Okay, to make up for the fact that I a) didn’t get a book from the reading list (I was so close to getting hold of the storyboard book, then someone took just as I made to grab it >.<; ) and b) didn’t get any other books from there that might be useful, I’m going to analyse three books that I own personally, two of which are in the Library catalogue (I went and checked, which lead me to find a book on painting trees – I’ve made a note of the number). Just one thing I have to ask – do they have maps for the Boots Library? I may have spent most of my school life in them, but that was the first time I’ve come close to getting lost. That place is massive!
Book 1: The Video Camera Handbook – Nigel Taylor. (not in library)
Chapter read: Shooting Techniques.
The format of this book is subtitled paragraphs which are in some cases divided into bullet points, which makes it very easy to read since you don’t have to wade through large amounts of text that go into far too much technical detail to get your head around. Another great thing about this format is that the subtitles are in large bold print that leaps out at you from the page, so if you have the book on had while working and needed to check what a particular technique was, you can open it to that chapter and be able to find what you were looking for at a glance – the title of the chapter is printed at the top outer corners of each page so you don’t need to look at the table of contents to find it. The sections are also in alphabetical order, which if you know the name of the technique you’re looking up, makes it easier to find as well.
The shooting techniques listed have varying amounts of detail. Ones like ‘exposure’ and ‘focus’ go into a lot more depth than ‘crossing the line’ and ‘cutaways’, and some explain why certain rules exist in filming. In some sections, like the one titled ‘Same Direction’, an example is given to help the reader understand how the technique works and also how the viewer would perceive the result, accompanied by pictures to further illustrate the point. The viewer’s reaction is something the book comes back to often, a constant, helpful reminder that you need to keep taking into consideration whether the viewer is able to make sense of the shot, and also whether they can follow the action comfortably.
The book has numerous tips in the outer margins, ranging from suggesting interesting ways to use the techniques to reminders to hold the end of a pan or any other shot to allow time for transitions in post-production. And there is one very important section – Safety First – that warns to be careful when shooting because, lets face, put a camera in somebody’s hands and all thoughts of personal safety go out the window for everyone concerned (watch any episode of You’ve Been Framed and you’ll see what I mean).
Book 2: The Complete Animation Course – Chris Patmore
Chapter read: The Story.
The first full chapter of the book is about, in my view, the most important element in animation – the story. Without it, you’re left with the equivalent of a ball repeatedly bouncing up and down on end, and a very bored viewer. In this book, the chapters are split into several key parts; an introduction, chapter units that contain practical examples, and case studies to demonstrate the practical information.
The Story chapter is, in my view, the most extensive one in the book. It covers ‘Origins of Story’, ‘Animation for Storytelling’, ‘Character Development’, ‘Research’, ‘Hollywood Formula’, ‘Writing the Screenplay’, ‘The Storyboard’ and ‘Storyboard Animatics’ before the case study at the end. Except for ‘Animation for Storytelling’, even if you weren’t interested in animation, this chapter would be invaluable for writers and filmmakers alike, it’s that informative.
The introduction and the chapter units are more text heavy than the Video Camera Handbook, and sometimes the page layouts with all their images feel very disjointed and busy, with your eyes jumping about to different places and ending up nearly ignoring the main body of text altogether. It’s worse when a paragraph carries over to the next column, especially when they’re of differing sizes. Actually, glancing at the Origins of Story unit keeps making me go crossed-eyed, it feels that all over the place. Thankfully, the rest of the units are much easier on the eye.
Each unit has a task at the end of it to let you put what you’ve read into practice. It’s kinda ironic that it often encourages you to visit the library to read some of the books listed, considering that’s what I was supposed to be doing. These range from reading books for more information, looking up myths and legends (that’s something I do a lot) to having a go at storyboarding yourself. My personal favourite unit is the Storyboard one, and in-particular an example of a tracking shot where a vertically long backdrop is overlaid with a white box showing the screen to demonstrate the camera zooms and movement. Another favourite part of thisunit is the example of the three-column storyboard (which incidentally are the same used for the series Avatar – the director posted them online), it appeals to my way of thinking: dialogue on the right hand side, images in the middle, scene information on the left, it’s so brilliantly well laid out and organised.
Book 3: Cracking Animation: The Aardman Book of 3D Animation – Peter Lord and Brian Sibley.
Chapter read: Basic Needs
This book isn’t set out all that differently to the Video Camera Handbook, but thanks to the larger printed format the main text can sit in the middle of the page with the extra notes in the margin on either side of it, with the occasional image either taking up half of one page, a whole page or a smaller one sat in the corner.
The chapter talks about what you need to get started in stop-motion animation, such as cameras, a ‘studio’ – both on-a-desk-in-your-bedroom simple and hugely complex, video assist – that is, using a monitor to view what you’re shooting as opposed to looking through the viewfinder, and lighting – something which in my opinion is a lot easier to do in stop-motion than in live-action.
As this addition of the book is nearly 10 years old – I’ve had it since I was 10 or 11 – it refers more to film and cine cameras as digital was in its relative infancy (digital tablets were too, my old Wacom ArtPad cost a bomb). I think this makes it an even better resource, as it explains how people had to make these films before computers made it as simple as pressing a button (well, that’s an over-simplification, but you get what I mean). And some of what it has to say is still relevant, like one paragraph in the margin that mentions a method for calculate how far to move the camera each frame when filming a pan – something that’s awkward to do, alongside pulling focus.
The studio section has one strong theme running through – secure everything that shouldn’t move down. And to that extent, secure the camera – I’m notoriously clumsy, and I know exactly what the writers mean. I’ve yet to get through a session of stop-motion filming without catching the tripod or nudging the model out of place at least once.
Lighting is perhaps my favourite section. As someone very artistically minded I know the basics behind it, but putting it into practice – especially since I only have one light source to work with (two, if you count my room light) – can and is daunting. Where do you put it? What colour should it be to give mood? What is a ‘key light’? And how do you avoid setting fire to something? OK, so it doesn’t mention that last bit, but it does tell you what each different light source is meant to do. Key for form and shape, Fill to, well, fill in the shadows (also know as ambient light in art), and Backlight, to highlight and separate the character from the back ground. “This is often called giving a subject an ‘edge’.” The next double page spread shows a shot from A Close Shave and demonstrated how different times of the day are achieved by moving the Key Light and adding different coloured gels. The closest I could get were these translucent plastic sheets from Partners (which I’m willing to bet are a damn sight more flammable).
That’s just reminded me how bad I am at analysing. -_-;
Lord, P. & Sibley, B., 1998. Cracking Animation: The Aardman Book of 3D Animation. 1st ed, Singapore: Thames & Hudson. p 62-74
Patmore, C., 2005. The Complete Animation Course. 2nd ed. China: Thames & Hudson. p10-28
Taylor, N., 2004. The Video Camera Handbook. 1st ed. China: D&S Books. p68-112