Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Old School Layout: Part 3, Character Posing

The layout artist was responsible for designing the backgrounds, camera direction and composition of each scene. He was also required to give the animator suggestions on character posing. Often times, a layout artist would just trace pre-existing character poses from a model sheet to save time. This "short cut" could not work in all cases. Sometimes you just had to draw the poses. A frustrated animator, like myself, could sometimes get carried away and block out an entire scene of action with poses. Other times, a complicated position or a drawing of a combination of characters joined together required educated drawing skills.

Facial expressions was another challenge. Angry, sad, surprised, thoughtful, happy, confused or any combination of facial posing would be required to convey the emotion of the moment. Beyond the face, the emotional attitude also had to be extended to the whole body. In short, the artist must act-out the movement to be illustrated. The animator was to take these "suggestions" and use them (or reject them) as a basis for the multiple drawings he had to make to convey the action or emotion of the scene.

Besides human characters designed for the film, the layout artist also had to design incidental characters in the style of the show. The curse of this assignment were crowds! Audiences, armies, mall shoppers or mosh dancers were the responsibility of the layout artist NOT the design department. This assignment also included incidental animals. Horses, cattle, cats, dogs or goldfish often had to be added to a scene as the storyboard required.

Finally, any props or effects had to also be drawn and designed by the layout artist. "Props" consist of hammers, vehicles, pencils, bars of soap, writing paper, books, etc. etc. If it can be picked up, worn, consumed, driven or ridden, the layout artist designed it if the model department did not. That happened often in those tight productions schedules or yore. Flames, explosions, water, rain, snow, gunfire, dust, smoke, even spit, sweat or slime were included under the realm of the layout artist and labeled Effects.

All these character poses, backgrounds, camera direction notes, prop and effect designs were gathered together in a light cardboard folder, labeled with the scene number and added to the growing pile of folders that represented a sequence within a picture. 25-30 folders/scenes a week.

When the cost of American labor outpaced the funding available, various elements of the process were sent overseas. The first to go was the jobs of inking and painting the drawings onto celluloid sheets. Assistant animation followed and then the Animation. The process of Layout was the last job contracted overseas because once it went, all control of the final product disappeared. An attempt was made to recover this control by forcing the storyboard artists to draw "mini-layouts" in place of story panels. This added to pre-production costs because of the amount of detail required to mimic the job of the layout artist. The addition of digital "animatics" to replace the direction written on exposure sheets takes pre-production costs another step as it requires many more poses drawn to give the viewer (Usually an executive rather than an artist) the illusion of movement. Old School has now become the New Method.