Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Battling The Non-Spontaneous Side of Animation

*drawing above from my new indie film in-progress.

The busier I get, the more determined I get to jam in some time to work on personal projects. I mentioned a few posts ago that for the short films I'm making for Sesame's Word on the Street series, the deadlines are so tight that I'm sort of writing and storyboarding on the fly. Often I have to just invent a story as I draw it. Usually, us animators work to someone else's script, so these Sesame films go against that norm and forced me to work a new way. Having to work in different ways, for whatever the reason, pushes me out of my comfort zone. And, that's a good way to keep growing as a filmmaker.

I had an idea to make a personal film about a member of my extended family, some two years ago. It sort of laid there for a long time while other projects and priorities pushed ahead of it. But, recent events in my life convinced me to finally make this film. I don't like to say too much on a film in progress so I'm going to keep it pretty general and just discuss process here.

The first thing I did was fill several pages of a journal with memories of a certain time in my life that I wanted to recreate. Jotting down these notes only took about a half hour (I did this while I was on the train). Next, I recorded myself reading the notes in no particular order. I gave myself permission to ad-lib here and there to keep it loose and fresh. The notes were not so much a script as they were talking points.

Next I cut together the bits of track I liked using After Effects. At the end of one day, I had my first rough assembly of the track, which came to about five minutes. I plan to shift audio around as I work.

My philosophy in making this film is to let the film tell me what to do. Usually that's something that happens as you work on a film for a while, when it feels as if the film begins to give you instructions on what to do, but I wanted to see if I could get to that state of mind from the beginning. The key for me was to work in a way I hadn't worked before, allowing the interview snippets to be a sort of audio storyboard.

A day later I started the animation and I've since been able to animate about 20 seconds a day on the film, that is whenever I have a day to spare. I have about 2 minutes of the film completed and my goal is to have the rest of it finished within a month or so.

The thing I like least about animation is how non-spontaneous it can be. I know, typical animation requires lots of planning and process, where a crew or individual follow a pipeline from script, boards, designs, animation, edit, sound, and post. But, all too often the work we do in this industry looks like the process in that the careful planning sucks out any chance of life the animation might have had. I don't want someone to see my process when they watch this film. I want them to feel something instead.

So I'm battling this by working very loosely within a very personal subject. When I start to animate a scene I don't have a full plan of what I'm going to do. I just let it happen as I animate. Also of help is the documentary format of the film, which encourages experimentation in tone changes and narrative flow. So far I'm very pleased with the results. I don't know if I'm making a great film, but its of great importance to me. And, I suppose that's a good start.


Kristen said...

Fantastic observation. In my personal work, I seem to fight like a three year old against the solid fact that animation isn't spontaneos, yet I almost FORCE it to be. In that regard, I have many half completed thoughts and undeveloped ideas because the maturity of my attention span just isn't there. Though, I'm begining to wonder if it will ever be, as I'm just now stepping into my 40's.

Looking forward to future posts as you develop this project.

Michael Sporn said...

In one of my first films, I forced spontaneity by animating straight ahead; doing three drawings and going back to color the first two, then three more drawings and going back to color three. On and on till the film came to an end. It won an ASIFA award years ago, but I retired it after that.

By the way the colors were also improvised drawing to drawing. Cool colors stayed cool; hot colors stayed hot. Their value and intensity changed with every drawing - depending on how I felt.

Elliot Cowan said...

None of my B&R shorts are really planned.
I think about them a lot then I sit down and make them.
This is probably very obvious...

David B. Levy said...

Hi Kristen,
I sure can relate. I think my attention span is yet another reason why I've searched for a way to make animated productions more instant and less slow and painfully precious to produce. I think it helps to pick a subject and a technique that lets you play to your attention span. I am of the belief that filmmaking should be a pleasurable experience.

That sounds like a great way to force spontaneity. I think I'll try that out on a future project. Cool!

I think that your looser way of planning does help contribute to the feel of your B&R shorts. And, since you have reusable character files, it must let you play with the other elements such as shots and the story sequence all the more. Fun stuff.

Elliot Cowan said...

Actually, I've not reused any animation (outside of the film the specific thing was created for - the soldiers in BIA, for example).
Although perhaps that's what you meant.
There are some still background elements that get revisited from time to time when I'm feeling lazy.

David B. Levy said...

Howdy Elliot,

I meant art reuse, as in the character files for Boxhead and Roundhead. I imagine since you have those characters already built, you can plop them into a scene or sequence and really experiment with the narrative structure and shots since you already have your main actors figured out and built. No?

Elliot Cowan said...

In that case, no.
99% of the time I build new ones for each shot.
The way I animate them makes it hard to have one basic model.
The characters are rarely "on model" from shot to shot.

David B. Levy said...

Cool to know, Elliot. I think that's another reason your B&R are so much fun to watch and remain so fresh after many outings. Fun to learn more about how they are made. Thanks for sharing. : D

Caresse said...

What I like to do is give myself a few projects at once all requiring varying degrees of attention.

I'll have a main focus: the year-long labor of love that involves planning, blood and sweat.

Then there's about 4 small things at a time, 2 of which can usually be done really quickly, and 2 of which I just build on over a course of time, but without any planning (usually more experimental stuff.)

Working in this way helps me make my moodiness work for me.