Monday, 12 March 2012

From The Magic Movie Machine Mailbox!

Today, we're going to answer some questions that were sent to us by some of you readers out there.  You can reach us through many channels if you know us already.  But even if you don't, you can email us at .

Our first letter comes from Juan Martin, a 3D artist and animator from Argentina, who writes:

"Hi Giancarlo, thanks for letting us ask about the process of making the film entitled REVERSION.

I did read your post in the blog (dated thursday 8) about the process of the short film, it was very interesting and i´m very curious about the details of the thinking process behind the colour schemes chosen.

a conceptual question:

Why you picked a colour palette for a certain secuence and how they relate to eachother through the whole movie?

a technical question:

How you came up with the restricted and balanced colour many different hues you (the team) allow yourself in a given palette?
if you can post a colout palette explaining things that would be great.

about composition:

I´ll appreciate any thing you can comment related to tonal composition and chosen points of view of the camera to serve better to the story.

That´s it, of course no obligation to answer part of any of this!

Keep up the good work!
Excuse my english.

Juan,  thanks for the message!  And it's so great that you sent this message in before we could even open our official email address!

Well to your first question, colors are a lot more important to a film I believe than most artists (2D or 3D) immediately think about prior to being formally trained.  Usually, at an early stage, artists are more preoccupied by volume or shape, and in animation it's easy to get hooked up on motion.  But if sound is 50% of what the total film experience is, and the pictures are the other 50%, then it is quite easy to see that colors (including the use of black and white entirely) makes up 50% of the picture itself.  Ultimately, if you look at a finished render, and look particularly closely at an area, and just look at it, you will find that what you are seeing are "spots of color".  And that is basically everything that appears in the film.  It's all colors.  Colors do have a variety of uses.  I am not formally trained in film-making, but it's easy to spot examples of how colors are used even in similar genres.  Say in the Lord of the Rings films vs The Chronicles of Narnia films.  Although both are fantasy films, they tend to use different colors in their images to create different moods.

For REVERSION, the moods were important, not really entirely in a dramatic sense (admittedly there's not a lot of drama to be found here).  But, it was more about demonstrating atmosphere.  REVERSION was designed with a number of environments in mind, and each one required its own color direction to set the theme or feeling.  The most prevalent one is a sense of mysteriousness by using swathes of "cold colors", contrasted with a warm color highlight, a special tone of red that is a common color in all our main episodes.  There are then various pitches of colors, to denote mystery added with danger, mystery with secrecy, and finally, mystery with a "sense of finality" in a key sequence.

But what we realized early on was that just demanding a feeling and color range wasn't enough.  The colors had to always blend well or else they would cause issues.  Some colors are too far apart from each other that they cannot be combined, and forcing them causes "popping" of the image, or other unintended effects.

So how did we make this color scheme you ask?  Well, our chief painter pointed us in the direction of a site called Color Scheme Designer (  Apparently, scientifically, colors that work well together are equidistant from a certain color.  In this case it was the unique shade of red that we wanted to use as a core highlight whenever it came into frame.  We used this as a main Seed Color, and derived a number of "color grids" that we knew worked well because they were really equidistant from each other and had the same relationships to the "Seed Color".  I think in reality, since we did not really study this formally, we might have oversimplified the approach to Color Scripting.  But we found this approach to be effective.  It has a correlation to our philosophy on lighting and shadows, but that is already another topic.

You are very observant to point out that Composition is another important step.  The other important thing to note is that this particular aspect of the film is down to an artist's taste.  It is similar to asking how a comic book artist chooses his poses.  You will find a number of staple "rules".  These include the 180 degree Stageline rule where it says you have to pretend a certain orientation of the actors is being done on a stage and you can only therefore position the camera in a 180 degree arc so that the camera can never fall "behind the stage" relative to the view of an audience.  The other classic is the Left Side versus Right Side of the frame orientation.  There are ways around these rules though, and I believe composition, and the art of deciding what's in frame and what isn't is really where the "art" of telling the story without writing pages of text comes from and why film and animation are so special.  Again, every director has his "thing".  Such as how Steven Spielberg loves to make characters look at something that is really out of frame, or how James Cameron ends the film Terminator 2 with a voice over talking while the frame shows just the open highway.  Composition is important on two levels, if you ask me.  The first is that this is where you show how well you can tell a story without writing a book.  The second is that this is the primary means (after color) where you communicate with your audience.  Is the view skewed?  Is the angle low? is it high?  Which actor is dominant?  Which one is less dominant?  Are they chasing each other?  Where are they going?  If they are in combat, who is where, and who is doing what?  But remember that rules are made to be broken.  For example, the Bourne films intentionally disorient viewers and cut very rapidly (around one cut every 1 - 1.5 seconds for action sequences).  This can be incredibly disorienting, but it is not a mistake and I'd like to think that Paul Greengrass followed his own "rules" when filming Bourne action sequences, because somehow viewers are able to "catch up" later with where Bourne is and what has happened.

It's a thin line though between being very creative, and just being generally poor.  In my experience Shot Composition was something highly, but constructively, contested throughout REVERSION because in the mind's eye the action unfolding in a script can occur many ways and looks slightly different to each artist.  Again, I am not formally trained in this art, but with the variety of examples I found from Jason Bourne, to James Bond, to the Sound of Music,  and on through to Casablanca, I doubt whether any school of film will try to tie you down to a particular set of rules.

The first judge has to be yourself.  And if the angles chosen make sense with your team upon seeing the Storyboards or animatic then "that is the one that goes into the movie".

There is one more weapon in the arsenal which is something we borrow from the big studios called "closed door preview audience".  But that is something for another time as well as these usually can tell you more than just feedback on Compositions.

Hope we answered your question, Juan and thanks again for the email! :)

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