A Sinister Character

Today I asked a difficult question at work. I asked whether any of the characters in our preschool-targeted animation series were left-handed.

This may seem like a bit of an odd question to ask - especially for an editor. After all, we're not in the dark ages where we consider lefties to be the acquaintance of the devil, and although modern world languages seem little biased (see this Oxford Etymologist blog entry for a brief history and explanation of this post's title), it surely doesn't matter? As far as story goes, it's like asking what colour a character's eyes are, right?

Well, yes and no. Whilst there are those who'll tell you about the left-handed person's tendency towards creativity and/or power and/or intellect, the major impact it has on film tends to be with regards to framing.

Most people will have a dominant hand, with which they perform the majority of action. In live film it's easy. Without overwhelming reason (e.g. biographical) to write a character with a preference for one or both hands, an actor will be right-handed or left-handed, and through a quick blocking or rehearsal run all accommodation for a slight edge to one side can be made. In animation, however, there is no actor from which to draw such idiosyncrasies. The animation equivalent would be the person who actually animates that character in that particular shot - and there can be many animators working on the same character over the stretch of just a few minutes of screen time. Plus by the stage it gets to the actual animation, several other processes will have been completed - and changing around the composition of a shot (for example swapping character positions or moving a piece of set) may be impossible. 

On Pirates, as the previs department's editor (before/ concurrent with my VFX Editor role), I saw a lot of this sort of problem come through. Our characters had a tendency to swing swords around a lot, gesticulate wildly in the direction of something or other, swig grog, and other piratey-type things. And one of our storyboard artists was left-handed.


... and sometimes we would get boards through as above, to recreate in previz. Obviously maintaining the framing whilst using his right hand would result in the sword crossing his body and face - or the shot could effectively be flopped. It's a creative decision that has to be made at some point, and in animation it's best to get as many decisions out of the way in as early a stage as possible, owing to the increasing levels of complexity and number of people involved as storyboard goes to animatic goes to previs and/or layout goes to animation goes to compositing and lighting goes to....

So. It's important to know, and establish. Because there are other reasons to flop a shot during the animatic stage for reasons of comprehension, or deeper understanding of the 3D environment in which the characters will interact (not always available during the storyboard phase), spatial logic... all of which may throw a previously 'correct' shot into disarray. I'm always aware when flopping a shot of possible effects on continuity, but tend to go for the eyelines of the still images that I'm working with as a priority. I manipulate a lot of the boards in whatever way I can to best tell the story. Sometimes new boards are made, sometimes a picture-in-picture or animatte effect works best, and things are zoomed and otherwise reframed all over the place - with notes on camera angles frequently discussed with the episode's director.

Which brings up the third 'creative' option: cheat. How many people are honestly going to even notice, let alone make a big deal out of it? I mean, nobody so far as I can see seems to have noticed which pirate was left-handed (hint: it wasn't the Pirate Captain), although the impact on the geography of certain action moves and even his costume was significant while we were making the film. But even then, that rule was stretched when we had good reason.