How to Tell a Story With the Camera

When you become an animator, you also become a film director – especially when you are animating your own personal creations. You get to decide which camera angles and shots you want and how to show a story with your animation. There are ways of doing camera work that can enhance or detract from what you are trying to demonstrate. As a film director, your job is to show a story through your digital creation – animation in this case.

Just as animations have different styles, there are also different methods of camera work to emphasise or create a particular look and feel. As an example, you have the “cinematic version” where the camera is shot like a Hollywood movie scene, meaning that the camera doesn't move around too much and is usually in one position. Another example is the “Japanese anime version”, where the camera perspective is zipping around and jumping all over the place, a filming method which is almost impossible to duplicate in real life.

While there are different methods of shooting your animations, there are still a few cinematography "rules" that you should follow to help your story flow nicely. If a character is focusing on an object, the camera should also focus on that object. Similarly, if a character is looking to the left, have the camera pan or move to the left as well rather than focusing in the opposite direction; otherwise, you will confuse the audience. However, this doesn't always apply to every animation or live-action movie scenes. Some film directors like to step away from the norm, sometimes giving you a unique experience, for example, in the Transformers movies, directed by Michael Bay, he often puts in camera shots in an intriguing way. There are scenes where you have two giant alien robots fighting each other, and the camera shots are slightly off the frame, sometimes the audience doesn’t see the entire action scene. You might have character #1 tackle character #2, but you only see half of character #2’s body, it looks wrong because the norm is for the camera showing both of their bodies, entirely, but Michael’s style makes it look more confusing. A reason this style is implemented might be that Michael wants to highlight the scale of giant alien robots compared to human beings, by making his shots feel limited to the ground level. Realistically, a human being won’t be able to see all actions between giant alien robots fighting each other.

Filming a high-intensity action scene is generally going to be very different from filming an emotional love story scene. For example, a film director needs to be mindful in not confusing to the audience by keeping shot compositions precise and evenly paced in action sequences where usually it’s hard to keep up, and able to “follow the thread” of what’s going on. While an action scene is often just characters going at each other for the audience to feel excited and pumped up, you can still tell a story during the action scene itself. Imagine two characters using a hand to hand combat choreography, where character #1 is kicking character #2, in this scene, our camera would generally focus on the legs, not the arms, nor anywhere else. Sometimes you can even have the camera back away from the action but it’s showing that something will happen soon, such as having the camera focusing on a chair that is later to be lifted and thrown by one of the characters. Using methods like these help viewers engage with the storyline, keeping the audience guessing on what might be going to happen next.

Whereas in emotional love story scenes, you usually want to focus on the character facial expressions, because that’s how the audience can tell and relate to, for the most part, it shows how a character is feeling. However, if the facial expression is covered up relating to a specific scene, then the message can still be passed on to the audience through the character’s body language, such as characters hugging each other expressing the element of love. Keep your eyes open for the way different camera perspectives are used in shows you watch on TV, how they demonstrate different actions or emotions. Practice bringing these techniques into animations that you want to bring to life.

#camera #animation #tellastory

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