There is a quote by Charles Eames that describes his insight on design, he states that, “Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as to best accomplish a particular purpose.”
I sat down with layout artist and production designer Robert St. Pierre to find out his views on Eames statement of design…
How is Eames quote significant in layout and production design?
Production Design and Layout are two different stages, or disciplines, within the field of animation.
Production Design is the phase where, essentially, the visual style of a show is created. Production Designers can draw on inspiration from a variety of sources such as nature, or preexisting design and art, which serves to inspire the “look” or “style” of a new film. Production Designers essentially reflect on the characters and their “personalities” in the film and design around them using design choices that best reflect a given character’s personality and the world in which they live in. Simply explained, villains and their respective environments and props might be designed using more angular shapes and with a darker, foreboding tonal and color palette. Such shapes and color palettes might help reflect the sinister nature in a character in the audience’s eye. Heroes and heroines, conversely, might be designed with contrasting design features such as softer curves and more warm, vibrant or appealing colors. Socially, people are more inclined to associate certain colors and shapes as either pleasing, or unsettling, and so a Production Designer tries to capitalize on associating those social preconceptions of design into their decisions when designing for a film.
In animation, “Layout” refers more to the background drawings used within animated films. Composition is one of the most critical design considerations that a background Layout artist uses when designing an environment or a scene. Another term widely used in film, and especially in layout, is the word “staging”. Staging is essentially the area, or areas, where the character acting will take place. Layout artists must compose their designs in a manner that leads the audience’s eye to the areas where the action plays out. While background drawings should always have a sense of visual appeal, and should always help to carry the story in terms of reinforcing the character of the environment, they should never design the environment as to obscure or upstage the animation. A good background layout always serves to spotlight the animation, and composing a shot to emphasize that is a necessary design consideration.
When working on a project how do you come up with the design? Are the parameters given to you and you work form that or do you have the flexibility to bring fourth your own artistry?
During the conceptual design phase of a show, often referred to as either “Blue Sky” or “Visual Development”, there are few constraints or parameters that inhibit the artist. While some Directors may have some basic guidelines that they’d like the artists to explore, for the most part, this phase is the time where artists have a lot of artistic license to experiment with a variety of influences that might help them in developing the stylistic look of a show. Once the Blue Sky, or Vis. Dev. phase is completed, and the “style” of the show has been agreed upon, the final established look is considered complete and those final designs are what are often referred to as the show’s “Visual Bible”.
Once a visual bible has been established the only other factors that will influence the artistic process are the dictates of a story script, or specific shots depicted from a storyboard. When story scripts are written, they specify new and incidental locations that wouldn’t have been necessarily explored during the Visual Development phase, and so a layout artist must read the script, analyze any specific details that must be incorporated into their design (such as if a character walks through a door and sits in a chair, or walks up a flight of stairs), then designs/creates a new location incorporating visual design aesthetics already established in the bible.
How is Eames quote relevant to your work on the film “9”?
9 would be no different in its design challenges that any other film. The one unique quality about 9, however, was the scale of the ragdolls and therefore the placement of the camera to document the story from their perspective. While camera would have been required to be just a few inches off the ground for many of the shots, we had to compose our designs essentially from the doll’s perspectives, and by incorporating, and composing, with objects that were at a human scale.
What are the most important elements of design?
In order for any design to exist, it cannot exist on its own; rather, it can only exist by comparison. Even in the most basic of terms, a straight line can only exist against a background, such as a piece of white paper, which would imply a sense of positive and negative space. While design cannot be limited to one element, I think the most fundamental elements of design can be reduced to two words; that of contrast and affinity. The principal of contrast and affinity are practical in their application and provide a foundation for comparison. Dark against light, sharp against smooth, straight vs. curved, red vs. green, simple vs. complex shapes, textured vs. non textured, etc. For any object, it requires something to compare itself to in order for it to exist and be a measure of critique.
What do you think the purpose of design is?
The purpose of design depends on its function, whether that be aesthetic or practical. Assuming we’re limiting our focus on design in the aesthetic sense, Design should appeal to its audience’s sensibilities. It should invite the viewer in, and provoke, or solicit some form of engagement.
Robert is currently working on a show for Disney called “Sophia” set to air the Fall of 2012. He is most noted for his work on “9”, “The Princess and the Frog”, and most recently “Winnie the Pooh”. He is by far one of the most elegant and intricate designers in his field. To view more of Robert's work check out the link below!
"Design is conceived when an inherent need to be creative manifests itself into physical or visual form."