It's the Details That Help Bring Spawn to Life
Friday, October 21, 2005

Knowing how to direct animation means being able to understand the writer's -- and in our case creator's -- vision for the story and the characters.

In our particular situation, Chuck Patton, our director at Film Roman, was actually able to have conversations with Todd early on in the process of production. This helped him to understand Todd's intention with this movie and to confirm that his own thoughts and ideas were on the right track.

In directing traditional 2D animation, there is a long list of things to consider when preparing the storyboards for physical animation. In our case, the three most important things in properly capturing Spawn through animation are camera angles, pacing and the shadow work.

When explaining to the illustrators how to draw a scene, the angle of the camera was the first priority. A very specific visual direction was given to make sure the camera was often kept at a low angle. This would draw the audience in -- in an attempt to make the viewer feel like they themselves are being watched. It also conveys a claustrophobic feeling and uses using the environment as sort of a character itself.

The implied camera angle in a traditional animation storyboard is very important, because unlike in feature films, the shot is only animated how it is drawn on the storyboard. Live action scenes can be shot from three to five different angles, and the best ones are picked in post-production. Shot selection is completely taken out of the equation when directing for animation, forcing the director to make a big decision early on -- one that he will then be stuck with after physical animation is complete.

The second most important directing choice for Spawn was the pacing of the scenes. The intention with pacing in this project was to keep the mood dark while conveying a sense of how quickly momentum was carrying these characters forward. Any scene can play out a couple of different ways: the action can happen right at the start, or it can unfold in a suspenseful way. A knack for storytelling is helpful in making these choices so that each climactic point is not delivered in the same way, but is still exhilarating.

As you may have guessed, to keep the quintessential spirit of Spawn intact, even in animation, the shadow work is one of the most important directorial challenges of our movie. Spawn is a dark character. but in the dark there are still hundreds of shades of dark colors all the way to black that must be in a scene. With so much black, we are left with the challenge of keeping the details Spawn animation is famous for. For example, keeping the facial expressions and details noticeable, and keeping the subtleties of the story visible.

Next update we will have an interview with our director Chuck Patton. We'll get his take on working with Todd, working with Film Roman versus HBO on the same property, and working in animation as a director in the 21st century.