The Power of Silhouette

Anyone who has read “The Illusion of Life”, or went to a half-way decent art school has been drilled with the concept of “silhouette value” as it relates to the graphic strength and clarity of a pose. Being a student of classical 2D, we would sometimes be encouraged to visualize or actually color in our drawings to get a sense of our pose’s silhouette value, and thus judge whether or not we had pushed a pose to it’s fullest potential. One of the great things I’ve come to learn, now that I work on the computer, is the ability (in many animation applications) to render out work in silhouette. What an amazing tool!!

Mike Wu and I recently did an assignment in our Pixar 2 class at AAU this semester where we had students block out a dialogue assignment and render it in silhouette. As the students are just beginning to work with dialogue, we wanted an assignment that made the point that performing to dialogue is not about mouth shapes or lip sync, but about the global performance as it relates to body language, phrasing, and clarity. The students were amazed to find how much more aware they were of their posing and choice of gesture when everything was “blacked out” and the readablility of a pose was represented in such a pure form.

For those that have the luxury of using a software package that has such a feature, use it to your advantage. What does it take to block out a shot and playblast a silhouette render to see if your poses are as strong as they could be before moving forward? If the application you’re using does not have such a feature, or if you’re doing 2D work, take a moment to look at the graphic elements of your pose and ask yourself if it does justice to the character, the moment, and if it inspires your audience to feel what you want it to feel. Revisiting such a basic principle can not only inspire young minds learning animation for the first time, but also reinvigorate the work of the most seasoned veteran. I know at least one animator that will be looking at his work in black & white with a little more frequency from now on. Thanks for visiting the blog.