Developing the Visuals

With the Tiger blocked in and a clear To Do-List for the girl’s performance in place I have some time to think about the look of the finished project. I want to achieve that high-end finished feel, just like my previous work. But whereas in SS1 I wanted to achieve the best result with the smallest effort and experiments it was more or less a default to go for the usual “Pixar look” of smooth surfaces in bright colours. This look has a lot of advantages, is easy to do and might well be the solution for my current project, but since I am getting tired of it myself (and heard a lot of criticism of it everywhere in the industry) I want to at least look at different possibilities.

(Low budget productions like THIS for example:

might have actually been a charming and worthy contribution to the animation market if they had managed to stay away from a cheap reproduction of the overused and uninspired smooth look that the big companies developed!)

If you look at the Animation Mentor showreels you find a lot of high quality, finished pieces, that utilise exactly this style. But what is nice about them is actually just the good composition and strong lighting choices:

This blends with my experience of concept art, especially landscape drawings. In this area I have been told several times that the thing that makes or breaks a piece is not the level of detail or the brushes used, but simply a solid composition and good lighting.

Based on this it should be possible to get the set for my animation done in many different ways as long as composition and lighting work to support the shot.

In several other examples of work I have seen the purposeful hard-edged design that, in my opinion, works nicely to break up the usual “slick” look of 3D animation and creates a more interesting style unique to 3D:


Due to the nature of my models I doubt I could go for exactly this style, but I like the idea of rough minimalism and would love to try myself on a “less is more” base.

Instead of changing the geometry, which is difficult to do for my existing models, I want to look at the use of textures. Jon Klassen’s work has been a big inspiration to me regarding textures. Besides being amazing children’s books, his work features rich textures combined with very strong edges and borders, being arranged minimalistic on the page:

Especially after seeing his animation work I am more and more curious about textures and how they could enhance digital work and break up the usual, boring look. Though the shapes here are smooth meshes, the textures make them appear rough and edgy:

In all this I need to keep in mind a finished look that is held together. Though the idea of a drawn background (or at least appearing drawn in its use of textures) appeals to me there is no point if it can’t be tied in with my rigs.

Paperman is an interesting film to study for this style. I was very disappointed when first seeing it, and felt that the film was (next to a terrible story and a cheesy soundtrack) overpraised for “looking like hand drawn” when it was so clearly digitally animated and didn’t feel “flat” enough for my liking. However there are certain elements that are quite interesting. The white highlights that wash out all information where they fall and, in a way, flatten the image down, or the clear outlines of her arms.

The backgrounds also have a very hand drawn feeling to them, mainly due to the textures used:

http://livlily.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/paperman-2012-backgrounds.html

http://jasmiendeclerck.tumblr.com/post/71529657402/another-set-of-backgrounds-from-paperman

Another thing to keep in mind is the design of the actual background set, regardless of textures used. I really enjoy Jon Klassen’s minimalistic illustrations, so it is possibly not necessary to render a complete scenic background as detailed as can be.

In a song interlude in Frozen, for example, the backgrounds get very simplified and childish to contrast the “real” environment of the film:

I researched some more animation with that minimalistic approach, but I found that, unlike I thought before, it is not the lack of detail that attracts me to this style. The example “Myosis” (by Emmanuel Asquier-Brassart, Ricky Cometa, Guillaume Dousse, Adrien Gromelle and Thibaud Petitpas) shows that, while simplicity may play a part in its design, it is not about absence of details, as some shots are incredibly complex and intricate. Instead it is about a strong and clear composition that strips away anything unnecessary to avoid clutter or mess.

Colour obviously also plays an important part in the visual language of this film. For my own project I want the foreground of the cage to be brightly coloured and full of contrast, whereas the bakground – behind the glass – is set in a slightly less saturated, possibly almost grey tone. I want to enhance the feeling of the camera / audience being inside the cage, the girl being behind the glass, shut off from experiencing the tiger in its true wild and natural form. Her world is tame and orderly, the tiger’s world is wild and intense.

After analysing the visuals in Myosis I am more determined to play on my chosen camera angle and design a background that channels the focus towards the action, rather than simply filling it like I did before. In this early study of what the final piece could look like, for example, I placed a more or less random array of items in the background, anything that came to mind when thinking of a zoo. I migth ahve to completely revise the scenery or design and place those objects in a way that enhances the composition.

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