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
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.
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 - 8/11/11Beneath 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.