The third and concluding module of RamSinghKumaresh’s Animation Masterclass began with a forty-five minute session of live sketching. A volunteer stood on stage, changing his pose after every 5 seconds and the participants had to rapidly keep sketching. After sometime, Vaibhav instructed the participants to sketch without looking down at the paper. The idea is to train the brain – when you look at the page and draw, your left brain immediately begins to judge and, more often, criticize the drawing, so you end up focusing on beautifying the drawing. Instead, what you should actually be doing is trying to capture the form and the structure of the model. When you don’t look at the paper, your brain focuses on just capturing the lines – somewhat like a plotter would do. The aim is to capture the attitude of the pose.
“Scribble – Scribble – Throw Away!”
Sketching is a very important exercise. It trains the brain to really SEE and the hands to DRAW what the brain sees. Your observation skills improve. As you keep sketching, the brain begins to store the data, so that when you draw from memory, the brain retrieves this data. Vaibhav reiterated that what was being done here was just a warm up, and that too a brief one. When sketching, one must take it seriously – focus, not fool around, joke or get distracted. 10 minutes isn’t enough to sketch. One must practise for at least one hour daily. Another point he made was to not get too attached to the drawings. Use them for practise. He called it “Scribble – Scribble – Throw away!” (Continued…)
Vivek Ram pointed out that most people begin by drawing the head first, which may not be such a good idea. He sketched on the whiteboard to show how while sketching, one must first capture the form and the pose, and finish the drawing with the head. He also suggested that initially it helps to use soft drawing tools like charcoal sticks or soft lead pencils as they allow the hands to move more smoothly over the paper.
Both Vivek and Vaibhav recommended a minimum one hour a day of sketching.
Next, the assignments from the previous two modules were discussed. The “homework” threw up some real gems. The story-telling module had a few participants turning out very interesting plots for films. And to Ranjit Singh, I recommend some serious thought at a career change – while instructing the participants, he spontaneously came up with a brilliant plot idea. Bollywood/Hollywood calling, eh? :)
Vivek Ram’s anatomy assignments also revealed a talented artist – Rajiv (a teacher by profession). The task was to take characters from animated films and draw their skulls. It was reverse-engineering of sorts where you have the ready character design and you try to figure out the structure of the skull that creates the outer shape. Vivek pointed out what was right/wrong about Rajiv’s sketches, explaining in great detail. He also gave a tip – since he was drawing digitally, he should try to draw the skull ON the image of the character for a better understanding of shape, size and structure. Another important point to remember is that human and animal skulls have one major difference, animal skulls, especially feline ones are pointed on top unlike smooth, rounded human ones. “The next time you are playing with your pet cat, just stroke the top of its head and you will see exactly what I mean”, said Vivek.
“The Human Torso”
Vivek Ram did a quick recap of the previous module and then began the final part of the anatomy lesson of Module 3 – The Human Torso. It was interesting to learn how the human body is shaped the way it is for a reason – each muscle and bone has a function and it is ‘designed’ accordingly. The rib cage protects many of the vital organs in the body and its unique shape has a definite purpose. Like I said before, the anatomy lessons can’t really be described in text so if you really want to learn, make sure you attend the next class that Vivek Ram takes. I assure you, it’s worth it.
Just to give you an idea, he explained the bone and musculature of the human torso, the shape and structure and their purpose, and what gives the physique a V-shape. Using different coloured markers, Vivek drew rough sketches on the white board, outlining bones, muscles and skin. For anyone serious about creating well-designed characters and/or animating them, be it in 2D or 3D, the study of human anatomy is absolutely critical.
I have noticed that most students take the easy route – “Oh, I’m gonna be an animator/lighting artist/texturer. I don’t need to study anatomy!” This attitude is detrimental to their progress and at some point or the other will reflect in their work. Animation is a science too – and you ought to have a clear grasp over the basics. Before you can become a master chef, you need to know your ingredients, utensils and the various cooking processes. If you skip the basics and decide you will just start cooking, you are bound to end up with awful tasting, under or over cooked food. Whether you actually master drawing or not, you really need to understand why a muscle bulges in a certain way, how the bones and joints move during various kinds of movements, how the skeletal structure of creatures varies from each other, why a man walks the way he does and a woman’s walk is so different from that of a man. This is the ABC of animation, students. Please don’t shrug it off. Observe, practice, learn.
Ranjit Singh dived right into the story-telling session by showing a slideshow of scenes from assorted films (animated as well as live-action) and asked participants to make note of the first emotion that came to their minds – one word for each picture. After the slideshow ended, all these words were listed on the whiteboard and it became apparent that Singh was trying to demonstrate the importance of the ‘Setting’ in creating the mood for any scene.
It involves the physical composition of the scene as well as the camera framing. It helps establish the environment and mood for the scene. It puts the audience in the right frame of mind and prepares them for what is to come in the scene. It guides the audience, establishes the mood and the character, and sometimes even defines the history and background information of the character in question. Everything in the scene – right from the lighting to the sound, to the camera angle to the colours – conveys a subliminal message instantly, before the scene even plays out.
To make his point, Singh screened the famous scene from ‘Sholay’ where Gabbar Singh paces back and forth on jagged rocks and utters the famous lines – “Kitne aadmi they?” Everything in the scene including the location, the eerie background sound, the tapping of Gabbar’s heels, the camera angle have been carefully planned to convey a sense of doom and malevolence.
Contrast that with images from ‘Finding Nemo’ where the scenes are mostly cheerful, many-hued and brightly lit. There is a reason for it. The story requires that a certain mood be set. But these scenes are not constant – in other scenes, the water is dark and murky, light is high-contrast and there is an overall sinister feel – you know something is wrong as soon as the scene begins.
Setting = Lighting + Colour + Framing + Composition + Placement + Sound
All these factors are equally important because the setting is leading you to something.
Singh compared it with a Magic Show. The fantastic sets, the high-contrast lighting, the smoke and the show; all add to the aura, to the feeling of mystery, the anticipation of the unknown.
If the setting doesn’t match the mood of the scene, it will most certainly clash with the dialogues. Production design is not limited to the background plate and must never be. Singh urged the participants to go back and look at the films that have made a lasting impression on them and study the settings in each of them.
Singh played audio clips from Star Wars, The Simpsons, Shrek and The Lion King without revealing their source and questioned participants what each of the sound clips conveyed about the characters that said those dialogues. To my surprise, a majority of the audience did not know Darth Vader or Bart and Homer Simpson, neither did they recognise which films any of the audio clips came from. But it served the purpose because despite that, they were able to gauge the exact personality and attitude of the characters.
[A bit of trivia – did you know that the voice of Bart Simpson is actually that of a woman? Google it :) and while you are at it, also Google for James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vader from Star Wars)]
The voice imparts attitude to a character, therefore character development and voice casting are intrinsically built together. They both play off each other. The language in which a character has been originally conceived also has an impact on its personality. Which is why, although Shah Rukh Khan is such a major star, his voicing of Mr. Incredibles in the Hindi version falls flat. Story-telling relies heavily on both audio and visual keys. Getting either of them wrong can ruin the pace and the impact of the story.
Singh then went on to define the 5 Acts of a Play, which are applicable in films as well. In the 1st Act, the audience is introduced to the characters and the situation, the conflict begins and leads to engagement of the characters. In Acts 2 & 3, fortunes change, the action see-saws, good becomes bad becomes good again. Act 4 sees dramatic development. The protagonist is down in the dumps. This is where the climax occurs. The 5th and final Act witnesses the resolution of the conflict and ends with the aftermath. Though a film need not strictly follow the 1st to 5th Act route, the ingredients are more or less constant with the main goal being to get the audience to connect with the characters, empathise with them and get completely involved in the story. The audience has to forget that they are watching a film and instead start living the moment in the movie. Singh described a scene from the movie ABBA which he had watched in the theater where the audience connected so intimately with one of the characters that they during a critical scene, they were all shouting instructions to him as if he was a real person who could have heard them.
[TIP: to learn more about the 5 Acts, look up Eugene Scribe, a French playwright, on the internet]
Singh then outlined some of the story-telling must haves – the motivation of the protagonist, what does he/she want, obstacles, conflict, the presence of supporters to help as well as people/circumstances that obstruct, failure before success etc. The turning point is a critical part of the story and occurs twice – once to escalate the conflict and once more to resolve it. Also, the character must show a change in his situation/personality by the end of the movie as the conflict is resolved – he/she must go through a change.
Singh then compared the structure of a story with the every Indian’s favourite analogy – Cricket. (Makes it easier for most to understand, I guess!!)
[TIP: A website that Singh recommended very highly – www.creativescreenwriting.com]
1. Treatment: Write a treatment note for a movie that you have recently seen
2. Synopsis: Convert the treatment into a synopsis
3. Outlines: Convert the Screenplay into an Outline
4. Interactive: Choose a popular movie and discuss with others to create the Synopsis
So, what is the difference between Treatment and Synopsis and Outline? I’ll tell you in brief:
The Treatment is the blue-print for the screenplay and is never published. The Outline is a step by step description of the scene in point form. The Synopsis is a brief, abridged version of the entire plot.
Want more details? Tch. Tch. Not so easy. If you really want to know, next time, make sure you don’t miss such a vital class. Or do some homework – look up the words on the internet.
Parting words of advice from Singh:
“Write. Refine. Write. Refine. Write. Refine.”
Vaibhav’s session was about the Quadruped walk, Anticipation and Follow-throughs. In his trademark style, he explained all of these using visual aids – drawings, video clips and scenes from films.
“The Quadruped Walk”
When a biped walks, the head bounces up and down because when one leg is at maximum distance from the other, his height reduces. When a quadruped walks, it is more like 2 bipeds walking – rather than the heads bouncing, it is the body that forms the wave pattern, rising and falling with each step. Then again, it depends on the size and shape of the animal. In a camel, there is almost no bounce.
Vaibhav then showed images of various animals (camel, dog, horse, elephant, lion, gorilla, hippo etc.) and their skeletons to give a clearer idea of the bone structure and how it impacts the walk. He also showed a clip that he had created of a human sketch morphing into that of a dog. It highlighted the difference in the bones/joints and the stance of both.
As examples, he showed 2 clips from ‘The Jungle Book’ – one of Sher Khan and another of a Mother and a Baby Elephant.
[TIP: If you want to study the walk cycle of various animals, you will find them all in one place in ‘The Jungle Book’. Study each of them in motion, then play the scenes frame by frame to understand how the Disney animators have captured each individual animal’s physical characteristics as well as attitude and personality in its walk.]
“Anticipation & Follow-throughs”
Vaibhav showed video clips that he had recorded to demonstrate anticipation and follow-throughs:-
1. Badal (Vaibhav’s assistant) throwing a ball in different ways – when there was less anticipation, the force of letting go was less and the follow through was also minimal. When the anticipation was greater, he threw with greater force and that carried forward into the follow through as well.
2. Badal again, sitting down in the garden and then getting up. It is almost impossible to get up without anticipation. Even if you manage to do so, it will look robotic and artificial.
3. A crow picking up another dead bird and then flying off – just before take off, the crow lowers its wings and pushes the ground with its feet in anticipation.
4. A crow taking off from a ledge – it first stretches its legs and pushes its body backwards and downwards to propel itself into the air. It then lands by outstretching its feet in front of its body. Once it lands, you see the body go downwards as follow through.
5. A hen walks around, its head and neck bobbing forward and backwards to balance its weight and also to propel its body forward. The head and neck are used almost in an effort to compensate the lack of fore limbs that help other creatures walk and move about. A pigeon does the same thing when it walks.
6. Animated examples: The big fat toad from UP, scenes from Mulan and Wallace & Grommit, all exquisite examples of anticipation, movement and follow throughs.
7. A few more examples from live scenes captured on video – people seated in a bus that stops and starts in traffic, and a boy carrying a packet full of stuff while walking (the bag moves independently of his walk – a phenomenon known as Overlapping).
Answering an audience question, Vaibhav explained that a ‘Follow-through’ is the finishing of an action while ‘Overlap’ is a simultaneous but distinct (and differently timed) movement.
He concluded the session by screening 2 animated films.
1. The first ever Mickey Mouse film – ‘Steamboat Willie’, which also happens to be the first animated film with sound. The animation style used throughout the film is an excellent example of what is known as ‘Hosepipe Animation’ deriving its name from the cylindrical, flexible design of the limbs of the characters and also of many objects that are moving. The film was created by one of the animation greats – Ub Iwerks.
2. The last part of Fantasia 2000 – a visual masterpiece set to beautiful western classical music – a story of life, death and renewal – the circle of life itself, which is a recurring theme in Disney films.
Time was up, it was getting late but none of the participants seemed to be in a hurry to leave. They surrounded the RSK trio, asking questions, getting their doubts resolved and trying to make the most of the opportunity. It was heartening to see that the thirst for knowledge is still there and that gives me hope for the future of Indian animation.
Module 1: click here
Module 2: click here