So a few things I wanted to share about Status / Personal Space / Composition. It's stuff that while it may seem like a simple concept or basic, it's generally very overlooked, specially in terms of staging in films. Composition/Staging is a very broad subject but wanted to talk a bit about it in how it applies to characters and where they are located in screen. For personal space/status check out the following pictures:

Images: The Johnson Treatment

Images: The Johnson Treatment

It's important to know that when we are animating characters around, we are animating shapes. Therefore what we do with those shapes, how we position them on screen, what angle they have compositionally and how those angles play off each other, will affect whatever it is we are trying to say. Something I'd like to recommend is to read or study books on design. For example, the book "Design Basics" (David A. Lauer, Stephen Pentak) is a great book that will give you a lot to think about when dealing with shapes, angles, etc. Another book I wanted to recommend for learning about status is the book "Impro: Improvisation and the Theater" (Keith Johnstone) this time from an acting/theater point of view.

A great former Pixar animator, Mark Oftedahl made great use of his knowledge of design in his "Toy Story" shots as these images show. Notice how he's using screen space and angles to convey the acting and the point of the scene stronger. I highly recommend checking out this shot and how the status transfers from one character to the other. These are great tools that we have as animators. The ability to move the characters around and play with the screen space / depth / perspective of our shots...even previously to getting deep into the animation.

Animator: Mark Oftedahl

Animator: Mark Oftedahl

An image for you to look at it, and think about. It's from artist Norman Rockwell:

While it's just only an image, by the way the characters are posed, the head angles, the use of screen and personal space of the characters, etc...What does it tell you? It's important to think in terms of images in the shots sometimes...before we even think about the acting. How can we help the acting of our characters by their position in their body angles, etc.

Animator: Marc Davis

Animator: Marc Davis

Some other examples above. From "Citizen Kane". Great use of space (deep space ) around the screen that serves the story. This is done throughout the film a few more times. Also size of the characters in this shot is taken into account. Again actual size of the character in screen serves a status/story role for the main character in a couple of other shots. Great film to study composition, staging in general. Just as in the Toy Story example image before, this time in "101 Dalmatians" with a shot of Cruella DeVil character mostly animated by Marc Davis in here also graphic left/right screen space is used. Status and story point is crearly shown here in the posing of the characters, but also where they are within the shot, leaving little space for the screen left character to move around.


In these, not just the characters positioning affect the status and composition of the shots. At this point, camera height, character's eyeline, long lenses and props and thrown in the mix serving the status, story and particular moment in the film. By throwing long lenses, character appear to be even closer to each other creating in some cases a feeling of claustrophobia. To end, check this clip from "Office Space" (a really good and funny film if you haven’t watch it):

Both staging/composition but also body language play a big role in the status of the character as well as the before and after of what's going on in the scene. The character's status get higher, and you can read that all over the end of the scene from his body language, the way he's sitting, from the way he's addressing them and the way they are both reacting to him. Also note the composition of the second frame is more relaxed overall.


Things to think about. Makes you aware that film is not just about animation...but a mix of things that each independently has to be paid attention very much.