Sunday, 4 January 2009

The Layout Artist

A layout artist branches across many different industries, but in each one there job is the same. To put things on a page or screen in an order that makes sense to the eyes and is easy to follow. This sounds simple enough when you just state it, but when you put things into practise it gets a lot more difficult.

In the field of animation the layout artist plays an integral role in the way the film is made. He might decide on lighting, character positioning, background positioning, camera angles and he works very closely with the storyboard artist and director to make sure that the story is put across understandably and efficiently.

Learning good layout is very difficult and is something I have struggled with for a while. I am not very good at it, as much as I try. I get too excited about the overall idea of the scene and forgot to stop and ask questions such as, what am I trying to say to the viewer? Why would these character be stood here? What does the viewer NEED to see? How can I place things in this scene to make the job easier for the other people I am working with? What is the mood of the scene?

These are the questions the layout artist must know the answer to before he puts pen to paper. He must be able to see the shot in his head and know how the dialogue, movement, camera angles and characters are going to fit in the shot. It's like juggling a toaster, frying pan and small mammal all at the same time and it takes a lot of practise.

This is a great article about what it takes to be layout artist.

So how do I fair? Here are some examples of my own layout plans for certain shots in my own animation, Eligh's Dark Fable...

This shot needed to create tension. The dark shadows on the boys face need to ease the audience into understanding the boy was been changed by the forest. By choosing an angle from below the character, the negative space around the character becomes eerie. The audience also focus' on the light coming through the trees instead of just character.

This was a complicated shot. After the boy runs off towards the wood the following shot has to not only show that time has passed since we last saw the boy, but also have one character enter the shot, before revealing the other character has already secretly been in shot the whole time. Putting this together wasn't easy. But, with the use of the cameras focus you can easy direct the viewers attention to the things you want them to see. For instance, the camera pans down, the butterfly enters shot. Then the camera moves further in and the focus switches to the log behind the butterfly. This shot look great in the final piece and I am still pleased with it now.

This shot was dropped because it didn't quite have the right spacing for the image. It was also far too dark, too early on in the animation. The boy discovers the forest after this shot and then the piece takes a dark twist. This idea was eventually used in the shot below but laid out a lot better.

Here there is space for the antic on the right, then the boy jumps onto the log and sits there and mopes. He then falls off of the back of the log and the shot changes. A simple shot, but without planning for the action that is taking place it wouldn't have looked quite as good.


Overall as a layout artist I need work, but when you are planning and then animating cartoons yourself, you don't need to communicate your ideas to everyone else so it is easy to work from your imagination and make changes on the fly. If I was laying out scenes that would cross multiple departments then I would need to be a lot more clearer.

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