I'm in the middle of an awesome animation session and came to think a lot about this detail. It's not a problem I have encountered, I just want to know and how you think about this :)

Say you have a character at one part of the screen which has all the focus directed at him. Then something happens at another part of the screen. Something makes a sound, or a new character appears and starts talking. And say you don't make camera movements. How long does it take before the first character reacts, turns his head and looks towards it?

You could make him react immediately, so that the focus on the screen clearly shifts. But that probably looks unrealistic. A realistic reflexive reaction time is probably around a few frames to one second (?). Or you could make him react much slower or not at all, and by doing so, keep some attention to himself, and kind of split the focus on the screen.

Which opens up a lot of other questions, how does the focus change in relation to the characters' expressions and movements? For example, If I have several movements happening simultanously, how can I make sure the viewer doesn't miss the most important one and get confused? So please write how you this magic works in your experience :)

(hope this wasn't one of those things that just felt way more interesting in my head :p )

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I think you have to open up the question to more than just the animation.

How is the scene lit? Where is the lighting focus? Will that change with the appearance of the new character? (e.g. stepping into a pool of light that was previously not shining on anything, casting a shadow, etc.) 

What about sound? Does a sound effect precede the entrance? A floorboard squeak, a door opening off screen, dialog? 

You might also consider the degree of reaction you give to the character already in the frame. For instance, a slight head tilt as the other character enters might suggest the first guy hears something but isn't quite sure what it is or where it's coming from. Or a shift in the eyes, only, could alert the viewer that something new is coming. Both of these movements would then lead to a larger full-body move a beat or so later.

As far as timing goes, that's just something you have to play around with. Act out the scene. Time your movements. Try to picture that move on screen. Just keep trying different things in your head. Bear in mind that timing will also have a lot to do with what's going on in the scene. A scary or suspenseful scene will want to have a different reaction time than a comical entrance. I hate to say it, but this is the sort of thing that can't really be formularized. You've got to go on your instincts and just keep at it until you get something that feels right.

EDIT: I should add, this question brings up the role of the director in animation. I'm sure most people posting on this board act as their own director. But just as in a regular live action movie, the director's instincts on timing will influence how the animator plays out the scene. The thinking and discussion about such issues should start as soon as you start seriously planning your film. Timing cues can be noted on your storyboard, and obviously on an x-sheet if you use those.

As Dan says, this isn't an animation-specific question, but is something directors/screenwriters and even cinematographers deal with across the board of all filmmaking. And it is a multidisciplinary question - affecting all the creatives involved in the actual filming and writing (if it's not all done by one person) - so it's the kind of thing that would be dealt with in the design of the film. Not sure what it would be called - maybe  production design -  concerning the handling of atmosphere and movement/timing etc, which is something that would be decided on differently for each film in order to create the ambience of it. 

Obviously it's the kind of thing that would be dealt wth totally differently in say a 1930's Mickey Mouse short or a Tarantino action thriller or an M Night Shyamalan film. In fact playing around with exactly how to handle a shot like this for a particular film might be where you begin to shape the design of the film itself in terms of movement and camera work etc - create the signature style for that film. 

Books that help in learning about this kind of stuff deal with directing and cinematography - books like Film Directing Shot by Shot by Bruce Katz - crap, I could find more, but my books widget on my blog is malfunctioning and it's time to go scrape together some breakfast. 

Yeah, I see that as part of directing - directing the audience to look where they need to, you could say. It's not about the animation, though animation is part of the means for putting the focus in the right place.
Time is often condensed in animation, so it's likely one character would react a little quicker to another than in real life - but probably not instantly. I don't know a formula, I just kind of feel my way with this stuff, and sometimes I get it right, and sometimes I make mistakes wher I should know better by now - and I've got the viewers looking at the wrong side of the screen and missing the important bit that was the reason for the shot.

It's a shame for this conversation to just die out - I think this is important stuff and a lot more interesting than the usual nuts and bolts stuff we get all the time. 

Say you have a character at one part of the screen which has all the focus directed at him. Then something happens at another part of the screen. Something makes a sound, or a new character appears and starts talking. And say you don't make camera movements. How long does it take before the first character reacts, turns his head and looks towards it?


It all depends entirely on the script - the situation, and the characters, as well as the writer's/director's intentions for the scene. What's been happening before this moment? Is the viewer aware that another character is present, though they're offscreen? Is the first character? Has he been talking to this other character? 

For instance, if it's a conversation and we've been looking at just one character for a while, like say Isomer the Wizard in Ron's In the Fall of Gravity while he does a monologue - he's well aware that Trevor is there, and so is the audience - he just isnt on screen at the moment. Isomer could direct his attention to Trevor even while he's still offscreen in this situation and it wouldn't be weird - the audience understands perfectly. Or maybe Trevor suddenly has a question and wants to interrupt Isomer - then you might have Trevor step into the shot out-of-focus, maybe make some slight gesture, trying to politely stop Isomer's talking, and then pull focus onto him as Isomer pauses and looks at him. 

Or say something important has happened and Isomer hasn't seen it - maybe a big boulder is falling toward them down the cliff above and Trvor sees it - in that case you'd have Trevor leap emphatically against Isomer and rudely shove him offscreen, then cut to the falling boulder to show what caused his rude interjection. So no need to pull focus since Trevor would be leaping right into the focal area anyway. 

So it depends entirely on these kind of factors - and that's strongly story dependent. 

I agree that you can't articulate rules for it (without shooting yourself in the leg I guess), but often the questions that mostly a matter for the right half of the brain are most interesting to discuss, so thanks for long developing answers! :) I can't think of anything to add, but it helped. Book tips are appreciated a lot, maybe there's another thread for that. 

It feels a little more graspable, now that I have raised a new bunch of abstract questions to myself, and can be more aware of it. And life goes on.

If i had to stick to tour rules, hypothesis I would try to solve it with anticipation and maybe start moving the character towards the center of the camera and zooming in so the audience had less visual space to be attentive. And maybe only animate one thing at a time,  killing all secondary action, that would give you a different aesthetic to the scene...

This without thinking about the previous replies, that make all sense and are true!

Grecodan mentioned all the different aspects of the video you are making and how that will effect the way you shoot a scene. You should have a script and the video storyboarded. It is recommended that you balance your angles and don't do anything daring. There are different ways to create a shot and it will depend on your story. If your puppet is suppose to be a hero, then you might want the camera looking up a bit at him or if he is being watched maybe a kind of arieal shot. How long it takes for a character to react should probably be a lot like the pace of the video. If you have a fast paced video, then the character should react rather quickly. And, there is music. If you want to set the tone of a story, then you pick music appropriate for that. It is amazing to me just how music can influence the mood of a movie. If you can remember a movie that you have seen that is similiar to what you are doing, you might want to look at the movie and see how the director did his shots. This is how I learn.

Yep, pretty much like I specified on the second line of text in this discussion. I overlook the insult there. Most seem to agree that it's something that shouldn't have set rules and should be managed intuitively. But it doesn't happen automatically, which makes it interesting. And whatsoever, to discuss both big and small parts of any art form is artistically rewarding.

I think it's good that animators occasionally discuss principles that are basic to the art of filmmaking itself, not just stop motion filmmaking. We talked this subject into the ground on the old site, but every time it gets brought up again there is always someone who adds something new and interesting to the conversation. 

One challenge of animation is that it takes so long to do something over and over. It's not like a live action take where the director can try many different things one after the other. For us it takes hours and hours just to complete one take. But doing things only slightly differently - changing the timing of a reaction, say - can drastically change the meaning of a scene. That's where storyboards and animatics can really help, as well as filming a scene with roughed-in poses but no movement. (I forget what they call that.) 

^ I've heard it called both a popthrough and a walkthrough.

None taken, then :)

I completely agree with you, Strider, there is a lot of meat still left on THAT carcass.  I think the heart of animation is the direction.  Everything else is there to support that.

Strider said:

It's a shame for this conversation to just die out - I think this is important stuff and a lot more interesting than the usual nuts and bolts stuff we get all the time. 


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