Thursday, 29 October 2009

Here we go again...

SO after getting utterly emo-style depressed (I think I cried the equivilent volume of the Nile on Tuesday) for no real reason and having to actually REMIND myself WHY I want to be an animator on Wednesday, for crying out loud, I've decided that I just have to get my head down regardless of some select opinions and do this thang. For one, everyone who's seen the animatic and my concept work actually wants to see the film, which is more levels of awesome than I can explain in words, and for another they all understood it! Which is a huge relief. There are minor changes that are needed to improve the flow and I still need to take out a lot of the script, not to make it shorter, but the main character really does talk far too much and it detracts from the film. I will also probably need a different voice actor- as guilty as it makes me feel, the revious actor being a very good friend of mine, but his voice really doesn't work for the part.
This is all hunky dory and fab, so what, I hear you ask, is with the angst-whinge-gripe-moan fest? Well, the tutor I saw on Tuesday said that one phrase that every student quails in fear at hearing from someone they really respect and listen to; "I'm concerned". For a start this guy is the last person in the world that I want to trouble on any level because he's been so supportive and inspiring for the past two years, but then I have the problem that he practically told me to start again and do a completely different film. This, for me, was somewhat more than crippling (especially when I'd just had to unwillingly play my first uber-rough animatic in front of a tonne of first years, who actually liked the film to my astonishment and relief), because out of all of my tutors he is the one that I practically swore to myself that I would never refuse to take advice from. Now, I hope from my progress during my previous time at Newport, and even during these past few weeks, that all of my tutors appreciate that I do not refute good advice, and I actually welcome critique- anything that can improve or shorten the film I gladly accept, and the entire film is incredibly different from when it started out because I have followed their advice and guidance.
However, there comes a point where the straw doesn't just break the camel's back, it simply slices through it and then you end up with a Damien Hirst exhibit.
The advice wasn't cold or insensitive or foolish- it was well meant, sensible and put in a tactful way, but the thing was that the film I was being told to make was... not my film. Not a film that I would want to make and not a film that I would really want to see. I was being advised to make something that didn't have a climaz, was just a contemplative statement, not with a real conclusion, no action sequence, no speach, no real story. Not that I don't like that sort of film (I mean, if you look at Pixar's short animations they practically all fall under this description and I adore them), but I found it utterly disheartening when my brain simply doesn't write those sorts of films.
The 'problem' with my film is that is a sort of minature movie; a complete story in four minutes, with an action sequence, the development of a relationship, even a plot twist. It's something of an insane undertaking, but according to my peers it doesn't feel rushed and is "engaging to watch, you want to see it to the end and then watch it again"- not my words, their words, which still knock me for six. The whole fact that the idea of a short film being a mini-movie is observed as a bad thing just confuses me- that's partly the point of it; to prove, not only that an 'epic' film can be told and told well in under five minutes, but also that someone at my level of education and age can make it, can make something crazy, ambitious and a little impossible. Katsuhiro Otomo wrote Akira when he twenty eight, is it really such a stretch of the imagination for a twenty one year-old to try to do something not even a hundredth of that scale?
I am more than a little anxious, as there is a fine line between believing in yourself and being plain obnoxious, but the thing is I am not making this film for myself; I spent much of yesterday just going through work that I have done over the years, and especially looking at the work that I have found the most satisfying and rewarding, trying to remember why I'm even on this crazy train to start with. It's a stupidly obvious answer, but I'm not doing any of this because I want to get a good grade, please a specific person, stick to a status quo- I want to make a film that people will enjoy watching, something that will make people say "hey, that's pretty cool, I wonder if I can do something like that, or something better." If I stick around trying to please all of my tutors I will end up not only being depressed, but I'll be making a film that, by standard, is good, but feels empty. A film that isn't mine and that I'm not satisfied with, and if I'm not happy when I'm working on it then I'm less likely to finish it than if I keep going trying to make a difficult film that I feel encouraged to make because people want to see it; I just want to make people happy! I have at least ten people who have genuinly said "I want to see this finished", and between them and one man's word, or even all four of my tutors, I have to go with my gut instinct and finish what I started, finish what I want to do, even if I don't get a great grade for it.
That said, the animatic is now under full colour production and I'll be working on character turn-arounds and colour charts inbetween panels. Hope I'm not putting my head into a noose that I can't break out of, I guess I'll just have to hide a hacksaw up my sleeve if I am...

Monday, 26 October 2009

Once more unto the breach...

Phew, so, having taken a much needed three day break at the Expo in London this weekend (having returned at about one in the morning last night and waking to find my body as an aching mass of searing pain today), we're back at full tilt without time to catch a breath! It was wonderful to see everyone at the Expo though and I think I needed it to stop me from going completely doo-lally from work, so no regrets there!
Monday is lectures and tutorial time, but hopefully after this I can start working on the backgrounds for the animatic again and trying to get hold of a possible second voice actor- it's always a good idea to have a few auditions for the voices in an animation, and especially in my case where there is only one main voice actor it is key to get the voice correct.
Short blog but I have no brain at the moment and my hands are still a little cramped from shaking hands/high fives/mass glomping sessions and carrying luggage, so it figures.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Turn the red light on!

Recording is a go-go!

We're on schedule to do the rough sound recording of the script tomorrow morning, which is fantastic because then I can fiddle about with the storyboard animatic to make it all fit and omit any speech that I need to. This means I can spend the rest of today (as planned) really nailing the designs of the train and flying machine, and if I'm lucky I can even do some more up to date concept art for the characters and settings.
Spent yesterday trying to unwind a little bit, I have been working a little too hard lately, so having my parents visit with the dogs was the best thing in the world. I originally come from Manchester, and studying in the South of Wales so intensely means that I really don't get to see them as often as I'd like (or need to, frankly). We spent a merry hour or two bunging strawberry plants and granny's bonnets in the back garden, and me and my house mate Adam demonstrated the new Beatles Rockband game for them with much glee. Superb game, and very inspiring. It was a breath of fresh air seeing them not only because I miss them, but also to remind myself of the sort of people that I really want to make my film for; not my tutors, not me, but anyone and everyone, and especially everyone who has supported me to get this far.

Ahem, Oscar acceptance speech over, onto more work! Off to London on Friday as well so this weekend has to be accounted for by doing extra work during this week and next. Also trying to plan when I can next have another go at my dissertation properly; I've written about 5000 words of it so far (it has to be 10,000 words not including quotations), which is a good start, but I must be careful not to get so out of the zone that when I pick it up again I won't have a clue what to say!

Saturday, 17 October 2009

It's all in the timing...

So, having blasted out a rough storyboard of the film (after churning through several variations of the same script, taking out material and rephrasing things to make it shorter but hopefully no less understandable), and timed it out on Premiere Pro the length of the animation looks to be approximately three and a half minutes at the moment.

Now, I'm sure if I push myself I can cut it to be shorter (the 'stated' maximum time is three minutes, although several previous students have gone over that time by considerably more than thirty seconds- the best one I've seen from our university over three minutes was about five minutes long and is called 'Sh*t Happens' by Andrew Grindle).
However, removing too much might infringe on the pacing of the story, which would stop the film from working, and several of the shots are simply held frames which will require minimal animation, so it won't be vastly more difficult to animate in time than if it were just three minutes. Persuading my tutors, on the other hand, that the length of time it is at the moment would be better for the film than if it was shorter, is a feat comparable to that of Sisyphus's punishment (although the image of having to push a bolder up a hill every day does seem to fit animation rather nicely... if grimly).
Once I've really finalised the designs for the flying machine, train, and the look of the village I can start really working on the animatic, which is probably going to be my only real hope of convincing them that I can manage the extra seconds. Fortunatly I also have the argument that about twenty/thirty seconds of the opening is being animated in a more simple, abstract fashion (which will make it much easier and therefore faster to do), on top of the held frames argument.
I am also desperately hoping that they won't slay me for the credits being semi-incorperated into the story; there are three illustrative images that will run with the credits (almost like a comic without words) that sumarise the little bit of 'what happened afterwards', they are very simple but will be done in a more illustrative way, so that they are obviously meant to be static and not part of the animation. If I include the length of time of the credits that pushes the film up to 3 minutes 50 seconds. Which... doesn't sound good. It's actually not that huge, but if I say that length of time I am likely to be shot down in two seconds, and then crash and burn like the Hindenburg zepplin. This is a major problem, I am sure, for any film maker; you say the wrong three words and the rest of your defense doesn't matter a jot because the board simply won't listen to you. Worse still, I am a student, and tutors generally genuinely do know better than students, however much some of them might protest. This will not help me if I try to say that I really do think that this is the better approach, because they will likely tell me that I am dumb and inexperienced, which I really do not have a means to deny because it's true.
Needless to say I am rather overcome by trepidity at the prospect of the next pitch, but at the very least I can try to produce a few animation tests of the train and the two characters (I've already made a very rough walk cycle for Warren, but it had several things wrong with it which I can vastly improve, though it may actually be better to just have a short test of Valerian and Warren interacting, as there are actually no shots of them walking in the film). If I can show that I have a relatively fast rate of productivity it might help me claw my way out of the Styx and back onto dry land.

What happened to the weekend being a period of relaxation?

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Then again...

Sometimes when you try to think of the worst scenario you just end up feeling worse and worse and more paranoid.
Sometimes you end up coming up with a better idea than the one you had in the first place that you were trying to safeguard.

So, in my instance, what would be the worst scenario regarding getting a voice actor for Warren? Not being able to get anyone, obviously, so, how would I deal with that if it happened?

- make Warren a mute character.

Now, having him with a Welsh accent and actually speaking is an endearing idea, and would help to emphasize both the location of the film (the village is visually grounded in your typical small, Welsh, valley-based village), and the idea that Valerian is not from the immediate locality (Sam, Valerian's voice actor, has a well spoken, Northern based accent).
However, the more I thought about it, the more I wondered how to make Warren seem mismatched from his surroundings as well as Valerian to emphasize their situations being alike, but different; in the story Warren meets Valerian beside a lake where the colour gathers- the colour runs down through the water cycle and ends up in one particular lake which is acting as a water sink, but the colour is so concentrated that it behaves like toxic waste (turning the entire lake pitch black as they run together), and nobody will approach it. Warren, however, still visits the lake, as he believes that there must surely be some way to recover it, and he is also seen as a bit of an oddball by the inhabitants of the village.
Now, simply having him being slightly rejected by the village and wanting to escape it because of his determination that it is possible to stop the train could be a sufficient reason for him to be a bit of a loner, but it would be perhaps a little too weak to communicate in three minutes without heavily explaining it in dialogue, but supposing he is either genuinely mute or so shy and ignored that he simply doesn't talk any more? He has been rejected and blanked out so much that he has lost the confidence to speak at all; even with his new found hero he doesn't say a word, and would if anything be even more shy of speaking to Valerian because of his respect and awe for this tall and elegantly colourful stranger. This actually adds more connotation to the story and gives Warren a stronger character; by actually removing his ability to communicate verbally this will communicate more about him as a person and make the audience more curious about him. It will also make him more endearing and draw Valerian to him, as he realises that Warren is obviously very insecure and needs someone to look after him and give him hope. He needs a friend- one of the revelations at the end of the story is that what Valerian hasn't realised is that he hasn't simply given Warren a friend, he has received Warren as a friend; something neither of them had at the beginning.

Obviously this will cause a huge shift in the script and the perspective of the story; it will now have to be Valerian who summarises the situation and narrates the areas of story that need... well, narration. Fortunately this can create an extra opportunity to misdirect the audience about a key twist in the plot and make it easier and more shocking to reveal later on (got you interested yet?... I thought not), amazing what thinking in a negative way can do for you sometimes! Needless to say this will also save me a huge amount of time and stress trying to audition children, work with them, and of course will reduce the amount of lip sync, whilst synonymously it will be a challenge to have Warren communicate his character to us and everything he is thinking without any words. This will be a great opportunity to test my ability to act in a subtle but readable way via the animation and scenario placement alone.

So! Now on to reworking the script (again) and starting to storyboard the film in ernest... productivity team, go go go!

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

So... where are we again?

Right, it's about time I let you know what on earth I'm chatting on about! Final film? What? Who? Do I care? Well, probably not spectacularly, but if you've meandered onto this blog I might as well let you have a clue.

For the final year of my animation course you are required to make a film, preferably about three minutes long, including all of the preparation work (storyboarding, animatics, scripts etc.) and you are to make it look professional- basically it's a chance to make a proper film that you can go out into the wilderness of the animation industry with and show people in hopes of getting a job/entering festivals and generally use to make a name for yourself. It's also the first real chance we get to make a film that says what we are about, what ethos we have and what kind of work we specialise in. I personally am a bit of a mixed bag- story is incredibly important to me, but I also adore actually animating, doing concept work, character design, almost every aspect of the process. Therefore in my film I am hoping to be able to demonstrate my versatility and also the fact that I am not afraid to push myself to the limits of my my ability and hopefully, but doing so, improve and expand those limits. I am not afraid of hard work, and am genuinely something of a work addict- my housemates rarely see me during the day because I am simply glued to my computer screen or lightbox drawing the life out of my hand. Having said that one of my aims this year is to organise myself in such a way that I won't completely exhaust myself in the process of making the film, despite it being pretty ambitious.

So what on earth is this film that I keep talking about?
Well, the basic story is that there is a flying train, a great, hulking, vibrantly coloured steam train just ploughing along in the sky. This is interesting, but not the actual pivot of the story; the problem with the train is that the steam creates clouds, and the rain that falls from these clouds washes the colour out of anything that it lands on; conseqeuntly people lose their ambition and become depressed, to the extent that almost nobody believes that there is anything that they can do to stop the train and reclaim the colour. The story is about how two characters who still believe it is possible to do something about the situation, a young boy from the village suffering colour loss, and a strange, eccentric young man who is mysteriously still colourful, create a flying machine and go to stop the train.
I shan't say any more about the plot at this point (the very end is still undergoing changes and the script is still in the creation/editing stages), because that wouldn't be as exciting for you when it's finally done, would it? Bwahaha... but yes, I pretty much have the final idea and rough script layed out now. The character designs have been through a slew of different versions (originally instead of a young boy I had an almost middle-aged irish guy called Doyle, but he was too hard to sympathise with and in terms of silhouette was less distinctive that the new character I have), but I'm pretty satisfied with both the style and their overall look now.

If you want to have a look at some of the concept and design work I have been producing I am using this deviant art account to keep track of it and present it online; so please feel free to have a looksy.

We had a five minute pitch session in front of the class last monday to present the idea and let people offer suggestions and criticism, but on the whole the response was relatively positive, and it is really now down to persuading my tutors that teh story can be fitted into the time permitted with the animatic, which is to be presented in about three weeks time.
The main difficulty for this is will actually not necessarily be the artwork and visual editing, which I actually really enjoy doing, but the sound track; sound is absolutely crucial in filmwork, and especially with a film like mine where there are a lot of unusual sound effects and some rather vital dialogue it is hugely important to get it right and to get it as soon as possible. I have already procured a good friend of mine to voice the eccentric young man, Valerian, who will be recording the first rough cuts in the studio at Manchester Metroplitan University under my guidance on Skype (or possibly personally if I have the time to travel up there on the train). For the final recording I will book out the sound suite at Newport so we can spend as long as we like in a good quality sound environment, but that will have to be some time after October as we are both very busy this month.
The main problem will be finding a good voice actor for Warren, the main narrator of the film (the story is largely seen from his point of view). I have called the local junior school in Caerleon and the receptionist is going to let the headteacher get back to me asap, and I hope that they will be kind enough for me to ask the children if they would like to audition for a part in my animation. Hopefully the prospect will be interesting and exciting enough for there to be some volenteers, the worst response would be if nobody came forward at all *nightmares of hundreds of kids just looking at me in a 'what the hell' fashion already haunting my sleep*, but another problem will be how to organise the auditions and how to judge the voices.
It is obviously important for them to have an interesting and clear voice, and a Welsh accent into the bargin would be absolutely wonderful, as it would tie into the overall feeling of the film and aid the story itself, but they must also be capable of dealing with lines, delivering them in the correct manner, and also have a suitable personality to communicate Warren's character and to be possible to work with.
All a little bit risky and resting on sheer luck more than I would like at the moment, but hopefully the future will be kind to me *fingers crossed*. As it is I can continue to work on the script and storyboarding and finalise the designs of the train and flying machine, which I will probably be enlisting the help of a CG animator alumni, Scott MacDonald, that I am good friends with to help with during the animation- having him model the machines and animate them for me to then draw over in the 2D style will make scenes involving them infinitely easier and better executed. I may also be considering contacting an excellent musician that another of my alumni friends hired to produce the backing music for her film, to ask if I can commission him to produce a backing track for my film, though I have yet to decide whether it is actually necessary to have music as well as sound effects for the film. To judge this I will first need to create the animatic with sound effects (and hopefully dialogue), so I can see whether I feel music is needed as well, but being a musician and great fan of film backing music I suspect that I will hire his talents at some point in the process.

Here's hoping for the best of luck! Come on Caerleon Juniors, don't let me down!

A bit of a late start...

Well, here goes the first entry of the first blog I've ever done! This blog is to follow the progress of a strange and elusive creature known as a third year animation student (exhausticatius fatalium stressbagus), this particular specimen being known under the name of one Sarah Jolley.

I am currently in my final year of BA Hons Animation at the University of Wales, Newport, and it is apparent that although I am slightly aware of what I am doing during this year (although even that is questionable at best), I must record a means for others to also know what I am up to. I have actually been working on the project for a good four weeks already, and if you include the work I have been doing over the summer I have been going at this for too many months to track. My film, which aims to be around three minutes long, is based around the notion that anything is possible as long as you believe in your dreams and, perhaps even more importantly, you have someone who believes in you. It has several layers of meaning (spanning from the basic adventure story it covers to themes such as depression and environmental issues such as pollution and the apathy of human civilisation, fun!), but the main aspect I want to get across is that admirable determination to prove that the impossible, on the whole, really isn't impossible.

Anyway, I will shortly make a post about how far into the process I am, what my next steps will be, and how many ideas I've already run through, thrown away and changed to get where I am now. Catch up is such sweet sorrow...

Here's to the first of many to come!