'Inspired 3D Short Film Production': Art Direction — Part 2

In the second of four installments on art direction for their book Inspired 3D Short Film Production, Jeremy Cantor and Pepe Valencia look at how color, texture and style help define characters and story.

All images from Inspired 3D Short Film Production by Jeremy Cantor and Pepe Valencia, series edited by Kyle Clark and Michael Ford. Reprinted with permission.

All images from Inspired 3D Short Film Production by Jeremy Cantor and Pepe Valencia, series edited by Kyle Clark and Michael Ford. Reprinted with permission.

This is the second of four installments on art direction. Read Art Direction Part 1.

Color Palettes

Another overall style consideration is global color palettes. Consider the effectiveness of different hues and contrast levels (see Figure 12).

You might want to create a feeling of warmth or even extreme heat by using appropriate doses of redor ange and yellow (La Piedra). Blues, greens and whites will often have a cooling effect (Point 08). You can mix cool and warm colors so that different areas of the same imagery will have contrasting temperature values.

Realistic story settings generally call for subtler, earthy hues with less extreme value contrasts (see Figure 13), while less serious cartoon-style films, especially comedies, will often be brighter and more colorful (Run, Dragon, Run!!!).

[Figure 12] The overall color palette of your piece will help imply temperature and mood.

[Figure 12] The overall color palette of your piece will help imply temperature and mood.

[Figure 13] A realistic look will be achieved by using subtle earth tones.

[Figure 13] A realistic look will be achieved by using subtle earth tones.

Gentler pastel colors will tend to imply tranquility (Respire), while extreme contrasts between bright and saturated colors will imply energy or confusion or perhaps indicate a fantasy or alien world (Sam).

[Figure 14] Glorious black-and-white can help generate a feeling of nostalgia.

[Figure 14] Glorious black-and-white can help generate a feeling of nostalgia.

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[Figure 15] Adding a brightly colored element to an otherwise primarily black-and-white film can be quite visually dramatic. © 2002 Pasozebra Prods. S.L.

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[Figure 16] Using different colors for opposing characters can add to the intensity of their conflict.

Glorious black-and-white is particularly effective for certain genres, such as mysteries, tragedies and nostalgic comedies (see Figure 14).

Creating a film that is primarily shades of gray but then introducing some colored elements can also be rather captivating and visually dramatic (see Figure 15).

Color and contrast can greatly assist you in creating depth. Objects with dull colors and limited contrast will tend to recede, while brighter-colored objects with a lot of contrast will pop into the foreground.

Color can contribute to the differentiation between character personalities (see Figure 16). Background color variations can also help intensify mood and attitude. When the slower, gentler, old man is on the screen in Pixars Geris Game, most of the trees behind him are yellow. In the shots that feature the quicker, more arrogant version of this same man, the trees are mostly red.

Exercise: Load up your favorite paint program, select some large brushes and make a series of quick, rough color comps. These paintings dont have to be refined or representational, just colorful. Then consider how different hues and color combinations make you feel. Save these images and use variations on their overall palettes when you create object colors, texture maps and background paintings for particular shots and scenes that are intended to inspire particular moods.

Texture Themes

Using interesting and consistently themed textures in all of your background objects, props, matte paintings and even characters is an excellent way to create a strong visual style. Making every texture shiny and metallic might be appropriate for a sterile and futuristic scenario. Different animal patterns throughout can suggest a primitive or natural setting. Painting your textures to match the look of alternative visual mediums is also an especially interesting and fairly popular technique. Supinfocoms Sarah simulates the look of a fantastical Japanese video game (see Figure 16). Where is Frank? from Angela Jedek looks like three-dimensional dry brush paintings, while the objects and characters in Wojtek Waszczyks Mouse look a bit like traditional fabric-covered puppets (see Figure 17).

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Overall Complexity

The level of simplicity or complexity in your character and object models, texture maps, color palettes and rendering styles will contribute to the overall feel of your short. Simplicity can often assist in visual clarity and is also an appropriate style for light cartoons (Bert) and certain abstract metaphors (Values). Realistic imagery will often require more complexity in both the style and the number of elements that can be seen in any given shot. A caricatured, cartoon-shaded character might have very simple texture maps painted with large brushes, whereas a realistic character will need more detailed textures with color variation in skin tones and perhaps dirt, freckles, moles, scars, tattoos, hair, stripes, spots and textile patterns (see Figure 18). With regard to backgrounds, simple, open emptiness might create a feeling of freedom or perhaps danger for the lack of cover, depending on the genre and action of your plot. Cluttered scenarios might feel claustrophobic, treacherous or perhaps safe, because there will be more available hiding places for your frightened protagonist. Then again, there will also be more hiding places for her crafty pursuers!

[Figure 18] The complexity level of your models and textures will impact the overall style of your film.

[Figure 18] The complexity level of your models and textures will impact the overall style of your film.

Composition as Art Direction

The ways in which you compose your shots will also contribute to the overall mood of your film (see Figure 19). Using lots of diagonal objects and arrangements will indicate movement, verticals will imply rigidity or stability and horizontal compositions will often generate feelings of tranquility. Assembling your background objects and elements in an organized and symmetrical fashion with relative equality in size and shape will create feelings of balance, stability, passivity or perhaps obsession. Random distribution and size variation might inspire feelings of discomfort, activity or casual spontaneity. Try exaggerating or bending the rules of perspective to create abstract surrealism, fantasy or the indication of extreme depth. Wide-angle camera lenses will give a greater feeling of depth and can help to build suspense, frustrationor a feeling of loneliness and isolation (see Figure 20). Low camera angles will help create a feeling of insignificance, modesty or perhaps paranoia.

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[Figure 19] Compositional elements, such as asymmetry and extreme camera angles, can be effective art direction devices.

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[Figure 20] Composing the elements and camera angles in your shots to favor skewed verticals, diagonals or obtuse lenses will help with feelings of movement, danger, action and suspense.

Quantity, Style, Design, Color and Texture Details of Environments and Props

Some animated shorts, such as Balance, After You and Values, contain very few (if any) background elements. However, most films incorporate at least a small number of buildings, mountains, clouds, vehicles and pieces of furniture to help indicate setting details.

Before you begin designing these objects, consider the importance of their existence to your film. Will the non-character elements in your world contribute significantly to your story? Will your protagonist directly or indirectly interact with your background objects and propsor will they simply exist to fill the space or indicate location, eraand other environmental specifics? A snowcapped mountain might look nice way off in the distance as mere eye candy or it might be the very physical obstacle that your protagonist must conquer to reach his story destination.

Background Mass

Consider the number of background elements you want in your story world (see Figure 21). Absence or near absence of background objects will create an abstract, fantastical or metaphorical scenario. A very small number of background objects might simply contribute to the elegant simplicity of your short or maintain focus on your characters. But it might also create a feeling of loneliness or desolation if your landscapes are vast but somewhat empty (see Figure 22). You might want to fill your cityscape with cars, skyscrapers, bus stops, mailboxes, signs and streetlights or clutter your heros apartment with furniture, electronics, toys and boxes. A large number of background objects can effectively add detail and realism to your film, but overdoing it can complicate your production, reduce readability and sometimes even distract from your character development or story elements. Of course, having your background elements become the center of attention is sometimes a necessary story beat, such as when a dam breaks or an asteroid crashes.

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[Figure 22] Limited background mass in an otherwise vast landscape can contribute to a feeling of desolation.

[Figure 22] Limited background mass in an otherwise vast landscape can contribute to a feeling of desolation.

Exercise: Try to picture your story in your head with no background elements whatsoever. Will it still be effective? Maybe more so. Then try to imagine your story with a huge mess of background objects and props. Will there be any benefit to such complexity? Will you have the time to build and texture all of those models? Will they help tell your characters story or distract from it? Will they serve as obstacles, tools, rest stops or perhaps hiding places for your protagonist, or will they simply make the landscape more detailed and interesting?

Style and Design

Indicative and consistent style in architecture and furniture design can help identify locale and era. Your story might call for decorative, rustic, antique, angular, organic, geometric or ultramodern background objects. Think about the different buildings, doorways, windows, chairs and appliances that would exist in a colonial farmhouse, a modern penthouse apartment, a childs room or a futuristic space station.

Furniture design and style choices can also suggest a few things about a characters gender or personality. Paisley or flower-patterned bedspread might imply a certain degree of femininity. A modern apartment with a black leather sofa, a glass computer desk, sophisticated stereo equipment and expensive but uncomfortable-looking dining room chairs will probably identify the occupant as a bachelor. The owner of leopard-print curtains might be anyones guess. An extremely eclectic mix of design and texture in your background elements might imply that your owners or occupants arent interested in a consistent style, but be wary of creating such variety because it can cause sensory overload.

[Figure 23] Experiment with different lines and shapes to create interesting negative spaces and visual styles.

[Figure 23] Experiment with different lines and shapes to create interesting negative spaces and visual styles.

Consider basic design elements, such as lines, shapes and negative space, when creating and arranging your environments, props and icons. Straight lines, gentle curves, rectangles, circles, torn edges and interesting combinations and juxtapositions thereof will help create a variety of different visual styles and contribute to the overall tone of your imagery (see Figure 23).

[Figure 24] Odd shapes and skewed angles will help create a surreal or fantastical scenario.

[Figure 24] Odd shapes and skewed angles will help create a surreal or fantastical scenario.

Odd and interesting geometric angles, shapes and recurring design motifs in your background elements can help your story setting feel unique, fantastical, amusing or ominous. Designing your buildings and props with acute angles and sharp protrusions might help create a feeling of danger, in which your characters need to maneuver very carefully. Jagged outlines will help create a sense of nervousness or anxiety. Gentle curves will inspire feelings of tranquility. Skewed and imbalanced shapes can create a rather surreal environment, as in the furniture, trees, clouds and buildings of films such as The Nightmare Before Christmas, Poor Bogo, El Arquero and Mouse (see Figure 24).

Exercise: Review some visually memorable films, such as The City of Lost Children, Edward Scissorhands or The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and look for specific and recurring design motifs that contribute to the overall tone and feel that is delivered.

To get a copy of the book, check out Inspired 3D Short Film Production by Jeremy Cantor and Pepe Valencia; series edited by Kyle Clark and Michael Ford: Premier Press, 2004. 470 pages with illustrations. ISBN 1-59200-117-3 ($59.99). Read more about the Inspired series and check back to VFXWorld frequently to read new excerpts.

Authors Jeremy Cantor and Pepe Valencia.

Authors Jeremy Cantor and Pepe Valencia.

Jeremy Cantor, animation supervisor at Sony Pictures Imageworks, has been working far too many hours a week as a character/creature animator and supervisor in the feature film industry for the past decade or so at both Imageworks and Tippett Studio in Berkeley, California. His film credits include Harry Potter, Evolution, Hollow Man, My Favorite Martian and Starship Troopers. For more information, go to www.zayatz.com.

Pepe Valencia has been at Sony Pictures Imageworks since 1996. In addition to working as an animation supervisor on the feature film Peter Pan, his credits include Early Bloomer, Charlies Angels: Full Throttle, Stuart Little 2, Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone, Stuart Little, Hollow Man, Godzilla and Starship Troopers. For more information, go to his Webpage at www.pepe3d.com.

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