Sunday 24 January 2021

On the Art of Multiplane, by Saviour Pirotta

As a child, Walt Disney (along with R. L. Stevenson) was my hero.  My parents strongly disapproved of the cinema but I watched Walt Disney's World of Colour on the telly. Of course, we only had a black and white set, so the colour element of the series was wasted on me. Still, there was so much to enjoy, it didn't matter. I learnt so much from the programme (I refuse to call television programmes 'shows'. For me, a show is something your dress up for and watch in a theatre).

When I discovered the public library, I borrowed lots of books about Walt Disney, his work and, needless to say, the Golden Wonder Books adaptations of his films and stories. Now these were in glorious colour and I must have spent days just gazing on their lusciousness.

One thing that always fascinated me about Disney's animations was the depth his backgrounds had. Unlike other cartoons, Mickey Mouse and friends seemed to frolic in an environment that seemed to be alive and real. How did the Disney artists achieve this? They used a piece of equipment called a multiplane camera. The name speaks for itself. First developed by the animator Lottie Reiniger for her feature length The Adventures of Prince Achmed, it recorded several different planes of artwork painted on glass. This imitated the human eye and gave the illusion of space and distance. 

To explain properly, I'm posting a still from Bambi below. You can see that the branches at the top and the flowers at the bottom are on one plane. Behind them is a second layer showing Bambi and his friend. Behind them is a third layer with clouds and behind that a fourth one with the sky. All together the four planes give an impression of all-enveloping realness.

I have adapted the multiplane idea for my writing, using words rather than a paintbrush to produce my images. It helps me create environments that are alive and pertinent to the story. The Disney animators could have up to seven planes but I usually stick to four (as in Bambi). The first one is the immediate environment where the action takes place. This I describe in fine detail. Behind it are three more layers, each one with less detail but contributing to a homogeneous whole.

As an example, I'll use a my next book, The Mysterious Island. I have a scene where three kids are searching for a fourth in an underground Neolithic temple. They are hidden in the mouth of a narrow tunnel overlooking the sacrifice chamber.  They are plane 1, so everything is described from this point of view. The fourth kid enters the chamber with renegade priests to try and awake a sleeping goddess. This is Plane 2 and described in fine detail. It describes the fourth kid, the priests and the statue of the goddess they are trying to wake up. Plane 3 behind them describes the chamber and, through a doorway, we catch a glimpse of Plane 4, an oracle littered with human bones. Using this method, I focus on the action in the foreground but also remember to show the background to add to (in this case) a sense of danger and menace to the environment.

In the future I might actually produce the actual layers on transparent plastic. They'd be great to use in school visits once we start doing them again.  Stay safe!

Saviour's The Mysterious Island publishes on the 28th January 2021. Pre-order it from Hive here:

Follow Saviour on twitter @spirotta and Instagram



Anne Booth said...

That's a really interesting idea, Saviour. I will think about that when I am doing my next piece of writing. Thank you.

Saviour Pirotta said...

You're welcome, Anne. I find multiplaning helps me concentrate on the main narrative but also flesh out the sub-plots.

Lynne Benton said...

Great idea, Saviour. Many thanks for sharing it!

Sue Purkiss said...

How interesting!

Saviour Pirotta said...

Thanks, Sue.

Saviour Pirotta said...

Thanks, Lynne.