Saturday, 24 May 2008

The Replacement Fillers

It's crunch time.
I'm hurtling toward the hand-in deadline and sacrifices will need to be made. I equate the feeling with the scenes in so many action films, where those fleeing from peril by plane or helicopter are forced to jettison extra weight if they are to have any chance of escape.
Ironically, by removing certain shots from the animatic, I'm finding myself having to create new animation. Ultimately it still adds up to less work, but I need some filler visuals to bridge the gaps created when certain sequences are removed.

This series of shots is pretty dispensible, as it doesn't really further the story. However, it furthers the action as they walk from one location to another, so when the sequence is omitted I'm left with a jarring change of background from one shot to the next.

As they can't magically leap from the doorway to the liquor cabinet, I've remedied the continuity issue by creating an unstoryboarded cutaway shot:

This actually benefits the film, even in its brevity. Firstly it establishes the Duck's bedroom, which we otherwise wouldn't see until the penultimate scene where there's some potential for confusion. Also, by having the Duck hear the Hunter and Prospective Lay arrive, it helps sell his entrance a few shots later. Incidentally, the barely-readable book title is 'The Secret', a fad (read: BS) self-help book that gets mentioned on the radio a lot. I thought it'd be funny to have the Duck reading it.

These storyboarded shots were conceived as fully-animated lip-sync sequences, where the Hunter enthusiastically sings while opening the bottle of wine. What I've had to opt for as a time-saving alternative are two brief shots with no dialogue.

These actually work fine, and my delivery of the song fell a little flat anyway. There was also a potential licensing issue as it was to the tune of 'For He's A Jolly Good Fellow'.
The remaining scenes that are being considered for the chop don't require replacement shots, and may help the pacing of the film by their absence. It'd be nice to have the time to produce the whole film as originally storyboarded, but the fact of the matter is I've bitten off more than I can chew. The average length of this type of student film is between three and seven minutes. My animatic runs at twenty, and with my planned cuts it'll wind up at about seventeen. I've been keeping this on the down-low as my course leader would probably have conniptions if he knew what I was trying to achieve.
I'm not trying to prove a point - a long film doesn't guarantee a good film. Oftentimes it can mean just the opposite. I just really believe that the story jusitifies the length. At this point I have an accumulative 14 minutes of footage finished, and the remaining shots use fairly limited animation. I know I can do this, but more cuts will doubtless be made.
Man, it's like Sophie's Choice up in here.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

The Jo Show - Part 2

It may be a bi-product of the stress of long hours I’m having to work in this last stretch, or possibly the anxiety of how well my film will be received come the deadline (4th June…fucking hell that’s close) but I’m feeling strangely melancholy with the absence of Jo, my wingman (or wingwoman...wing-gal?) for this project. Having lost her to the world of gainful employment, where her labours are actually exchanged with currency, for the most part I’m having to slog through the finishing touches on my own. It’s usually been that way when it comes to these types of projects - when producing music I find that the best work is done once the other musicians have left me alone with their contributions to work with. It’s not an ego thing (pinky swear), I’d just assumed that it’d have to be an interminable process to observe. I also get overly-focused and I worry that I come off as curt and irritable as a consequence.
Having Jo, as well as the film’s other helping hands (who I’ll later devote a separate entry to) as a presence has not only been a boone in terms of easing time and labour concerns, but I have also felt myself to be more driven and creative. Despite the stress, which would be inevitable with any MA, the production of this film has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life to date.
Last month I posted up some line tests that Jo worked on for the Prospective Lay character. She has since made the effort to clean these up herself which again saved me loads of time, and I'm consequently ahead of my production schedule. Interestingly, there's a distinctly different style about the character when Jo works on the full animation shots. The emphasis is more on movement than detail, which is another trick I need to get comfortable with. When the shots runs together I'd wager that nobody would pick up on the difference.

A limited-animation drawing of the Prospective Lay that I drew (left), next to a still from one of Jo's full-animation scenes (right). If you look closely you can see that Jo is more economic with the character detail, letting the movement of the animation speak for itself.

Here are the main shots from the earlier post, now inked-in and coloured.

In the above shots the character's acting is timed to the Duck's dialogue. When both characters are on screen with the audio it plays really well. The same applies to the shot below, where the Hunter and Prospective Lay's body acting interacts fairly smoothly:

Overall my little outsourcing experiment paid off, and for the eight-gajillionth time I'm very grateful for Jo's assistance. I had hoped that she would be able to do more animation between now and the deadline, but as her schedule is getting busy with real work it's not looking like that'll get to happen. But I'm glad she was able to contribute these shots and make her own little mark on the film.

Friday, 16 May 2008

The Trying Labour of Coffee & Conversation

Many things fascinate me about the animation process, not least of which are the challenges that present themselves without warning. Shots that seem simple can turn out to be overwhelmingly complicated, and shots I dread can in turn be surprisingly easy to execute.
The last few days have been dominated by a case of the former instance, with a series of shots that feature the Hunter and Duck simply chatting at the kitchen table. I would never have predicted that this would be one of the most complex processes in the entire film, second at this point only to the nightmare of rotoscoping those tracking shots.
This is a consequence of an accumulation of little embellishments which are vital on one hand (I didn’t want the two of them to simply sit and stare motionless at one another - this is animation after all) and a tremendous memory drain - the computer’s and my own - on the other.

Firstly there’s a little bit of leg movement going on. The Hunter nervously jiggles his right leg (a mannerism inherited directly from my good self) while the Duck nonchalantly swings his remaining leg over the side of the chair. For this animation I need two independent cycles that go at different speeds.

Another perpetual loop is the tiny background detail of the clock pendulum swinging. This needs to be timed specifically to the ticking sound effect that will be eventually thrown into the sound mix.

Then there’s my old nemesis, the rain layer. I was certain that I was forever through with the dreaded memory-sapping rain effect, but I’d forgotten the frickin’ kitchen window. Each time we cut to this wide shot there’s a different batch of character animation going on. A few wing and arm movements can be recycled but in sticking to the storyboard I’ve created lots of minutae that the audience probably won’t even register.

On top of all this there’s the lovely task of lip sync, which makes the overall layer count come to…well, take a look for yourself:Animation is generally a harsh medium - there’s a lot of in for not a great deal of out - but when you wind up with a great piece of footage it’s all worth it. When it takes the same (or more) effort to achieve something that is visually banal (albeit necessary) it burns a little more.
These are times when I grow concerned about both keeping to my production schedule as well as maintaining a high level of interest in the project as a whole. Peaks and valleys, I suppose.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Backgrounds Part 6 - Remnants & Debris

When I did the last batch of backgrounds back in November I wasn't sure if there would be any more left to do. As it turns out I've decided to persevere with including the proposed final scene and give the film a nice comedic ending rather than a maudlin cliffhanger. The last scene takes place at the site of the Hunter's former cabin, now a large mound of rubble.

The last background is a segment from a far larger drawing, as the final shot pulls back to reveal the entire pile. On top of all the other plentiful reasons to kiss her arse, props have to go to my faithful assistant Jo for inking in every one of those fucking rocks:

And here's the full colour version:

As well as the new backgrounds for this particular scene, I've found that to better suit certain shots elsewhere in the film a number of new and adapted backgrounds have been required. Here's the very last smattering to go out on: