Friday, May 8, 2009

Pan 3D in 2D

Woods Pan from Mike Kelley on Vimeo.

Last night on the Anime Studio forum someone mentioned doing a 3D type pan and so I quickly created this example (in less than five minutes). It's a simple technique and easy to do in almost any animation program, yet one that eluded animators for decades.

Traditionally animation was "filmed" by taking a single frame (or 2 or more depending on the movement and the desired effect) with a camera from a flat stand that held the artwork. This was relatively easy but didn't permit very many camera type effects. One could zoom the camera in by moving it close to the artwork, or (if the artwork was large enough) pan around on it by moving either the camera or the artwork up or down, but as everything was at one depth this didn't closely approximate the Real World at all.

In the Real World life doesn't exist on one plane. If you look out the window of a train you'll see that objects that are closer to you move faster than objects further away. Telephone poles zoom by, while distant mountains slowly come and go. Celestial objects, like the moon and the stars, seem to be fixed and not move laterally at all. The same is true if you are heading directly towards or away from something -- the further it is the slower the change in relative size will be.

Walt Disney himself figured out you could approximate this effect in animation by using a camera which focused on more than one plane, and have artwork on several planes that moved at different speeds. Thus whether you were panning or zooming in or out the artwork would could change according to it's position relative to the camera. Thus the multi-plane camera was born.

It was famously used in such films as Pinocchio and Peter Pan. It eventually became too expensive (separate exposures were needed for each element so that shots sometimes took days to complete) and was used less and less until it was finally obsoleted by digital technology.

In the digital world it's very straightforward to achieve this effect, and most animation software includes it. In Anime Studio you simply assign a "depth" or Z value to each layer and this will automagically make camera movements, pans and zooms, displace the layers correctly (the only real trick is experimenting with the values to get the effect you want). In essence the layers are arranged in a 3D space, even though the camera itself is 2D. In this regard it's almost a perfect analogy to Disney's ground breaking camera.

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