Animators Belong to the Ages
So “time” as we know it is an inexorable, constant flow. But there is an internal component of time: Rhythm. There are broad rhythms that we know as geological cycles. The Ice Age came and went, and may come again. There is the regular rhythm of the seasons, the rhythm of the moon as it waxes and wanes, never pausing in its beat – the rhythm of the days, the sun marking day and night, day and night, day and night…. And there are our personal rhythms – the beating of our hearts, our breathing, the regular pace of walking. Is there any doubt about why we humans created music?
There is rhythm and counter rhythm all around us. In Bali and Java, they have a belief that music is going on constantly, and that musicians simply join in on the beat from time to time, and when the musicians stop playing the beat and flow of the music continues unheard until they again join in and give it voice. Each culture has its own patterns of rhythm. I think I know why our American musical culture has over-ridden everyone else’s. When I first came to Czechoslovakia in 1959, I became conscious of that. I had long been a jazz fan, so I was taken to a Dixieland jazz concert in Prague. I noticed that when the audience became excited by the band, they would clap on the main beat: “Clap-clap-clap-clap-clap.” That kind of clapping is inherent in the Czech national folk music, but it effectively deadens jazz music. American audiences learned to clap on the after-beat, “boom-CLAP, boom-CLAP, boom-CLAP, boom-CLAP.” It’s the lift of the after beat that we learned from the African slaves that became the core of jazz and syncopated music, all the way down to today’s Rock– the infectious beat that conquered the world! The way the Czech people clapped to jazz music bothered me, but I’m happy now that they’ve learned mainly to clap on the after-beat.
That after-beat actually represents contrast. Contrast is the essence of all art, musical and graphical: loud-against-soft, slow-against-fast, large-against-small, dark-against-light, straight-against-curved, near against far. In film work, that rhythmic contrast is called “timing.” Timing is something I try hard to work with. Timing is the element of animation that creates the effect of life.
So that’s it. Motion/Timing is what we live in, and Movies and Music exist in motion – and motion and timing are the basic cinematic tools that create the magic, our kind of magic trick. All magicians’ effects require that the Moment of Action and the Moment of Effect must always be different. When a magician says “Abracadabra, POOF!” there may be a puff of smoke, or a pistol shot, a flash of light, or other distraction, but the actual trick has already taken place. The magician - if he is clever – diverts our attention from the actual place and moment where the trick has happened. There were two different events involved, but we saw only one of them, the effect, not the actual action.
In movie work, we use exactly the same principle. We only let you see the effect. We don’t let you see what we’re actually doing. What we are doing of course is making the film at a much earlier time than you are seeing it. That’s obvious. But what may not be obvious to you is the truth about Special Effects. Special Effects are on a roll these days. Nearly every movie we see is loaded with special effects that constantly up the ante, gasp-wise. What you may not realize is that every single ordinary shot in every movie is some sort of special effect. Consider the old cliché, “The Camera Never Lies.” The truth is that the camera always lies! The cameraman frames each shot so as to let you see only what he wants you to see.
On the screen you may see two passionate lovers, apparently naked, engaged is what seems to be sexual intercourse. What you don’t see are maybe 50 film crewmembers engaged in their various tasks, just outside of the camera frame. What you don’t notice is that the scene is likely broken up into numerous shots from different angles. Each one of those shots requires special lighting adjustments and camera positioning. They may have been shot hours or even days apart, and not necessarily in the order that you see them… thanks to another magician called the Film Editor.
Imagine this simple screen action: An actor opens the door of a room, and is quickly seen coming through the door into the next room. For scheduling and set construction reasons, the shot of him or her coming into the second room might have been shot earlier than the shot of his exiting the first room. The shots were then spliced together in an order to achieve the wanted continuity. The first shot seen – may have actually been shot later, and may not be the adjoining room it is supposed to be, but maybe even be in another country! If it’s deftly done, the viewers accept the two rooms as being adjacent.
So what are you seeing? You’re seeing exactly what the director wants you to see, and in the order he wants you to see it. The camera is technically lying. Whatever truth there may be in a movie goes beyond the individual camera shots, to the sequence of shots that convey the story. If there is truth in a movie, it is how the director manipulates the technical elements of filmmaking to tell an acceptable story. So the magic of movies is just as much in the ordinary shots as it is in the spectacular digital effects we see so many of these days.
Those “The Making Of…” snippets on DVDs are carefully designed to make you appreciate some of the magic of filmmaking. The fragmentary tidbits are mainly designed to lock us in as rabid ticket buyers. But they do provide inspiring glimpses. If you’re perceptive, and you have the lust to be a filmmaker, all the tools you need are now available, even to people of modest means. And with YouTube, you have a chance to display your talent or lack of it. “Everyone can be a filmmaker!” I suppose that some will. If you are a potential da Vinci, and you want to be an artist, then here is the art form of our times!
Cinema has every element to make it the greatest art form of all time, and it was basically developed during just the last century. Whether on film, projected onto a movie screen, or digitally imaged onto a TV or a smart-phone, cinema combines nearly all known previous art forms into one: Story-telling, documentary journalism, drama, acting, mime, comedy, fantasy, painting, sculpture, music, song, dance, graphic arts, design, fashion, sculpture, architecture - art of every kind and description, can be combined into this one medium!
Did I say “the last century?” What if I told you that what we are doing had its clear roots over 35,000 years ago?
Whether we call it film, movies, cinema, video, or whatever, it is my feeling that the root idea for a dramatic sound and light presentation in a darkened room goes all the way back to our human beginnings; that it actually fulfills humankind's earliest artistic and storytelling cravings.