Transitions and Continuity
Bold statement alert: Animation’s most powerful advantage over other forms of filmmaking is the animated transition. There, I said it, caution to the wind! Anything can happen in between two frames of animation. You can transform the black pupil of an eye into the black text on a girl’s report card, a fire-breathing dragon into a baby’s bath toy, or the door to your boss’s office into the gates of hell. As with animation as a whole, the possibilities for animated transitions are endless, which is exactly why you must practice great discipline and make those transitions work with your story. The most dependable way to ace your transitions is to pay close attention to continuity.
Continuity is the natural flow of visual information from one shot to another employed to support your story. At its most basic you must ensure that the story is flowing from shot to shot. If a character is blasted with wind in one shot, make sure that their hair is messy in the next shot and that it stays messy until they comb it. If a character is on the second floor of a building, they can’t run out of the front door and into the street without walking down some stairs. You’d be surprised how many films let this stuff slip through the cracks. The simplest way to guard against continuity errors is to always follow the logic of the world you’ve created (spatial continuity), the story you’re telling (temporal continuity), and the physical direction it’s headed in (directional continuity).
Observe Spatial Continuity
Making sure that the rules you’ve established in your world are consistent from shot to shot is called spatial continuity. If you establish early on in your story that there is forest behind a boy’s house, when he runs out of his house and into the backyard, you know where he’s headed—into the woods. If you have established the size of his bedroom, when he lies on his bed throwing a ball against the wall, even if it’s “off-screen,” the audience should know roughly how far that ball should travel before it bounces back. Or not! Because using the wonders of animation, let’s say you want to transport the boy from his bedroom directly into outer space. A great way to achieve that: A boy throws the ball against the wall and it never returns. Thanks to laws of spatial continuity, the audience will know that the ball should return within a second or so—when it doesn’t, they can guess that either something intercepted it or (suddenly) the wall is gone! When you cut to the boy’s bed surrounded by outer space, it will actually make sense as a transition since it follows the law of spatial continuity. You’d be surprised how many professional films mess this up as well, so take the time to do a dummy check to ensure that all of your shots follow the physical world that you’ve created.
Observe Temporal Continuity
The consistency of logic in your story is known as temporal continuity. Animation audiences will go along with dramatic visual change from shot to shot so long as it’s loyal to the story they’re being told. Temporal continuity can occur chronologically, or even with flashbacks or flashforwards, but it must make sense and be earned based on the work you’ve done to set up a solid story. If you’ve established a love-struck teenager searching at a party for the object of their affections, when they finally find the person, temporal continuity will allow a variety of plausible options. You may see the teen’s eyeballs transform into hearts; you may see a flashback as the teen’s entire life flashes before their eyes; a flashforward fantasy may occur that takes you years into the future as the teen stands blushing at the alter finally marrying his crush. Transitions can take wild leaps and will be easy for your audience to stomach so long as they’re consistent with the story you’ve been telling. If your transition doesn’t make sense to the audience, then you haven’t earned that leap—so head back to the storyboard.
Observe Directional Continuity
This final rule is pretty simple with directional continuity: Maintain the direction of any action for an object or character in a sequence from shot to shot. If a car is driving from the left side of a panel to the right, you must continue that same movement into your next shot. Switching directions of vehicles, characters, or any object that is headed in a particular direction is disorienting to the viewer and a big no-no in storyboarding. Do a second dummy check here, because directional continuity errors happen all of the time.