Monday, 23 April 2007

Voices (Part Uno!)

Given that I can't really start work on the film without a basic soundtrack, now's probably the time to get cracking on it. This is one of the trickiest parts of production for a lot of people on my course as it comes down to finding actors and sound designers. Fortunately with the work I've done producing indie records I know my way around a waveform, and given that the Hunter is a grumpy fucker like my good self I'll opt for the Mike Judge/Seth MacFarland/Trey Parker (etc) route and just do the voice myself. For the Duck however I was able to wrangle an old pal from my thespian days.
Yes, friends, I used to tread the boards like a veritable bard.
Well, not really. My old school used to throw me in every other play to be the token old fat dude, and the novelty of the process wore off very quickly. At least half the time though I'd be there amongst other fellows and fellates (no, wait...that means something else...what's the feminine form of 'fellows'? Why am I even typing this?) in a similar predicament, chief among them Tom Bower, a name I know at least five of you reading this will recognise from my not-even-cult webcomic 'Mitchells In England'. While the comic strip Tom was an unreliable, brain-damaged pothead, the real Tom was a pretty dependable, all-around, level-headed guy (when I was fourteen it made for delightfully clever subversion, trust me). Of course this has all changed, when I saw him for the first time in several years he had devolved into a degenerate pimp with duelling addictions for gambling and crack. But I was able to snap him out of his destructive (albeit decadent) stupor long enough to have him record dialogue for my Duck character.

Although the quality of sound is a little ropey from the camcorder footage, going through the actual soundtrack (that big sexy mic isn't just there to be big and sexy, y'know) it's clear he's absolutely nailed the character, even throwing in some extra embellishment and methods of delivery that give some of the limp bits of dialogue a shot in the arm. So next up, my dialogue, the dialogue for the Prospective Lay, a lengthy editing process and eventually the wonderful world of dope sheets. From what I can fathom, that last one isn't as fun as it sounds...

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

That weirdo sat in the corner doing his drawings...

Of late I find myself recalling a sequence in Charlie Kaufman's über-meta-headfuckfest 'Adaptation', in which Nick Cage as Kaufman frequents a greasy spoon to do research for the dull screenplay he's been commissioned to write, the vacuousness of his life openly pitied by the waitresses. Given that my apartment is filled with distractions (not to mention my ordinarily-chaste upstairs neighbours are nowadays rutting with such fervour as to suggest they've only just worked out what goes where) and my campus has been closed for easter save for a stuffy library, I've had to search out alternative working environments. It turns out that I seem to get the bulk of my work done in the one remaining café that isn't occupied by scores of braying teenage imbeciles - shielded as it is by a bookstore that surrounds it, a laudable chav filter.
While my project and my waistline have both benefited enormously (pretty much the whole film is storyboarded now and their paninis average out at under 400 calories) my concern is that my body has rejected the concept of routine. Earlier today, three weeks of constant inking and fitful nights caught up with me and the resulting exhaustion nearly drove me to babbling lunacy. I'm also wary that the visual of me in my little corner going through my production sheets isn't a million miles away from that of those smug pricks that bring their laptops into Starbucks.
I guess my point is that I'm looking forward to school starting again - and that's a sentence I never would have imagined myself typing. As fruit of my labours, here are some more storyboarded sequences that follow on from either of my proposed openings.
Here we see the Hunter and Duck meet for the first time.

After the cheeky little fucker's psyche-out, the two have a civil exchange over coffee and the duck embarks on a more calculated, protracted revenge - weaselling his way into some free room and board.

Flashing forward a month, one night has become several weeks and, despite the Hunter's efforts, this zombie duck isn't going anywhere.

What follows in the first draft of the script are four scenes that progress over the course of several months, with their relationship becoming more and more strained. Of the four I've decided to excise two for being overly-wordy and generally unnecessary. Those that remain will be posted in my subsequent entries. Yeah, I know, I'm a tease. I can't give you everything in one go! How would I know whether or not you'd call back?

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Case Study #2: Anthropermorfis...Anthrapomorphi...Anthro-pamerphis...Making Animals Act All Human-Like...

One of the greatest freedoms inherent in my aforementioned first love, Ren & Stimpy, was Kricfalusi's ability to caricature and anthropomorphise beyond identifiability. If you didn't know that Ren was a dog (or, more specifically, an 'Asthma-Hound' chihuahua) and Stimpy was a cat - an obvious pairing of species that goes back centuries - it would take an extremely lateral-thinking mind to guess it from their appearance.
Ren's long, distinctly un-chihuahuaian ears might have one lean toward assuming he's some type of emaciated rabbit, or his signature 'W'-shaped mouth at times resembled a proboscis (the show itself referred to him as resembling a mosquito on several occasions). Stimpy, well, Jesus wept, if you honestly thought 'cat' when you saw him for the first time, you should seek psychiatric care. Interestingly, most other animals in the show aren't as disproportionately exaggerated. The deadpan Mr. Horse, though humanistic, was very obviously a horse, even without the name there was no ambiguity there.

Bob Clampett's 1946 Daffy, alongside Chuck Jones's 1953 Daffy...

A more logical case study to pursue would be the greatest animated duck in creation, Daffy (to hell with Donald, the hoarse, lisping bitch). My logic being that, well, my antagonist is also a duck. Ah, my deep and multi-faceted mind.
When you look at the evolution of Daffy (and we're stopping with the late 50s, if anyone brings up the horror of Loonatics Unleashed I will piss-slap them) there is a tremendous change, not just to his design but his character as well. On a DVD commentary for Bob Clampett's 1946 short 'The Great Piggy-Bank Robbery', John K. in his capacity as cartoon historian acknowledges the character was initially 'daffy' as the moniker suggests, evolving into a far more subdued, crankier, 'jerk' character. Where Mr. K and I differ is our preferred variation - while he prefers the abrasive, off-the-wall Daffy of the earlier 1930s and 40s shorts, I'm more a fan of the calmer, calculating one of the 50s, if for no other reason than that's the one I was exposed to more often as a young'un. Obviously of the two of us, John K. knows his shit more than I do given age and experience (in fact, why are you even reading this? Go read his blog right now!) and his taste is doubtless attributed to the freedom the loonier Daffy allows in terms of just how crazy the animation gets.

Stills from Clampett's 'The Great Piggy-Bank Robbery' (1946) - a decidedly daffier Daffy

He alludes to on the commentary (and points out in a blog entry) Clampett's propensity for throwing in dirty jokes, such as having Daffy's beak morph into a sideways pudenda for occasional frames that, within the deluge of the consistently wild drawings, the naked eye is unable to register. The character design is not limited to a strict model sheet, with proportions constantly altering - this is perhaps the most notable derivation in Kricfalusi's own work, and to me one of the most endearing.
By going to the other extreme, we can observe the later 'grown-up' Daffy in the 1953 masterpiece (in no uncertain terms) 'Duck Amuck'. This cartoon is a character study in itself, with Daffy the only actor to appear until the oft-plagiarised ending. Growing increasingly frustrated as the cartoon's animator headfucks him constantly, we see the full gamut of emotion and acting in Chuck Jones's incarnation of Daffy. It is a very different beast to Bob Clampett's - even when he loses his rag completely it is with a kind of disciplined lunacy, (comparitively) conforming to a proportioned design.

Stills from Jones's 'Duck Amuck' (1953) - a not-so-'looney' toon, but brilliant in its subtlety

While some may consider this restricting, it has always struck me that by reigning in the levels of visual absurdity a notch there is less of a likelihood that the audience will be lost. Unless you're an animation devotee like John K. - or if you have a short, infantile attention span like myself - too many convoluted, rapid-fire visual gags can get overwhelming.
To me, the genius of Chuck Jones's take on the Looney Tunes ensemble is the subtlety of the acting. Tiny eye expressions, little sniffs, grimaces, twitches, gesticulations and so on - all done so brilliantly and naturalistically that they are almost subliminal. The look on Daffy's face when he reaches his breaking point is so reserved, yet completely expresses that oh-so-relatable, end-of-one's-tether, borderline psychosis. You know in that look that you're in the eye of the storm, and that very soon the shit will hit the fan. Who here hasn't had a coworker who just fuckin' lost it one day? I imagine it happens with some frequency in the animation industry.
But we don't just see Daffy as an illogical psycho. At several points toward the start of the film he's in good spirits, and these more jovial moments are just as superbly portrayed with the same degree of subtlety. It's the constant poking, prodding and general antagonising on the part of the faceless pencil/paintbrush wielder that incrementally drives him to the edge.
So how is this relatable to my film? Well, apart from the duck connection (I have gleaned an awful lot of research in regards to lip-synching a beak, although I'll try not to throw in those Clampett-esque mouth vaginas) I think that by having two extremes represented by a single character may help with working out what my own visual approach may be. My lack of strict artistic knowledge would see me veer toward the free, unrestricted, loose style, while my amateur status as an animator may automatically restrict what I can do in the time provided, so my character acting may simply wind up as subtle by proxy. We shall see...

Monday, 9 April 2007

Storyboard Outta My Frickin' Mind...

Now that I've refined my script, filtering out the wordy passages and unnecessary scenes, it's time to put together a proper storyboard. I've put this off for a while now because I wanted to wait until the script was properly done and dusted. Given the restructuring of the story and dialogue with each draft, I would have needed to do a completely different storyboard each time, and frankly my wrists don't have the stamina. I'm gonna have to bulk them up if I want to make a career out of animation, but for the sake of civility I won't go into methods.
I'll start from the start, which is just good chronological sense. This first sequence details the initial fate of the Duck, blasted by the Hunter, and his subsequent discovery.
As I'm still at odds as to how the 'zombification' of the Duck will come about, I have done two separate storyboards for this first sequence. The one above is a far longer scenario in which the Duck's corpse is discovered by the creepy Kid, taken to his house and stitched up, then struck by lightning through an open window. The one below has the Duck simply struck by lightning when he washes up on the shore.
I far prefer the former version of events because I really like the design of the kid, and it also explains the stitched-up, falling apart look of the Duck's design (with the latter, more succinct scene I guess we're to assume he was able to do it himself).
So in some way or other, we now have a zombie duck. What happens next? Well, unless you read the concept art post and already know, stay tuned, hombres!

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Granting Life to Napkin Doodles

For my pitch presentation back in November I threw together a very basic, scribbled animatic. This is essentially a preview of what the visuals will look like in the finished film, timed to dialogue. In some cases, like with a proper studio production, the animatic will be put together from pencil tests and set to the finished soundtrack so it ends up as a fair representation of what the cartoon will wind up as. In my case, it was cobbled together using scanned napkin drawings with me reading the dialogue in my monotone dirge of a voice (for the Duck I sped it up a bit, for the Hunter I slowed it down a bit - what a genius). Although it was rushed, the two scenes I included in the pitch presentation got the point across when coupled with the concept art. Given that it's been over a month since I started this journal and I haven't really included much by way of dialogue, I figured it'd make sense to put those sequences up on here. So look, you looky-loos:

This scene is better represented visually in one of the concept art stills. I imagine it will be one of the easier sequences to animate as it's basically just a back and forth between the two characters with the duck remaining prone and inanimate (a word that truly is an animator's friend) throughout.

This sequence is a bit more complicated, and again to get a better sense of how it'll look there's a concept still for it. While the animatic here re-uses a lot of the same drawings, the storyboard (which I'll start posting soon) has a lot of cartoon 'acting' in the facial expressions - the Hunter getting more appalled, the Prospective Lay alternating between dim and affronted, and the Duck laying it on thick with surreptitious leers and feigned hurt. Very little of that is evidenced here, again it's more a means of representing the dialogue (also, when I made the animatic I was still entertaining the possibility of animating the film in 3D CGI).
What I've confirmed with the animatic is that I definitely won't be doing the voice of the Duck. The voice on these clips bugs the hell out of me and my shitty acting takes a lot of the humour out of the dialogue. I have an old college friend in mind with whom I acted in a number of godawful school plays. Having talked to him about it recently he seems game, and knock wood we'll get some time soon to record it. The sooner I get the dialogue recorded, the sooner I can get cracking on the all-too intimidating dope sheets. More importantly, hearing me chatting up my own sister (who, while visiting, graciously did the Prospective Lay voice for the animatic) is all a bit too White Stripes for my liking.