Just throwing this out there…
This Production Diary entry is gonna be less about what I did, and more pointing out a couple of techniques and other things I am aware of whilst doing the work.
So probably a little less ‘funny-funny-har-har’, and more ‘hmm… I see’.
But Hey! let me tell you a couple of things I have been keeping in mind whilst doing the prep for this short project.
So we have an intern at the moment. For the sake of Witness Protection I’m gonna call him Calamity Joe. So Mr Calamity Joe was given one of the five storyboards to draw up. He spent a day drawing and sketching and generally getting on with it, but when it came to presenting his work to our Lead, DJ Jazzy McJizzle pointed out something of fierce importance. Fierce.
This storyboard was somewhat… well… two dimensional.
You see, what Calamity Joe did was read McJizzle’s scene treatment and, with some creative expansion, draw the actions. He drew what he knew the characters to be doing in the scene as though he was watching it on stage, from maybe one or two different point of views. McJizzle pointed Calamity in my direction.
He called me to his office and slammed his fists down on his desk with such vigor that the pencils and little desk-things sat thereupon leaped for fear. ‘Teach this boy some Cinematography, Dammit!’ he spat through a clenched jaw, his near-spent cigarette almost flying from his mouth.
That previous paragraph was completely fabricated. But the sentiment was there.
The point is this; I hadn’t put too much thought in how I used the visual language of camera angles and composition in the shots, of how the story is read from one panel to the next, or how those things have been used to adhere to the audience’s understanding of media. I had to try to inspire Calamity Joe with certain tricks and rules of cinematography, which I did in drips and drabs throughout the day, as and when I remembered them. Most of these small lessons were ended with ‘If that’s the feel you are going for’, rules that may or may not be kept when thinking through storyboards, depending on what you want the end result to be.
I advised him on rules like the 180 Degree Rule (‘for example in this conversation between us two’ I said, ‘You’re filming each of us as we talk, changing angles to focus on each character – I am looking Screen Right, you are looking Screen Left. Imagine there is a line between us that the camera SHOULD NEVER PASS. Passing this line would mean that I am looking screen right, then you would be too! The audience would get confused and fall over. NEVER do this. Unless it is intentional’), Continuing Movement Directions (‘if a character ends a shot travelling Screen Right, then appears in the next shot travelling Screen Left, the audience would become angry and start burning things.’ I advised, ‘They would think the character has forgotten something and retraced his steps, or think that more time has passed than intended, not linking the two shots together as easily as they should. ALWAYS continue movement in a similar direction. That is, of course, unless you don’t want to.’) and the effects of low versus high angles (‘Looking up at a subject gives it power, looking down makes the subject look small and less significant’) and Field of View (‘Where the background is in relation to a subject can convey different emotions to the audience. A narrow field of view – where the background feels close – would make a shot feel more flat, and at times more comfortable, but a wide field of view – with a distant background – could make the subject feel lost, or bring us into the personal space of the subject, possibly into a mental state. Use these rules wisely to create certain feelings.’ I said ‘Or don’t. It depends what you want to achieve’).
I told him the secret to what I do when thinking up camera angles. I sit. I close my eyes with my pen in hand, and I think ‘If this action was in a movie, like a really cool movie, with really dynamic cameras and all that, what would this shot look like?’ I focus. I explore the scene, and I draw what I see.
In truth, I don’t think this piece of advise made any sense.
One of the most challenging parts of converting a storyboard into an animatic is the editing phase. That is not to say the process of chopping clips and fixing them together into a coherent sequence of shots (that part’s easy!), more to say the creative process of saying whether a shot works, whether it needs to be in the cinematic or not. During the editing phase of one animatic, I had to cut two entire sequences that I had story-boarded. This was not because the shots didn’t work in general, but rather to stick to the time constraints and keep to the natural flow and pace of the piece.
Secondly, movement adds so much to the rhythm of a cinematic; using the minimum still images (that is to sell the shot and movement without drawing out inbetweens) made timing some shots quite difficult. Therefore I have been working on timing estimations, allowing myself to be flexible once the motion has been captured.
In the same frame of mind, it is sometimes important to go back to the drawing board. Sometimes to redraw entire sequences, sometimes to add some new shots – if the shot showing the characters walk into position isn’t working from a top-down angle, maybe from a distant side-on angle would work better. Equally so, sometimes you need to add inbetween sketches to truly sell a shot. Just because you have entered the exciting world of the editing program doesn’t mean you have given up the pencil.
One thing that I have found quite important is the amount of time you give the audience to ‘read’ a shot. If we cut between different shots, the audience needs time to read what’s going on in that shot before you can move to the next. This can change the pace of a piece without you knowing it, and it comes down to composition.
Imagine the first of three shots is a long shot with a lot of stuff going on, but the main focus (due to lighting, colour, screen-space, what-evs) is to the screen right. The audience would search the frame to see what needs to be seen. This is typically done quite fast. If you cut to the next shot, where the action happens in the upper left of the screen, the audience would have to search again to see whats going on. If this second shot then cuts to the third – lets say a mid shot of something central – too fast, the audience may not have time to search the frame, and therefore it would be a forgotten (or worse, confusing) shot. And if the audience don’t see what you want to show them, what’s the point of the shot?
One way to get past this would be to have the second shot on screen for a little longer. However, this might change the flow or pace of the piece, in which case we need to rethink composition. If the focus point in all three shots were in the same place – let’s say dead centre – you could cut between them as quick as you like (well… within reason) without overly confusing the audience. Why? because they would already be looking in the correct place for the next shot – they won’t have to search the frame, and so can read it quicker. A lot of fast paced cuts in action films use similar focus points from one shot to the next, just to help the audience read it easier.
Well Gosh. It seemed that last week I failed to mention enough about the storyboard breakdown than I had hoped.
In the breakdown Excel sheet I have listed every Shot by Number. After the number we have a Description of what is going on in that shot, you know, your typical ‘Med Shot on [insert character] as they [insert action]’ sort of thing. Following that is a Thumbnail of the storyboard panel, a list of the Actors in the shot, and a list of their Actions in that shot. Finally there is a space for Notes, most of which are blank apart from the occasional ‘Can use the Mocap data from shotX’ and the like for when multiple shots (or characters) are performing an action the same action.
Now this is all well and good an hunky and dory, but doing a mocap shoot on a shot by shot basis can quite easily give you a stupid number of captured files and a LOT of data to flick through. This might be good practice when Mo-capety-capping for games, where each motion needs its own animation file, but when doing something more narrative led, I figure we should string the actions together as best we can, and edit them as we wish in Maya.
For this reason I have added another section to the Excel sheet, showing the linked actions (that is, the actions bridging multiple shots) by character. In this table we have the Name of the character doing the actions, the Take Directions, the Shots which those actions bridge or are included in, more Notes, and then finally a Takes column, to be filled in as we record.
Needless to say, it is pretty dickety-darn important to be well prepared for a mocap shoot, or any other shoot for that matter. If you’re not prepared, people will sit around with their thumbs up their arses whilst one person tries to imagine what they want. And when you are in a situation where you have multiple characters being played by one actor, it becomes a nightmare to keep on top of everything.
That is, of course, unless you are Prepared.
Be prepared. Make a spreadsheet.
Being organised in this way will avoid wasted time, wasted money and wasted stress.
Spreadsheet = Organised = Happy Happy Fun Time.
No Spreadsheet = No Organised = Terror.
And with that, I’m gonna stop writing. heers for reading, let me know if this informal rambling has been helpful or informative in any way.