... Djali wouldn't do that, just not her personality". Well, as they say, 'back to the drawing board'.
|(Thumbnails as to what not to do)|
|(Thumbnails of action used)|
|(Refinement of action used before ruff animation )|
|(Final cel: clean-up drawing and painted as it would appear in the film)|
Interaction with other characters..
|(Esmeralda and Djali disguise)|
|(Djali head butting soldier)|
|(Djali with Esmeralda looking down, reacting to height))|
|(My only scene of Clopin as his hands reach for the gallows pull.)|
I had my friend and outstanding animator T. Dan Hofstedt act out Phoebus being butted in the rear end by Djali. Though not the same camera angle, TDan's acting helped me pull off a believable action.
|(Quick sketches of TDan as he acted out action)|
An 'actor with a pencil'...
This is what animators have been called. It is what the animator brings out of the character in a scene (acting performance) that makes that scene entertaining. The animator/actor uses all the body language, props, dialogue, music, layout, lighting and anything else available to bring out the entertainment in a scene.
Here is an example.
|(Story sketch for scene)|
Back at my desk - time is given to think about the scene. Early on in my training in animation it was drummed into my head, "half your time should be spent thinking about the scene (working out the business through thumbnails) and the other half animating the scene". If a scene took five days to complete, two and a half days should be spent thinking and thumb nailing and the rest of the time animating the scene.
These thumbnails are what I came up with before my half of animating started...
The story sketch gave me Esmeralda and Djali's starting location (1) from there to the other side of a roof top (2) down the rope to the ground (3).
What can I do to plus the scene, make it more entertaining?
Without dialogue this has to be done with body language and timing of the action.
|(Thumbnails of action in scene...)|
|(more thumb nails further clarifying the action)|
Esmeralda jumps across to the roof, reaches out with her arms to catch Djali who jumps into her arms. She grabs the rope and instead of sliding straight down, swings around the rope. Putting the prop of the tub to use, she lands on it as Djali jumps out of her arms. She then jumps off the tub to exit screen right. Djali allows Esmeralda to pass her, not knowing in what direction she is going and then catches up, and the two run out screen right.
This approach is not unique to me, all animators go through a similar process of thinking out a scene before animating it.
To be continued...