Multiplaning: How Animators Create Depth Out Of FlatnessAmy Onorato 10.09.2018
Multiplaning is the technique of creating different layers of movement at different depths within an animated scene to create an effect of movement and dimensionality. This gives the scene a feeling of depth, as characters and objects move closer and further from the camera, and the camera shifts to provide different perspective.
There are several ways scenes can be manipulated to create a sense of movement and depth:
In the scene below from our animated explainer video for ViewBoost, the camera is fixed to the car, and the background is moving past us as we travel. With multiplaning, an object in the foreground moves more quickly than an object in the background, creating a sense of speed. There are three moving layers: the grass by the side of the road, which moves very quickly, the hills, which move slower, and the clouds, which move slower still.
Multiplaning can also be used to create depth by moving through a scene, rather than traveling laterally. In this example from our television commercial for Eastlink, a Canadian cable provider, the closer the snowflake is to the camera, the quicker it scales up — and the quicker it falls. The layer farthest away from the camera (the trees in the background) moves the slowest. The result is a dynamic scene, with a pleasing depth.
History of multiplaning
Multiplaning has been around since the late 1920s. Early iterations of the technique were first used by filmmaker Lotte Reiniger in her 1926 animated feature “The Adventures of Prince Achmed.”
Notice how different silhouettes are placed on top of one another, allowing the main character to move across, and in front of other elements in the scene.
Disney brings multiplaning into the spotlight
Multiplaning was popularized by Walt Disney Studios. In 1937, inventor William Garity helped build Disney’s first multiplane camera. The camera used seven “planes” of glass to create dynamic scenery for Disney’s early films. Different layers of each scene were painted on each pane of glass. The panes were then shifted by hand as a camera pointing down at the scene took photographs of each frame.
“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937) was the first feature-length Disney film to use multiplane camera techniques. The effects of multiplaning can be seen in this scene below, where Snow White flees through the forest. As Snow White moves closer and farther away from the camera, different elements of the background are pushed forward, creating depth. The layers of each plane are also manipulated to create a sense of frantic movement.
In 2001, renowned film critic Roger Ebert reflected on the impact multiplaning had on transforming animation:
“Nothing like the techniques in “Snow White” had been seen before. Animation itself was considered a child’s entertainment, six minutes of gags involving mice and ducks, before the newsreel and the main feature. “Snow White” demonstrated how animation could release a movie from its trap of space and time; how gravity, dimension, physical limitations and the rules of movement itself could be transcended by the imaginations of the animators.”
Modern multiplaning techniques
With the advent of the computer, multiplaning has grown up.
“Of course, we do it digitally now, but the principle is the same,” IdeaRocket founder William Gadea said. “The movement of objects that are close to the camera is emphasized, while the movement of objects that are far from the camera is de-emphasized.”
As technology has progressed, so has the art of multiplaning. The introduction of computer-generated animation (CGI), or 3D animation, made the traditional multiplane technique obsolete. The last Disney film to incorporate the traditional multiplane camera was “The Little Mermaid,” released in 1989.
Multiplaning in Adobe After Effects
After Effects is a visual effects tool that allows animators to create graphics in post-production. It can be used to create a variety of different types of animation, including whiteboard (an in-depth tutorial can be found here). It’s also very useful in creating multiplaning.
“After Effects has a capability that lets you place planes in space so the pace at which objects scale is worked out for you. They call this capability 2.5D or planar 3D,” Gadea said.
In After Effects, images can be broken up into different layers, which can then be digitally manipulated. The Camera Tool is then used to shape perspective and movement.
This tutorial from PixelBump gives a pretty good example of how to manipulate different layers of an image to create depth:
Here’s another example, where multiplaning is applied to a 2D image:
The future of multiplaning: AR and VR
Today’s VR headsets take the idea of multiplaning a step further, using stereoscopic display to place viewers “into” a scene. This technique offers a 3D experience with complete 360-degree views. AR uses multiplaning to place 3D objects into live action scenes. Researchers are exploring how to enhance visuals through a new type of “multiplaning” which taps into deep learning to add new context to visual images.
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