Thursday, June 15, 2017


I used to storyboard for a live-action director named Colin Higgins, and Colin told me to use back shots as frequently as possible, because it's a great way to reveal character. I agree and I used to call for it in animation sometimes, though I probably shouldn't have. Only a few classic animators like Tom McKimson felt comfortable with this angle, and most modern animators probably dread it. Anyway, back shots are what we're talking about here.

The old Pakistani man on the right (above) seems to be suffering from osteoporosis, and from a side view he'd probably appear like a question mark. The squared shoulder, the half-hidden head, and the gentle and wise position of the arms and hands seem to tell you all you need to know about him. This is an exceptional amount of information, even for a back shot.

The girl in green (above, left) is wearing a light and airy, unpretentious house dress. The hairstyle is neat and practical, the attitude of the body is confident and contented. She's a likable person, all the more because she appreciates the positive visual impact of clothing wrinkles!

Two people who are worlds apart: The bridesmaid full of anxiety, with the bondage strings in the back (above, left), and the traditional old woman, making her way down the street in a shapeless, widow's dress. You admire the older woman because you know she's devoted thousands of hours to bringing up a family.

Osteoporosis (above) again, though a milder case. The jacket is modest but not unfashionable, and the hat is color co-ordinated. High-heeled boots. Maybe this woman is an artist. The spindly legs disappearing up into the jacket, come to an odd end at the top where the hips are unexpectedly wide. It creates a mystery, which is a very considerate thing to do for the people who walk behind you.

You see lots of back shots like this (above) in drawings made a hundred years ago. The jacket is tight around the shoulders with gravity pulling down loose fabric in the back. It's the perfect suit for a tall, older man on the go, someone who was used to thinking on his feet and giving orders. The interior volume of the umbrella makes a perfect contrast. He's taking large, manly strides.

Holy mackerel! An interesting dress (above)! It's inappropriate because it's too tight, but that doesn't prevent her from projecting a strong personality. She thinks she looks good in it, and her confidence wins us over; besides, she's probably doing it to impress a guy, and whenever a girl dresses to impress a guy can't help but be flattered.

I always find myself rooting for girls like this, hoping they'll get the get the guy they're after. I always want to know their story. Everybody should possess some clothes that that subtly suggest a backstory.

Whew! Another strong contrast! The woman on the left (above) is vain, overly fashion-conscious, probably flaky, maybe abuses pills...but, she makes an effort to please, and that makes up for some sins.

The woman on the right (above) is earthy and self-confidant, probably more intelligent than people give her credit for. She's independent, proud that she thinks for herself, maybe not open as open to new ideas as she should be. I always think this is a wrong life strategy.

You should never be self-contained. There should always be a part of you that needs other people, and can be hurt by them. I think people should always be somewhat incomplete without other people, regardless of the consequences. But what do I know?

BTW: The pictures are all by Maira Kalman. Sorry, I can't remember the name of her book.


Oscar Baechler said...

Great stuff. In video games, this is something you have to consider all the time, because 99% of the time you're only seeing characters from the back or top. So how can you show character from this angle?

One of my favs is in Star Wars: Battlefront 2. It shows just how good this animation was that it stuck in my mind so well, but check out Luke Skywalker's run cycle when he uses Force Speed. Dynamic like nobody's business!

Jenny Lerew said...

"She thinks she looks good in it, and her confidence wins us over; besides, she's probably doing it to impress a guy, and whenever a girl dressed to impress me (before I was married) I was always so flattered that the attempt completely won me over.

I find myself rooting for girls like this, hoping they'll get the get the guy they're after....
I have to add that girls who dress like this are always nervous. Probably worried about how they look. I always forgive it...they made an effort, that's the important thing!"

God love you, Eddie-but this entire surmise of yours is the most utter tosh. : )

Anonymous said...

Fasinating. Thank you for posting this, Eddie. I'm going to try this out.

From an aspiring animator/ artist

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jenny: Hmmm. The nervous thing was a bit of a stretch, wasn't it? Maybe I'll delete that sentense. Thanks!

oppo said...

Question: is this the same Colin Higgins who wrote Harold and Maude, and Nine to Five and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas?

By the way, good analysis.

oppo said...

Which Films did you work on though? Because you don't have any live action cerdits on

Deniseletter said...

Hi Eddie,This is a very original-Sherlockian post!To know more about people's personality from the backshot.Thanks!

Jenny Lerew said...

Oh, nuts to that-don't edit!-it's your blog. What the hell!
But as you have comments here I am commenting-which I know you don't mind, and I'm grateful for that.
But anyway, here I think--I will absolutely bet my salary-that that particular girl is the polar opposite of your imagination's description.

Young women who dress in vintage clothes with a distinclty alt.hairdo, a dress in such a vibrant color with matching shoes, geek glasses, the works are the furthest thing from "nervous" as it's possible to be(for all but the wealthiest Alpha-chicks of the upper east side or Brentwood, at least).

While it's a ho-hum look in parts of Seattle, Soho, Silverlake, etc. in the wide world it's still quite a ballsy way to dress. And in the world-at-large, dressing like this is always, always done to please the fancy of the wearer. She may love guys, probably does--but she's insisting they take her as she is, the way she wants to look for herself-not the other way 'round of molding herself for a guy.

I'd argue that all of our incessant media drumbeats insist on a totally different idea of what females should wear/how to look to "please" guys.

Someone dressed in obvious vintage knows damn well that 99% of the people on the street will not only notice her but think her a sort of freak. That's not something a nervous person does--try to stand out, scream to men, women & kids "look at me!". A "nervous" person tries to look as much like every other woman as she possibly can, not dress theatrically or in 50s vintage, her hair parted severely in the middle and probably braided/rolled.
That's my take. : )
I quite like all the pictures, by the way.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jenny: You probably missed my last comment above, where I withdrew the nervous comment and even deleted the reference, but it's still good to hear from you. As a girl and a collector of vintage clothes you know more about this kind of thing than I do.

My guess is that the girl in the picture believes the dress makes her look more slim. I don't think it does, but I think that she thinks it does. I have a vintage overcoat that I wear in cold weather, and although I wear it to please myself, I also wear it because I think it's objectively beautiful and makes me look more thin and masculine. I figure girls make calculations like that too but, as I said, you're a girl and know more about girly things than I do.

Kali Fontecchio said...

I like the dress.

chrisallison said...

cool post, eddie!!! it's true, i've always dreaded the backshot, but you've changed my mind. i've seen the light, and i'm going to try to make it right (in cartoon-ish format that is).

Bitter Animator said...

Really interesting post. While they were certainly tricky back in my old traditional paper animation days, back views are pretty much a no-go where I am right now.

Most of the characters on projects I've been on recently are animated in Flash or designed originally with Flash in mind. And so they really just tend to be big ol' shapes with faces. And a big ol' shape from the back is just a big ol' shape and that usually ends up looking like a pile of cack on screen.

Oh, how far we've come in animation...

Mónico Chávez said...

Good post, great read.

Jenny Lerew said...

"My guess is that the girl in the picture believes the dress makes her look more slim."

My guess is that the girl in the picture believes no such thing.

My guess is she believes it is a pretty swell dress she likes to wear.

No one wears a dress like that because of any external pressures. They do it because they like it. They like it. It makes them feel happy.

: )

cwyatt said...

I agree with Jenny. But, it's interesting to hear the man's perspective.
My guess is when women dress comfortably and for themselves they evoke confidence which men are definitely intrigued by.
I see this woman as totally confident and happy with herself the way she is. But, who knows...
I love reading Eddie's comments on each person. They are hilarious!

Anonymous said...

My theory on the Girl in the red dress.

She is not wearing it because it is slightly snug, for whatever reason to impress others. It just happens to be that size.

She is wearing it because there was not an identical dress that was a wee bit larger available to her. It is slightly snug because it is vintage, possibly older than she is, and not exactly her size. And because they don't make them like that anymore.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Anon: I publish your letter here, even though the post you're answering to is two years old:

"I know this is about 2 years too late, but what the hay.

Here's the perfect murder: You'll need a body double that you can trust. Give the double your wallet and car, and have them go run your errands making sure they use a credit card for most purchases and try to make an impression on the cashiers, tellers, etc. Now you have an alibi and multiple possible witnesses plus a money trail to back it up.

While the double is doing your errands, you're whacking your victim far enough away from your double that it's not reasonable to assume you drove to the crime scene in between errands.

Now, possible disadvantages: If the double doesn't know about your plan, he'll go to the cops as soon as he hears you're a suspect (it's not rational to do so, because he would be charged too, but people aren't always rational in that kind of state). If the double is in on the plot, he could feel guilty and take you down with him.

Advantages: Your target is eliminated. The double would be charged with conspiracy or murder, thus reducing the risk of him turning you in."


Eddie Fitzgerald said...

CWyatt: Did you notice that the book I got these pictures from was by a favorite artist of yours, Maira Kalman?

Jenny: Interesting! Maybe you're right!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jenny: I forgot to say that the method I used to critique the pictures was influenced by an author you turned me on to: Linda Goodman.

Jenny Lerew said...

"Jenny: I forgot to say that the method I used to critique the pictures was influenced by an author you turned me on to: Linda Goodman."

*jaw crashes to floor along with coffee cup*

What! Oh, no-you won't pin this one on me!

I can't remember talking about Linda Goodman with you-though I can easily imagine bringing up astrology for the fun of it...and I did read Linda Goodman's Sun Signs--at age 12, so I probably mentioned it. Which is exactly the right age for it. Those paperbacks were ubiquitous and they were fun to read--you were an adult when they were super popular--you must have seen them around, especially up in Berkeley, no?
And it is where I got all the info I learned about Scorpios, etc. I enjoy the lore of "sun signs" but I'm more in the Amazing Randi's camp where any supposed actual value of horoscopes is concerned.
But...what does that have to do with deconstructing people based on their clothes? You've lost me there!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jenny: I always take book recommendations seriously, when the commender seems to have taste. I've read, or spot read, a number of books recommended here. I don't always mention it because it usually takes me months to get around to it.

I don't like astrology either but "Sun Signs" is worth looking at for the innovative style, which influenced my style.

Jorge, if you're reading this, I read half of that business parable you recommended last year. PBS since got the guy to do one of their on-air financial lectures, so I got to see him.

Anonymous said...

Eddie, which book/author was it? I don't remember any specifics. I think I recommended 3 or 4 business books/authors last year.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jorge: I can't remember the guy's name. It was one of those "Rich Man, Poor Man" books where the guy has a mentor who teaches him about life and finances.

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering if I was the anon who wrote that answer to a request of yours to readers to describe the perfect crime. Because I halfway remember reading enough to put a context to that, without recognizing my own words.

But I am even more puzzled, why it is mentioned here, and now? Did you just receive it as email or what? Maybe It was clogged in some out box of a mail app I rarely use. Maybe you looked at some ages old comments to some of your posts. In any case, there has to be months if not years between the crumbs in the thread of that conversation. Was it me? My Evil Twin? Some of the other anonymous folk that post here?

I post anonymously here, because I never remember my Blogger ID. I almost never log in or update to my blogger blog. I'm anonymous because I am lazy.