|Once you start something, you have to commit. Like Ajax here preparing to fall on his sword.|
Animating a shot can be just as challenging as starting a painting, turning on your camera, sitting at a piano, or even picking up a pencil as you are looking at you blank pagel...
..because after you grab your tool... then what.. where do you start? HOW do you start?
So instead of telling you a few pointers I will take you along how I go about starting a piece, in this case animation. But the same amount of thought and detail of my procedure can be put to any art form. Since I had mentioned the 11 Second Club last week, I will be using the dialogue segment they provided for this months contest. The clip is roughly 12 seconds long. I will have about 4 posts of my progress and problems I encounter and finish by the end of September. So lets get started then shall we?
So Get Your Dialogue...
How many of you out there do this: You get your dialogue or assignment and your ass giddy as Richard Simmons on a treadmill, you think about what you are going to do, you toss out the first 3 ideas because that's what you where TOLD to do, then you ask EVERYONE what they think about your fourth idea, you take ALL the good ideas you heard and mush it into one super idea, then start working!
Only to find out that half way through you lose all motivation and drive to complete the assignment you have now lost interest in...
Sound familiar? I bet it does, especially to you animators. Painters and others are mostly by themselves any way but animators, as natural collaborators constantly go to each other. And they usually fuck themselves over. So before I go into how I go about starting a piece I want to just say, that I am not saying by any means MY WAY is the right and only way. There are millions of ways to come up with good pieces of animation but this is a way I find highly successful. Take it for what it is and hopefully it helps you out.
FIRST STEP FIRST
-I went to the website and downloaded the dialogue. (http://www.11secondclub.com/) I read in the description and it said it refers to football since football season is about to start and they wanted to be festive about it. (First unintended obstacle I encounter: I read an interpretation of the dialogue, and now have to try to stay un-biased when I hear it.) So now I'm thinking of footballs and helmets and stadiums... this is a bad start already. The line of dialogue reads:
"There is no end zone. You never cross the goal line, spike the football, and do your touchdown dance.. Never. It's not for me."
So I start cussing out loud because the line has NOTHING to do with actual football but now I'm stuck visualizing 50 yard lines, players and locker rooms. The line is a metaphor. For what? I don't have a clue, I do not know any context or a hint of what the hell I'm dealing with. I sit down and think for 5 minutes. What first comes to mind? Stupid ideas, like always. So I get up and forget about it. I have to! And I don't plan on revisiting it till tomorrow because what I'm doing is setting myself up to listen to it again with a clean un-biased plate. I let my girlfriend listen to it, she doesn't say anything because she is use to the routine and lets me be.
TIME IS YOUR FRIEND
As the day goes on, I'm in the middle of washing dishes and NPR plays in the back ground, I think about my line of dialogue. It sounds like the man talking is giving advice.. He is using 'you' in the first part of the sentence. Who is he talking to? Better yet, who is he??? These questions plague my brain through out the day.. maybe he is giving advice to a guy who is about to get married?
I am content with my conclusion that he is giving advice to some one else. So the next day I sit down and start to write down on my 'X-sheet' (for the non animators, this means that I am starting to map out what words and sounds land on which frames of the animation. In other words, a tedious process) But as I finish and walk away, I'm thinking about the dialogue in my head.. WHY DOES HE SAY "IT"S NOT FOR ME?" I try to forget about it and go along with my day. What I am doing here is trying to let as much time go by so my ideas 'marinate' in my head. The longer they stay in my head with out me acting upon it, the more chance I can think of something critically about the ideas and solve potential problems..
.."it's not for me"...
Without these few words the line would be a straight forward advice sentence. Some guy would be sitting next to another guy, slaps him on the shoulder, and basically says there is no happy ending. That's that :) but these last four words.. (it's not for me) hint of something deeper, some subtext of: been there done that. What situation could you be in to say something like that? A specific one. I fall asleep staring at the ceiling and say screw it, I'll just do a cinematic close up of a mans face and make him deliver the line. Forget trying to think of a context and a setting. I'm losing time over this planning shit... I nod off to sleep.. (First Mistake, settling for something sub-par)
I go the whole next day with no new ideas and here comes night time so I sit down ready to animate. I haven't tested my idea yet.. but I already know it's crap. That's why it's been ten minutes and I'm just staring at my screen. (by the way I animate using a 2D program called TVPAINT.. it's cool) I need to bounce my idea off someone. Someone I trust. Not just any thinking piece of meat out there, I need someone who knows what they are talking about. When you go to idiots for advice you get just that, idiotic advice. So don't ask them. I look across the room at my girlfriend and say, ok im ready.
THE BRAINSTORM (warning. this is an unedited rant)
So we stand up in the middle of the room, I tell her my idea, she says that's lazy and we start to talk about ideas. back and fourth.
-What if he's like Clint Eastwood? -No first off ,what is he doing? -Maybe he's a coach and is about to quit! -No I see him outdoors. -Out doors doing what? -Walking. -NO DOING WHAT? where is he walking to? -His car as he's talking to a young football player? -Why? -Bc the kid needs advice! -Why is he walking with the coach? Is he his son? Are they going out for ice cream, or did he just catch coach as he was walking home? This is going to affect the acting
-Maybe he's not giving advice...
WTFfasdsafdsfdsg?? We were getting somewhere! -No think about it. Why, if he's giving advice to some other person, then go around and make it about himself by saying "It's not for me."?
-ok you are right.. -maybe the kid is asking him to do something. Like come continue coaching for us?? -can we make him talk with a cigar? -What?? -Yes a cigarette or something. I see him cool like Clint Eastwood saying, yup been there done that... not for me. -I saw him more modest, old and fat. -No he has to be cool! -Maybe he's WAS cool and a hot shot, that's why they are coming and asking him to coach again. -Who are they? -The kid. -No it can't be a kid now. Listen to the dialogue, he doesn't even sound like he's talking to a kid.- Fine another old guy. Does he know the guy or is it a stranger? -He knows him, nobody gives meaningfull advice to strangers :) -So they are in a field? doing what? -Maybe the guy came to his house. His house has a field next to it. -ok ok. so man at home. guy comes to visit.
-Make him wear a suit!!!! -YEA!!! Contrast! one guy is in everyday work clothes and dirty, other one is out of his element he doesn't belong in the field.
-So regroup. this guy is asking the other guy to come join coaching the college team again, our 'clint eastwood guy' is saying no, he likes exactly what he is doing, he doesn't want to go BACK. It's not for him. -What is clint doing when they are talking, NO CIGAR bc if he was athletic he wouldn't be smoking. -Working on his field as they talk? -Isn't that rude? -Maybe but he's making a point that he doesn't want to go with suit guy so he doesn't even look up from his work.-Hmm. I see him just standing there talking but is about to walk away form suit guy to go back to work. Lets listen to it again.
-ok standing up it is.
PLANNING and EXECUTING
So after this LONG brainstorming session, I decide to work on what camera angles will best represent my idea and context. I was happy that we came up with something SPECIFIC and not generic for my actors and story. Now I need specific camera shots. When you have something specific you can make specific choices in regard to acting and camera angles.
The context that we came up with reminded me of a Clint Eastwood movie called 'Unforgiven.' It has a scene similar to mine where one young cowboy is asking a washed up cowboy to join him, but the old cowboy declines the younger cowboys offer. I go to the movie and study the directors camera choices in that scene. I do this because I want a sense of cinematic story telling to my piece. A lot of the times you get 'one camera shots' of animation exercises and it looks sort of.. bland. Animators do not change camera angles a lot bc they like to see the ANIMATION carry the art piece. but me, not being an animator but an artist, think it's very foolish to leave the camera out of the equation. the camera is a powerful tool to use, if you know anything about Alfred Hitchcock you know what I'm talking about.
So after an hour I came up with this. I drew and timed out my shots in story board form. just to represent the shots I want. I think it works and my go to person (my girlfriend) agreed as well :) So here it is. My next step would be to start animating. That will be another post. I know this one is already terribly long.
Remember not to go with your first intentions if you have not already thought out your idea inside and out. Planning and inventing a context will set the foundation for creativity and specific spontaneity in your animation. THINK, brainstorm, and THINK some more, research your idea. Then start to animate.