Friday, 28 October 2011

Case Study: Father and Daughter

Last Monday, our group seminar did a case study of Michael Dudok de Wit's Father and Daughter (2000) looking at visual narrative and his construction of shots to tell his simple but powerful story.

Coincidentally, Father and Daughter is one of the inspirations for my film; its' use of non-dialogue driven narrative, emotive plot and visual poetry is exactly the kind of ideals I'm striving for.

So I will outline the use of composition and visual storytelling that Dudok de Wit uses to tell his story in order to benefit my own.

Father and Daughter Case Study

  • An impression of 3D space through simple line drawings and textured backgrounds - despite inherent 'flatness' of design and a linear 'back and forth' narrative, a whole world is opened up to us in the space of 8 minutes. This is partly achieved by the sense of depth and through numerous cutaways (even seemingly unnecessary) that display great expanses of land, sky or the local bird wildlife that help believability of this world

  • High contrast style creates deep, dark shadows and bright open spaces - calm, light, open shots give way to intense, dark, closed compositions and vice versa. This increases the emptiness and loneliness of the Daughter until friends and family fill up her life again. Often new abstract shapes can be seen through the nearly black/white image
  • Balanced vs imbalanced: early shots are symmetrical or mirrored to show balance. Later, diagonal perspective, shadows and tilted camera angle shows imbalance
  • Monochrome colour (warm sepia browns and oranges) suggests a nostalgic story from years ago

  • A lack of close-ups concentrate focus on the action and scope of the world, but does not detract from emotion of characters, instead it creates a poetic type of viewing and allows you to put yourself in the shoes of the characters. For much of the film, characters are mere silhouettes, almost a blank canvas to place yourself
  • Many shots are repeated (girl revisiting waterside throughout her life) and yet it does not feel repetitive because changes in characters and shot angles indicate the passage of time as well as weather (wind/rain affecting the Daughter) and the change of seasons

  • Eventually the bicycle that was initially a method of transport, becomes a metaphor for the passage of time and growing old: one shot shows the young Daughter struggling with it up a hillside, and later as an old woman, she tries to stand the bike, only to have it fall over several times. The most obvious instance is the bicycle wheel appearing over the old woman at the end of the film, as it resembles a clock. In addition, the first person the girl meets by herself is an old woman--practically a prediction for the end of the film

  • Visual mirroring: at the end before Father and Daughter embrace, they step towards each other and pause for a moment. Their lengthy shadows suddenly directly resemble the two long, elegant trees by the riverside. When they embrace, the shadows becomes one

Monday, 24 October 2011

Amber Concepts

Another page of sketches for Amber. I'm gradually pinning down her design and expressions for animating a walk cycle test tomorrow.

I took her design into Photoshop to try a digital 'cleaned-up' version. I like the textured orange line around her, but I doubt fully inking each frame will be achievable for my film, so I will address colouring the original cleaned pencil lines for my model sheet.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Rough Animatic I

I've put the storyboards from the previous post into an animatic using Premiere Pro CS4 with music from Pixar's "UP" (2009) by Michael Giacchino, which can be viewed below...

I'm happy that the running time is not quite as long as I thought it might be. Still, I have a lot of changes to make as I outlined in the previous post and hopefully I can get the length down to just over 3 minutes as well. I think it's reading fairly clearly, but I will be working on making it even better for my next rough cut animatic.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Storyboards [Rough]

Last week we were set the task of drawing a finished storyboard for our individual films for presentation today. I presented my traditional storyboards on sheets of A1 card, comprised of 141 drawings. I started with some digital thumbnails on the computer however. Unsure of what format to use, I started digitally to get it down quickly, with the intention of returning to it to tighten up for my animatic.

After getting this far, I wasn't sure where to go in my story, so I returned to my script to plan what needed to happen in words first. This helped me to structure my thoughts. Then I began sketching ideas for interactions between Amber and the Spirit of the Oak (see previous post for sketches).

Once I had regained confidence with story direction, I sketched out the entire film on post-it notes and stuck them on paper. I kept each frame incredibly rough to save time (this version would not be presented) and some drawings were probably so abstract they could only be understood by myself anyway, but that's the purpose of doing it this way.

Working on post-it notes allowed me to freely rearrange scenes and swap drawings around. I didn't have to do this very much, but it did help when I needed to. There were 119 drawings in all.

Although it was a lot of work, it really helped me to think visually about my film and to tackle elements of my story that weren't quite clicking yet. A week didn't seem like a long time to do this, but the deadline helped me get my thoughts down quickly.

I showed my first thoughts to friends and made notes. At this point, the climx of the film wasn't quite right, here Amber takes an acorn from the tree to give to her friend, the Spirit, but it is misunderstood and the Spirit sees it as harming the tree and gets angry. Because of this, Amber falls from the tree and it is struck by lightning. It all got a little confused and the motives don't read well, so I changed it for my next boards; taking Amber nailing planks of wood to the tree in order to climb it as the part where she harms the tree instead.

The following version of the storyboard was drawn in coloured pencils and stuck on A1 card so that I didn't have to do further processes of printing and so I could show a physical version to the group for feedback. Backgrounds/characters/seasons are appropriately colour coded to aid clarity.

I received very useful feedback from these today from my lecturer, James Manning and fellow students. Some were confused when the Spirit changes size, so instead of trying to make that work, I'm going to remove that aspect entirely as it doesn't add anything and is not important later on. James told me that the climax of the film is still not the drama and conflict I need to make it work. He said there needs to be some sort of barrier between girl and Spirit to create the worst possible thing that could happen to them, so that the ending means something when hope is restored.

In addition, Amber will not plant a second acorn, but instead will see the acorn that the Spirit plants in the beginning, sprout into a tiny sapling. I also hint that the Spirit then becomes the squirrel, but I will take out that suggestion too so that the emphasis is on the acorn/rebirth of the Oak Tree.

Along with other tweaks to shot sizes/angles and simplifying/cutting down action, there is a lot to do for next week, when I aim to have a revised storyboard and possibly an animatic. We are doing a walk cycle exercise next week too, so I will need to prepare final concepts/model sheets for Amber.

Character Sketches II

I've been furthering my character concepts and story events this week. I tackled some drawings with coloured pencil to get a storybook feel to the characters inspired by looking at the works of Oliver Jeffers and Kristiana Parn and my classmate, Jessica Leslau.

I feel I'm getting to grips with my character design here and becoming more comfortable with drawing Amber like this.

The only thing left in question is the look of the tree Spirit itself. I am still toying with the idea of an animal form, but while the animals were fun to draw, they are not quite working as my spirit design.

At the moment I am settling on a ghost-like teardrop form, though this is subject to change.

And to finish, some life drawing sketches of trees and squirrels... (guest starring my sisters)

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Storybook Inspiration: Natalie Russell / Kristiana Parn

I found another author with a lovely storybook too, this one about a little white rabbit.

"Moon Rabbit" by Natalie Russell

I love the style, I think it's adorable and the simplicity really lends itself to the story and cuteness of characters, even without expressive faces.

Because of this, I stumbled upon another artist (Kristiana Parn) who paints on wood using acrylic. She paints lovely little woodland critters!

Kristiana Parn -

I think they tell such poetic tales of passing seasons (through the use of the trees and colour) and the relationship between animals and nature. I find them very beautiful in their use of shape and colour and will be referring back to them in the creation of my film.

Storybook Inspiration: Oliver Jeffers

Looked at some children's books in Waterstones yesterday and found some really nice titles that have really good visual inspiration. My film is going to be suitable for and aimed at children, but also needs to be entertaining for older audiences too, so this is a good start for ideas.

"Stuck" By Oliver Jeffers

I was first drawn to this book by the simple tree and colours on the cover, then the visual style of the drawings and words upon looking through the pages. I've ordered the book online so can get some scans for reference soon.

"Lost and Found" by Oliver Jeffers

I find this book very simple in execution, but the unique visual style is too compelling to ignore. It's been made into a 40 minute CGI film by Studio AKA. I hope to watch it soon for inspiration. I would have preferred to see a 2D animation, but the CGI conversion of the designs is quite interesting. They've stripped down the detail which is good to see, but could have been pushed further:

Here is a trailer for the film.

And a great interview of the author in his studio with some of his work:

This is one of the many style inspirations for my film... more to come soon!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Poster Pitches

Today we sketched out poster ideas for our films. I drew some thumbnails in pen, aiming for a more 'teaser' poster approach, where you don't give much away in the film and keep the characters quite mysterious. Some of them are aimed at children, while others are perhaps more dark/suggestive to draw in an older audience.

I started small and drew some of the best ones a bit bigger as well. My personal favourites are the bottom left poster with the simple tree/swing and the one above that where the spirit is shown in Amber's shadow.

I've also simplified my working title to "Great Oak, Little Acorn" as previously, "Great Oaks From Little Acorns Grow" suggested some kind of investment and wasn't quite mirroring the story. Still, it's just a working title for now so further changes may be made.

You'll also notice I'm drawing the Spirit as a tear-drop shaped ghost at the moment. This is purely for early representation purposes as the look of the Spirit has not yet been finalized.

I'll be adding more poster ideas as I go, but for now I'll be concentrating on nailing down the story and drawing storyboards for our seminar next week.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Character Sketches

I've been drawing more sketches of Amber and the Spirit of the Oak Tree. I'm drawing it like a squirrel at the moment, to see if the playfulness/friendliness of a squirrel shows through to help sell the friendship of the girl and the spirit. I'll be trying fox, owl and wolf spirits as well. I'm still exploring styles for the characters, it's early days still!

Spirit of the Oak Tree: Early Research

I've recently been concentrating efforts on the story-side of my film, but this post will be covering some very early development of the Spirit of the Oak Tree.

My Neighbour Totoro (1988)
My initial inspiration for the Spirit, was from Hayao Miyazaki's My Neighbour Totoro (1988) and Princess Mononoké (1997) because of the physical representations of these spirits and Gods as animals instead of humans and how they interact with people. Japanese culture is rich with these kind of spiritual connections and manifestations so I'll be looking to their depictions of spirits to begin with.

My main reason for not developing a humanoid spirit is because I believe an animal is more relatable for a child and human spirits have been done countless times before. Furthermore, I want to avoid comparisons to Disney's Fantasia 2000 (1999) as there is a very iconic 'mother nature' spirit depicted as a young woman with flowing green hair in the "Firebird" sequence at the end of the film. This could easily become too heavily borrowed from in my designs, so I'm avoiding it as early as possible by attempting a more animal design.

The spirit from Fantasia 2000, (1999) this is not a design I wish to use as
reference as it would become too derivative!
There is also a website, The Totoro Forest Project which enlists artists to create Totoro-inspired artwork to auction to save the original forest that inspired My Neighbour Totoro. There is much visual inspiration and reference to be had here.

There is artwork from all sorts of celebrated artists coming together for the cause. Here is an example of the artwork that is relevant to my film.
Will O' the Wisp by Greg Couch

After further investigation, I discovered various Japanese legends that describe spirits and Gods that take the form of animals. For example, Yōkai (meaning spirit, demon or monster) is a type of Japanese shape-shifting spirit that can take the form of a Kitsune (among other creatures), which is the Japanese term for fox, and is often translated as fox spirit.

This piece of artwork illustrates 100 Views Of Edo - 118. Fox Fires on New Year's Eve at the Garment Nettle Tree at Oji; "Fox Fires on New Year's Eve at the Garment Nettle Tree at Oji, a woodblock print by Hiroshige from his "One Hundred Famous Views of Edo" series." It depicts a Japanese legend that at the Shinto Oji shrine, there is an old tree (the 'Garment Nettle Tree') at which all the trickster fox spirits (kitsune) of that province gather once a year at night, bearing torches to light their way; at the meeting they receive their orders for the up-coming year. Interestingly, one of the two trees can still be seen. (Source)

I also researched the Kodama spirits from Princess Mononoké, that often inhabit trees. These spirits are not so much animal, but are little white humanoids with circular heads they shake and rattle. The second image below depicts the spirit as an old man.

Kodama from Princess Mononoké (1997)

Kodama from the Gazu Hyakki Yakō(1781) by Toriyama Sekien
Apart from Japanese folklore, I'm also exploring Greek and Celtic culture and myths to find the best sources for my spirit. The Dryad of Greek myth means a nymph of an Oak Tree, again very relevant for my spirit. The only difficulty is that these Dryad's are nearly always humanoid, so it will take more research to find any suitable.

The Dryad by Evelyn De Morgan
As for celtic imagery, I discovered a design called the Celtic Tree of Life by Jen Delyth. It's shows the tree's branches connected with the roots to depict an endless circle of life. It's only about 20 years old, but I also found a nice image with an acorn below the tree.

This is the beginning of my research for the Tree Spirit, more to come soon!