Course notes
syllabus | schedule | topics | assignments | class notes | resources | students | Digital Arts website
Rules for Final Animation
Story Rules
  • The length of the animation should be 30 seconds to 1 minute
  • If it can be done in live action, it is not appropriate for this animation assignment.
  • Story has to have the story structure discussed in class
  • The story must take place in one location
  • No cliche stories (it's only a dream - alarm clock goes off at end)
  • The story must have conflict and resolution, a beginning, middle and end
  • (but they can be experimental in how this is accomplished)
  • Highly encouraged: the story should make us think, feel or react in some way - touch us on a human level
  • No toilet humor
  • No killing the character
Character Rules
  • No realistic human characters - be creatively different.
  • Only one main character that is rigged
  • One secondary character that can be an object or personified thing, not an animal or human (no rigging or use simple rigging)
  • No space ships, robots, tunnels, etc (CG cliches)

Other Rules
  • Must have sound effect and sound track (appropriate to the story)
  • Must have a creative visual design to the piece (textures, color, lighting, composition)
Lecture 1
Syllabus and introductions


What does the main character want?
What moves him/her to action?
What conflict does the main character meet with?
What is the crisis point in the story?
What did the main character learn that enabled her/him to move on?
What was the conclusion of the story?
How do you come up with stories?

Brainstorming idea - techniques

Generating ideas
  • Lists - anything that comes to mind
  • Make a list of emotion, cause and effect
  • Thesaurus or google search
  • Variations on a theme, interdisciplinary thinking, metaphorical thinking
  • Visualization - imagine yourself in the situation what might happen (come up with 10 possible scenerios)
  • Research - Library, videos, films, books, Internet
  • Thumbnailing and sketchbooks
  • Exercise - Story machine
Stay open minded - refine and change ideas to try new things

Discuss final story parameters

Discuss Animation Production Bible

Creative character design can enhance a story (Monsters, Inc., Shrek, Ice Age)
Look for creative characters online.

Discuss how to make the blog

Lecture 2

Quiz over Ch. 1 reading

Brainstorming and Story Engine continued

In class Exercise: Story Machine
2 stacks of cards with vocational label (doctor, janitor, etc) and strange or unusual behavior - shuffle the cards

Why did the Card A do B?
Add a conflict
What does the character have to learn to overcome the conflict? How is it resolved in the end?
Add details and tell us more about the story.

How does the personality or physical traits of the character effect a story?

  • Write an occupation on one card
  • Write a strong personality trait on another card
  • Write a physical attribute on a card
  • Write a goal on a card (she wants to ...)

We will shuffle the cards and pick one of each and each group of 2-3 will try to come up with a story that has conflict and resolution and meets all the criteria of narrative storytelling.

Use elements that are true to life - people need to relate to the events or emotions in the story. Although you are expressing your idea, you are making the animation for the audience. Use ideas that will reach out to them and give them what they need to understand what you are trying to say.

Characteristics of a Short Story
  • Arresting opening
  • Interesting plot
  • Well developed structure
  • Action
  • Tension
  • Clearly recognizable climax
  • Satisfying ending
  • One or two well developed characters
  • Effective use of dialogue (make a contribution to the story)
  • Skillful exploitation of conventions of the chosen genre
  • Use of setting to enhance the narrative
All stories are about desire - the character wants something

Exposition - the main character and location are introduced
Complication - things get difficult for the main character
Climax - when the main character is in direct conflict with the obstacle
Resolution - the character suceeds or fails (the end)
Point of View - the position of the character in relationship to the story

What are the different types of Point of View?

How do you find the theme in a story?

Short narrative stories should be able to fit into this format:

Six Sentence Story Structure:
  1. The main character wants something
  2. Something moves main character to action
  3. Until main character meets conflict
  4. Then main character is in crisis
  5. Main character learns somethmething - discovers, finds, solves a problem, etc.)
  6. Main character succeeds or fails in getting what they want
Seven Sentence Stories:

What is a 7 sentence story?

Sentence 1: Introduce Character A and place
Sentence 2: Introduce obstacle and establish conflict
Sentence 3: Problem grows more complex
Sentence 4: Character A does something
Sentence 5: Obstacle responds or does not respond
Sentence 6: Climax
Sentence 7: Resolution

Concept of the story is the basic essence of what it all means or the core values

Ideas for the story can come from a number of different things:

A description of the situation:
  • Paintings come to life at night
  • Child's favorite toy brings bad luck to everyone else
  • Machine malfunctions to create brilliant invention
  • Character tries to sit down, but chair keeps moving.

Moral of the story:
  • He who laughs last, laughs best
  • The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.
  • The early bird catches the worm.
  • You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.

An interesting object or character:
  • One legged marathon racer
  • The book of no knowledge
  • An uninspired motivational speaker
  • Baby who will stop at nothing to get what it wants
Watch animations

A Great Big Robot From Outerspace Ate My Homework
Gas Planet
Continuity Style of Editing
Cinematic language helps to establish CONTINUITY of within the shots of the animation

Camera Shots - the Basics

Horizontal rotation of the camera left or right arond its pivot point

Vertical pivoting of the camera going up and down

Actual movement of the camera along a track towards an object

Actual movement of a camera along a track horizontally right and left

Changing the lens adjustment of the camera to get a closeup

Mechanical - Crane
An unnatural view obtained by using a mechanical arm that the camera is on

Pull Focus 1
Changing the focal length of the camera to focus the viewers attention on the background

Pull Focus 2
Changing the focal length of the camera to focus the viewers attention on the foreground

Camera Transitions - the Basics
  • Cut
  • Fade to Black or White or other color
  • Cross Dissolve
  • Wipe
  • Morphing
  • Effects Transitions

Framing the shot
Establishing Shot Long Shot
Medium Shot Medium Close-up
Close-up Extreme Close-up

Full Shot
  1. Not used as much any more
  2. Usually used as establishing shot
  3. Use it when it is necessary to connect the character to the location
  4. Typical to do a Full shot then Medium and then closeup - but do not return to the full shot directly after this
  5. Position the character off center on long and full shots
Medium Shot
  1. This is the most common shot in film
  2. Captures the gestures, body language and facial expressions
  3. Common with group shots or dialogue shots
  4. Use medium shots in conjuction with close-ups
  1. Closeups create intimate relationship with the characters in the shot
  2. Could be a violation of privacy (you see something you should not, you are too close for comfort, intruding)
  3. Closeness, like being near a loved one
  4. Cultural customs of privacy, how close is comfortable? What is the accepted distance between people?
Extreme Close-ups
  1. Eyes, mouth, and ears are often used for extreme close-ups
  2. Extreme closeup of a person crying is very effective

Basic Info to Consider
  • Scale - the relationship of the frame to the objects in the frame
  • Angle - the relationship to the camera's position to the thing it is focusing on
  • Camera Movement - movement from the beginning of the shot to the end of it
  • Character Blocking - the movement of what is being seen inside the frame
  1. For a natural cut, cut on the "look" or where the person glances
  2. You can show the person looking then cut to what they looked at or cut to a POV shot or what they are looking at
  3. The eye line determines spatial relationships in the scene space
  4. The viewer is placed in relationship to the subjects on the screen
  5. A character in your shot must look at objects before picking them up, etc. This glance direction must be exact.
  6. Leave extra space on the side of the frame where the character is looking
The balance or imbalance of any frame is dependent on the frames before or after the current frame.
  1. Avoid putting main items in the center of the frame - there will be no eye movement around your frame
  2. Position the character to one side or the other
  3. Watch the rhythm of the eye movement as viewers watch a film.

Line of Action
  1. Organization of camera angles to establish consitent screen direction and space
  2. Avoid reversal of left and right screen space (never have a character ont he right then next shot they are on the left)
  3. When a subject is moving through the frame in one direction, they should continue to move through the space in the same direction in subsequent shots

180 Degree Rule / Axis of Action
  1. Stay within the 180 degree area when cutting back and forth between 2 characters
  2. If you use a shot taken outside the 180 area, it will disorient the viewer
  3. Use the Triangle System to place cameras
  4. All shots of the interaction between two characters can be taken from 3 points within the 180 area

5 Basic Camera Setups for shooting 2 people interacting

Angular Singles

Master Two-shots

Over the Shoulder Shots

Point of View Singles

Profile Shots

Establishing a New Line of Action
  • When a person the camera is looking at turns their head to look at something, the camera can follow thus establishing a new 180 - now you must stay in this 180 until you establish a new 180
  • This is called the pivot shot and it calls your attention to something new
  • You can go back to the old 180 after you have used the new 180 a bit
  • Have an action or glance that triggers the change back to the old 180 - you do not need a pvot shot
  • Another way to establish a new 180 is when a character crosses out of the 180 area and the camera shows the new relocation
  • This establishes a new 180 area and you need to stay within this area until you reestablish a new one or return back to the old
  • Another way to show a shot outside of the 180 area is to have a Bridge or Cut Away shot.
  • You can have a shot of a person then cut to an environment then cut back to the person in a different spot

Action Sequences and Line of Action
  1. Follow the dominant direction of the motion
  2. Do not change the direction of the motion
  3. There is an implied sight line if you have a car or other human driven vehicle so you could do a POV shot
Crossing Line of Action in Action Shots
  1. Can change the line of action when the subject changes directions and you use a pivot shot
  2. A new suject can enter the frame and the camera can focus on them thus establishing a new 180 area
  3. Can follow a subject to a new 180 area
DO NOT place cameras on the 180 line or close to it (179 degrees)
Temporal Connections
  • Cause and Effect - make logical sense between shots
  • Ask a question (with a shot) then provide an answer (with another shot)
  • Ex. Throw a ball then show a shot of a window breaking

Spatial Connections
  • Ex. Wide shot of village with houses then a closeup of one of the houses
Logical Connections
  • Ex. Wide shot of woods then a mid shot of squirrel (the squirrel would most likely live in a forest)

Sergei Eisenstein - famous film theorist
Thesis - Antithesis - Synthesis
Dialectical Montage
Shot 1 and 2: What is the connection between these 2 shots? Answer is shown in shot 3.

Ex. Shot of person looking, then shot of what they are looking at

Can alter the order of the Q + A pattern
Rhythm and timing can be altered by witholding some expected narrative information for a while then revealing it later.

Ex. Answer first then Question
Shot of Bug then shot of woman's face scared

Ex. Question first then Answer
Shot of woman's face with scared look then shot of bug

Ex. Question, other material used to delay the answer, then Answer
Shot of ransacked house, shot of raining day, shot of rusted cars, then shot of crooks running

Ex. Question, Partial Answer, Partial Answer, then Answer (who and why)
Shot of dook knob turning, shot of feet, shot of gun, shot of man picking up gun

You can also have more than 1 question

Instead of showing us the answer, show us stuff that leads us to figure out the answer on our own
Decrepit town = trash blowing, CU of closed sign, window shutter hanging off building
Cutting on the Action/Movement

Before the actual climax of the event, CUT to CU of event then CUT back to finish of event
NEVER cut at the very begining or end of an action

Ex. Full shot of woman lifting cup to lips, cut to CU of cup as it touches lips, she starts to lower the cup and cut to mid shot
Exits and Entrances

Shot one: cut to empty street then a person enters from left side and walks to the right and exits the frame completely
Shot two: cut to new part of street then the same person enters from the left and exits completely on the right side

**Always hold on scene for a number of frames before the person enters - DO NOT have the person enter right away.

Shot one: person is slightly in the frame on right and walks left. Before they reach the absolute end, CUT to next shot
Shot two: CUT to a different place with person slightly on frame on the right and they walk left till almost off the frame.

By using exits and entrances, you can both indicate a passage or time and also a continuation of time.