Anatomy of a Circus...part 2
|( Circus 1930 - Pencil detail of teddy bear of that era and bare feet )|
My years of training in feature animation exposed me to the story telling process. Illustration is also storytelling. Every detail of an illustration, animation, live action movie or a play, has to be planned and executed properly.
Questions have to be asked in the beginning of the project. Is this the best way to showcase the subject? What are you attempting to communicate? What do you want the eye to focus on? Ae you leading the eye in the proper direction? Are there interesting stories being told within the context of the whole storytelling process? Will the composition stand up from a distance; from midway and up close?...Where is the best placement for a character? What best tells the story of each individual? Is that character drawn in such a way as to convey enough information to make him/her interesting? Are the situations the characters are engaged in entertaining to the viewer?
These and other questions are asked along the way as the composition builds.
I treat every character in an illustration as an individual with his or her own story to tell. I put enough drawing information for the viewer to draw their own conclusion. In this way the audience develops an emotional tie to the illustration.
Not a real word but a concept I use in teaching and at workshops in an attempt to convey to students the idea that there is overlapping of these three forms of communication. The same principles that apply to one, are applicable to the other two.
This list compiles the things I look for in a quick sketch, an illustration, and in animation.
Not all apply to the three disciplines in every category, but the majority do. For example...Is the character in balance? Does the character have weight? Is the character in silhouette? Is the anatomy right? Does it read from a distance and up close (composition)? Can you tell what is happening? Are you drawn in emotionally? And more...
In quick sketching and illustration, a story is told in a single drawing. Animation serves up the same set of questions (above), only in motion. In animation, a story is told with a series of individual drawings in an illusion of movement. Your job is to decide, regardless of the medium, how best to communicate the story.
The role of the thumbnail sketch...
Thumb nail sketches of Djali (below) the goat from Hunchback of Notre Dame
and Dr. Sweet (below right) from Atlantis:the Lost Empire.
These thumb nails are what I refer to as glorified quick sketches, with the purpose of guiding me in planning a scene. Quickly and in miniature I can visualize some of the items on the list. At this juncture silhouette and staging are the most crucial. In the next step, approximate timing is addressed.
Notice the numbers under the Djali sketches. How much time would take to go from one key
pose or drawing to another?
|(Final scene in color minus the background )|
This same approach was taken as I worked out the 'business' of Dr. Sweet in key
poses as he shakes hands with Milo, walks over to his desk, puts on his lab coat, reaches into the medical bag and pulls out a bone saw.
An example of quickshetchingillustrationanimation in action...
|(Thumb nail drawings of Dr. Sweet's introduction.)|
From these quick sketches (below), can you spot how many items on the list apply?
Anatomy, silhouette, primary/secondary action, positive/negative shapes, squash/stretch etc.
Any one of these sketches could be used as a preliminary drawing for an illustration; just add the details of a face, number on the uniform, etc.
|(layout courtesy of Tom Shephard)|
These quick sketches could also be used as animation poses. In animation these five sketches would be referred to as extreme or key
poses. Add drawings between these keys and you have animation. How many drawings there are between the key
poses depends on the timing of the scene. The more inbetweens, the slower the action. Less inbetweens will speed up the scene. This is referred to as timing.
An idea brought to fruition......
Decades ago I chose to focus my attention on images of Black Americans of African descent residing in the southern parts of the United States in the 1930's. My Mom furnished me with images of her childhood in Mississippi. Relatives and friends from that region watered my imagination with their stories and an occasional Caucasian would add fuel to the fire of thought describing their impression of the locale. The Funeral
(Anatomy of a Circus, Part 1) is an example of one of these discussions.
A colleague at Disney Feature Animation described his trip through the south. The verbal picture he painted was one of people gathered in groups outside a church as he drove by. This was enough for me to get my creative imagination started.
Woman at Stove
Late 1960s/early 70's I created the pen and ink (below) inspired from a photograph and years later found text that I thought appropriate to mirror the emotional experience. I framed both together.
|(Woman at Stove pen and ink 8 1/2" x 11 1/2")|
What I attempt to do in my illustrations is to capture that kind of emotion (above), only without text.
Anatomy of a Circus...
|(Photo that inspired the idea for Circus 1930)|
The inspiration for my artwork is typically born of ideas that have been in my mind for years. I'll see a photograph and file the image away in a folder with the thought, "this has potential." It will lay dormant for years in most cases and sit quietly until inspiration and or the right circumstances calls it to the forefront. Over a period of time something will click in my minds eye and the possibilities will start to come together as to what is the best way to present the idea.
Research is first in order of priority. I learned this from my time at Disney animation.
Knowing the 'real' brings an air of authenticity to your art work. Walt Disney said "Only if he knows the reality of things can he create a fantasy, an illusion or a caricature convincingly".
For example, we animators visited the San Diego Zoo in preparation for animating the many animals in The Lion King.
I also paid a visit to Disneyland (CA) when they kept small farm animals behind Big Thunder Mountain (present day Star Wars Land) to see live goats for reference in the animation of Djali in Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Additionally, I traveled to Montana in 1999 to observe elk in their natural (winter) in preparation for the animation in the Firebird Suite for Fantasia 2000.
Like many of you, I have personal memories of times at the circus.
As a kid I wandered around property that had been transformed overnight into circus grounds, sat under the big top, seen clowns and barkers at their booths, stared wide eyed at abnormalities of human and animal nature then referred to as freaks, smelled the musky odor of circus animals and their droppings, ate cotton candy, and rode the Ferris Wheel.
Along with this first hand knowledge I also had to transport myself into the rural south of the 1930's. Books, magazines and photos of circuses of that era filled the blank spaces in my minds eye.
Circus clothing of that era would add authenticity to the piece. Circus apparel, like all fashion have gone through changes throughout the years. Clown attire and make-up has also morphed over the years. These observations must be reflected in the illustration. Watching the Turner Classic Movie (TCM) channel gave me insights of how fabrics and textures were handled for black and white film and for my purpose, to translate black ink on white paper.
Let's start dissecting Circus 1930...
What comes to mind when the word circus
is thought of?...A parade of characters advertising what is within the big top...exotic animals...clowns:big and small...people:big and small...animals: dressed up and trained...a Ferris Wheel...a strong man...unicycle riders...and more.
The circus setting is the backdrop, the people are the real story.
What is the best way to communicate their stories? What is the best way to communicate this idea?
A series of 'thumbnail' sketches will answer these questions as well as spawn new ideas of presentation. This is the same process used in planning an illustration or animated scene (see above thumb nail sketch).
Planning keeps mistakes to a minimum ensuring nothing happens by accident.
The illustration will eventually be 23" x 29". Proportional dimensions of the illustration board are drawn in (rectangle shape below). This will help me visualize the composition.
|(Photograph dimensions 8 1/2" x 11")|
Diagram chart (below) to size on vellum paper with people. This will help me keep proper proportions in the position of characters to the background elements.
These thumbnail sketches (below), properly referred to as primo pensieri or 'first thoughts'
are my first thoughts sketched on paper. The elephant (below) will play a major part in this illustration. All other characters would revolve around him.
The question is what would be the best way to present this species of pachyderm?...walking towards, left to right or away from view or maybe doing a hand stand? should the animal be a baby or adult and offspring?
An early idea, which I thought entertaining, was to have a clown being pulled along as he held on to the elephant's tail.
Exploring ideas (right) of clowns, a circus wagon, circus workers and elephant direction.
More thumbs (below right) led to the idea of the elephant moving away from the viewer.
Originally the strong man was to be carrying a tiger.
(A man carrying a full grown lion is no stretch of the imagination. The image is based upon a 1930's photograph of a female circus performer with a tiger draped on her shoulders, only she faced the camera. If a female could do it, surely the circus strong man could.)
As I worked through the composition, placement of these two would be altered from the sketch.
Alternate character possibilities, costumes and composition (below).
The trainer and bear (above) are from a photo. Even working from an photo you want to make an image more interesting. Having the subjects in action added interesting detail to the final product.
Brainstorming (below). Ended up using some images and some were not used. Yielded a pony, riders, crying children, clowns, a puppeteer with marionette, interesting situations , details of the wagon, more character possibilities and size relationships.
My imagination bursting at the seams with fresh ideas on how to 'push' these thumbnail drawings and squeeze out their potential.
Eric Larson, Disney Legend as an animator and instructor to my generation stated "the only limitation an animator has is his imagination and his ability to draw what he imagines".
Until next time...
Until next time...