Layout is one thing that can get you right on track or make your animation project a total nightmare. And I really mean nightmare! Basically, layout in animation is the blueprint, the foundation if you will, of the whole short or feature. As where the storyboard helps you define the story and the way you tell it, layout is the process in which you decide ALL the technical stuff to actually make it.
Technical stuff in animation, you might ask. My short answer would be: Yep, and lots of technical stuff indeed! And we haven’t got to the actual animation process yet, we’re still in the pre-production phase. Storyboarding to make the story flow right and then layout, to make it feasible to animate properly.
An example of how layout works: If you have a close up of a character, you might want to animate it in a certain size: not too big (because it’s really hard to control and maintain similar quality overall) or too small (lines start to get all cluttered and messy if you draw it wrong only once). This is where Layout really shines, because you define the size that would work best and lock it! You do all the basic poses of the action “on-model” (the term for “stay-in-the-approved-character-design” in animation jargon) based on the character model sheet and then the animator would have a foundation to make the animation happen. (He or she would go from pose to pose, adding or removing things as he might judge proper, but that’s a different subject and I’ll add more on that on next posts).
Also, in Layout you define all the camera movements: panning, diagonal pans, dutch tilts, zip-pans, etc. and if you have multiplane camera shots or movements, you define all the “layers” in which that action it’s gonna happen. An example of that (and how complex you can get) can be seen here:
Every “box” represents one piece of artwork that combined makes a composition. In this particular example, the first red box “level” belongs to the branch at the lower left part of the composition and so forth. Some layers interact with each other and some others interact with the characters, making things fairly complicated really fast: that’s when layout can become a life vest or an anvil in the middle of the ocean.
You also design the final backgrounds without colour and major rendering at this stage. Now, this makes the importance of layout stand out because at this stage, is fairly simple to solve staging or composition problems than trying to make an animation work in a bad planned environment.I’ll post a couple of videos showing a little bit of the layout process later on…
As a little present, I’ll let Walt Disney himself explain what a multiplane camera is: