CREATIVE COEXISTENCE AT THE INTERSECTION OF ANIMATION AND LIVE-ACTION
“The reason I’m planning is that I can’t draw,” admits Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor Robert Legato, ASC (Hugo). “On the last film I did with Michael Bay, I ended up doing car accident simulations. I’m not faking for what would actually happen, but for what I want him to do. Then I find a clever way to film it rather than animating and planning every moment. After you reconstruct the scene, the shorter bridge is what you force to create the animation. People who are fluent in animation would prefer to animate the whole thing. I find it does not work well for me because I am steeped in live work. Even though the animation is probably correct, I question it because it wasn’t made with science, gravity, weight, and mass, all the different things that I take into account when I put in place a gag or a shoot. The animation is, “Here’s the plan, let me animate it and make it work.” It literally only works for that angle while mine works for all angles, but I go for the one that looks the coolest.
“What we did and liked about The Lion King, and what Andy Jones [Animation Supervisor] fact, was only to make the animals do what they can do within the confines of the stage, ”notes Legato. “Animals can jump and leap but couldn’t do it 50 times more than was actually possible. You couldn’t stretch and crush the animation. You had to work indoors if you could train an animal to do this, it would. If you got them moving their mouths with the same pace of speech, you could almost film it live. It was the sensitivity behind it all. Sometimes we wanted to invent our own version of the film rather than being a direct tribute. When we ran into some issues we went back to the old one and it turned out they had the same issue and fixed it.
The best-known principles of animation are the 12 designed by Disney’s Nine Old Men in the 1930s and published later in Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life in 1981. Ross Burgess, Animation Manager, Episodic at MPC, focuses on five in particular that apply to live action. “In feature animation, a character’s timing is easier to manage because it’s all CG and you can re-sync your camera to match the performance. In live-action, you often have to counter the animation to the timing of the plate that has been pre-shot. It is easier to exaggerate the emotions or movements of the character in the animation of feature films. You are not tied to the “reality” of a real environment. In visual effects, we use exaggeration slightly differently in the way we animate our characters or anthropomorphize our animals. It’s all about the subtlety of a character and knowing when you’ve broken “reality”.