Directors Should Be Animators First

“I think the toughest thing for a director to do is to know what he wants. It’s not how to get what you want; it’s knowing what you want. So many people make movies and they don’t know what they want.” –Stephen Spielberg

As many people know, Spielberg is probably my favorite film director. Not all of his films are favorites, but he is extremely talented at managing the three main responsibilities of the director: directing the camera, directing the actors, and directing the screenwriter (although this is an area where he is weakening). Yesterday Stu Maschwitz posted a video that goes a long way towards explaining why.

This clip was shot by the American Film Institute in 1978, and it’s a principle that I strongly believe in. Obviously, good directors don’t have to be former animators, but animation is an excellent training ground because it requires considerable planning, and so it forces animators, and directors, to decide what they want before they start production. This approach will always give better results than the make-it-up-as-you-go style of improvised filmmaking used by directors with no pre-conceived vision. There are no exceptions to this rule.

Also, here’s a clip where Spielberg explains why he always draws his own storyboards. Even with a budget large enough to support staff artists, he does the initial sketches himself. This is another important principle, since the storyboard artist is the guy who directs the camera. If the director renounces this responsibility, he is no longer the director of the camera, and he probably didn’t know what he wanted in the first place.

Outside Hollywood at SIGGRAPH

Last month I mentioned that seeing Up in 3D had inspired me to do a few of my own experiments. Below is one of my renders (cross your eyes to see it).

Dual-eye renders are easy to produce from just about every animation program, but it’s tricky to tweak those images in compositing apps without destroying the illusion. See the flickery 2D-created shadows? This is why stereoscopic tools like Ocula have been created for high-end compositing apps like Nuke.

But the interesting part of that clip really isn’t that it just looks 3D. The interesting part is that it looks like a painting. This is a very simple rendering technique that I’ve been developing for a while in Lightwave. It’s not particularly new in theory, but I’ve spent some time extending it and documenting it, and now managed to get something that offers both flexibility and control.

The Up Collection

I don’t write that many movie reviews, but Pixar’s latest release was such a cut above other films that I wanted to comment on many aspects of it. My brother Ben also had a few things to say.

The Story of Up
Story is king. Pixar’s writers and directors are known as being masters of the story development process, and in addition to exhibiting a technical superiority in the areas of structure and plot, they are growing increasingly adept at bringing powerful themes of character to life.

The Music of Up
A powerful storytelling tool is the musical score that accompanies every film. Some directors and composers don’t use this tool to its full extent, but Pete Docter and Michael Giacchino have done a tremendous job at uniting script and score to emphasize the emotional turning points of the film.

The Art of Up
But film is also a visual medium, and animated films offer a tremendous opportunity for artists to control every aspect of the image that the audience sees. From character design to color and composition, each shot demonstrates excellence in creative discipline.

The Technology of Up
Of course, a computer animated film also leans heavily on the rendering advances that allow for a hairy dog, a squashy scout with an overloaded pack, and a cubical man in perfectly simulated jacket and slacks to go venturing through a beautifully lit jungle. Also, this is Pixar’s first film to be released in stereoscopic 3D, which is no mean feat in itself.