Sunday, September 20, 2009

An old idea/A new film

*above images showing some emotional moments from my new film-in-progress.

One of the things I cherish most about working from home is that it allows me more time on personal independent projects. Right now I'm teaching a class at NYU called Intermediate Animation Production, and the goal is that students complete a one minute film over the 15 week term. Over the summer I got the idea that it might be fun to make my own film alongside the students. The weekly homework reviews would give me deadlines to hit and ensure that I'd have new finished film by December. I'm hoping the students get a kick out of giving me notes, too! And, I don't doubt that the feedback could prove instructional for the class as well as helpful to my film.

For the film, I selected an old idea of mine called Keisha Katterpillar. The simple story concerns the titular character's hurry to grow up and get her butterfly wings so she can be just like her older brother Karl. The catterpillar/butterfly scenario is well-traveled territory, but my approach is to focus on Keisha's resourceful imagination to show how she thinks her problem through to try and achieve (what we know is) the impossible. And, through Keisha's problem, show how her family comes together to be there for her.

It was very enlightening to revisit the old material. For one, there was a lot of extra dialogue and description in the script that I was able to trim (something that would have helped my last film!). Frequent readers of this blog will know that I'm a big advocate of self imposed rules on an independent film. Rules help speed up the process of elimination and this is important because what to leave out shapes what to leave in.

A couple of important rules immediately sprang to the surface as I prepared a storyboard. The first rule I made was to limit the film to four scenes or acts with only four backgrounds or locations. Although, I might change my mind, right now I'm thinking that there will be no camera work/pans/zooms, etc. And, no cuts either. I plan to animate the transitions between scenes and keep Keisha's position consistent in the bridge between each scene. This further emphasizes her as THE character. I also used a round window shape in the first scene to reappear as a bathroom mirror or family portrait in subsequent scenes. I'm hoping this repeating bit of the layout further helps further anchor the transitions.

I hadn't intended to make yet another children's film, but there is something in this story that is still calling to me five years later, so the timing seems right to give it a try. And, I've been encouraged by the success of my other recent children's films. In October I'm going to attend The Chicago International Children's Film Festival where two of my films were accepted into competition: "Owl and Rabbit Play Checkers," and Iwanna Wanda in "Don't Wanna Brush." The latter is my newest film made for a client who hired me after seeing my other recent children's film, "Good Morning." These children's films have been a joy to make, a major creative challenge, and have opened up a lot of great commercial opportunities. While nobody has an exact road map of what they should do next, I'm beginning to think that I'm spending my creative energies in the right place.


Mike Rauch said...

Looking forward to seeing what you come up with!

Elliot Cowan said...

1) One minute in fifteen weeks????? They should bulldoze through that.

2) Your editorial decisions are what's going to elevate this from the usual stuff. Stick with them if you can.

David B. Levy said...

Hi Elliot,

Yes, one could assume they can bulldoze through a minute in 15 weeks, but they have other classes too, which give them assignments. And, the class and I give notes each week on whatever stage they are at and students are expected to make changes and improvements to the work each week and this can mean doing things over. So, I think the one minute in 15 weeks is probably just right without it being an overload.

I love your way of describing rules as "editorial decisions." That is dead on.

Dagan Moriarty said...

Such a cute and charming idea for your new short, Dave.

I can't wait to see how it turns out!

I also love the idea of 'self-imposed rules' when creating personal films. I am going to try to incorporate that approach as I begin my VERY first personal short.

Otherwise, it's just too darned easy to second-guess (and third guess!) every facet of a personal film. I think creating those rules from the outset is a great way to keep it simple, remain focused and stay jazzed about what you're trying to accomplish.

I LIKE it! :)

Elliot Cowan said...

...I remember when I was a lad.
We had to animate a minute a day through 10 feet of snow...

Dagan - good luck! Starting a film is easy. Finishing it is the hard part.

David B. Levy said...

Thanks for the support, guys. Glad you are excited about the new film.

Dagan, Elliot is correct. Finishing is the hard part. I actually just interviewed Plympton yesterday and he described what he called, "The myth of perfection." He said that people wanting to make a perfect drawing, a perfect film, etc... as the reason that they don't finish. I think that is good advice. Besides, I always love the rough edges and human touch.

I'm also reading "Starting Point," now, which is a collection of interviews of Hayao Miyazaki. He stresses that every good film will have "something to say," and also warns that people overemphasize technique. He continues, "when people who know what they want to say make films with a low level of technique, we still greatly appreciate the films because there is really something to them."

Elliot Cowan said...

This is probably a whole other blog post, but yeah, Bill has it right.

The only way to make a short animated film is to sit down and make it.
That may sound obvious, but animation traditionally has a lot of pre production that makes it very easy to drag everything out as long as possible.

How often do you hear "Oh, I'm working on some concepts" "I'm working on some character designs" I'm working on some blahdy blah"?
They'll never finish anything I guarantee you.

Miyazaki is a film maker I'm not especially interested in, but he also has the right idea.

As animators, we get terribly caught up in technique and no so much in storytelling (this is back to the old animator vs film maker business we chatted about a while back).

Animators, I think, make the mistake of condensing an animated short down to the "presentation of a collection of drawings" (or whatever medium you like"), when it's really about cutting and editing and mood etc...

Jim Mortensen said...

David, your blog is a constant inspiration for people that really love filmmaking and animation, not just rising to the top of the Animation power structure.

From LA, thank you.

stephen said...

I've always thought of this as an extremely challenging course from a teaching standpoint. NYU's students are so diverse in terms of experience, sensibilities, and goals. And what should the goal of an intermediate film be anyway? Should it be an exercise? Should it be festival-worthy? some mix of both? It's different for everyone.

restrictions are good, but it's great to see students running wild sometimes too. my intermediate film at nyu was 8 minutes long, and I'm really glad John let me make some huge mistakes that I was able to learn from. Sometimes being a good animator means being able to wear a large producer hat, knowing what you can and can't get away with.

have fun with the new film!

David B. Levy said...

Hi Stephen,

In my view its the restrictions that allow the student to run wild. Creativity needs guidelines, and this is especially true if a film is to be made as a week-by-week assignment. So, the first rule is that there are weekly checkpoints or stages that all of the films pass through in the 15 week class. The class and I give feedback on each film and students are expected to take those notes into consideration and apply them forward. That can be called the second rule.

The third rule is content, the assignment requires that it demonstrate a thinking character going through a thought process. So, that narrows down what might be suitable subject-wise.

The forth rule is that the film must be between 30 seconds to a minute long. That's a very important rule because it forces one to choose a film and vision that can shine in that limited length. And, it ensures more students will complete the assignment and be able to keep up with the weekly checkpoints. This means that they will get a lot of out of the class and really learn something.

And, again, the assumption is that students have other classes, other assignments to complete elsewhere.

The bright side is that students can always continue to work on their films on their own time during the holiday break and beyond. They can make them any lengths they wish once they are left to their own devices.

And, lets not forget, a thesis film is one that allows a far greater amount of freedom to the student.

You're right that the producer's hat can teach you something and I'd say the first rule of a good producer is to learn how to bring something in to order, this means: to meet all the assigned requirements.

I hope you get a chance to teach sometime to try out some of your own approaches.

David B. Levy said...

I should add, Stephen that your experience at NYU was obviously a good one. One could see that just by looking at your wonderful films. Keep making them! We need your voice as an independent.

Eunice Kim said...

Hello, I don't know if you remember me, but you visited RISD around May and Amy Kravitz introduced us. I think we were both early for the class. :)

Congratulations on having your films submitted to the Chicago International Children's Film Festival! That's really great!

I remember seeing "Owl and Rabbit Play Checkers," when you visited my then-senior class at RISD.

As I am currently reading your book, "Animation Development: from Pitch to Production," I thought of googling you and here I am.

I also saw on the OIAF site that you are coming to Ottawa as well. I will be there with my friends + RISD '10, so I look forward to possibly running into you there (or at the book signing).

David B. Levy said...

Hey Eunice,

Thanks for the nice message. And, for the support! I hope you're enjoying the new book. It will be nice to see y'all in Ottawa. Do you have a film in the festival? Seeing RISD films are always a highlight for me.

Eunice Kim said...

You're welcome for thanking me on the compliments, but that IS a great achievement in terms of festivals. (Had my own share of research after my completing my degree project).

As for Ottawa, my representation in it would be for the school reel this year. If you do make it to the school competitions, please do watch out for "Wall Pets."

In addition, I've volunteered to translate for Meet the Filmmakers" for one day, so that's also something to look forward to.
When we run into each other, I might want to ask you about SVA. I hope you don't mind.

The book's great so far; While speaking the tales of truth, it's not the tales of the "Negative Nancy" which I greatly appreciate. :)