Story as Design:
The way I view design is augmented by what I design. A designer of furniture would see design as an expression of the designer’s inspiration and the consumer’s want. As an illustrator, as an animator, as a story artist I see design as story. This belief is broken down into several areas, which I will explore in this thesis. As an illustrator and story artist story is important to everything I draw. When creating an illustration for something like a children’s book it is key for each image to communicate the flow of the story on each page and correspond to the written words on those pages. Not only that but each page must draw the reader’s attention to the key element of that page, which in turn is the focus of the illustration. The same goes for storyboards. The storyboard is a visual script for the directors, camera crew, animators, and designers to follow so that everyone is on the same page. The storyboards track the flow and timing of the film, each illustrated page must communicate the mood of the scene as well as make evident the key elements that make up that scene and drive the plot forward. As animator, it is my job to help the animation communicate properly so the audience does not become confused or end up losing what is called “the suspension of disbelief”, which is what is required for the audience to enjoy and feel involved in the film. If the audience is removed from the story and views it from outside, then the story loses that element that makes it enjoyable. An animator helps the audience stay in the story by animating the characters in a believable fashion; this could be as realistic as actual life or as unrealistic as cartoons can be. This all depends on the style of the animation. As long as we set the style at the beginning the audience will follow. However, badly done animation or animation that breaks the chosen style can lose the audience and break them from the needed connection to the story (Williams, 2001). So animators need to know not only the story they are animating for, but the underlying motives and emotions of the characters they are animating within the story. Two of the approaches that animators, illustrators, and story artists use to achieve this is through drawing and acting.
Drawing is the Key Element to Design:
Drawing is the most important aspect to design. This is where your ideas and vision is given form. Draftmenship is the most dynamic creative engine any visual artist can own (Neumeier, 1997). This means that the first step for any project an artist approaches should be to sit down and draw. Drawing is where we wrestle with our own inner demons, our expectations, our vision, and the inherent flaws of our design. This is where we work out our composition, our staging, in order for the project to communicate with its intended viewers. Walt Stanchfield says that we need to draw. We need to draw everything we can see and touch around us. We should draw the common and uncommon elements of our daily life until their every detail can be seen within our minds. It is through this that we are able to add depth to our design and be able to pull out any type of drawing without wasting a lot of time searching for the right reference. Because if you need to stop your creative flow even for a minute so you can find a photo of the right style of chair, you could lose your artistic focus and vision during the lapse in time between searching and working. This stage is important in any career, Laura L. Mays Hoopes writes about her experience in grad school; she says that she couldn’t see past her nose to the possibilities that were out there without first obtaining a wealth of knowledge through studying. She could not make the advancements she has in the field of science if she first did not learn what others had done before her.
Wish you could produce your own storyboard for a short film? Not an artist? Can’t draw a straight line without a ruler? I don’t buy it. If you’re capable of writing you own name, you can draw (Lloyd, November 22 2007). One of my teachers, who has taught me and continues to teach me how to expand my horizons and push myself, was not always an artist. In his twenties he decided to teach himself to draw, he became such a good artist that he worked for Dreamworks for a time and is currently a well known children’s book illustrator, as well as a teacher at the Art Institute of Portland, Oregon. If he could do it, why can no one else? He teaches that in order to fully see your own idea you have to be able to take that idea and draw it a hundred times, in as many possible angles, compositions, styles, etc, until you can see it fully. This is achieved through thumbnails; if drawing is the cornerstone to the foundation of design, then thumbnails are the atoms within that cornerstone that holds in all together. We do this because the first drawing, the top card, is rarely the best drawing or what the final composite will be. We should always push it further. The small, rough composition of a thumbnail is there to get ideas out quickly, without worry of detail and precision. That helps us gauge value and staging before the real art piece is created. This all plays back into story. We cannot create a story without being able to see its structure, its architecture. Thumbnails are the floor plans for that architecture. Daily sketching is the hours of research and the acquired knowledge that we need before we build that structure, because without it the structure will collapse in on itself. The art piece will not communicate to its audience.
Acting is fundamental to Story:
How is it that animators and illustrators are capable of getting so much emotion and intent out of their characters? How is it that an actor is able to portray their character so convincingly? Humans gain so much information from body language and facial movements, the majority of which is noticed subconsciously. Actors use these body hints to communicate the personality, the emotion and the motive of the characters they are playing. Animators are actors as well. However, animators do not themselves get up on stage and act out the scenes of their films, but instead draw the characters into the scenes and use the character’s pose to communicate that character personality, motives, and emotion. Animators have to learn acting so that they can animate believable characters, because without that believability the audience will be removed from the story and be viewing it from outside. However, we do not want to confuse the audience with the amount of information that can be drawn into a pose. Every pose should be the emphasis of a single idea or key word and when these poses are strung together the read as a clear message of the character wants and needs. This is what Dieter Rams would call, omitting the unimportant.
Acting also helps the animator in other way. We often times need to study how much time it takes for a person with a limp to walk across the room, or pick up a spoon, or cough. By acting out the action we not only learn about the character’s motives, but also we gain an understanding on the timing and tempo for the action. Through the control of the tempo and timing we can manipulate the audience’s emotions and how they will react to the character’s actions. The tempo of a story for film is controlled by the story artist, with the assistance of the director. The storyboards tell the whole film crew, from director to animator, how fast or slow the story progresses. Without this stage, this key element to the production phase, the film would take much longer to complete. The other importance of storyboards is to show the artist’s vision to the non-artistic. Businessmen run the whole industry and give the production crew the money they need to make the film; however, these people do not understand scripts and rough sketches and need something more to energize them towards the film. This is when the storyboards come into play. The storyboards are drawn out and timed, and then they are roughly animated into what is called an animatic. This is what the businessman will be shown and gives him the full scope of what the production will be about. What the end result will be. So acting is important for me because it breathes life into my drawings and allows the audience to believe in my art, as well as, fuel the imaginations of the un-artistic so that I can see my vision come to life.
The Magic of Imagination:
The use of story as design helps create greater and more powerful art. Even during the Renaissance this is true. The works that were made during the Renaissance had deeper meaning than just paint on canvas or pretty images to grace a church ceiling. They were created from the artist’s vision to portray the story that the artist want to tell. This would be viewed by the masses, which were illiterate, and they would in turn would be inspired and gain insight into the world around them, beyond what they knew in their everyday lives. The duty of the artist has not changed since the beginning of time. We are all storytellers in our own way; whether that story is one of our own that we create to help us work through our own inner demons, or one of ancient folk lore that helps the audience learn more about itself. It is our moral duty to tell our stories and the stories of the people of the world to progress society as a whole. It is through our designs that we tell these stories, push boundaries, and communicate across generations and cultures. This does not change simply because of the medium used, whether the story is told through animation, an illustrated book, or the written word; art revolves around a story and the story is given impact by its design.oHow is it that an actor c
Laura L. Mays Hoopes, Through The Spiral Ceiling 2006
Dieter Rams, Omite the unimportant, The Idea of Design, 1989
Marty Neumeier, Draftsmenship, Critique Magazine 1997, Autumn issue.
Walt Stanchfield, Drawn To Life Volume One, 2009
Walt Stanchfield, Drawn To Life Volume Two, 2009
Nancy Beiman, Perpare to Board, 2007
Karen J Lloyd, The Storyboard Blog, http://karenjlloyd.com/blog/home/
Richard Williams, Animator’s Survival Kit, 2001