As you may have heard, we at Les Fées Spéciales have been using cutout animation techniques extensively on our previous projects. Some aspects are explored in other articles, but the film layout is one of particular interest to us. A problem commonly encountered during layout of a 2D film is that of getting nice and smooth camera movements when your camera is zooming and panning, that is, rotating about its center.
This article demonstrates a camera setup we created to solve this problem.
2D layout, then and now
In the olden days, film studios used rostrum cameras and carefully calculated layout sheets to animate these cameras. Things got even more complex when multiplane cameras became somewhat commonplace. These rostrum cameras were always perpendicular to the sets and cels, looking straight down at them. The sets, not the camera, moved below to give the illusion of the camera moving through the scene. Therefore there weren’t actually any real pans (camera rotations), only tracking shots (the camera moving perpendicular to its viewing direction). Large sets had to be drawn distorted, in a way resembling curvilinear perspective, so that they would look like the camera is rotated around.
In our 3D world inside Blender, things are different: you can draw your sets undistorted (straight lines appearing straight), and actually pan the camera. This however is always tedious to set up: if you go from one position to another, you need to adjust the X and Y rotation of the camera. And if you want to zoom in on something at the same time, it gets even trickier, as the following demo clearly shows.
But besides the difficulty to set up this camera movement, there is another problem: it looks bad. Focus on the bottom left corner, where you might recognize a familiar ear behind the bushes. You will notice that the corner of the camera seems to be moving about during the movement. This is not the desired behaviour. As far as I am aware, it is inevitable though, or it would take a tremendous effort just to correct this, involving setting many keyframes manually, and even then, the result might not be so stable.
During layout on Dilili à Paris by Michel Ocelot, our team created the layout for more than a thousand shots. Many of them are static, but still, we needed a way to save the layout team’s time and sanity.
Introducing the layout team’s sanity reliever
During the production of that film, Flavio created a camera rig, in which there were two controllers for the frame, one for each of the bottom corners. This rig was conveniently accessible to the layout team, who could simply import the Group from a library file and start their layouting.
This screencast shows the exact same shot as before, but this time, the setup is easier (notice I’m not struggling with the Lens, or focal length, setting anymore). Notice also, more importantly, that the bottom left corner does not wiggle anymore and remains fixed on the same position.
To better convince you of the benefits of this method, please have a look at the following comparison:
So, we made that camera rig, what’s it to you anyway? Well, I just converted the rig to a script for easier sharing. You can find it, as usual, on our GitHub repository. I took the opportunity to add an option to use shift instead of panning, for 2D purists. This way you don’t get the perspective deformations, and you can also use orthographic cameras.
Thank you for reading, please feel free to contact us to share your ideas about film layout!
PS. This tool also allows you to create deadly dolly zooms, as exemplified by this short sequence:
 Fraser MacLean, Setting the Scene, Chronicle Books, 2011. ISBN 978-0811869874