6th Jul 2021 | Open Movie | Sprite Fright
Sprite Fright is Blender’s new Open Movie, now in production.
Hjalti Hjálmarsson is Sprite Fright’s Co-Director. He has worked on several Open Movie projects, including co-directing Agent 327: Operation Barbershop and serving as animation director for both Caminandes: Llamigos and Spring.
Hjalti’s editing advice is divided into two: working with dialogue heavy scenes, and how to approach action. For the latter, he’s had plenty of practice -- Sprite Fright is brimming with action.
The first suggestion is to treat emotional, dialogue heavy scenes as though you’re an audience member.
“If you’re not quite sure when to cut your shot,” Hjalti says, “Play the sequence while hovering your mouse over the strip in VSE. But don’t look at the strip. Look at the image. At the same time, hover your finger over the ‘M’ key. Just watch the scene. And whenever you feel there should be a cut, just hit ‘M’ to place a marker. Then rewind and repeat.”
The last part is key: you’re using repetition to unearth the perfect cut. “Do this a few times, then take a break to clear your mind. Then do it again. After a while, you’ll have all these markers, and you’ll see that they’re bunching up. That gives you a really clear read from a viewer’s perspective, helping to show roughly where the cut should be.”
This technique works particularly well for emotional scenes. Hjalti says, “Imagine your scene is two people talking about a divorce, and you’re trying to feel the right moment to cut away from the person speaking. When does the audience want to see the other person’s reaction? It’s very hard to gauge if you’re just looking at the strips. And if you’re looking at the strip and the image at the same time, it’s kind of distracting. So instead, just look at it as if you’re the viewer. When that shot is coming up, your finger is ready on the ‘M’ button.”
The magical ‘M’ method prioritizes the visual performance over the dialogue. “You’re trying to live inside the dialogue,” Hjalti says. “By watching the screen and seeing the words being spoken.”
Action sequences are different. “The cut needs to happen on an action,” Hjalti says. “And there’s great debate to be had about which frame to pick for a cut. Take Jackie Chan, for example. He loves to repeat actions. So if someone gets punched, he cuts to another angle, and that punch happens again.”
“Other editors have a different approach. They don’t want to linger too long on an action and make it feel like it’s repeating. So they’ll do a moment when the fist is on its way, and then you cut, and then the fist is landing in the next shot. Either that or the punch has already happened, and you cut to the next shot, and you’re just seeing the fallout of that action.”
For the most part, editing Sprite Fright means cutting on the action. But whichever approach you choose, editing animation puts you at an advantage. Hjalti says, “The really good thing about doing action scenes in animation versus live action is that if anything feels like it’s sagging a bit, or it’s slightly too slow, you can actually go in and tighten it, even in the middle of a shot. You might go into the middle and shorten a shot by two frames, but those two frames don’t have to be trimmed from the edge of the shot. Whereas in live action, that’s all you can do. You can just trim the edges.”
There’s another tremendous benefit to editing animation: cartoon characters don’t call in sick. “You make an animatic, and you make a layout version of that, and you start realizing how every shot needs a beat or two beats to happen. But you’re not dependent on someone having flu that day, six months ago when we shot this thing. There’s no need for reshoots, or editing around limited live action footage. You just do what needs doing.”