Development Program : Staging as Applied to Presentation of Story and Gag Ideas

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From the collection of Hans Perk at A. Film L.A. and reprinted here with his permission.

[...] I have not gone into the matter of composition in staging, because there I am encroaching somewhat on the problems of the layout and background men. The animator, in being careful of his composition, as we are taught composition, is careful to have his lines and poses leading the eye toward the focal point, so that the eye has an easy time finding the important action, and is not fighting a losing battle.

I found another interesting thing in the magicians' books that is very important to us. This gets right in to the director, layout man and animator. Contrary to general belief, a magician would prefer to work right up close to his audience, rather than stand fifty or one hundred feet away, because the audience's focal point becomes so scattered when he is close to them that their eyes cannot find that spot which would expose the trick. We should remember that in the use of close-ups. If we are not careful, the eye might tend to be misdirected. The magician can confuse you much better if he is close to you.

As we take up the question of timing, I want to make it clear that I am not referring to the spacing of drawings as timing. I am referring to the basis for analyzing a situation. When Perce Pearce spoke to us recently, he was not talking on timing, but on pantomime; he illustrated his point with the story of the man who was sitting in the chair when the door opened slowly, and I noticed in that illustration of his that one of the basic points he was stressing was a matter of timing. The suspense of a gag lasts perhaps only for a moment and unless the gag is properly analyzed and the story point thoroughly known by the director, the animator and the story man so that it is properly timed, the gag won't get over. A broad illustration of this timing principle is the Laurel and Hardy double look. When we get to the point of delivering the gag, so much depends on the timing of it. An analysis of the mental reactions of the person or character involved is very important. I don't think a director or animator can guess at a problem in timing. You must have something fundamental on which to build, to put it over properly. We must think about this sort of thing, because we are going to have to use it more and more in our pictures. Along with the problem of timing comes the statement of those three points -- clarity, simplicity and directness of the idea.

The next thing in the matter of spot-staging is a point with which most of you are familiar. I bring it up only because it has so much to do with presenting an idea. I wish to bring up a problem for us to attempt to solve. It is what I call double trouble, when we get two or more characters in a scene, or two or more ideas of one kind or another. This was a stupendous problem with the dwarfs [...]