“The reason I do previs is that I can’t draw,” admits Oscar-winning Visual Effects Supervisor Robert Legato, ASC (Hugo). “On the last film that I did with Michael Bay, I ended up doing car accident simulations. I don’t simulate for what would actually happen, but for what I want it to do. Then I figure out a clever way of shooting it as opposed to animate and plan every moment. After you piece the scene together, the shortest bridge is what you force the animation into being. People who are fluent in animation would rather animate the whole thing. I find it not working for me well because I’m steeped in live-action work. Even if the animation is probably correct, I question it because it wasn’t done with science, gravity, weight and mass, all of the various things that I factor in when I set up a gag or shoot. Animation is, ‘Here’s the shot, let me animate within it and make that work.’ It literally only works for that angle whereas mine works for all angles, but I pick the one that looks the coolest.
“What we did which I liked in The Lion King, and what Andy Jones [Animation Supervisor] did, was only make the animals do what they can do within the confines of the scene,” notes Legato. “The animals can jump and leap but couldn’t do it 50 times more than what was actually possible. You couldn’t stretch and squash the animation. You had to work within if you could train an animal to do that, it would do that. If you get them to move their mouth with the same cadence of speech you could almost shoot it live. That was the sensibility behind it. Sometimes we wanted to invent our own version of the movie as opposed to being a direct homage. When we ran into some problems, we went back to the old one, and it turned out that they had the same problem and solved it.”
The most widely known animation principles are the 12 devised by Disney’s Nine Old Men during the 1930s and later published in Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life in 1981. Focusing on five in particular that apply to live-action is Ross Burgess, Head of Animation, Episodic at MPC. “Within feature animation, the timing of a character is easier to manage as it’s fully CG and you can re-time your camera to fit the performance. In live-action, often you must counter the animation to the timing of the plate that has been pre-shot. It’s easier to exaggerate the character’s emotions or movements in feature animation. You are not bound to the ‘reality’ of a real-life environment. In visual effects, we use exaggeration slightly differently in the way that we animate our characters or anthropomorphize our animals. It’s all about the subtlety of a character and knowing when you have broken the ‘reality.’