Manga artist raises question online about false perspective
September 6, 2019 8:48 AM   Subscribe

". . . when I was a student I applied a ruler to a scene from My Neighbor Totoro. Even though it was supposed to be a one-point perspective drawing there were actually two vanishing points. I remember really worrying about what this meant.” [via]
posted by Think_Long (25 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
It looks to me more like there is a vertical line of vanishing points near the center of the image, with different horizontal planes in the image converging to different points on the line. That seems to be illustrated in the lower left image here.
posted by eruonna at 9:01 AM on September 6, 2019

I loved learning perspective as a student. But what was really enlightening was taking drawing classes from Douglas Cooper at the college level. Getting permission to shift perspectives as you shift your own view through a scene opens up an incredibly visceral way to experience settings which rise, fall and bend around corners. "Traditional" perspective is only what you see if you have one eye closed and never move. Our experience of the world is far more dynamic than that and I'm not at all surprised to learn that exceptional Manga recognizes how to capture these shifts in viewpoint.
posted by meinvt at 9:03 AM on September 6, 2019 [19 favorites]

[Picard]There are TWO. POINTS.[/Picard]
posted by tobascodagama at 9:22 AM on September 6, 2019 [11 favorites]

Obviously the building in question isn't rectangular.
posted by qntm at 9:30 AM on September 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

I would say that they are using curved perspective. Traditional perspective uses a flat picture plane, like looking through a pane of glass. Which gives wonderful results, as long as you don't try to extend the image too wide. In the real world we are the center of a sphere, and our peripheral vision extends quite widely.

Imagine standing in a subway station, looking across the tracks. To your left, the lines converge, and to your right those same lines converge in the opposite direction, with a "one point" perspective view ahead of you. You can actually see quite a bit of those curves without moving your head, and in the actual experience of being there, the feel of it is really much more than could be drawn on a page, or movie screen.

So the question is how do you translate our spherical picture plane to that screen? Because our physical environment is biased so strongly 2D, (we don't move off our ground plane, or even look up and down nearly as much,) it usually seems more natural to use a cylindrical picture plane, and just unroll it. This leaves the verticals vertical. So when your eye scans from left to right across the final image, you see the left wall a little more straight on, and the lines converge a little farther to the right.

I believe the artists have, probably without fully understanding why, used this technique to make the image more immersive.
posted by bitslayer at 9:31 AM on September 6, 2019 [12 favorites]

From the link: Think back to High School Art 101 (if you had it). One of your lessons likely included an introduction to linear perspective...

True story about learning perspective. In 1958-9, I was a 3rd grader in an Episcopalian private elementary school in Sioux Falls, SD, when they hired a guy named Sebastian "Lefty" Adler as the art teacher. He had recently become the founding head of the small city's fine art museum and had this teaching job as a side gig. He only stayed a year in that position. Later, in 1972, when I was at Rice University in Houston, I learned he was the director of the nearby, brand new Houston Contemporary Art Museum, a position he held until he produced a blow-out exhibit that the conservative wealthy patrons absolutely hated. He then became director of the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, then on to the San Diego Art Center.

Anyway, 7-year-old me never was much of an artist, but this guy was such a fantastic teacher and his love of art was infectious. I remember vividly the day he taught us about single-point perspective. It was a revelation to me. I spent hours drawing landscapes, streetscapes, interiors, and still lifes using my new-found tool. I use this anecdote in my graduate teaching as an example of the impact a single interaction with a gifted, dedicated teacher can produce.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:45 AM on September 6, 2019 [18 favorites]

In the screen shot posted in the original tweet, the lines on the right don't even converge on one point.

The result is not unlike what a wide-angle camera would do to the room but without the linear distortion. I don't remember the scene (been a while since I've seen the movie) but if the camera pans from side to side in the scene then the artwork also helps make it seem more like the camera is turning left and right in a 3D space rather than sliding around over a flat surface.
posted by ardgedee at 10:31 AM on September 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

In high school art class, one-point and two point perspective were taught directly and with exercises. Three-point perspective was suggested and a few of us produced sketches experimenting with the concept. But there was a photo in "The Animation Handbook" of a cel-animation background: a panoramic painting showing the view from straight ahead on the road and panning back to looking straight behind. That picture opened my eyes. It's not a vanishing point or two; it's an infinite number of points forming a vanishing line...
posted by coppertop at 10:44 AM on September 6, 2019 [6 favorites]

Mental Wimp: a position he held until he produced a blow-out exhibit that the conservative wealthy patrons absolutely hated.
Unfortunately, the cages weren't built all that well, and the rats escaped into the crowd opening night, causing much screaming among the ladies and stimulating a lot of anger. As the weeks passed, the exhibit stunk up the whole museum, and the rats occasionally broke out and were eaten by the cats; the cats in turn broke out and ate the pigeons. The cats came down with pneumonia due to the air conditioning and the virus-carrying crowds, and they started dying. The exhibit was both traumatic and dramatic, and most of the upper-class Houston crowd hated it.
posted by clawsoon at 11:03 AM on September 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

The Perspective Myth

Following point perspective very closely in illustration is an imitation of photography. Bending those rules when you feel like it is taking advantage of the fact that you are illustrating rather than photographing.
posted by RobotHero at 11:26 AM on September 6, 2019 [9 favorites]

I really don't understand the technicalities - all I know is that whatever Miyasaki is doing, it works wonderfully well. His images - especially landscapes - are always so alive to me.
posted by jb at 11:46 AM on September 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Ardgedee said what I was thinking about this technique, which is that it’s serving the purpose of a wide angle lens without the distortion you usually get with those, which I think would be distracting and also probably harder to draw. Super cool, though, I’d never noticed that effect.
posted by invitapriore at 12:17 PM on September 6, 2019

Good artists break rules.
Great artists know there are none.

...mathematical correctness is great and all, but mumble mumble art imitating life, aesthetics, etc

Nthing mimicking a wide angle lens. Consciously or not.
posted by ananci at 12:28 PM on September 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

It's like a wide-angle lens in the sense that both this and a wide-angle lens are trying to fit a 3-dimensional world that surrounds you onto a flat rectangle.
posted by RobotHero at 12:47 PM on September 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

Long before Hanna/Barbera, Ward/Scott and all the cartoon hacks made "limited animation", serious perspective was considered too much work (except when the Fleischer brothers wanted to show off a tracking scene in a Popeye or Gulliver's Travels). A chase scene? Just use a repeating background that's three frames wide and forget about things like perspective...
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:54 PM on September 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

I am really not able to understand the problem here, except that maybe some important knowledge has been lost because of digital images? Artists have worked with multiple and even conflicting vanishing points in linear perspective at least since the baroque. It's something that was discussed at art school back when I went, and that was a time and place where the backward professors hated figurative art and dismissed popular art-forms (while all the students were very interested in both). Specially if you want to do large scale work - such as a big mural or images for the big screen rather than a TV - you need to work with several vanishing points if you don't want your piece to look dead. Or as oneswellfoop says, you just freestyle it, knowing well that no-one will notice when the music is playing. People who construct perspectives usually want to make some point.
posted by mumimor at 1:05 PM on September 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

I came into this thinking my take was hot, but it's actually quite cold. One/Two/Three point perspective is a crutch that helps artists render a realistic-looking three-dimensional scene. It's not necessary that every image adhere to the "rules" of perspective, all that matters is the art you make satisfies you and gets your point across. Certainly don't let perspective get in the way of making whatever art you want to make.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 1:37 PM on September 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Someone brought up perspective! Someone else brought up South Dakota! Is this the time when I get to put you all onto Termespheres?
posted by lauranesson at 2:38 PM on September 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

The dirty secret is once you learn technical perspective, you toss it away and eyeball it. The result is far more naturalistic and comfortable. Technical perspective never looks right, and feels very rigid and lifeless.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:52 PM on September 6, 2019 [6 favorites]

I think you mean Termespheres®
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 2:55 PM on September 6, 2019

That's a great observation, I'd noticed the really dramatic panoramas like coppertop mentions before, but it definitely looks more natural mimicking even the subtle looking left and right in a small background like this. If you extend the tatami edges up to the horizon, their points move along the "vanishing line" too.
posted by lucidium at 2:59 PM on September 6, 2019

I'm surprised no one's created a "corrected" image. Well, less surprised after trying to do so in Photoshop. (The fact that we see more of the left wall makes it tricky.)

But— imagine a single vanishing point. What happens to the red and blue lines? They spread out more. The left and right walls get bigger, and the room looks like a tunnel.

It's not how the eye sees a room. We don't see the walls looming. The background artist did the right thing.
posted by zompist at 3:32 PM on September 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

I used to teach architectural drawing. After we mastered the 1 point and the two point, blazingly accurate, I handed out copies of drawings by Frank Lloyd Wright drawings and told them to locate the vanishing points. Surprise, there were either very many or none identifiable.
posted by rudd135 at 5:16 PM on September 6, 2019 [6 favorites]

Eyeballing it, I think it the wall perspective that's been stretched vertically. The ground plane looks pretty accurate, since it's the only thing the characters are interacting with. It has a much lower horizon that indicated in the draw-over. What's throwing things off is the shoji frame on the right setting the horizon higher.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:11 PM on September 7, 2019

I made a "corrected" image here.

I think the original image is far more satisfying— there's less emphasis on the side walls and— very important for animation— plenty of room for the characters to move in. Plus the room looks larger, which helps give the kid's-eye view already implied by the low perspective.
posted by zompist at 2:27 PM on September 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

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