Extras (Background Actors)
Background Actors Overview
Background actors, or “Extras” as they’re often called in the biz, are the icing on the cake of a well-executed scene. When careful attention is paid to layering, animation, movement and scale, background actors can create a rich and filmic atmosphere. Though the process of populating a scene with extras can be time-consuming, the payoff is usually worth it.
To populate a scene with extras, you’ll use the following Donacode command...
Spot Placement Syntax:
@CHARACTER spot % X Y in zone # at layer X
You can do this easily by added a script template! Script Templates are located in your Library at the lower right section of your Script Editor.
Here you have an array of templates that can be chosen, including crowd scenes which can be used and edited to your heart’s desire.
Filling the Room
The task of filling a room with lots of background actors may seem daunting, but it shouldn’t! Here’s a simple way to fill the room in 3 easy steps…
Put your background actors at screen right position. Alternate the direction each extra faces.
@EXTRA1 stands screen right AND EXTRA1 faces left
@EXTRA2 stands screen right AND EXTRA2 faces right
@EXTRA3 stands screen right AND EXTRA3 faces left
@EXTRA4 stands screen right AND EXTRA4 faces right
@EXTRA5 stands screen right AND EXTRA5 faces left
@EXTRA6 stands screen right AND EXTRA6 faces right
@EXTRA7 stands screen right AND EXTRA7 faces right
The result will look quite strange in the preview…
Drag your background actors into position one by one, using the Spot Tool to get them to the correct scale and position on screen.
Once you’re happy with their size and placement, record their spot positions in the script. Don’t forget to include the layers so that characters in the background don’t accidentally overlap over those intended to be in the foreground!
@EXTRA1 spot .84 218 204 in zone 3 at layer 0
@EXTRA1 faces left
@EXTRA2 spot .81 145 214 in zone 3 at layer 0
@EXTRA2 faces right
@EXTRA3 spot .82 289 222 in zone 3 at layer 0
@EXTRA3 faces left
@EXTRA4 spot 1.0 122 124 in zone 3 at layer 1
@EXTRA4 faces right
@EXTRA5 spot 1.0 241 126 in zone 3 at layer 1
@EXTRA5 faces left
@EXTRA6 spot .98 44 122 in zone 3 at layer 1
@EXTRA6 faces right
@EXTRA7 spot .81 78 210 in zone 3 at layer 0
@EXTRA7 faces right
And when you update the story in the app, all your background characters will be into position!
Animating Background Actors
“Don’t just stand there, do something!” Animating background actors calls for both creativity and restraint. Background actors shouldn’t be static, but their animations also shouldn’t distract from the main action.
Here’s a short list of animations that work well for background actors…
Don’t feel that you have to limit yourself to this list of animations though. Use any that you’d like, but just use your best judgment when animating background characters!
Note: As we learned in Advanced Character Placement, layer 0 is closest to the background. Characters in layer 1, 2, etc. will be on top of characters in layer 0.
Let’s look at 2 examples, one being how this should be done, and the other being what happens when the commands are in the wrong order...
Open the story “Advanced Directing Guide”
Then click button “Background Actors Overview”
To follow along in the script, open:
Then jump to “label threeone” using CTRL + F or CMD + F after tapping into the script editor. You can view the examples by tapping at the line you want to view, and pressing “Preview” button in the upper right hand corner to view the differences.
Example A: This is the right way to layer characters over background actors.
Example B: This is the wrong way to layer characters over background actors. As you can see, the background actors are accidentally layered over the foreground actors, which looks very weird.
Walking Background Actors
Having background actors walk across screen adds unparalleled visual flourish to any scene. Walking background actors are best used in EXT. (outdoor) shots, or in indoor shots where we expect to see people milling about in the background (train stations, airports, etc.) To pull this off, we’ll use the same techniques we learned in Advanced Character Placement, under Entering, Exiting and Spot Placement.
Determine the Y-Axis and and scale for your walking background actor. In other words, how high up and how large will your background actor be when they walk across the screen?
Determine your character’s walking trajectory. Now that we’ve figured out our character’s scale and Y-Axis values, we need to figure out the X-value of his original spot position and the X-value of the spot that he’s walking to.
Spot direct your character into a position offscreen. Make sure you specify “at layer X” in your command. Remember that the layer of a background character must be lower than a character in the foreground.
Make the character walk from the off-screen position to a position off-screen on the other side of the screen using the command in Section 2.3. Make sure to use the ampersand (&) here in their walking command so that the character’s walking doesn’t “interrupt” other actions and animations.
Open the story “Advanced Directing Guide” and click button “Walking Background Actors” to see John walk behind Marie and Alison during a scene.
*To follow along in the script, open:
Then jump to “label threefour” using CTRL + F or CMD + F after tapping into the script editor. You can view the examples by tapping at the line you want to view, and pressing “Preview” button in the upper right hand corner to view the differences.