adventure and absurdity in making an animated short

Friday, March 24, 2006

Making a short -part 3- exploration

Studies for a Virgin and Child and Machines (detail), c.1478-1480 pen and ink over metelpoint on a reddish prepared surface; London,British Museum

a wonderful scribbly Leonardo

I want to talk more about research or as I like to call it exploration (at least since I started writing this post). Research sounds so dry and academic, boring really. Exploration sounds like you are expecting great discoveries and are willing to embark on the unknown. It's exciting. Research (Exploration) is often over looked and very often given short shrift. Everyone is always trying to get on with it. They want to start animation or writing the script or filming. Exploration encompasses more then just research as well. In Sandy Mackendrick's class notes (found in the book On Film-making) He mentions four steps in A Technique for Having Ideas that together are a good start to "Exploration."

They are:
1. Collecting Data
2. Organizing the Data
3. Incubating the Material
4. Preserving the Spark

Not to get into too much detail here (since I again recommend that you buy the book if you are interested in film) but 1) Collecting Data is research, acquiring as much information around your subject that you can. Most importantly keeping an open mind to the material. 2) Organizing the Data is making sense of the material and assimilating it, being more critical and analyzing the material. These first two steps are equivalent to life experience. So that someone can tell a story about something they've never experienced first hand: Leonardo trying to fly, for example. 3) Incubating, is sleeping on it. Putting the previous two steps aside to let your sub-conscience work on it. If you are too impatient to come up with an idea you usually won't find it, the great white void. 4) Preserving the spark, this comes from practice, but is the ability to take the above involuntary ignition of the idea and apply effort and discipline to establish a level of productivity to bring your work to life. Sandy warns of two mistakes that are made here. They are, impatience - "the proficient hack seizes too soon on an idea that expertly renders immature and superficial ideas" and inexperience - "the inspired amateur has a brilliant concept that dies through incompetence of expression".

Once I had the idea of animating Leonardo da Vinci I began to read everything I could about him and instead of being intimidated by the great artist I began to see the artist I see in myself and so many of my peers. He kept a sketchbook. He would struggle over his drawings trying to get that right pose. He procrastinated. He worked on things to pay the rent. He had many interests and sometimes had trouble focusing on one thing. He wrote backwards with his left hand...well maybe he was a little different. He was eccentric in his time. Today I think he would be an animator or at least would have dabbled in it. It was through exploration that I discovered a richer foundation for my idea or rather my vague notion of Leonardo with a flying contraption. Exploration gave me ideas for a story line and business to play and a character. Not that I put in everything I read about da Vinci. I kind of just absorbed it and the knowledge just crept in there. I Organized the Data by distilling down the reading into drawings, a lot of drawings. I needed to not only figure out the story to tell but how Leo would look. What his world would look like? What other characters would play a role? Michelangelo perhaps (they were rivals)? How would Leo move? How many ways can he hit the ground? Again, not everything would make it and nothing is ever precious. I just allow myself to have fun and enjoy the journey. I leave you one more warning from the old man -

"When that energy runs low, there is the danger of technique taking over and the creator settling for the easier cliche in order to avoid the difficulties a work of true originality entails."

Early exploration - a few of the ideas from these pages made it into the film and a few didn't.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Leo runs on water - 33 feet to go

The race is on toward the April 15th deadline. Herriman comes through with 10 more feet. Here are some poses from scene 5/1 in which Leo runs on water with his water bouys. The parchment look is from the camera lighting. None of the water effects are done yet.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Making a short -part 2- The idea

First of all, I just want to thank everyone for the great comments. They are very kind and encouraging, just the fuel you need to keep at this thing. Heard from a bunch of old friends, "Hi back, everyone is doing great."

this is an early concept I had in '96 using a totally different character.

Okay, let's talk about ideas. Where do you get them? What do you do with them? An idea for a short should be just that an idea for a short. I mean you are not going to make War and Peace in a short. Though that could be funny to boil it down to 3 to 6 minutes. Chuck and the boys squeezed the 100 hour Ring Cycle into 6 minutes. But I guess that's my point, they knew they had 6 minutes. They started from what they knew. You see staring onto the blank white paper and trying to think about an idea is madness. It's a void of infinite possibilities. You need limitations. Orson Welles said, "The enemy of art is the absence of limitations." Now making an animated film in your spare time provides you with a great limitation. Time. So don't make a film, that's 6 (or 8) minutes long in full animation, unless you want to spend a decade making it. Just a word of experience. I wouldn't do it again. You want to take a hard look at how much time you can realistically spend on your unknown film. Then think of how you can make it - hand drawn, stop motion, cut-out, computer and your ability to do it. Then forget all that and think about what you really love, what you would like to see in a film. You have to pull the idea out of something you love to think about, makes you laugh, really gets your brain a firing because you are going to spend a lot of time on your own doing this thing. This idea, of Leonardo, came about because I have always loved the idea of somebody putting on a pair of homemade wings and trying to fly. It is idiotic but full of perseverance. It makes me laugh. I mean look at this guy-

At first I tried to develop the idea with a character I had from another idea (see top) but it was too open ended. This led to Leonardo da Vinci (as thinking about flying with a pair of homemade wings will). This gave me a character, setting, etc. I knew it would be an extra pain to record and animate dialogue so I'll just put it to music. The music dictated length. Then I began to draw in this large sketch book. I would draw anything I could think of about da Vinci and then I began devouring books. Research is everything in generating and then formulating ideas into something truthful and concrete. We at Pixar do it extensively and it shows in the films. The idea then started telling me what it wanted to be.

this is, I think, the first doodles I did with the idea using Leonardo. Totally unreadable but I never thought I'd put them out here for the world to see.

Monday, March 06, 2006

5 minutes a day

How do you find the time? Well I don't really find time or make time. I wish I could then I would have more then 24 hours and 7 days each week. What I do is use the time I have as wisely as I can. One of the biggest hurdles in making your own film on the side is to work a full day, spend quality time with the family, deal with the usual living stuff (ie. food shopping, eating said food, bill paying, unforeseen calamities) and still be able to make your film. Suddenly watching Lost and Desperate Housewives is not so interesting. Here's the thing I realized, that what ever you can do on your project each day is valuable. May it be five minutes or five hours. 5 drawings or 5 feet of film. You are 5 minutes, 5 drawings closer to your goal. The important thing is that you do it. Even if you have to eventually throw out those drawings, you had to do them to get to the next five. So quit whining that you don't have the time because you do. By the way one show I can't give up is the Daily Show, which was a nice 30 minute break before diving into the work. Then they had to go and add the Colbert Report! Oh, the world and time are against you, fight back with those five minutes.

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