Stag at Sharkey's (by George Bellows)

I wanted to talk about shapes and lines in this painting from George Bellows above. This is a great example of how just the lines and shapes going on in simply one frame can already say so much in terms of story, conflict, weight, forces and physicality.

Timing is already a very powerful tool for us animators. But when we take advantage of our posing and compositional tools as animators/filmmakers we have more advantages than even regular live-action actors do. These tools include shapes, lines, masses, value, many name it. In this particular case I'd like to bring up lines/shapes. And how they can help your shot right off the bat.

Look at these two simple images:


Just one simple angle already says so much. Where these lines and angles are facing to, already is telling us something. Now let's look at Bellow's image and what the lines/angles are telling us:


So this time around, it's a bit more complex but still somewhat easy enough to understand what's going on. This time around, this is what I notice:

  • I see one strong diagonal line on screen left.

  • Two shapes/lines on the screen left confronting the previous line.

  • One line is bending. What that line is telling me is that visually, it's weaker than the line bending it. It also adds weight/force to the image.

  • The screen right straight line is also against the screen left line.

  • The screen right straight line creates a triangle keeping the whole group shape balanced.

  • Visually combining straight lines with curved lines is adding visual variety to the image.

  • Becomes an interesting/dynamic composition that way, instead of simply two lines agains each other.

Here is another example, this time from Rescuers Down Under, and the character of Medusa, animated by Milt Kahl. 

The pose of Medusa, the lines created throughout the body as well as the lines created by some of the props are making us look exactly where we should. The Disney films have always been a great source to study things like this, as they paid attention to every single compositional aspect, from the posing of the characters all the way to something as different as the colors schemes / values used throughout and how the compositional values affect the film as a whole. If as animators we think of shapes going around the screen and in which ways, it'll help us tell things in our shots in a stronger way.