This applies to writers, storyboard artists, actors, animators and directors. Everyone in filmmaking should pay attention if you haven’t heard this before.
The entrance of a character is one of the most important shots an actor (or animator) will have in a film. Introducing a character is a delicate art. If you do it wrong, you will lose any chance of regaining that momentum. (Besides, this is probably a shot that will end up in the trailer!)
Way back when theatre was invented and perfected, a star’s entrance became a big deal. There might be a spotlight on them, or the curtain will open for them and them alone. Maybe they will walk through a door on stage while the lesser characters scoot out of the way. Perhaps the'll be lowered in on a platform. He/she appears on stage and all action stops for the applause.
There is an old Hollywood style of emulating this moment on film. Take “Gone With the Wind” for instance. The first character we meet is Scarlett O’Hara. She is sitting on the porch with the Tarleton twins. At first, one of the twins is standing with his back to the camera, obscuring Vivian Leigh. But at the camera dollies in, he moves aside like a curtain revealing our central character. For the next few minutes we meet secondary characters of the story: Mammy, Papa O’Hara, Ashley Wilkes, etc., but none gets quite the treatment of Scarlett. That is, until we meet Rhett Butler. The camera trucks down the grand staircase at Twelve Oaks and right into Clark Gable’s leering gaze. There is no doubt who our central characters are.
Now that’s all grandiose, Technicolor, Hollywood glitz style, still a good technique in some instances. Times and styles have changed, but the principals remain the same. Pop just about any DVD in your player and take notice. In many instances, the central character’s first shot is a one shot. He/she will share the screen with nobody. Frodo sits alone by a tree, looks up to camera and smiles. Gandalf shares the screen with Frodo then tilts his head up, his hat brim revealing his face. Much later we come to Strider/Aragorn. He sits alone in the corner of the Prancing Pony, hidden by the shadows of his hood. This is one of the best entrances in all of the trilogy. Jackson created a great air of mystery, making the audience want to see his face a little more. A great technique: toy with the audience and hide what they want to see. In this case, Jackson’s choice was made by Professor Tolkien. That scene is filmed pretty much exactly how it is described in the book. I have read that as Tolkien was writing the story, he himself had no idea who Strider was when he wrote that scene in the Prancing Pony. It was only as he kept up the narrative that he realized that Aragorn was indeed the lost King of Gondor. But a better entrance still was Gollum’s. We only got fleeting glances of him in the shadows until halfway through the second movie! Everybody wanted to know what he looked like!
Now go back and think of some other films and character entrances:
The Incredibles: The film opens with a great series of interviews with the main cast. Then Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl both get big action intros to boot!
Toy Story. Buzz has one of the best entrances in film history! After we had met and fallen in love with Woody, Buzz gets an even bigger entrance, thus setting up the rivalry within the audience’s mind, too!
The Sound of Music: That helicopter shot of Julie Andrews gets replayed at the Oscars practically every friggin’ year!
The Lion King: Simba gets three entrances, one for every age of his life. But I love Scar’s entrance. Pure character – we first get startled by his paw on the innocent mouse, creating the question, who is this? Then we follow the prey in his grip up to his face. Plus, Scar gets the perfect spot af being the first character we meet after the huge “Circle of Life” number – and he’s the first character who speaks.
These are all very successful (and very overt) entrances. There are of course subtler ways to make grand entrances, but our medium of animation isn’t generally a subtle art. We create caricature, make things a little over the top, so our entrances can be a little over the top, too.
Entrances don’t necessarily have to be big. They just have to be clear!
This is probably all information that you know instinctively. After all, you’ve been watching TV and movies all your life. And whether our not it’s ever been put into words for you, you understand it. But I put it into words so that some day when you are writing or storyboarding or animating an entrance scene, and something just isn’t clicking right, you can sit back and analyze your scene better and find out what’s missing.
Keep up the good work!