Monday, 28 November 2011

Character Sketches IV

More Amber sketches focusing on the dot for eyes approach. Some of the drawings feel really succesful and most of them are proportioned correctly now so she looks about 5-6 years old. A few are still slipping into older proportions but that's something I can continue to hone.

So far I'm perferring this style of eye and proportions however it won't be possible to do some of the subtle eye movements that a larger eye with a pupil could do, but most of my action can be shown with a turn of the head or a body movement so I shall see how this applies to my next animatic.

I also have a sheet of new Spirit ideas, looking at waving motion and wave-like symbols to tie-in with the oak leaves. I did some rough keys of a swaying and morphing tail that swirls and breaks apart like water, this could help sell the mystical 'spirit-ness' of my creature. I'll be examining spirits from Japanese video games next to see how I can visually show this creature as something Spiritual, but not like a ghost and still having animal qualities. From my research so far, I have found Japanese folklore to be rich with animal spirits/Gods that are abstracted in some way, while Celtic mythology appears too dark and realistic for now.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Andreas Deja: "Animation's Most Beautiful Squirrel"

This is a bit of a re-blog from Andreas Deja, a key animator for Disney. Last Friday he posted, "Animation's Most Beautiful Squirrel" and I thought I'd post a link to it as there are some really useful key poses and model sheets that he likes to collect of the squirrel from Sleeping Beauty (1959) which is great for me if I continue to make my Spirit more squirrel-like... we shall see!

Click the link to see the original post.

Here are some images from the post, the first image is by Tom Oreb, the second model sheet is Milt Kahl (signed off by Eric Larson) and the final one is a inked and painted cel from the film.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Character Sketches III

More character sketches of Amber I've done over the past week, the first look at story scenarios for my new animatic as well as younger versions of Amber, then after my feedback, I went back to her proportions to make her look like a 5 or 6-year old. Finally there are sketches of different ways to draw her eyes and then costume design for Autumn/Winter/Spring/Summer.

I've been using family photos of my sisters and I growing up in the 90's for clothes reference and the compilation of films/styles I put up in my last post for inspiration.

My friend Jess suggested I go with the 'dots for eyes' approach that is used in Winnie-the-Pooh, Lost and Found etc. I particularly liked the 'circular' dot designs in my eye comparison tests, so I tried them out in the next pages to better success I feel. My favourite drawing is the black and white drawing of Amber looking over her shoulder in the top-left corner. She looks very innocent and vulnerable which is what I need so that the audience see her as a relatable little girl who is just ignorant than a mean-spirited one.

The proportions keep changing between drawings as I am used to drawing her older, but I will keep honing this down so that she is about 3 heads tall, like Lilo in Lilo & Stitch (2002).

Finally, my costume changes depending on the seasons. She is not a typical "I Love Pink and Dresses" girl, although I feel a cute dress is appropriate for spring; she will also wear big, bright raincoats; oversized wooly jumpers; and leggings and trousers. Again, these designs aren't final but are tests to see what works best.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Another Rough Animatic

The past week and a half has all gone into redrawing my storyboard from scratch working from my new synopsis and shot list, which has been roughly edited into my third animatic, see below. It's much longer than what I had before (199 drawings instead of 174 and 5:10mins instead of 3:44mins), which will be a problem if I don't cut it down!

I showed it to James Manning yesterday for feedback and we agreed it was an improvement from the previous animatic. The structure makes a lot more sense with the acorns as a device. His main comments was to give the right moments more space, specifically drawing out the ending so that there is enough time for the emotions to play out. The middle montage segment also requires sharper editing so that we don't spend too much time on what's not as important.

James also noticed that the Spirit is not acting "Spirit-like" at the moment and performs so much like a squirrel that it might as well be a squirrel as a metaphor for the spirit instead of a spirit acting as nature. I will consider this as an option, but I did want to express a magical/mystical side to the story and Amber's imagination, so I will also see about making it more spirit-like in movement and design. This is not the final design for the Spirit anyway, but was a temporary solution for my storyboard.

We also spoke about introducing the Spirit into the story first instead of the girl like in my previous animatic as it was a more interesting perspective. I changed it this time around because I thought it would be better to show the ordinary and then the extra-ordinary, but then it might be seen as odd.

I will also need to look at films such as The Sword in the Stone (1963) for their squirrel scenes and begin pre-vis tests in soft, pastel colour like in my animatic.

After seeing James, myself and Jessica Leslau went to Leonie Sharrock's lecture for the MA animation students to show them our animatics. We caught the end of their lecture which was about composition in Cinderella and going from written scripts to visual storyboards. It was similar to a lecture I had in first year, but was more detailed and very interesting.

Jess showed her animatic first; Leonie wanted each of us to play them without preamble, so the MA's had no idea what our stories were about so they could judge them visually as outsiders. The students understood Jess' film about Babbit ( pretty much immediately. There were some film language issues (crossing the line, continuity etc) but these were minor and can easily be addressed.

My film was not as instantly apparent as Babbit, the message (caring for nature, not abusing it) was confused, and I think this is largely because my Spirit reacts differently to Amber's selfishness... sometimes it is angry, other times forgiving and will switch between giving her acorns, having her take them away and reluctantly giving them to her. The Spirit is supposed to give them to her willingly to teach her and is exasperated with her abuse of nature. So that needs to be more obvious.

The characters came across well, the students agreed that Amber needs to be very selfish and greedy but still very young, so the audience sees her as a poor naive girl, rather than a mean one: "Aww bless her".

Finally, the tree needs to definitely be destroyed: completely burned and in pieces, rather than still standing and with leaves still on. I also need to redo my character designs still, playing with style and proportions of Amber to make her more interesting/likeable and the Spirit more spirit-like.

I've been compiling an image of character art and film stills that inspire me for Amber, particularly with younger girl characters that are more like Amber now that she will be 5-6 years old. I found it very difficult to find 5 year old female characters in the leading role of a film or series in Britain. There's Mei in My Neighbour Totoro, Ponyo, Aisling in The Secret of Kells, Boo in Monsters Inc., Bonnie in Toy Story 3 and Lilo in Lilo & Stitch, but these are all American, Japanese or Irish so it will be tricky to find a point of reference to make Amber feel more British. Here's the compilation, I'll be using it this week to redesign my style and characters. I'll make another one for my Spirit and for style/colour shortly.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Amber Walk Cycle II

Another walk cycle of Amber in more traditional British clothes inspired from some of my family photos in the 90's. She's still about 9-11 years old here, and I want to make her younger for my film, so perhaps this will be more relevant at the end of the film, but even then she may be younger than this!

I had some difficulty with the back of the dress, I wanted it to drag and float behind her but haven't achieved this at all... I'll need to shoot some reference for that next time.

More tests to come soon!

Informal Animation Lecture and New Synopsis

Last week, one of the third year animators, Benwyn, set up an animation meeting in A09 for yesterday afternoon (Wednesday 9th Nov) to present our work together for feedback and discussion where students may feel less inhibited.

The session went great, and I got great positive feedback on my synopsis as well as suggestions and I gave my advice for other films as well so it was a good opportunity to voice those opinions.

This is the synopsis I wrote after my tutorial with Leonie and what I presented (unfortunately without visuals) to the rest of the group.
SYNOPSIS - 9/11/11

Beneath an oak tree, a little girl (Amber) and a tree Spirit collect small acorns, unaware of each other. As they draw near, they reach for the last, and also the most perfect, acorn. After a brief struggle, the Spirit emerges victorious and scurries away with the acorn. Amber sulks. The Spirit hesitates and reappears to offer her the acorn as a gift. Amber is delighted with the present and the Spirit digs a hole for her to plant it, but Amber strings it onto a necklace instead. Although confused by the girl's actions, they play together until the end of the day.

Amber returns to the tree every day to play with her new friend, through snowy winters, blossoming spring, scorching summers and golden autumns. Each day, the Spirit gives her an acorn as a gift to plant, but Amber continues to string them onto her necklace.

One Autumn, the girl is swinging on a tree swing and the branch snaps, sending her tumbling down the hill. The girl is hurt and upset, but the Spirit is angry at her for breaking the tree. Amber leaves, crying.

That night there is a terrible storm, Amber looks out of her bedroom window in concern. Outside, the Spirit tries to stay out of the rain and tend to the tree when lightning hits it, cleaving it in two.

The following morning, Amber returns to the tree to play with the Spirit, but it is too late: the tree is destroyed and there is no sign of the Spirit. Quietly, she sits by the charred tree trunk and cries.

The Spirit returns one last time, faded and sapped of energy, to firmly gives her the last acorn. Amber takes it slowly, and instead of threading it, she plants it in the ground. Taking her necklace, she snaps it to drop all the other acorns into the hole too.

Later they return to the hill to see a tiny green sapling growing from a huge pile of acorns! They dance around it and Amber accidentally steps on the little green shoot: oops! She takes her foot away and is relieved to see it's still ok, they dance happily again. 

I prefer it much more to the versions I had before and everyone seemed very happy with what I was doing with it now and how clear it was. They suggested that the acorns in the beginning be really small and deformed so that when Amber and the Spirit fight over the last one, it is the most perfect, shining example of an acorn that any child would fight over. It was a good suggestion and I added it to the synopsis above.

The rest of the week will be spent re-boarding my entire film and putting it in an animatic for next Monday (14th November).

Story Feedback 7-8th November

Before I go into my tutorial feedback, here are comments that I received from friends from my last animatic.
  • Eva W.: That's beautiful! but very detailed and 3:44 is a long film! depending on what style you re thinking of finishing it off you might want to think about cutting down the detail and the plott :S i love the little spirit character! but to be honest i think the squirel at the end is a very quick replacement for a friendship that the viewer gets attached too. I think the ending might work better if she gets attached to the new acorn tree instead :) - 31 October at 18:18
  • Jessica-L.R.: Such a cute animatic! But Eva's right if you're not a fast worker, 3:44 will be a killer to finish. Hope it all goes well for ya :) - 31 October at 18:36
  • Pablo Parry: Reads really well jealous, it is very long for one person The intro feels very strong. I was kinda concerned about the ending and meaning of the piece however. I'm a bit confused on what the girl learns? , Is she meant to be growing older as she plays though? that is a bit unclear. - 31 October at 19:23
  • Charlotte HP.: Sorry Gemma but I really don't understand it. I got a different story & didn't quite understand why the spirit was upset about the acorns or why the little girl & the spirit have a little tiff? - 31 October at 19:54
  • Sinead Oram: Hey Gemma, First off I just wanna say your art style is really lovely in the animatic I like how fluid and lose the drawings are. Also there's no technical issues unlike us lol. I didn't get a chance to say in the presentation yesterday how much I liked the spirit design you had on the slide the little guy with oak leaf ears and a long tail. He looked like a marmoset and I could imagine him being very sweet and playful. Overall I think the story reads very well and I really understood the beginning perfectly. I got a little lost at the end of the play scene but apart from that I understood it all. She did seem a little old but I didn't question her age until Leonie mentioned it. A little younger could work but I do think if its about growth or the circle of life she needs to be old enough to understand the concept she learns. I can see the Ghibli inspiration like the love of nature and spirits coming through. But it does make me wonder where the story takes place? To me she seems American. Though I associate tree spirits with places that have more of a tradition in folklore such as japan or the UK and Scandinavia. However if you wanted the piece to seem timeless place-less then perhaps that doesn't matter. - 01 November at 18:35
  • Adam C.: Hey Gem, well done for this ... I really enjoyed it, but maybe the relationship between the girl and the lil spirit character could use some extra definition somehow? But like Sinead says, he's totally cute and appealing, and I think the whole piece has got plenty of warmth and energy. :) - 01 November at 19:35
  • Deborah Jane Price: Can't wait to see this finished! I love the transition to the snow man :D - 04 November at 10:39
This helped me gather feedback from fellow students who had seen my presentation and friends who know very little of what my film was before seeing the animatic, so I was able to figure out what was clear and what wasn't.

Having written a new synopsis (see previous post) I took it to James Manning and Matthew Gravelle the following day, here are their comments.

James Manning - 7/11/11

I asked about the comments made about my film, i.e. the saccharine qualities, and he suspected it was due to the obvious 'cuteness' of my Spirit's character design, which I want to change. He thought that if it looked a little ominous or untrustworthy, then it would be more surprising when it has this lovely, friendly personality. My Neighbour Totoro (1988) immediately sprung to my mind. When you first see him, little Mei is sat on his belly and he yawns with such a huge mouth as an audience you are slightly unnerved (one wrong move and Mei is breakfast!) but the little girl is completely trusting and in awe of this magical creature, who turns out to be friendly.

Overall, there were aspects he liked from my new synopsis and my old animatic. I think he wanted me to keep the squirrel in at the end so it wasn't quite so sad and to show what is beyond her loss, but I had a lot of confusion from people who watched it that the squirrel was either the Spirit reincarnated (which it wasn't) or a replacement for their friendship that comes too soon so I took it out completely.

We also suggested taking out the acorn necklace and using the tree for the metaphor of their friendship, but then it's a case of figuring out how to use the tree in a similar way. Our discussion was mainly about how to address my feedback so that I know what I can take as someone's opinion and what should definitely be done about my film. We also talked about condensing a script into 12 points (sentences) and then seeing how much further you can narrow it down. My synopsis was 5 paragraphs long, so already looking quite short which is a good starting point.

Matthew Gravelle - 7/11/11

After this, I spoke with Bryony Evans about her storyboards and how she can use establishing/wide shots to create certain moods and feeling with her swamp creature. Her story ended quite abruptly so I explained a couple of ways she could lead up to it by adding more slow, quiet shots to show her character's decision. (You can see her blog here: Utopia of the Pond)

Then I met up with Matthew for him to read my new synopsis. His main focus was on how I was tackling emotion. He learned a lot about emotional storytelling through making his own film about his childhood and his dog, and said that cliché expressions are not how you show a character is happy or sad. He used UP (2009) as an example when Carl Fredricksen is looking through the scrapbook left by his wife and in the scene he doesn't bawl his eyes out (like the audience might) but instead just has little subtle head and eye movements (and perhaps a tear) as he realises.

He explained that head-down crying and hunched shoulders would just over-sell it and I should be more subtle and show the characters going through the thinking process more. He also used The Snowman (1982) as an example of a sad story told through character animation with a gleam of hope at the end.

Matthew also suggested the end to be just a shot of the girl looking up at the dead tree, a fade to black and she comes back after some time to see the new sapling. We agreed it will be difficult to tell this kind of a story in 3 minutes as it tends to be done over longer periods of time (Father and Daughter = 8 minutes, The Snowman = 30 minutes, the beginning of Up = 4 and a half minutes) so it will take some work for me to cut it down.

I decided to give it one more shot before scrapping my storyline completely.

Finally he said I should continue to go to life drawing to relax and clear my head, which I will go to the next chance I get!

In the meantime I drew some new designs for Amber inspired from family photos of my sisters and I in the 90's and shot ideas to improve my film language.

Leonie Sharrock - 8/11/11

The next day, I had a tutorial with Leonie, which went very well. I had written two further version of my story by this time so presented her with all three for her feedback.

The first is a re-written synopsis from the version I wrote with my sister and showed James and Matthew:

SYNOPSIS - 8/11/11
Beneath a great oak tree, a little girl (Amber) and a tree Spirit collect acorns, unaware of each other. As they draw near, they reach for the same, and also the last, acorn. After a brief struggle, the Spirit emerges victorious and scurries away with the acorn. Amber sulks, angry and upset. The Spirit hesitates and reappears to offer her the acorn as a gift. Amber is delighted with the present and they play together. 
Amber returns to the tree every day to play with her new friend, through snowy winters, blossoming spring, scorching summers and golden autumns. One such autumn, they are playing in the tree and a branch snaps off and plummets to the ground. The Spirit rushes to inspect the damage. Amber tries to get the Spirit's attention back, but fails. In a sulk, she runs to her bedroom, leaving the Spirit alone. 
In her room, Amber plays with her toys and sulks in bed. Eventually, she draws something on a piece of paper before going to bed. That night there is a terrible storm, the Spirit struggles to stay out of the rain and tend to the tree, when suddenly the oak tree is struck by lightning, cleaving it in two.  
The following morning, Amber walks out of the house with the piece of paper to give to the Spirit but it is too late: the tree is destroyed and there is no sign of the Spirit. Quietly, she sits by the tree trunk and looks at the wreckage around her. 
She spots a new sapling growing from the ashes of the old tree and places the piece of paper by the fresh green shoots. The paper shows a drawing of Amber and the Spirit together. / OR / She returns to the tree later (weeks or months) and spots a new sapling growing from the ashes of the old tree and places the piece of paper by the fresh green shoots. The paper shows a drawing of Amber and the Spirit together.

The second is a new idea I had to simplify the story and remove the death of the Spirit.

SYNOPSIS - 8/11/11
Beneath a great oak tree, a little girl (Amber) and a tree Spirit collect acorns, unaware of each other. As they draw near, they reach for the same, and also the last, acorn. After a brief struggle, the Spirit emerges victorious and scurries away with the acorn. Amber sulks, angry and upset. The Spirit hesitates and reappears to offer her the acorn as a gift. Amber is delighted with the present and they play together.

Amber returns to the tree every day to play with her new friend, through snowy winters, blossoming spring, scorching summers and golden autumns. 

Each day, the Spirit gives her an acorn as a present, but as Amber grows up, the Spirit teaches her to be less selfish and she starts to share more with it, until eventually she gives it a present (a toy or something personal to the girl).

The next day, she returns to the tree to find that the Spirit is no longer there. Quietly, she sits by the tree trunk and breathes the fresh morning air.

Later she returns with all the acorns the Spirit ever gave her and leaves them by the tree in memory of their friendship.

After Leonie had read them, she asked me what the point of my story was... after circling around the question a couple of times, saying that the tree was a metaphor for their friendship, I finally realised with some help from Leonie that it was for the Spirit to teach Amber to care for others and nature around her instead of being selfish and using it, so it's actually quite an environmental story. Then she thought it best to combine all three of my stories (including the one I wrote with my sister) and scribbled on one of my sheets like so:

She said in that case, the tree is probably a little too old for the story and should be slightly younger.  In addition the girl needs to be younger so that when she does naughty/selfish things she can be forgiven because she is too young to understand.

Like this, Amber is an 'anti-heroine' but not in a mean way, but does the wrong thing out of misunderstanding rather than intention. It's going to be based on her ignorance of nature, as the Spirit tries to give her acorns to plant, the girl threads them onto a necklace instead and when the tree is destroyed by the storm, the Spirit returns to Amber, faded and drained of energy, to give her one last acorn to plant, when she finally learns her lesson.

I also thought it would be quite cute to have her not quite 'get it' yet too and you see the growing sapling later on, emerging from a huge pile of acorns rather than being planted individually and Leonie pushed that further to have her dancing around it and accidentally step on the sapling, but she takes her foot away and it's still ok. I thought that would be a really funny ending.

At the end of the tutorial, Leonie said this version was what she thought I should do with my story and that other people may have different opinions; if I get similar feedback from other people then there will be no contest but if I have lots of differing opinion then I need to weigh everything up and decide for myself.

I decided to write up this altered version myself and email it to everyone for feedback and to present it at the informal animation meeting in A09 the following day.

Story Synopsis - 5/11/11

After my Pecha-Kucha presentation, I took some time off to consider my story and allow my ideas some time to grow on their own. This did a world of good, as I was then able to re-approach it that weekend with fresh ideas.

I discussed my story with my sister, Emily, who is studying Documentary Film & TV, and she has learned a lot from Uni and college about Robert McKee's storytelling book, especially from one of our college film tutors who actually went to some of his seminars.

She told me about a simple flow chart that links up the Positive, Negative, Ambivalent and Negation of the Negation aspects of a story.

The Positive is the good things in a story, Negative is the opposite (bad) things, Ambivalence is inbetween these two and Neg of the Neg is the absolute worst possible thing that could happen.

For example,



Truth>>White Lies>>Lies>>Self-Deception


Maturity>>Childishness>>Immaturity>>Immaturity masquerading as Maturity

A superhero movie would be like this,


My film was written like this:

Arguably though, 'indifference' could be seen as worse than the loss of a friend, as you love things with a passion and hate them with a passion, but indifference is a total lack of emotion. For example, at the end of WALL-E (2008) Wall-E is rebooted in default, factory mode and appears to have lost all feeling and memory. This is far sadder than him disliking Eve, as it appears that his memories and personality have all vanished and those were what made him so likeable in the first place.

So, we re-wrote my story with a device to allow these positives and negatives to happen. At first my sister suggested a watering can as that can be used to feed the little sapling at the end of the film, but we eventually settled on an acorn that becomes a necklace for Amber to wear and features in the beginning (Amber and Spirit meet and befriend) the middle (the necklace breaks and the friends fall out) and the end (Amber plants the acorn necklace or places it around a new sapling). Therefore the necklace becomes a metaphor for their friendship.

Emily told me that each character needs a desire, whether it is conscious or unconscious. So the Spirit desires an unconditional friendship, but Amber just wants attention, but her unconscious desire (which she would learn to realise) is also friendship.

I noticed similarities to this and Lost and Found (2008) where the boy believes that the little lost penguin wants to go home, but in fact just wanted a friend because he was lonely and the boy realises this only after they have travelled to the South Pole together.

Through this process, I discovered it created a much more meaningful story, however it would be difficult to accomplish without making Amber too mean as both characters need to be likeable. In The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), Jack Skellington is a very naive character who does lots of bad things, but because he makes a physical attempt to undo his wrongs at the end, he remains an entertaining character. His naivety plays a big part in this too.

I also toyed with ideas of a bigger message, like an environmental, spiritual or child's loss of belief/innocence, but it looked like it would make the story too complicated at that point if it were to be made obvious.

Here is the synopsis I wrote after our discussion:

SYNOPSIS - 5/11/11 
Beneath a great oak tree, a little girl (Amber) and a tree Spirit collect acorns, unaware of each other. As they draw near, they reach for the same, and also the last, acorn. After a brief struggle, the Spirit emerges victorious and scurries away with the acorn. Amber sulks, angry and upset. The Spirit hesitates and reappears to offer her the acorn as a gift. Amber fashions the acorn into a necklace and they play together.

Amber returns to the tree every day to play with her new friend, through snowy winters, blossoming spring, scorching summers and golden autumns. One such autumn, the necklace breaks and Amber believes it to be the Spirit that broke it and is very angry. She runs to her bedroom, leaving the Spirit alone.

In her room, Amber hurls the necklace to the floor, plays with her toys and sulks in bed. Eventually, she picks up the necklace to fix it and writes/draws a message for the Spirit before going to bed.

That night there is a terrible storm, the Spirit struggles to stay out of the rain when suddenly the oak tree is struck by lightning, cleaving it in two.  The following morning, Amber walks out of the house with the necklace in order to apologise to the Spirit but it is too late: the tree is destroyed and there is no sign of the Spirit. Devastated, she cries in the middle of the charred tree until her tears stop.

She plants her acorn necklace where the old tree once stood to return it to her friend / OR / she spots a new sapling growing from the ashes of the old tree and puts her acorn necklace around the fresh green shoots.

I think the story structure works much better here than what I had before, it's clearer and makes more sense. My feedback for this from James Manning and Matthew Gravelle reveals some issues that will need addressing however (see next post).

I also may be showing my animatic to a local nursery near my home in North Wales where my Aunt works, but the children are only in a 2-3 year-old age range, so I will need to consider what I can show without upsetting young children. My Aunt won't have her after-school club of older children until February, so I may have to consider giving them a 'happy' ending for now to see what they think.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Pecha Kucha Presentation / New Animatic

Last Monday (31st October) my year were asked to present 6 weeks of film development in the form of a Pecha-Kucha Presentation. This is a method of presentation where you show 20 slides for 20 seconds each (20x20) they progress automatically as the presenter talks over them and was created by architects to deter fellow architects from rambling on in their presentations.

It works out at about 6 and a half minutes for the entire presentation. Mine factored in my animatic as well, so it was 3:40 for the animatic and the other 3 minutes worth of slides.

For more info check out the website here:

I was a little surprised how fast each slide went past in my presentation, I had more to say but 20 seconds is a lot shorter than it sounds when you're talking, so I had to move on and skip a few points.

This is the animatic I prepared and showed at the end of my presentation. I was fairly happy with it the day before, but seeing it on the bigger projection screen drew attention to parts that were too 'cutesy' such as reaction close-ups or dramatic like the storm or the particular Michael Giacchino score I picked for the middle which was just too much.

My feedback for the animatic itself was very critical, which it of course needed to be:

  • The girl's proportions are perhaps too old for the story, and if so she needs to start younger in the beginning 
  • It plays out too much like am epic scene from a feature film rather than a concise short
  • The Spirit design is just too generic and ghost-like (Casper) my lecturers were expecting something more free-flowing and ethereal
  • Mise-en-scene is lacking and I could be more experimental with exploring the space and changing angles/composition
  • Ultimately it's too cute and saccharine like this
I was disappointed there were no or little positive comments, but I plan to take the criticisms on board and bounce back in my next animatic, but still consider that it is opinion and I need to do what I think is best for my film.

The week following my presentation, I took a step back from work and just thought about my idea and wrote down my thoughts and feedback and booked tutorials with my lecturers and spoke with my family and friends about where to go next. I wrote down my current story like this:

Spirit is lonely. Spirit meets girl. They form a friendship over the years and seasons while Spirit waits for planted acorn to grow. They part ways at the end of a day and a storm rolls in. Girl worries in her room then heads out into storm to find Spirit. Spirit tries to warn her to go back inside, but a branch on the tree snaps sending the girl falling and lightning strikes the tree. Next morning, the girl wakes up to devastation, she despairs when she can't find the Spirit. Suddenly a squirrel appears to show her the new sapling that is growing and Amber is able to move on from the loss of her friend.

Essentially nothing really happens in this version, there is no conflict between characters and the squirrel confuses the audience as to whether it is the Spirit in a new form and how can she move on to a new friend so quickly anyway?

I took out the squirrel and wrote this:

Girl is lonely. Spirit befriends girl. Girl revisits Spirit every day throughout seasons to spend time with her friend. She grows older as time goes past. One day a storm appears overhead and the girl has to go home. Spirit is left alone. Lightning hits the tree overnight. Girl comes back and is shocked at devastation. Unable to find her friend, she despairs, but a tiny sapling she discovers is enough to give her a new hope.

Although simpler, it's still lacking crucial turning points and is just "this happens, and then this". I discussed this with my friends and fellow animators and they noticed that I wasn't showing Amber's faults in my story. I've written her as a selfish and sometimes arrogant girl, but this never comes across and there is no clear character arc.

Jessica Leslau suggested that I look at character diamonds such as the one below. It's important to put down your character's strengths and flaws to make them more believable and relatable. I'll be posting my own version for Amber and the Spirit soon and definitely incorporating their flaws into my story itself.

For more info on character diamonds, see here:

My film was also criticised for looking too American. I didn't know where this impression was coming from until my friends pointed out Amber's dungarees. Although I wore them as a child, many American 90's family films show children wearing dungarees and could easily give that impression, and there is nothing in my film that is specifically British, so I'm changing Amber's design using reference from my family photos and aim to have a shot in her bedroom in the film to show more British influences in a SUBTLE way of course.

Kirsten Dunst in Jumanji (1995) wears typical denim dungarees and pigtails, which is too
much of a 'perfect American girl' image for my film.
At the moment, I'm reading some of my childhood books that I brought back from home, such as the Winnie the Pooh collection by A.A. Milne, The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, and the Percy The Park Keeper books by Nick Butterworth among others. By reading these, I hope to bring back a more traditional British feel and more suggestive than literal storytelling to my film.

Winnie the Pooh and Rabbit illustrated by E. H. Shephard

Squirrel Nutkin illustrated by Beatrix Potter
Next I'll be posting my new story synopsis as well as feedback from tutorials with my lecturers, James Manning, Matthew Gravelle and Leonie Sharrock.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Walk Cycle Test

This is a walk-cycle animation test I did of Amber for my Pecha Kucha Presentation last Monday. It's a 12-frame cycle (12fps) with very rough keys/in-betweens. I think the side-to-side sway needs more exaggeration and her arm 'pops' a bit on one of the frames, so it will need re-addressing. For now I think it expresses her character, but I will be changing her design in my next drawings. Speaking with other animation students, we agreed that her dungarees give too much of a 90's American film impression, even though I wore dungarees as a child also, I want to make her more British and traditional.

For December's Production Bible deadline, I'll be doing a final revised walk cycle for Amber and an animation test for how she moves within a scene of the film.

Pre-Visualisation Test

For my Pecha Kucha presentation last Monday, I did a pre-visualisation test to get a feel for how my film might look. The aim is to draw and colour a 'finished frame' of your film to suggest the look and colour scheme without having to animate.

I was inspired by Winnie The Pooh (2011) backgrounds and the colour scheme of a painting, The Strangest Autumn, by Patricio Betteo on DeviantArt (see these below respectively).

This is the pre-vis I created in Photoshop using these as references. I used a grainy brush to simulate the pencil line and a large brush on low opacity for the colour.

Personally I think it's suggesting the tree, sky and hill too realistically like in Winnie the Pooh. It's not as detailed, but it's not stylised enough for my story. I'm considering looking at more historical art and old Welsh/British/Celtic styles to get the traditional and mystical feel of my local history but in a modern setting.

More pre-vis tests very soon!

Friday, 4 November 2011

Spirit of the Oak Tree Development

Here are some more sketches of my Spirit Design as my 'ghost-like' image is not serving the character well. I'm trying to break through it by applying animal characteristics and leaf/acorn insignia so that it is 'of' the tree... some of these are still looking a tad on the Pokémon side of things, but I'll be refining these in a later post.

At the moment I'm experimenting with a small 'floaty' design, or a four-legged creature. Looking at other Spirit designs, especially tree spirits, artists/photographers tend to look for faces in tree trunks or branches that appears to take human form. This is something I'd like to avoid, like Grandmother Willow in Pocahontas (1995), for example (see below). It's much too obvious and I think a physical embodiment of the tree's spirit will be best for interaction between the characters.

On the other hand, this illustration for the Totoro Forest Project by Scott Campbell has such life and personality in this wonderfully simple design. I like the size of the creature, it looks like it could actually be a part of the forest, however I need something more 'travel size' for my film to be more easily concealed and less cumbersome.

Tree Spirit with Bike by Scott Campbell
I like the smaller creatures surrounding him too, but they are far too much like Totoro's friends in My Neighbour Totoro, so I will have to look elsewhere.

I'm having difficulty picking one of my sketches to push forward with as I need something that is cute enough to relate to, simple enough to animate and unique enough to stand on its' own as a design... I like having it as an squirrel or owl to relate to the tree so I'll develop that next.

To end, I've done another take of my character designs, this time to include one of my favourite versions of the Spirit, however it's still too 'ghost-like' and boring, and the colours are not unlike a carrot! So it's by no means final!