THE GAYAN GLOSSARY OR HOW AN ANIMATED FILM COMES ABOUT
The script is the first step in the process of making a film. Everything else grows out of it. The producer calculates the budget on the basis of the script. The director uses the images that are described in it as the starting point for his own vision. The actors take their cues from the dialogues. The descriptions of locations and the historical details contained in the script form the starting point for the production designer's research work. But as soon as a sequence is actually shot, the film starts taking on a life of its own and the script has served its purpose.
The art of scriptwriting is describing pictures with words. A good scriptwriter thinks more in images than in words. Every page of script approximately amounts to a minute of film time. The scriptwriter writes the story in sequences that contain the following information: location, time of day and a description of what can be seen. The action is chiefly narrated through the characters. There are a number of possible ways of doing this. The characters might speak directly or the script might describe what exactly the figures do within a sequence. At any rate, the dialogue or action must advance the plot.
The script always establishes the film genre, too. A comedy script is very different from that of an action and adventure film, a melodrama or a children's film. Audiences have different expectations of each individual film genre. Scriptwriter attempt to stick to the conventions associated with each individual genre. If they don't, cinemagoers will not know what kind of film they are watching. If the filmmakers are lucky, the critics might then describe it as an art house film.
The film sequences are linked with one another in accordance with dramatic principles.
Most films are structured like plays and divided into three acts. In the first act, which normally lasts 30 minutes, we are introduced to the characters and their surroundings (introduction). The scriptwriter lends the story suspense by leaving a number of questions open, such as 'Will the hero withstand this testing adventure?'.
The audience's curiosity is aroused. Cinemagoers want then to know how the story ends.
This is the starting point of the second act, which is always the longest and lasts about 50 minutes. This section of the story is where the characters' real or emotional journey starts. Here they are confronted with new experiences. The scriptwriter's opportunities for creating tension and suspense depend on the degree of contrast between the worlds that are brought together in the second act. The more they differ, the more conflict is generated. Our film is a good example. In "Back to Gaya" protagonists from a TV series are ejected into our world and have no idea where they are. The second act describes the adventures that they experience.
The third act provides answers to all of the questions raised at the start. Often resolution is achieved very quickly and results in a happy end in the case of most films.
Berlin-based scriptwriter Jan Berger wrote the script to "Back to Gaya" between 1999 and 2001. The plot was developed in the course of drafting eight versions of the script. US co-scriptwriters Bob Shaw and Don McEnergy, well-known for their work on "Hercules" and "A Bug's Life", revised the final version.
The storyboard is a pinboard where the individual images that make up the film story are assembled in cartoon fashion. The storyboard is an artwork in its own right.
The artist, or story-boarder, has to be able to translate the words of the script into pictures. Everyone involved in the production will have the script by this time, so a whole host of competing ideas will exist about how it should be staged.
The storyboard allows the filmmakers to agree on a shared vision about the film at an early stage. It is important that this process begins as soon as possible and that as much as possible is laid down. Boarding begins before firm decisions have been taken about what the characters are going to look like. The story-boarder is chiefly concerned with action, shot composition and shot framing. The appearance of the characters and the setting are of lesser importance.
Action sequences are almost always story-boarded because the written word of the script is frequently not able to adequately describe fast-moving and complicated sequences. The fundamentals are all laid down in the storyboard: perspective, focal lengths, shot framing, pans, zooms, editing and scene changes.
The 'motion reel' or 'story reel' is the first film version of the script. It is constructed by scanning the storyboard sketches into a computer and editing them together. A soundtrack can even be added to this first rough version of the story. Once the voice actors have recorded their dialogues it is also possible to check the narrative quality of the story and change it if necessary.
The motion reel is continually modified and adapted during film production. As soon as a scene has been turned into a low resolution, black-and-white computer preview, this animation replaces the individual sketched images. Gradually all of the sketches are replaced by rough animations of this kind. In this way the motion reel can be used to check the film's progress. The director and his assistants use it to decide on the shots, as well as on the main characters' basic sequences of motion. This enables them to see whether additional sequences might be required as well as a lot more besides. During the course of production these rough animations are also continually being replaced by ones of a higher quality until the final version of the film is ready.
The film camera simulates the eye of the spectator. But human eyes and cameras function very differently. For technical reasons a camera possesses properties that are quite distinct from those of the human eye. From the very beginnings of photography and film practitioners have consciously exploited those properties and created visual conventions that everybody has learned how to interpret automatically. Shallow depth of field or movement blur are examples of these kind of effects. In Westerns we interpret the image of wagon wheels seemingly turning slowly backwards as signifying the high-speed mail coach. It is an effect the human eye does not know from the natural world.
The virtual camera in a 3-D software program is capable of a similar range of things as a real film camera. It has variable focal lengths, various depths of field and numerous tilt angles. The point of view and field of vision can also be freely moved. The animation editor's and the director's knowledge of such features enables them to create a dramatic atmosphere that best fits the respective scenes. A wide angle lens creates an impression of greater depth of field by making the objects in the foreground seem bigger and those in the background smaller. With a lens with a long focal length you get the reverse effect; space appears flat and compressed. As a result an actor who is approaching the camera looks as if he is not moving forwards at all. Using this type of lens from the window of a moving train, the landscape appears to be "flying past". Depth of field can be used to direct the spectator's attention towards the only object that is sharply in focus. The way in which a camera is directed also provides information about the observer of the scene, implying whether the observer is intended to be external (the cinema audience) or internal (one of the characters themselves).
The characters in an animation film are firstly drawn on paper. The only thing that the designer of a film character has to work with at the beginning is the script, which provides information about the personal and physical characteristics of the figures. The appearance of the character has to reflect these personal characteristics, otherwise it will not seem authentic.
Developing a character is a protracted process. A range of ideas are sketched on paper, developed, discarded, exaggerated, regarded as final and then revised once more.
You start to see your surroundings differently, if, like the designers at Ambient Entertainment, you are constantly on the lookout for new ideas about faces or expressions. The inspiration for film characters might be drawn from characters in famous films, from celebrities, but also from the faces of people seen in the street.
The final appearance of an animated character is standardised in what is known as the "bible". This is a compilation of axis-symmetrical drawings that show the figure from the side and from the front in a neutral pose with outstretched arms.
Plaster models are made of the main characters using the drawings from the "bible". These models depict the figures in a pose typical for them that underlines their character. Zino is shown adopting a heroic pose. He is standing straight as a ramrod and is carrying his racing driver's helmet like a football under his arm. His mate Buu appears a little stooped and seems rather more contemplative and unsure of himself.
All of the models are made under the supervision of the figure designer, so that minor adjustments can be made during the modelling work. The plaster heads and the drawings in the "bible" provide the basis for the computer model that is created by the 3-D designer. The designer does this by digitally applying a lattice grid to the plaster model with the computer.
The 3D object modeller works like a computer mouse except that it also works in the third dimension. The tool is used to snap the control points of the grid drawn over the scanned-in plaster model onto the grid axes. The result: a mass of dots that lack a single visible surface plane or even an overall surface. The 3D designer achieves that by linking up these individual points.
The illustration in the "bible" must first be digitalised and loaded into the 3D program. Next the modeller converts the drawing into a three-dimensional computer model with the technical means at his disposal and with the aid of the control points recorded using the object modeller. The designer needs to be on hand because converting the drawing in this way often remains a matter of interpretation that requires the designer's trained eye.
Once this step is complete the animated character's clothes are created electronically using the designer's sketches. Different techniques are required for different types of clothing. Zino's hard, stiff waistcoat is modelled, but Buu's soft shirt is simulated using a special software (see: clothes). Accessories like the Schnurks' knee pads or Zeck's leather arm protectors are also part of the clothing. They have to be designed and then pass through all the stages of computerisation.
As soon as the body, the clothing and the accessories have been modelled, other 3D artists step in to add colour, or texturing as it is called, to the figure. Every detail has to be realistically coloured right down to wrinkles of the character's skin, which you can only really guess at rather than see, and the veins on their eyeballs. The colour and texture of the character's whole body have to be defined in exact detail, but also the figure's clothing and accessories right down to the last little seam.
Every object that will be seen in the film has to be thought up, designed, modelled, textured, illuminated and worked out by the computer - from things like belt buckles to an entire racing car made up of hundreds of individual parts. For "Back to Gaya" five thousand accessories were created in this way.
Every object has a particular role to play in helping to tell the story. Each one must have a clear meaning that does not require any further explanation. If the accessory relates to a film figure, it has to bring out the protagonist's character and appearance.
The Schnurks' skull-and-crossbone-shaped knee pads, for example, indicate their underdog status. Zino's swanky sport's car, by contrast, looks from the outset like a victor's chariot.
A turntable animation is made of each of the accessories once they have been modelled and textured. That makes it easier to manage and retain an overview of the accessories because rather than having to look at each object as a 3D model, you have it recorded in the form of a small film. A turntable animation is created by placing an object on a turntable and recording the object turning around its own axis.
Locations are very important for creating atmosphere in films. But scripts reveal very little about where the action takes place, what the surroundings actually look like in detail or about what emotions, atmosphere and information the various locations should convey.
A script might simply describe a set with the words: "factory, evening". Often the set designer can only indirectly deduce from the action whether the factory is modern or old-fashioned, whether it is light or dark and whether it has a threatening atmosphere or not. Unlike architects or industrial designers, set designers do not design a set according to functional considerations. Instead their chief aim is to support the film's narrative by creating emotions that fit the sequence.
Scale plays an important role in the sets of "Back to Gaya". On most sets you can see both Gayans and humans. The Gayans are only 30 cm tall, but they look normal. The humans, in contrast, look like giants.
During the protracted process of developing a set designers have to carry out a lot of research and make a number of drafts to get a better idea of what they want. Using various drawings and rough computer prototypes they check the degree to which the sets fulfil their functions and achieve the right effects before continuing to develop them. Sets can only be constructed in the computer once detailed, expressive drawings have been made. But the process of correction and modification continues at this stage, too, until a set is finally ready for use in the film. Seventy sets in total were constructed for "Back to Gaya".
A set is only complete when it has been appropriately lit. Different kinds of lighting create very different kinds of atmosphere. As a result, set directors take lighting into account from the very outset. It is an integral part of the planning process.
Gaya is the fictional world that was created for a children's TV series and is home to the film's heroes. This world depends for its survival on the energy produced by the magical stone Dalamite. Gaya is a peaceful idyllic world where heroes are still real heroes who can enjoy their life without worry or care in luxuriant and colourful natural surroundings. This is a world where the sun is always dawning.
Nevertheless the film's designers had to spend hundreds of hours seeking visual solutions to the following questions: What does an idyllic world really look like? What are the main criteria for shaping a landscape like this? The Gayans have a different culture to humans. What are the elements that make up this culture? Bit by bit they invented a small world with a landscape all of its own.
Boo works day and night in his workshop inventing gadgets and machines. His workshop has been constructed in typical Gayan fashion. First of all, trees were planted and nurtured and their branches were gradually pruned and bent to form supports for the roof. As soon as they achieved the right shape, walls and a roof were added. Boo lives in one part of his workshop and uses the rest as his workshop.
THE CITY IN THE REAL WORLD
The city holds unexpected dangers for the Gayans. The heroes perceive it as a terrible, unreal place. The culture shock is immense and that makes the heroes want to return to Gaya all the more badly.
Zino and Boo come face to face with disposable society in the alley. Here they are confronted with bins, bags spilling over with rubbish, a ripped sofa, discarded TV sets and worn trainers. All are evidence of just how foreign this civilisation is to the Gayans.
The Schnurks find this dive extremely inviting. Brampf is always hungry after all. Others might find Susi's Truckstop a little less attractive. But then tastes do vary.
The script says that a dilapidated hotel is in the process of being demolished during sequences of the film. The first sketch portrays the atmosphere at night-time. The old building stands in the midst of new ones lit up by spotlights and surrounded by cranes.
A sketch of this kind sparks off a long design process. The ideas contained in it provide at least the basis for all sketches to come. A coloured drawing showing a dilapidated hotel lobby is judged not to resemble a run-down building enough. Graffiti and tumbled-down beams are added in the computer as well as plenty of dust.
The hotel was modelled in painstaking detail, using the computer. The designers had to take into account the fact that the lobby is destroyed by a wrecking ball in one action-packed scene - another considerable technical challenge for the already extremely complex model.
The main characters are frequently seen in close-up, so their faces have to be modelled particularly carefully. Two techniques are used in the production of "Back to Gaya".
The first technique involves transferring the working drawing of the film character and the version in the "bible" into the 3D program. The head is then directly modelled, according to the drawings. Modellers always start off with a rough form that they gradually refine. The work requires a lot of experience. If mistakes are made with the proportions in the initial rough model, this is very hard to correct at a later stage. A model is refined by dividing up the larger surfaces into smaller ones.
The second technique involves modelling a plaster head that allows figure designers to check the proportions of the head more easily. As soon as the plaster model has acquired the desired form its geometric coordinates are transferred to the computer using a 3D digital arm. The grid of the future 3D model is drawn on to the plaster model before digitalisation.
The modeller has to know exactly how he or she aims to build up the computer geometry. It is necessary to take the individual character's head and facial form into account. The modeller together with the figure designer revise this digital model to arrive at the final form of the head and face. The result is a black-and-white computer image of the head lacking in skin and eye colour, hair and any kind of expression.
THE PROTAGONISTS' BODIES
The bodies are depicted using the same techniques. At first a rough model is used for the animation because a perfectly modelled body consists of so many minute surfaces (polygons).
CLOTHING: A digital tailor is responsible for the production of clothing in a CGI film. Stiff pieces of clothing like Zeck's arm protection, for example, is modelled using a standard procedure because it is not expected to move or distort in any way. If you were to use the same procedure to model soft, supple clothing, it would look too awkward during motion. It is important to make the lightweight nature of materials like cotton or silk visible. A special software tool, a cloth tool, can simulate the character of textiles optically and, to some extent, physically.
Digital tailors have to be able to operate in two different worlds. On the one hand, they have to be capable of using complex software that involves a lot of calculation. On the other, they have to be able to create tailor-made clothing to fit the hero, using the computer.
A pattern has to be made for every single item of clothing, the pieces have to be digitally sewn together and then the character has to be dressed. Sewing involves the tailor instructing the software about which pieces of material fit together. Only then is it possible to see whether the pattern has actually produced a well-fitting piece of clothing. If not, the pattern has to be adjusted until the piece of clothing fits properly. Using this information the program can produce a grid lattice that reacts according to physical laws.
Haircuts are an expression of personality for animation characters as well as for humans. Here, too, drawings come before the technical work. Often fashion magazines or hair magazines are consulted for help in deciding which haircut suits which film character. The haircut is defined in the "bible" but it has to be worked out in more detail for the finished character.
The design is sketched on to the pre-modelled head to ensure the best possible fit. Many different styles will be tried out before a suitable haircut is finally decided upon.
Human heads are, on average, covered with more than a million hairs. This means that hair cannot be portrayed using ordinary modelling techniques. Instead it is simulated with software tools in a manner similar to clothing. Not every individual hair is modelled on the computer. Instead the digital hairdresser depicts strands of hair and the software reads this as containing hundreds or thousands of hairs. This creates the impression of a voluminous haircut.
Computer generated hair also has to behave like human hair before it seems "real". Hairs blow in the wind and move when you turn your head. They behave very differently according to a person's haircut and hair type. That is why every individual strand of an animated character's hair is furnished with various physical properties. Gravity, inertia and flexibility are the key factors that determine what hair looks like.
With special software of this kind there are no standard settings. A lot of experimentation is necessary to attain satisfactory results. A digital haircut is finished once it swings, shines, curls or frizzes like real hair.
Characters' eyebrows and any fluffy or furry clothing that they are wearing also have to be taken into consideration along with their haircut. Simulating furry garments of this kind requires the close co-operation of the hairdresser and the tailor. Depicting wet hair or wet clothes is particularly challenging.
Simulating skin is one of the most difficult tasks that texturing artists face. It is a material that is very painstaking to describe. One the one hand. we are very familiar with what skin looks like and we immediately notice mistakes in the way it is portrayed. On the other hand, skin has many irregularities of various kinds: pores, wrinkles, liver spots and hairs. The reflectivity of skin is also greater in greasier areas than elsewhere.
Information relating to the colour and shading of a character's face and the reflections it contains are described with texture maps. But how are two dimensional images applied to a three dimensional object? To achieve this, you need to "unfold" the 2D form in the third dimension. The technique resembles the representation of the world in a map. The texture is applied to this representation.
READ MORE …….THE PROCESS CONTINUED
LENARD F. KRAWINKEL - director
JAN BERGER - Scriptwriter
MICHAEL KAMEN - Music