Friday, March 9, 2012

Save The Cat!

I was recently recommended a book by a really good friend and fellow student at Animation Mentor about script writing called, ‘Save The Cat’ by Black Snyder. I found this to be the ultimate book in describing how and why choices are made in story structure for film.

Buy 'Save the Cat' on Amazon!

A section that really stuck out to me was about scene structure (pg.110) and it got me thinking about structure of a shot and character growth in animation.

Synder explains that every scene and shot is in the film for a reason – to help progress the characters. That progress can be a positive or a negative, and suggests when planning your scene or shot to write out the following:

Location: For example – INT. Coffee Shop – Day

Scene/Shot Description: Bob confronts Helen about her secret. (It has to be important – big and life changing for the characters. Otherwise, why is in the film?)

+/-             Bob starts out hopeful (Bob imagines her secret is that she organized them a romantic trip away). But he ends up heartbroken. (Helen has been talking to her ex-boyfriend again).

><             Bob wants to know the secret. But when he finds out, he is upset that Helen is still talking to her ex.

The +/- and >< symbols are what really got me looking at my shots differently. The +/- represents the emotional change the character goes through in the shot or scene. Think of each shot/scene as a mini-movie with a beginning, middle and end. Something must happen that causes the emotional tone to make it change drastically from a + to a - or the other way around.

Michal Makarewicz shot from Pixar's 'Ratatouille'.
Skinner begins disinterested.

And ends up in panicked shock!

The other symbols are >< and represent conflict. Synder suggests the scene should be imagined as two people walk into a room from opposite doors, meet in the middle, and begin to struggle past each other to reach the door on the other side. They each enter the scene with their own goals and standing in their way is an obstacle. It can be physical or verbal and can even just be someone who really needs to pee and can’t find a bathroom that is not occupied or out of order (sounds like a pantomime shot for Animation Mentor!), the conflict must be at the front of your mind when you conceive a scene or shot.

One other great tip I got from ‘Save the Cat’ was the idea of opening and closing image that ties in really well to the +/- of your shot. The opening and closing of your shot should be two really strong keyframes/poses that tell us right away how the character is feeling and thinking. But most importantly, they should be the direct opposite of each other. If you start your scene off really happy and full of joy we want to see that character go on a journey and change, not remain happy. The change is the entertainment in the shot (and the change is the most fun part to animate – remember Chuck Jones’ Grinch? That start and end poses are great… but its how he gets there is what you remember. Its also how you show your character is thinking.)

This has gotten me thinking about expressions and poses. I will do another post on those soon with a great tip I got from Anthony Wong, a Pixar Animator. 

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