We’ve seen some great, animated movies out at this time lately, what with Epic, The Croods, and Frozen showing up on this big screen. With all these movies, you often wonder how they get made and the thought process behind them. You even begin to wonder if maybe you, yourself, can make a movie as good as that. Thankfully, LA times gave us a very informative interview with the directors of the top five animated movies of late, each from a different company, which helped us understand how each workplace handles their thoughts.
When you end up designing a large collection of characters for projects, very often you’ll end up running out of ideas, even for very reoccurring side characters. A big help with getting around that is just using simple images like Letters or symbols. Sometimes they just help holding a place in until a better idea comes, but other times, that symbol becomes the key-design trait of the character. Like with Art, from the movie Monsters University, who was so ambiguous, no one knew what he should look like, so they just used a letter A with eyes as a place holder until someone looked it over and realized that this fits his design perfectly.
This problem with Design also leads to a question on the overall style of the film. Maybe you want a mad scientist, but the design seems too ambiguous, so you have to look over the designs of previous mad scientists: Maybe a Dr. Frankenstein, or maybe a James Bond villain with the suits and the shadows. Other times the style can be an even bigger problem and stem to the entire film. Should the movie be overtly cartoonish or realistic? Should it have a Nordic environment or a suburban one? Often times, once you answer these questions on style and design, they’ll help you solve even more important questions, like what their personality is like.
Sometimes a character’s personality can be determined entirely by their overall appearance, while other times it’s the other way around. Sometimes both the design and the personality are influenced together by the overall style of the film. Say you have a character that’s large and bulky, but you don’t want him to work against the other characters. Maybe you could give them a personality that is softer or have their actions be animated in a certain way that keeps in style with everyone else. Maybe you want the villains of the film to be easily identifiable, so maybe they have a general design style that contrasts heavily against everyone else’s.
You need to make sure that the overall style of the film stays consistent throughout the film. Sometimes you end up with two sides of the staff with conflicting ideas on what the movie should be and you have to decide which of the two fits evenly between the two. This can either be a difficult choice or an easy one, but you need to make sure there’s a consistent design going on.
Sometimes when making the first few design choices, an animator and designer will be left with restrictions, either self-imposed or technology based. Maybe your team can’t animate sticky things that well, or maybe water or hair is just too much for you to work with. Maybe the team has no designs yet and all these excess options can lead you to have too many choices. This can be very struggling and incorporating restrictions on the design can be a big help in finding a design that you want.
Drawing the designs can also be a really big help as they are faster than working in 2D when trying for general ideas and making design choices needs to be a fast and clean movement. So when putting your ideas together, it is important to draw them out instead of animating them in 3D.
Detail is a very noticeable, but also unnoticeable thing in 3D design since you have to control every little thing that is happening. Sometimes it’s just wanting a small rig on a prop so that it can animate better, which eventually leads to giving that prop a personality and character of its own, while other times its knowing that the water will be causing one interaction to affect something else and having to animate everything the water is interacting with, which may lead to interesting design choices about the environment all together.
Sometimes this obsession to detail can be a problem though and you can’t spend too much time on it all. Sometimes there are a few mistakes that have to be kept in order to create a feeling of realism, since not everything in nature will act perfect and mistakes let us see that realism that would have been overlooked otherwise.
Animators don’t work in bubbles and because of that, it can be an improvement to work. Maybe the voice-actor’s performance will add inspiration to the personality and design of a character, maybe the limitations of an animator will improve the quality of the story, and other times, maybe the influences of whoever has the money will lead to cut-backs in design that might improve some radical design choices the more creative types on your team have been working on.
Having listened to the thoughts and ideas of these five people, my perspective on and understanding of the animation industry has grown and I hope to use this to help me out with my own projects and see where I am heading. Am I going to be able to meet those design choices the right way? Or will I be held back by too many choices that need to be cut back on? All I can say is thanks to the LA times for getting this interview for my colleagues and me.