STAGING: 2D Animation Principle

17 December, 2008

STAGING: 2D Animation Principle

Staging is the presentation of an idea so it is
completely and unmistakably clear. This principle translates directly from 2D
hand drawn animation. An action is staged so that it is understood, a
personality is staged so that it is recognizable, an expression so that it can
be seen, a mood so that it will affect the audience.

To stage an idea clearly, the audience’s eye must
be led to exactly where it needs to be at the right moment, so that they will
not miss the idea. Staging, anticipation and timing are all integral to
directing the eye. A well-timed anticipation will be wasted if it is not staged
clearly. It is important, when staging an action, that the audiences see only
one idea at a time. If a lot of action is happening at once, the eye does not
know where to look and the main idea of the action will be “upstaged” and
overlooked. The object of interest should contrast from the rest of the scene.
In a still scene, the eye will be attracted to movement. In a very busy scene,
the eye will be attracted to something that is still. Each idea or action must
be staged in the strongest and the simplest way before going on to the next idea
or action. The clear presentation of an idea, what is the story being told? What
is the best way to tell this story? What are the appropriate camera angles &
screen direction? Is the flow of the scene guiding the viewer’s eyes as
intended? Are your poses strong? If you arbitrarily “freeze-frame”, will the
resulting still-image be a well-composed work of art? Do the elements of your
scene work together visually? Are your object’s trajectories too linear? Or
perhaps too complex? Are important elements of your scene hidden behind less
important elements?

An idea developed in the early days at Disney was
the importance of staging an action in silhouette. In those days, all the
characters were black and white, with no gray values to soften the contrast or
delineate a form. Bodies, arms and hands were all black, so there was no way to
stage an action clearly except in silhouette. A hand in front of a chest would
simply disappear. Out of this limitation, the animators realized that it is
always better to show an action in silhouette. Charlie Chaplin maintained that
if an actor knew his emotion thoroughly he could show it silhouette.

or mise-en-scene as it is also
known is about translating the mood and intention of a scene into specific
character positions and actions. Staging the key character poses in the scene
helps to define the nature of the action. Three-dimensional animatics are a
great tool for previsualizing and blocking out the staging before the primary,
secondary and facial animation. There are many staging techniques to tell the
story visually, hiding or revealing the center of interest and a chain reaction
of actions-reactions are a couple of them. Staging can also be aided with
contemporary cinematic techniques such as slow motion, frozen time, motion
loops, and hand-held camera moves

This principle can be thought of as the master
principle of animation, combining elements of all the other principles. Staging
refers to the clear, unmistakable visual description of the emotion, expression,
personality, and attitude of a character as it relates to the important plot
points of a story.

The intent of staging is to create clear
communication. If a story calls for a scene of dramatic anger, staging requires
that the camera angle of the shot; the expression, attitude, and so forth of the
character; and the camera movement, objects, lighting, and sound in the shot all
conspire in unison to support the feeling of anger in the story point.

Staging is also about showing the focal point of
the story in a view most likely to eliminate anything not needed to tell the
story. In animation, this translates into the use of strong shape silhouettes,
in which the parts of character’s body-hands, face, and so on important to the
shot can be seen.

Readability: An action is staged so that
it is understood. To stage an idea clearly, the audience’s eye must be led to
exactly where it needs to be at the right moment. It is important that when
staging an action, that only one idea be seen by the audience at a time. For
example, in a scene with plenty of action, the audience’s eye will be drawn to
an object at rest. Conversely, in a still shot, the eye will be drawn to the
item in motion. The animator is saying, in effect, “Look at this, now look at
this, and now look at this”.

Personality: A personality is staged so
that it is recognizable; an expression so that it can be seen. A shy child would
turn their eyes down, and slightly rotate their upper body away for the gaze of
another child. The child’s actions reveal the fact that he is shy. When staging
a personality, it is useful to use characteristics that clearly define the

Mood: A mood is staged so that it will
affect the audience. The tight composition of dark trees in a dense forest,
leaning in toward a scared youth; eyes glowing from within the thick; hurried
breathing filling the air; the child’s eye wide open. All of these elements have
been clearly staged to inspire fear.

In Luxo Jr., it was very important that the audience was looking in the right place at the right time, because the story, acting and emotion was being put across with movement alone, in pantomime, and sometimes the movement was very subtle. If the audience missed an action, an emotion would be missed, and the story would suffer. So the action had to be paced so that only Dad or Jr. was doing an important action at any one time, never both. In the beginning of the film, Dad is on screen alone your eye was on him. But as soon as Jr. hops on-screen, he is moving faster than Dad. Therefore the audience’s eyes immediately go to him and stay there. Most of the time Jr. was on-screen, Dad’s actions were very subtle, so the attention of the audience was always on Jr. where most of the story was being told. If Dad’s actions were important, Jr.’s actions were toned down and Dad’s movements were emphasized and the attention of the audience would transfer to Dad. For example, when Jr., looks up to Dad after he’s popped the ball and Dad shakes his head, all eyes are on him.

A pose or action should clearly communicate to the audience the attitude, mood, reaction or idea of the character as it relates to the story and continuity of the story line. The effective use of long, medium, or close up shots, as well as camera angles also helps in telling the story. There is a limited amount of time in a film, so each sequence, scene and frame of film must relate to the overall story. Do not confuse the audience with too many actions at once. Use one action clearly stated to get the idea across, unless you are animating a scene that is to depict clutter and confusion. Staging directs the audience’s attention to the story or idea being told. Care must be taken in background design so it isn’t obscuring the animation or competing with it due to excess detail behind the animation. Background and animation should work together as a pictorial unit in a scene.

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