Saturday, December 17, 2005

Observations: "The Runaway"

A while back I was sitting in a doctor's office, waiting for the doctor to return to my exam room. Naturally I was doing what we all tend to do while waiting for doctors to return: I was glancing at the collection of Norman Rockwell artwork hung on the walls. I'd seen most of the pieces before, but seeing that the doctor was keeping me away from animating, I decided to study the prints to see what could help me as an animator.

One favorite on display was Rockwell's classic, "The Runaway." It's such a deceptively simple image, and yet it's clear that Rockwell took great care to construct the image in such a way that your eye can't help but go where he wants it to go, which is to the facial exchange between the kid and the cop. Some of these guiding elements are related to the tonal values chosen for the setting and the characters, but there are also a number of things in the characters' poses that are good to study from an animation standpoint:
  • One of the biggest pose "guides" is the angle of the cop's right leg. Follow that up and it'll take you directly to the kid's face. Notice how the cop's gun is angled to nearly match the leg angle. Also notice the nice negative-space triangle formed by the right leg, the stool post, and the seat. That also helps the right leg to draw our eye.
  • To contrast that, notice the cop's left leg. Even though it's angled in the opposite direction, it has been posed in such a way that it doesn't lead the eye nearly as clearly as the right leg. There's no negative space associated with that leg, either, so that also helps put more focus on the right leg and where it's leading us.
  • The cop's right arm is angled similarly to the right leg. While it doesn't point directly to the kid's face, it does aim at the well-crafted negative space between the two lead characters' faces. Looking at the left arm, the forearm angle blends with the edge of the countertop so it doesn't really stand out, while the upper arm guides the eye up and over the cop's left shoulder toward his face.
  • Working with that upper left arm is the radio on the back wall. The cord coming up on the left, the shelf upon which the radio sits, and the little extra dangly bit of cord on the right all work to subtly emphasize that shape of the cop's upper left arm and shoulder, and guide your eye where it needs to go. In case that wasn't clear enough, that little dangly loop of cord to the right of the radio is pointing at the cop's head.
  • While the cop's eyes are clearly looking at the kid, the brim of his hat adds an extra bit of emphasis. It looks like it's pointing right toward the kid's eyes.
  • Check out the notebook in the cop's back pocket. The bright white silhouette of the pages points directly toward the kid.
  • Even the face of the counter man has some guides. The angle of his smile leads you to his cigarette, which is pointing directly at the kid's face. The very trianglar shape of his head also leads you into the heart of the action.
  • From a more broad perspective, compare the poses between the kid and the cop. While there is a little countering between the kid's hips and shoulders, his pose is essentially vertical, whereas the cop is arcing to the right. Combine that with the cop's bulk compared to the kid, and your eye goes to the pinnacle of the two poses, right to their faces. The angled bulk of the cop feels like a towering mass toppling in the direction of the kid, which further emphasizes the emotion of the scene.
  • While checking out the background info about this image on the site linked above, I was clued in to another guide: the stick on the kid's hobo sack. The site points out how the stick's diagonal angle guides your eye toward the stools, and from there up to the characters, but it doesn't mention exactly why the stick works so well. I believe it works because the right end of the stick was carefully placed out of frame. That only leaves the left end to act as a pointer into the scene.

Such carefully crafted poses that show you exactly where to look, and yet it feels so comfortable and "un-posed". Awesome stuff!


bill jacoby said...

Really nice study, Justin! I'd be interested to know how many compositional choices were purely intuitive and how much was deliberately arranged. I guess only a stack of thumbnail sketches would reveal this information. There's no doubt that every element was scrutinized and positioned for maximum effect before the drawing was finalized. His work will remain appealing for decades to come, it's just solid stuff.

Ryan Hagen said...

Good post Justin. I'm always amazed by his paintings. You did a good job of breaking it down.