The job of the layout artist is to design and construct environments for animated sequences to occur in, with each layout technically creating a
“scene.” The layout artist translates information from the storyboard and works out the fi eld space necessary to allow content to fl ow. This can include enabling characters to interact with other characters and props, and capturing any exaggerated movements the shot requires. Within the frame, the layout artist is responsible for technically enabling actions
illustrated in the storyboard to happen, by creating a sense of time and place.
He or she is also able to suggest a sense of atmosphere through the layout design in the use of negative space and spatial relationships between different visual elements. Signifi cantly, the layout artist needs to have the ability to control the dynamics of the frame itself, but also to possess suffi cient awareness for the imagined world of the production beyond the visualized frame. This allows sequential layouts to run seamlessly, creating a sense of natural cohesion and synergy between the scenes for the audience.
In traditional two-dimensional (2D) cel animation, layouts provided a backdrop for action to happen against. Animators would position individual animation cels over painted layout designs. These animation cels were made of clear cellulose or acetate that had been drawn, inked, and cel-painted with a design. Photographing each cel independently would then create a frame.
The illusion of movement occurred when the sequence of individually photographed frames was played back, typically at a rate of twenty-four frames per second, and the images appeared to move before the viewer’s eye. In traditional three-dimensional (3D) stop-motion animation, members of the production crew involved with layout face the additional hurdle of working in a modeled three-dimensional space. They need to design with consideration for both spatial awareness and the requirements of animators, who must be able to access the set easily without disturbing props or characters. They also need to consider carefully the use of materials in an environment prone to dust, heat, and changes in humidity.
Layout artists clearly need to have a sound knowledge of fundamental drawing skills, including an understanding of the principles of perspective.
They need to understand how these principles marry with the cinematic concerns of staging, lighting, framing, and achieving suitably dramatic camera angles. This enables the dramatization of the narrative to be explored in action and allows the capabilities of the layout design in relation to the planned storyboard to be tested out.
A fully jointed armature is a miniature engineering feat in its own right, often needing to be precision machined to withstand the rigors of continual manipulation on set, aptly demonstrated here by Barry Purves’s central character in Plume (2011).
This behind-the-scenes image from director Suzie Templeton shows the level of detail required to construct sets with correctly scaled props that can stand up to the rigors of being continually manipulated by animators on set.
Planning and formulation
The translation of the storyboard into practical layouts means that both visual and narrative problems can be identifi ed and resolved before progress can be made. Some technical problems can be foreseen in 3D stop-motion animation, for example, where certain shots are impossible to capture because the camera cannot physically be fi xed into a particular position, or where the scale of certain props prevents desired movements from being engineered. In other instances, the layout artist’s quick-wittedness combined with an ability to change or consolidate a scene with minimum distraction is required, occasionally leading to some “happy accidents” that could not have been predicted by the storyboard. Wherever possible, planning technical resolutions to problems highlighted by visualizing the story helps to keep the project on track and on budget by predicting problems early, and there are some specifi c tools and techniques that can aid production.
A “fi eld guide” is used widely in two-dimensional animation to help layout artists imagine and construct the picture fi eld while working on the layout.
It has the immediate effect of visualizing what the camera will crop. For example, if the director wants to move from an establishing shot to a close-up, holding the fi eld guide between the eye and the layout enables the layout artist to see instantly what that camera shot will look like for the audience.
The design and layout of any set must necessarily include technical considerations, including the placement of lights and cameras to permit the shot selection deemed necessary by the director.
The fi eld guide typically consists of a clear sheet in a lightweight frame, marked with a faint static grid of rectangles. These act as an immovable framework. Bigger rectangular windows are placed or marked on the grid corresponding to the aspect ratio the production is going to be shot at.
Field guides conform to common production aspect ratios used by different broadcasting platforms:
• Academy ratio is 1:33:1
• Widescreen ratio is 1:85:1
• CinemaScope ratio is 2:35:1
• Letterboxing involves placing a black slip above and below the frame
Creating artwork in layers allows layout artists fl exibility with their designs.
In traditional cel animation, clear acetate sheets are applied over each other to ensure movement fl exibility of key components, while other elements of the design can remain static, saving production time and unnecessary expense.
The advent and application of digital media accelerates these principles, and has the added benefi t that layers are virtual rather than physical.
This is a distinct advantage for the layout artist, where the problem of layering traditional physical cels would eventually lead to parts of the overall artwork appearing to fade or lose focus. Every layer can be controlled individually so that it is seen at the same intensity if necessary. Technical fl exibility aside, the layout artist still needs to factor in how many layers are required for the scene to be conclusive and readable, rather than overly complex and confusing.
The ability to think cinematically is a principal requirement for anyone interested in making an animated project. It is a key skill that studios and partners look for when seeking potential support for a production.
Cinematic thinking encompasses the conceptual and physical process of determining and visualizing camera angles and choosing shot selections.
These decisions to represent the content of the project can shape the production dramatically. They allow rhythmic changes of narrative pace to refl ect action in the plot, or to create visual pauses while the audience absorb and understand information being imparted. The ability to think cinematically gives productions a unique identity of interpretation, and also ensures that particular elements can be framed so that they remain as memorable markers in the audience’s mind.
Essentially, the camera acts as the eye on the production and the captured information is described as a “shot.” This imparts ordered information on a basic level, but can also stir emotional responses from the audience if used imaginatively. The camera can be employed in fi xed or variable positions and further cameras can be added to create different shot options—of the same frame if required—that will allow directorial choices in
Different aspect ratios are required for formatting to different viewing platforms.
the editing phase. There are several possible types of basic camera move that give creative freedom for the director to mix moves to achieve a desired shot:
• panning—the camera creates level horizontal movement from side to side
• tilting—the camera achieves level vertical movement up and down
• dollying—allows the camera to move into or out of a scene
• tracking—allows the camera to run with the action by the aid of a moving position as it travels through a scene
• craning—enables the camera to be attached to a device that can swing, dip, and travel through three-dimensional space, effectively anticipating, following, or reacting to action in a scene
Variable positions can be achieved by removing the camera from its fi xed position and hand-holding it, or by attaching it to a device where it can capture information from unexpected sources, such as a balloon. Such camera techniques are often employed in documentary and independent animation, where they are often used to convey the effect that the camera was hidden in a location that was not visible to the subject being fi lmed.
Barry Purves’s Tchaikovsky (2011) is a poignant and touching account of the composer, meticulously captured using a variety of shots by Justin Noe and Joe Clarke.
Types of camera shots
Establishing shot—used to introduce a scene and explain the context to the audience by acknowledging external factors.
For example, we might see the scene of a street, but recognize from other information in the shot that the street is in a seaside town.
Medium shot—enables a character or object to be seen against the context of his/her/its immediate location, for instance a security guard standing outside a neighborhood bank.
Close-up shot—directs the viewer’s gaze to a particular aspect of the shot, for example, a soldier
squinting down the barrel of a rifl e.
Extreme close-up shot—examines in detail a focal point, for example, using the illustration above, the soldier’s eye taking up the whole frame.
Bird’s eye—focuses on the subject from an overhead position and gives a sense of place and purpose to a scene from an unexpected position, which the subject may not be aware of, for example, the enemy moving into position on a battlefi eld.
Dutch angle—an unusual but dramatic shot, where the camera is placed at an oblique angle, making the horizon line dip or lift from one corner of the frame to the other, conveying tension.
Follow shot—as the description suggests, this shot pursues a character or subject through a scene.
Forced perspective—the camera is used to capture optical illusions of
subjects in a scene by placing them together but, for example,
exaggerating or minimalizing scale to give them unusual values and properties.
Freeze-frame—the camera captures a precise moment in time.
High-angle shot—the camera is fi xed above the eyeline of the character, allowing the audience to look down and suggesting a superiority to or power over the subject.
Low-angle shot—the camera is fi xed below the eyeline of the character, allowing the audience
to look up and suggesting an inferiority to or fear of the subject.
Point-of-view shot—the camera intimately sees what the audience perceive the character or subject sees directly, although this may also include the character or subject in the frame if the camera is looking over the character’s shoulder, for example.
Reaction shot—the camera records the reaction to a scene or event being showcased. For example, if a soldier is wounded, the reaction shot refl ects the immediate reaction of his fellow soldiers.
Sequence shot—also known by the French term plan-séquence, this shot allows events happening in the mid-ground and background to take precedence over what might be happening in the focal point of the scene among the main characters.
Zoom—an extremely versatile and popular action: keeping the camera still but adjusting the lens takes the subject closer to or farther away from the audience.
Using a variety of cameras in different positions allows variable shots and options for a director that are crucial when scrutinizing a scene for maximum impact, as demonstrated here in Madame Tutli-Putli (2007).
With careful direction and selection of shots, and the support of equally considered and applied sound design, the audience should not notice key technical production processes, concentrating instead on being transported into a make-believe world through the development of the content. A variety of carefully considered shots is essential to ensure that content transfers smoothly from camera to screen, aiding audience appreciation and understanding of the production.