An axial cut is defined as a connection of two camera setups with identical camera-object-axis. The difference between shots is then, how close the camera is to the object. This device has been used heavily in the early silent years but has been relegated to special occasions in later years (just think of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds or Stanley Kubrick’s 2001).
In animation the axial cut is useful because there is no perspective change, so it isn’t necessary to draw a new background. Classic cartoons have very clear and simple screen directions, so axial cuts hardly noticed at first view.
There is a special kind of axial cut that is motivated by the nature of the hand drawn animation medium. I usually call it:
The Cheat Cut
This seems to be standard practice for golden age shorts and can be observed in cartoons of any studio of the time. The transition would be smoother with a cross-dissolve but this usually implies a leap in time.
Cheating On Screen Directions
The light source is on the left. The perspective on the room and on Jerry is three-quarters. Jerry’s face is already to the right.
Remember the light source inside is on the left, so light from the artificially lit kitchen seems to illuminate Jerry’s apartment. From the outside the door is brown working better with the basic cold-warm setting. In contrast to the cold outside world, Jerry’s apartment is seen as warm from the outside…
In spite of backgrounds that almost always imply diagonal camera angles, the action is basically staged on a flat right to left axis on a right angle to the camera. A concept that has already become evident in the long pans (previous posts) is also applied to most of the other shots.
There are some obvious advantages there: the characters don’t have to be drawn from different angles, they don’t have to increase or shrink in size within shots and more important from a storytelling point of view, it’s easier to show the line of action on these silhouettes than on almost full frontal characters in over-shoulder-shots.
As can be seen from numerous Tom and Jerry poses these silhouettes work best when the body is depicted in 3/4 with the head in profile. Very often the ears are slightly cheated into ¾ as well so as to prevent the head from appearing overly flat. It’s not always as extreme like in these examples. Many times the head itself is not completely shown in profile. Eye (pupil) positions are always very clear so that there is no question if a character is looking to the left, the right, up or down or straight at us.
Preston Blair educational poses from the first edition of “Advanced Animation” 1945.
On Jerry’s way back from Tom, however, the path seems to be dangerously long. This not only heightens the tension, but also exaggerates the concept of right to left as an easy progression and left to right as harder.
Breaking The Flatness