I’m fast, I know. I managed to turn these puppies around in…a month. Wow. So anyhow, the fifth and final day of Paul Wells’ course was mostly spent working on our projects, which were to be about 4 characters who had an effect on each other (after the animation ‘Four’ we’d seen previously). We worked in pairs, and Christopher Huizar and I collaborated. There were also some mini-lectures on the basics of storyboarding and event analysis.
From a Ren and Stimpy storyboard, courtesey of animationarchive.org
Each storyboard panel should depict a dominant story point. Each panel should also have plenty of space around it to indicate actions within the frame, actions outside the frame, dialogue, and notes, such as points from event analysis, the color script, etc. Since we were working in a super sped-up way on stories we’d come up with really fast, during a prior 10-minute exercise, I personally found it difficult to integrate these layers of analysis and meaning onto our storyboard, while also trying to figure out what the dominant story points were for said storyboard. Now collaboration is a great thing, and some of the most enjoyable projects I’ve worked on have been collaborations. But collaboration never shortens the amount of time it takes to do a project. In fact the opposite it true: always lengthens it. So Christopher and I went round and round trying to figure out what our actual story was, which was time not spent on setting it into storyboard panels and layering the other information around them.
Paul went over the definitions of ‘blocking’ and ‘performance point’. When a director says to an actor, “Enter the room. Sit on the chair. Show nervousness,” the blocking is the “Enter the room. Sit on the chair” part, and the performance point is “show nervousness.” The same blocking could have a different performance point, e.g. “show confidence.” This is theater 101, I’m sure, but having never studied theater, it was news to me, and a handy way of looking at action.
SCENE BUILDING AND EVENT ANALYSIS
Once you have some potential scenes, you address them through these core questions:
1. Description of the scene. What happens? Which characters are involved? (The psychology of the character is revealed only out of what happens.)
2. External event. What happens that is the definitive development of the plot? What moves the story forward?
3. Internal event. What happens in the scene that is a definitive movement of each of the characters in the scene?
4. What the action means for the screenwriter. This is a ‘stepping back’ question. What is happening in the story? What emotional response are you looking to evoke? If you can’t answer this satisfactorily, then go back to Qs 1, 2, and 3.
5. What the event means for the audience. (meaning viewer or reader) What does it mean for them in terms of information, understanding, and emotional response?
Kitchen fight scene from The Incredibles
We then looked at a scene from The Incredibles in light of these questions. Every scene needs a hinge that turns it and moves the plot forward. The scene we watched depicted family dinner table chaos in which most of the action was taken up by the mother trying hard (and failing) to enforce a “no superpowers” policy amongst her fighting children. The hinge was a quieter moment when the father opens the paper and finds an article that piques his interest, and causes him to lie to the family when he leaves with a friend.
Next there was a mini-lecture on THE ANIMATION EVENT
Paul kept coming back to the question of what can animation do, that can’t be done in live action? It’s fine to take from live-action theory, but in what ways is animation different, and in what ways does the theory need to be expanded or adjusted to accommodate this?
- A phase of imagined motion for it’s own sake. It may take on narrative purchase, but it can be for its own sake.
- A sequence of choreographed emotive images, e.g. a contrast of fantasy and reality.
- A dramatized scene that contains something not possible in live action, e.g. a mythic character.
One problem that Christopher and I had with the story we were trying to develop into a storyboard was that it could easily be shot as a live action film. We had to search for ways to give it attributes that could only happen in animation.
ADAPTATION OF EVENT ANALYSIS WITH REGARDS TO ANIMATION
(I have to admit my notes start to not make much sense at this point. My brain was full. So I will transcribe them verbatim.)
Q1. What happens in the phase/images/scene under observation? How might its intrinsic action be described and how does it specifically relate to the methodology of process and visualization in general?
Q2. What is the key narrative development in the phase/images/scene? Animation trusts color, line, form, etc. How can the sequence progress?
Q3. What is the core punctum (from Barthes) of the sequence, and how does it advance its presence and effect? Barthes’ punctum refers to the key point of attraction in the image, and in this context might be a character, a form, a pictorial event, a visual gag, etc.
Q4. Asks the same kind of questions [as what, I'm not sure]. How far are you using the language of animation? I.e. metamorphosis, condensation, symbols, associative relations, sound, etc.”
Q5. Who is your principal audience?
As Christopher and I progressed (or failed to progress) with our story, Paul reminded us to differentiate the central story motivation from the core story event. The central story motivation is what motivates the four characters in the story to come together. In our case it was an outdoor tuba concert. I won’t go into why a cyclist, an indie music blogger, a truck driver, and a tubist had to be there, but we spend the better part of our work time getting those details sorted out. The core story event, on the other hand, is the crash between the truck driver and the cyclist. This causes 1. the cyclist to die, 2 the driver to be devastated 3. The tubist to play the saddest tuba music in the world, and 4. the indie music blogger to write a heartfelt, instead of cynical piece. So the central story motivation gets them to the scene, and the core story event changes each one of them in a different way.
Looking back, perhaps I should change my opinion of how the last day went. We actually progressed quite far with our story, we just didn’t get it down into a nice storyboard in time for the presentation to the class at the end of the day. I think if we’d slept on it, and come back to the storyboard refreshed the next day, we would have popped one out. However, we still struggled to nail down how to work in the language of animation. Our story could have been shot in live action. Our ideas for how to work in the language of animation were mostly fine, but seemed to add in merely a decorative element, (e.g. a dreamy surreal sequence of visuals during the playing of the saddest tuba music) and as such could become contrived. I wished there was something central to our story that could only have been done via animation.
I also struggled with meaning. The story we were proposing was not going to re realized. We were pulling ideas out of thin air with no thought as to how we’d pull them off technically, or to budget, time, etc. As such it remained an academic exercise, and that keep tripping me up. Not that anything could be done about that in a course of such short duration, but it did give me pause. We’d have an idea, and I’d think, “wait, no, that’s too hard to do.” Then I’d think, “Hang on, that doesn’t matter. We’re not going to actually do it.” Then I’d think, “Well then why should I try and find the perfect solution?”
Perhaps I’ve been a web designer for too long. Too many years in charge of projects from start to finish, with budgets, subcontractors, client expectations, and ongoing technical developments to keep in mind at all times! It was certainly hard to let go and just make up a project that had no real-world constraints. My brain is indeed full. I need to rinse it out.