Perspective for Animators Part Three Cylindrical Perspective

By George Collin

The trouble with ordinary perspective is that it assumes an image fixed on a flat sheet of glass between the viewer and the view, square on to the viewer and with the viewer staring at a single point (see figure 1A). Although this can take in a wide field of view (up to about ninety degrees), the perspective is only correct for that one line of view. If the viewer changes his or her gaze to another point of interest in the scene before them, then we must imagine the sheet of glass turning with them so as to remain square on to their line of sight.

The dilemma is particularly acute in animation. It limits the extent to which you can pan across a background drawing and still preserve realistic perspective. One alternative is to re-draw the background for each frame. See for example Disney’s Three Little Kittens. Or to re- photograph a model set as in When the Wind Blows. This is extremely difficult and time consuming. Cylindrical perspective is a practical alternative.

Layout sketches for alligator acrobatics and a plan of the distorted column for Walt Disney’s Fantasia. © 1988 The Walt Disney Company.

In figure lB the flat sheet of glass is replaced by a curved sheet with the artist in the centre. As long as he keeps looking at eye level, he can swivel round and draw the scene beyond on the glass in a series of slices. This curved picture plane could be a quarter circle or a full circle. Afterwards the picture is rolled out flat and still gives a full panorama. In my unfinished painting View of a Room (figure 2) I have gone beyond a full circle to repeat part of the scene, but while the artist’s back was turned, someone has opened the door. This type of picture is best viewed so close that you can not take it all in at once. A spherical painting is possible, but you could not roll it out flat. Of course I am not the first to try this technique.

There are a number of purpose-built buildings in Europe housing large murals painted on canvas, mainly constructed in the last century. You stand in the centre of a round room, the canvas hangs on the walls. In the summer of 1987 a modern view of the city of Bath as seen from a tethered hot air balloon was exhibited on the South Bank of London. Called Hallett’s Panorama, after it’s artist.

Some of the finest examples of cylindrical perspective are found in the work of the Dutch graphic artist M. C. Escher such as High and Low and House of Stairs.

In animation the classic example of cylindrical perspective is a crocodile spiralling down a column in Fantasia. We are in a huge ball suspended in mid-air, looking up the column. The crocodile spirals down and we pan with it as it passes in front of us and we see it descend to the floor far below. All this in one shot and with one long background.

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