Battling The Non-Spontaneous Side of Animation

Posted by on Aug 18, 2010 in Feature Articles | No Comments

*drawing above from my new indie film in-progress.

The busier I get, the more determined I get to jam in some time to work on personal projects. I mentioned a few posts ago that for the short films I’m making for Sesame’s Word on the Street series, the deadlines are so tight that I’m sort of writing and storyboarding on the fly. Often I have to just invent a story as I draw it. Usually, us animators work to someone else’s script, so these Sesame films go against that norm and forced me to work a new way. Having to work in different ways, for whatever the reason, pushes me out of my comfort zone. And, that’s a good way to keep growing as a filmmaker.

I had an idea to make a personal film about a member of my extended family, some two years ago. It sort of laid there for a long time while other projects and priorities pushed ahead of it. But, recent events in my life convinced me to finally make this film. I don’t like to say too much on a film in progress so I’m going to keep it pretty general and just discuss process here.

The first thing I did was fill several pages of a journal with memories of a certain time in my life that I wanted to recreate. Jotting down these notes only took about a half hour (I did this while I was on the train). Next, I recorded myself reading the notes in no particular order. I gave myself permission to ad-lib here and there to keep it loose and fresh. The notes were not so much a script as they were talking points.

Next I cut together the bits of track I liked using After Effects. At the end of one day, I had my first rough assembly of the track, which came to about five minutes. I plan to shift audio around as I work.

My philosophy in making this film is to let the film tell me what to do. Usually that’s something that happens as you work on a film for a while, when it feels as if the film begins to give you instructions on what to do, but I wanted to see if I could get to that state of mind from the beginning. The key for me was to work in a way I hadn’t worked before, allowing the interview snippets to be a sort of audio storyboard.

A day later I started the animation and I’ve since been able to animate about 20 seconds a day on the film, that is whenever I have a day to spare. I have about 2 minutes of the film completed and my goal is to have the rest of it finished within a month or so.

The thing I like least about animation is how non-spontaneous it can be. I know, typical animation requires lots of planning and process, where a crew or individual follow a pipeline from script, boards, designs, animation, edit, sound, and post. But, all too often the work we do in this industry looks like the process in that the careful planning sucks out any chance of life the animation might have had. I don’t want someone to see my process when they watch this film. I want them to feel something instead.

So I’m battling this by working very loosely within a very personal subject. When I start to animate a scene I don’t have a full plan of what I’m going to do. I just let it happen as I animate. Also of help is the documentary format of the film, which encourages experimentation in tone changes and narrative flow. So far I’m very pleased with the results. I don’t know if I’m making a great film, but its of great importance to me. And, I suppose that’s a good start.