Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Art Direction

Director approved look of environment.
This was used for color reference and as a style guideline.

Reference, Inspiration Imagery, and General Art Direction
The overall look of Drag N Fly should incorporate a few specific visual elements. Not every shot will incorporate all of these, but generally they should characterize the look of our short and be applied where applicable.
  • Depth Cueing
  • Repoussoir
  • Suggested Detail
  • Stylized and Simplified Forms
  • Light Rays
  • Morning Mist
1. Depth Cueing
Depth cueing – using both atmospheric perspective and defocus. Further objects have less contrast, and tend to the color of the atmosphere. Objects nearer or further the focal plane defocus in tight shots.
From Brother Bear. Notice the depth cuing – distant objects lack detail, contrast, and are blurry.

From The Black Cauldron. Good depth cueing in planes – foreground, mid-ground, and background. Also good color reference for how the denser swamp cypress grove may look.

2. Repoussoir (pronounced rep-ooh-swah)
Using elements in the foreground along the sides of a picture, particularly dark elements, to create depth and frame for focal point. Trees and bushes frame the action. Foreground elements darker to frame. Pools of light highlight the action. In our case, when in the denser swamp area the frogs should be in shafts of light.
Alice in Wonderland (left) & Bambi (right)
The Rescuers. A bit more scary than our short, but great staging of elements and reference for swamp models. (Our trees are less scraggly/spooky though.)

The Black Cauldron

3. Suggested Detail
Detail in both texture and geometry should be suggested rather than actually there. This is particularly true for any element in the distance, in which detail can completely be eliminated.
Tarzan. A defocused background and a few choice foreground elements suggest lush vegetation.

A tree from Dumbo. Notice individual leaves are implied by the texture, not each explicitly rendered. Also an example of simplified forms.

4. Stylized and Simplified Forms
The “look” of plants, general guideline: STYLIZED and SIMPLIFIED
Make grasses larger than life, with wide blades. Tree branches twisted okay. Medium to far tree leaves and bushes form clumps, rather than detailed individual leaves. Textures should also be stylized, and suggest detail rather than be detailed. Textures can suggest complex geometry, as the texture on the tree from Dumbo suggests leaves.
Simple forms are very effective when held together by strong composition and use of color.


Trees in Enchanted – forms are artistic. (Notice vignetting again.)

Stylized cat tails from Enchanted. Stylized clouds.

5. Light Rays
Repeated use of light rays, where applicable. (Particularly for shots like the opening).

6. Morning Mist
Morning scenes have mist. This should dissipate after the first shot or two, or just appear in the denser areas, low to the water.

The Setting
Location: Florida Swamp
Season: Very early fall
(introduces reds and gold – see image on the right)
Time of day: Late morning

Plants in our environment:
bald cypress
cypress knees
lily pads
duck weed
pond scum
cat tails
Spanish moss in trees
air plants
short palms

TIPS on Making the characters stand out
  • Use brighter and/or more saturated colors on the main characters.
  • Darken the background.
  • Use lighter/more sat textures on characters
  • Put them in brighter light. Tried and true formula but it works.
  • Use rim light (okay if it’s not exactly motivated – it’s cinema!) (green on green will likely need a rim, just like the old b/w days.)
  • Color contrast – make the bg a complimentary or at least different color
  • Don’t let the background get too busy around the character. Clear a little area.

Example Films for Inspiration and Reference
Disney’s Tinkerbell Movies – Our Quality Goal
Didn’t expect to find this here, did you? I see a lot of animated movies with my kids and for myself, and know that the quality level attained, for example, on Ratatouille is indeed out of our reach. We haven’t the resources and the years.
The best example I’ve ever seen of a well-put together film which is without bells and whistles are the Tinkerbell movies. They lack the sophistication of the blockbusters but are great looking, and I firmly believe this quality level is achievable by students here, today, in this class. It relies on clean technique, good artistry, and an intelligent game plan (simplifying where possible) rather than advanced techniques.
The Tinkerbell movies are held together by these things, which we should also have in our short:
  • Good composition
  • Good use of color and color schemes (how the colors are put together)
  • Matte-painted backgrounds in stylized and simplified looks which compliment the 3D characters and foreground elements.
  • Simplified and clean textures, with “just enough” detail to make the surface read as the intended surface and only as much detail as is needed (background objects lack detail). Detail is stylized to give the impression of the surface.
  • Clean and flawless rendering.
  • Good lighting.
Notice these properties in the example images. Also notice the level of quality.
This level of quality should be our goal.

A great example of depth cuing and simplicity. Furthest is just a near solid color, mid-ground has some blobby detail, and nearest we can make out foliage. Subject (Tink) is clearly rendered with maximum detail and contrast. The backgrounds are clearly painted. Held together by strong composition and color, good textures, and clean rendering.

For its use of depth cueing, simplified forms, level of textural detail, use of 2D art in the background to fake complexity, and light rays.


Disney’s The Princess and the Frog
Great reference for a stylized swamp is Princess and Frog.

Groves of bald cypress and lily pads.

Light rays, pond scum, lily pads and a bald cypress stump.

Spanish moss, cypress, cypress knees, and mist. The scale of this is way off but the audience doesn’t notice.

Mist on the water in Princess and Frog. Notice also the beautiful stylized lily pads, reflections in the water, and abstract bushes in the distance.

More cypress, pond scum, and stylized grasses.

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