What role should animation play in children’s publishing?
I should start by saying that I’ve never blogged before. Some of you may wish that were still true by the time you finish! I’m not sure how often I’ll post on here, but this topic interests me.
I came across some fascinating moving photographs yesterday, coined as “Cinemagraphs” in 2011 by their creators, Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg. For me, they are a vivid example of how animation in an otherwise static image can help tell a story—not just complement it. Check out the images, and read the inspirationfeed.com blog post that brought them to my attention here: http://inspirationfeed.com/photography/35-beautifully-animated-photographs-a-k-a-cinemagraphs/
The photos by this creative team are artfully composed and beautifully colored. They arguably tell compelling stories through visual elements alone, but Beck and Burg have pushed further to include purposeful animations intended to enhance the narrative quality of each image.
Take a minute to scroll through all of the moving photos. Note which ones you pause over. A handful of them completely captivated me! I’m sure the creators had a specific concept in mind for each photo’s animation (showing the movement of a fabric may be really important for a fashion editorial), but to the casual observer, the animations can easily feel like add-ons, or gimmicks. I often have this same thought when playing with children’s apps and enhanced e-books. As someone with limited experience in creating story apps and enhanced e-books, I again ask myself the question: what role can (or should) animation play in digital publishing for children?
Can an animated image help to tell a story—as intended in these Cinemagraphs—or does the movement distract from the story? How can my reaction to the Cinemagraph medium inform the work I do as a children’s book art director, designer, and illustrator? Will understanding it help me to give constructive feedback when a portion of the illustrated content that comes across my desk is (inevitably) animated? Can it help me make better creative choices?
To make sense of my questions, I try to pinpoint what exactly captured me in the Cinemagraphs I responded to.
Image 1: This is so fabulous! A geometrically-composed, single-subject composition that initially distances itself from the viewer in several ways. We see the girl’s face in a mirror, rather than in “life”. We are blocked from entering the scene by her shoulder. And last, upon first viewing she is looking away from us. Then BOOM! All of those barriers are broken with the flick of her eye. She looks directly at the viewer and you are instantly connected to the subject.
Image 2: The lightest point in this image is the sunny stone facade of the building in the upper left corner, also the natural place for the eye to settle. Muted greens and reds, and perspective lines drawn by the window, tables and awnings create a lovely composition. However, until the yellow reflection of a cab appears in the window, you all but ignore the lower right corner of the photo. The 3rd color introduced by the cab would attract attention even if it were still, but the animation takes this attention further and guides the viewer’s eye from one end of the composition to the other.
Image 3: I love this! The bottom two thirds of the composition is dominated by striking color and light contrast, while the top third is primarily neutral tones and minimal contrast—until the simple bat of an eye. The pop of red eye shadow added by the central figure’s closed eyes instantly changes the composition from a linear top vs. bottom set up, into an angular triangle made of points of red.
Image 4: This photo is such a fun contradiction. Reality tells you that the crowd of bustling walkers in the foreground are moving, yet, the only figure actually moving in the scene is the sedate man on a bench in the background. What an elegant way to call attention to the most unassuming figure in an image.
So, where does this musing get me? Does animation have a valid place in a storyteller’s arsenal? I believe so.
• Animation can be used to create or diminish intimacy. To alter a reader’s connection to a character, mid-scene. Turning a head, hunching a back, folding arms, looking away. These are all animated actions that either invite a reader to connect, or push them away.
• Animation can purposefully guide a viewer’s eye around an illustration. An intentional viewing progression can be created using one moving element.
• A living composition can be built using a single animation. An orderly, linear composition can change on a dime into an angular, tension-filled composition. The mood of a scene can be altered through a simple animation without changing any other fundamentals, such as color, lighting, a character’s facial expression, etc.
• Intentional focus can be placed on the smallest of details in a crowded scene using a simple animation. Even in the most chaotic of illustrated scenes, a slight movement will call attention.
I’m curious about what you think. Which Cinemagraphs caught your attention, and why? Looking ahead: Illustrators; how can you use animation to illustrate multiple ideas within one scene? Editors and Writers; can animation fill in the blanks between passages? Designers and Art Directors; where does your work fit in to all of this?