Thursday, January 24, 2008

Motion Blur

We took a look at speed blur on a previous post. Speed blur is what happens when a camera tracks along with a fast moving object, blurring the entire background along the path that the camera travels.

Motion blur is a little different. It’s what happens when a form moves rapidly in front of a stationary “camera.”

If you look at individual frames from live action films, any fast moving object has a softly blurred edge. The ability to simulate motion blur in CG animation was the revolutionary breakthrough that made the embryonic Pixar company take off in its first successful films. Very primitive CG animation, like traditional stop motion animation, left hard edges on moving objects, which gave a jittery rather than a fluid feeling to the motion.

As painters of still images—digital or traditional— we can take a lesson from these animation pioneers.

This oil painting from Dinotopia: First Flight (1999) shows dancers dressed up as dinosaurs parading at night through a city. They’re caught mid-stride in a wild dance. Their left feet are swinging forward, and their arms are flapping upward.

The faster the form is moving, the more it is blurred.

I painted in the figures and the background all wet together, and then softened all the edges in the direction of the line of action. For this kind of soft passagework, a slower drying medium helps.

To suggest that the “camera” was tracking along with the dancers, and to give a sense of shallow focus, I also blurred the details of the crowd across the street. If I had painted all these elements with crisp edges, they would have lost the feeling of depth and motion.

For more examples of motion blur in painting, have a look at the wildlife art of Manfred Schatz. Link.

Tomorrow: Giganotosaurus in Allentown


sylvia said...

wonderful drawings-paintings James....Thanks


Anonymous said...

as always, tricks to pick up!
thanks for sharing your experience :)

really impressive feel of motion!

Tom Scholes said...

Maybe it's a bit silly to keep saying this, but I wouldn't want to risk you thinking it's not appreciated; thank you!

Unknown said...

Really interesting. I flipped through some Renaissance paintings and found no evidence of this effect. Is this entirely the mimicking of the camera's method of capturing things or is there a tradition of this in art before the camera?

Michael Damboldt said...

One of the best things about your paintings is the your ability to capture motion! Thanks for letting us in on this aspect!

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Michael.

Eric, that's a really interesting question. Before photography, there were guys like Vermeer who were interested in "photographic" lens effects and depth of field. And there were artists all the way from cave painters to Velasquez to to Watteau who suggested motion with a kind of soft handling, but I can't think of any who really represented motion blur in photographic terms until artists actually looked at early photo effects. It's hard to underestimate how much photography has influenced our sense of reality.

Dan Gurney said...

Jim, when you said "It's hard to underestimate how much photography has influenced our sense of reality." it reminded me of the moment in Al Gore's film, "An Inconvenient Truth" when he discusses how the image of the whole earth as photographed from the Apollo mission invigorated the environmental movement. We suddenly could see in one glance how small and precious our planet is. That's a more obvious instance of how photography influenced our sense of reality than the one you describe in this post.

I'd love to hear about other ways photography has altered our view of reality that seem important to you.

Anonymous said...

I hate to be niggly, but didn't you mean "it's hard to overestimate", or perhaps, "it's easy to underestimate"? Anyway, carry on with your wonderful blog...

Dan Gurney said...

Like Plog said.

James Gurney said...

Thank you, yes, I guess I meant to say that we underestimate the impact of photos.

Dan, I was trying to think of ways that photos have affected our sense of reality. One example is how people paint running horses. Up until Muybridge took his famous action stills, everyone persisted in showing them with front and rear legs out from the body at the same time. No one did that again once they saw the photos.

You mentioned the global view that Gore cited, and I would add to that the recent Hubble photos of constellation formation, and on a micro scale the scanning electron photos.

Marianne said...

I always thought Renoir's painting Dance at Bougival has some sort of motion blur to it, because the background has been blurred and her white dress looks a bit blurred at the bottom edge. Perhaps he had photos to paint from?