Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Story work, with bonus features!

Meet Sebastian! Before I talk about what I want to talk about with this post, I just wanted to show off the new maquette of our second lead character, Sebastian, a cranky old git with a mischievous streak. Looking at this maquette we can clearly see exactly why we need these things in the first place.

Having had a couple of days to study this sculpt, we can now look at it with a more objective eye and suggest changes that will go into the final puppet. See if you agree with my thoughts:
1. Immediately the width of the neck is too thin, needs to be slightly bulkier to believably carry the weight of his head.
2. His monocle is slightly too small, forcing his eyebrow down too far in an attempt to hold it. Increasing the size of the monocle will allow his brow to sit very slightly higher and more relaxed.
3. He could do with very slightly more of a top lip. The front of his face is a little flat above the lip.

Hopefully this has wrapped up the issue of maquettes quite nicely. If anyone has any questions about my approach here, feel free to question away. Or if you have any tips for me, that would be appreciated too!

Now, to the bulk of the poooosst!

The Story is All!

So, who wants to know what it's all about? Eh? OK... Here comes an attempt to tell you all about the story of 'The Haunts' without giving anything away.

Here goes:- 

In the attic of a victorian mansion, an eccentric old ghost shows his brokenhearted companion what fun is to be had in the afterlife, when a new family moves in.

Hmmm.... vaguely specific enough for you? It better be.

'The Haunts' is a short, 2 page script that I wrote one rainy afternoon, about a year ago; for some reason it's stuck with me and I'm so chuffed I'm finally going to make it. It's (hopefully) a sweet, funny little tale that everyone can enjoy.

As you all probably know already, in film, the story is king. I want to talk about this idea briefly... I have a background in live action filmmaking and in that sphere of the movie world I (or the community at large) would probably adapt that phrase to "the script is king". In live action you write a script, and it becomes the written blueprint for your movie; a place for everyone in the creative team to merge there ideas together, and a springboard for further creative output. However, in my limited experience, the script can become a crutch, rather than a blueprint.

Ideas and images get pushed aside because they're not in the script. The script literally becomes the king!

One of the things that working by myself and in animation allows me to do, is forget the script. If i think of an idea that I like I can immediately shift the elements in my head to allow for it. It's a wonderfully thrilling experience. I adore working with a crew, on a set, on a film but as so many eyes take in the written words of the script and internalise that direction, everyone becomes more reliant of the document to tell them what's going on around them. This time around, that problem doesn't exist.

In animation however, the standard practise has nearly always been a little different. Animation is/has been a medium swamped in the visual realm. It can literally do anything. Therefore you are free to think outside the box a little more perhaps, and has been generally, created by story men and artists (in a drawing sense) rather than writers. Since the very start of animation with Disney and the like there has been a different monarch reigning over animation story preproduction...

The Board is King!

Since the first animation directors/writers were the animators themselves, it was easier for them, in discussion, to simply draw the ideas that they had in a sequence of quick sketches rather than type out a script. Drawing the sequences in this way keeps your head in a truly visual space, thinking of timing and blocking from the off, setting out at the beginning the very frames of what will end up in the finished product. Not only would these pioneers draw the frames or shots of the film but also the characters movements within them.

These images are then put in sequence and are called the STORY BOARD.

In live action storyboards (especially lo-budget productions) what you have is little more than a visual shot list. One image per shot that sets out the framing of the camera on the scene. In animation story boards though, one shot could have infinite images blocking the characters key movements through the scene. Imagine, if it helps, a graphic novel. Story boards should convey everything that is needed in the final piece i.e. blocking, camera movement, emotional changes within the acting. Everything begins in the storyboards.

My storyboard process on this film is quick and dirty. Barely more than notes scribbled 10 images to an A4 page, but it helps tremendously in setting down my ideas so I don't have to expel energy holding on to them, I can concentrate on the practicality of carrying them out. Other people would probably not see much information in my boards, however to me they are like keys that when viewed unlock the rest of the image within my head.

Normally I wouldn't be this rushed with the boarding process, in fact normally storyboarding takes just as much time if not more than writing a script. But I've been living with this idea for a year now, I know where I am with it.

However I do regret that I won't have time to create an animatic. Many of you reading this no doubt will already know what an animatic is. Probably most of you will have made one for your work but for those, like my girlfriend, who are telling me that they're actually learning stuff from this blog, an animatic is another technique pioneered in the disney studio (DISCLAIMER: this fact may not be a true fact, please correct me in the comments. ;) ) and is an extrapolation of the storyboard.

Basically the animatic is a moving storyboard. If I were creating one for 'The Haunts' I would take my still images that I created in the storyboard, scan them into a computer and into a video editing program and I would cut them together in such a way that I could get an approximate feeling of pace for the final film. In essence I would be creating a very crude animated movie where a character moved through the shot in a jerky fashion to illustrate to the viewer the speed at which they moved through the shot, and when and how that shot then cut to the next and so on.

To take it all the way, we could then add in temporary music and dialogue audio and get a pretty close approximation of what we would end up with in the finish movie. 

If you made sense of that, well done. I'm not sure I explained it effectively so heres an extract of the animatic for Toy Story before Pixar decided to change their entire approach to the story. This is a pretty strange watch for any Toy Story fans.

Animatic starts at 0:35 secs.

And that's all I've got for you today. I hope you enjoyed yourself.

Thanks for looking, and let me know you're there by getting in touch.



  1. Following with interest, Josh. You're shaping a great blog.

    1. Thanks so much for following along Dean. And thanks for the kind words. It really means a lot to me that people are getting something from the blog. There's plenty more of it coming soon! ;)