Hello everybody and welcome to the behind the scenes blog for my graduation film “Epilogue to a Breakup”. Just scroll down the blog and I will take you through all stages of production.
Feel free to comment and ask questions!
PLEASE NOTE! THIS BLOG IS STILL (A BIT) UNDER CONSTRUCTION!
SO BE SURE TO CHECK IN EVERY NOW AND THEN FOR UPDATES! MORE BEHIND THE SCENES GOODIES SUCH AS STORYBOARDS, COLOR SCRIPTS, ANIMATICS AND CONCEPT ART YET TO COME!
So first off, here is a link to the finished film:
My name is Guy Elnathan, I love animation and storytelling. I studied animation at Bezalel Academy of the Arts, and am currently working as a director at Pil Animation in Tel Aviv and as a cartoonist for the Hebrew University. Check out my comic strip here.
WHO IS THIS BLOG FOR?
I hope this behind the scenes blog will help students and aspiring filmmakers. I will to address every aspect of the creation of my film, and hopefully you will learn from my mistakes and create amazing films that will be remembered for generations to come!
HOW TO BENEFIT FROM THIS BLOG
My advice is to read the entire article from start to finish. Afterwards, read each section seperately while working on that stage of the film. For example, while devloping your film’s story, read my chapters on story development. That way you will gain experience through my process and learn from my mistakes. Same thing for all other stages of production (storyboard, color script, animation etc.).
This blog was inspired by Alex Grigg’s ‘making of Phantom limb’ article. It was insightful, inspiring and a real treat. Be sure to check it out HERE.
I read in Ed Catmull’s amazing book that at PIXAR they have a meeting at the end of the production ofeach film. They call it a post mortem. During this final meeting they analyze the process of creating the film and take note of the good and bad decisions which were made throughout production. This enables them to learn from their mistakes and improve on the next film.
I feel this blog is a post mortem for my film. This was written a year after completion of the film. I have perspective, I have (hopefully) grown and evolved as a filmmaker, and looking back I have many things I wish I had done different. Although I won’t do the same film over again (although I really would love another crack at it..) I think this is a great opportunity for me to reflect on my own process and hopefully improve. I suggest you all do this, maybe not immediately after completion of the film, but sometime after. You will learn a lot, and gain insight you never thought you had.
RALLYING THE TEAM
Before starting work on your film, you need to decide if this is a solo project or a collaboration. On my film, I worked alone, I now realize this was a mistake. Animation is a collaborative art form, and in our case two animators are better than one. So here is a list of PROs and CONs you might want to consider before making the decision
- You decide everything.
- You can take a vacation without feeling guilty.
- You can work on personal subject matter.
- You end up with a film that showcases your work only.
- You have to decide everything.
- It is harder to be self-motivated.
- You will probably spread yourself too thin.
TIPS FOR WORKING ALONE:
If you do work alone, set a goal.
What do you want to showcase in your film: Story? Art? Animation? VFX? Pick one (or two) and make that the main focus of your film. If you want to focus on everything, you either need to create a very short film or be extremely talented and basically a superhero. And if you are a superhero, why are you studying animation? Go out there and save people! Embrace your destiny.
Anyway, keep in mind you won’t be able to focus on everything. You can’t have your cake and eat it too, so you might want to reconsider working on a the project with a partner.
Working with a partner/group:
- You can take on a larger scale, more ambitious project.
- You can focus on your area of specialty (Story, Art, Animation etc.).
- You will learn from your peers.
- You won’t be lonely and want to kill yourself.
- Collaboration produces things you are not able to create on your own.
- Less creative freedom.
That’s basically the only con, but in this case, there are so many places to be creative — there is enough to go around. Just be sure to define each person’s specific responsibilities beforehand to avoid clashes of ego.
TIPS FOR WORKING IN A GROUP:
Work with someone who compliments you, the classic combination in my mind is the story/animation person teaming up with the art/design person.
You will inspire each other and be able to critique each other from your unique perspectives. Also, each has his own area of expertise which he can showcase later on.
Some of your best friends may share the same passions/interests you share, however they may not be the best match for you. Similar specialties may trigger clashes of ego. So be professional and find someone who compliments you. I would recommend working in pairs, but 3 is also good if you can find the right balance.
In general, animation is a collaborative art form, so unless you are working on a super personal diary project (like I was), I would recommend teaming up with a buddy or two.
CHOOSING A CONCEPT
Step 1: Get inspired
This is the fun part.
Just pick a bazillion films (short or feature), watch them and get inspired. Now analyze them:
- what did you like?
- What disappointed you? Why?
- How would you do it better?
It doesn't have to be just story; it could be the art, the animation, the editing, the music, the effects. Anything! It’s just a great way to get the creative juices flowing. When I want inspiration I usually start from my favorite films from my school and then I move on to watch animated shorts from Gobelins (especially the Annecy openers), Calarts, Animation Workshop, RCA, and last but not least: Disney/Pixar shorts.
So Start googling and get inspired! Here are two of my favorites:
Commercials and music videos are also very inspiring!
Some of the top names in the world create amazing shorts for the top commercial brands. These are usually a great way to learn about innovative new filmmaking methods and trends. There are some amazing things out there. Especially the football/soccer clips. Here are some that inspired me while working on the film.
Another great resource: BLOGS!
There are tons of blogs that offer great advice and insight for every stage of the filmmaking process. I would recommend reading what they have to say before starting a certain stage of production (e.g. design, storyboard, color, animation, etc.). Here are some AMAZING blogs:
TEMPLE OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN CAMELS
JOHN K CURRICULUM
Last but not least, books. There are millions of amazing aniamtion books out there, but we’ll talk about that later on. So for now, for inspirational purposes only, I would recommend any of the ‘art of’ books by Disney / Pixar / Dreamworks/ Sony and all the rest!
International student/filmmaker? Try Book Depository (FREE shipping!).
CHOOSING A CONCEPT
Step 2: Staying true to yourself.
A common question in the world of animation is: Why animation?
Does the film concept justify the use of animation?
This question hovered over my head throughout the production, and although I didn't really believe in it — I took it into careful consideration with every step I took.
This was one of the main reasons I chose to make my entire second act full of fantasy dating nightmares (the octopus, devil etc.).
My original concept had no imagination sequences, just quirky the-office style awkwardness. Looking back, I wish I had stayed true to myself, but by the time I had realized that, it was too late and I had to continue with production.
I wish I had kept to the awkwardness I had planned. In my opinion the middle of my film has many clichés, and only the beginning, end and certain parts of the middle stand true to my original vision. So my message to you is this, create films that you want to see. If you stay true to yourself and your vision, the audience is likely to respond and connect.
And as for the question: why animation?
Because you are an animator! That’s how you express yourself.
Why paint a painting? Why sculpt a sculpture? You do not need a reason!
If you are an artist, and that is your area of expertise, then that is your reason. Why animation? Because we are animators.
(I’ll try to remember that on my next film).
CHOOSING A CONCEPT
Step 3: What type of film are you making?
At the beginning of the schoolyear, one of my teachers (Eyal Soreq) said there are three types of student films.
- The DEMO REEL film.
- The FESTIVAL film.
- The PERSONAL film.
Sometimes, personal films can become festival films as well, but it takes a lot of film-making skills.
CHOOSING A CONCEPT
Step 4: Conquering creative block.
Having trouble finding an idea for your film? Don’t worry!
Try Looking back through your previous projects. You may find something that interests you, or you may find that there is a subject you have been coming back to throughout the years. Either way it’s always a good idea to take note of your ideas in a sketchbook. They can come in very handy on a rainy day.
In my case, I realized I had developed several projects that dealt with my experiences in New Zealand. Looking back it was a no-brainer.
So Before going into the process of actual film, I want to share some projects that eventually led to the creation of “Epilogue to a Breakup”:
Here is a sketch I created for one of my figure drawing classes (year 2):
During my Second year of school, I had actually tried to create a film about my experiences as a salesman in New Zealand. It was a very ambitious project, I had actually gotten quite far in the film, almost to a full animatic. But after about two months of pre-production, I realized I would never make the deadline… so I archived the project, and decided to change my 2nd year film into something else. Anyway, here is the archived animatic:
DIRECTOR’S DISCLAIMER: this is the animatic, unedited unabridged from my second year animation course. As I said before the story was too long and not good enough, and was archived. Although embarrasing, I decided to post it here in hopes of it helping future students.
“Student films come in three sizes:
- too long
- much too long
- very much too long” — Alexander Mackendrick (on film-making).
It requires tons of revisions, but who knows… maybe one day I’ll try again.
In my 3rd year, I created a short diary about the decision to fly to NZ.
I guess you can say this is the prologue to my graduation film:
So in the the end I decided to create a film about my experiences in NZ. Looking back, I guess you can say it was the obvious choice. So if you are having trouble deciding which film to create, look back at older projects, you might find the answers there.
THE HOLY TRINITY
After choosing a subject, I tried to figure out what makes a great short film. I came to the conclusion that the best animated films always have 3 things that make them stand out:
1) a Great story.
2) A believable and compelling world/setting.
3) Beautiful design and high production value.
This is a tough task for one person to complete in 2 semesters. This is why I recommend working in groups. In my case, I was working alone, so I had to decide what to focus on.
I chose story, which I am very passionate about, it was the natural choice for me. As for the rest of the trinity, I am not much of a character designer/art guy, and since nobody would want to join a project so personal, I just decided to draw in my regular, simple style. As for the world, I knew my setting (a mall) was not very compelling or imaginative. But I hoped that because my film was based on my true experiences, it would at least feel authentic and full of depth.
Here is a link to a masterclass by Pixar’s Andrew Gordon (Directing Animator), Matthew Luhn (Story Supervisor) and recently Ricky Nierva (Lead Production Designer) who was not apart of this lecture when I saw it. I was very fortunate to have them come to Israel in my second year of studies. The lecture truely changed the way I approach filmmaking and animation.
SO IF THEY ARE LECTURING NEAR YOU — BUY A TICKET!
Before you begin, here is a bit of inspiration.
You can hear the rest here.
Tip 1: knowing when to move on.
Before Diving into the whole pre/production process I wanted to answer a question you may be asking yourself while creating a film:
How do I know when to move on?
How do I know Im ready to start writing the outline? How do I know when to move on from outline to storyboard? When do I start working on the videoboard/animatic? and so on and so forth.
Many people would say: “when it’s ready”.
But we aren’t pixar Disney dreamworks or blizzard. We don’t have near-infinite resources. We don’t have the amount of time they have and we don’t have the manpower. So here is my method, I usually move on to the next stage when I am sick of the stage i’m on.
Example? While working on story, I like to read books on story, when do I stop and move on to the outline? When Im sick of reading the books. When do I stop writing the outline? When I get sick of Microsoft word documents and feel the need to actually draw and see the story events taking place. When do I stop storyboarding? When I feel I need to see the timing of the film, when do I stop videoboarding? When I feel the film is timed and ready for animation.
Hope that helps. And remember, you will create more films in the future. So do your best, and if you feel your project isn’t up to standard, do better next time.
Tip 2: start rough.
Don’t try to create a perfect storyboard on your first try.
Don’t try to create a perfect ANYTHING on your first try!
Start rough and gradually refine. Just like any creative process it is better to rough/block out your ideas at first.
Tip 3: trust the process.
Here’s something I have grown to learn, understand and respect:
every time I move forward with my film, everything sucks.
This is a fact. And this happens to me evertime I move forward in production. After finishing my outline, I start storyboarding and realize nothing works (nobody understands the story, there’s no continuity etc.). After I finish storyboarding I edit it all together to a videoboard/animatic and find out it sucks (the pacing is wrong, its too long, not funny etc. etc.) this continues throughout all stages of production, and there is nothing to worry about. Think of it as the fine tuning of your film.
As we progress from the macro to the micro of our film, we find loose ends. So don’t be afraid. It’s good! This will eventually make your film better.
There’s a saying: “trust the process.” (I think they say this alot at pixar). This was my mantra throughout the film. We can always second-guess ourselves, but it is pointless. So keep on moving forward, don’t look back and don’t think about the deadline to much.
Focus on the now and trust the process.
Tip 4: avoiding auto-pilot.
A lot of people believe that in order to create amazing artwork you need to get into a subconscious creative state. This may be true. But it doesn’t mean you can’t analyze your work later on. After a session, take a step back and look at your work: Is your story really about what you originally planned? Are your storyboards the best storytelling frames you can come up. Is your design serving a purpose? Or are you just drawing “cool” drawings based on things you like. You can channel your subconscious inner-artist, but don’t forget to analyze your work afterwords.
Stage 1: research
The first thing I did was go over my diary from the trip. This helped me get to know the world and the main character (myself). I also spoke with old friends who were with me in new Zealand, went over old photos and basically just reminisced. Very fun and nostalgic. Here are some sketches I found in my diary. I drew them while working as a salesman at the mall. So I guess you could say this is the first concept art.. and if you look closely, you may see a familiar face (or two).
Research feeds creativity, so be thorough. I went over my old photos, old text messages, emails, basically anything that I thought might trigger my imagination.
Stage 2: story development
Even though the story was based on my past experiences, I still had a lot of work ahead of me. To me, The story was already interesting… because it was about me! However, the challenge was to create something that complete strangers could relate to. So the first stage for me was just reading a billion books about story. I find this helps a lot, especially when you have a story in mind. While reading these books, I kept my story in mind, and shaped up a quick draft of the outline, which was a great starting point for me.
Here’s is a LIST of great story books to get you going.
Courtesy of spline doctors (amazing blog, as i said before).
Although this is the subject I am most passionate about, Im not going to go into detail about story development. I’ll save that for a different blog altogether. However, for the students out there, I know you don’t have time to read 25 books on story, so if I had to choose two books to read while developing story they would be ‘Save the Cat’ by Blake Snyder and ‘Invisible Ink” by Brian McDonald. Although not necessarily the best books, they are the most practical books, and will help you reach a working structure quickly. They are also a relatively easy read. If you have a bit more time I would also recommend Alexander Mackendrick’s “On Film-Making”, although it is a tougher read, you can also look up stuff on PIXAR’s 22 rules of storytelling.
Here are two more short videos on storytelling that might help.
And finally here’s a song with a great story tip:
(your hero can’t always get what he wants, but if he tries, he just might find… he gets what he needs!)
Stage 3: Premise, theme, general idea.
As I said before, there is much to be said about story development, so I will address this briefly, for more — read any story book mentioned above.
Ok, so in order to create a story you need a premise and a moral.
This might go a bit over your head, but I’ll give it a shot. Here’s an equation that came up while reading Robert Mckee’s STORY:
- What if PREMISE…
- Then HERO would learn VALUE is only achieved when we CAUSE.
PREMISE (according to Mckee) is that ‘what if idea’:
what if a broken-hearted hero decided to leave it all in order to move on.
HERO is your protagonist, the main character of your story:
in our case, the hero is Guy (me).
VALUE is what’s at stake: happiness, love, friendship, justice etc.
It is what is missing from the hero’s life at the beginning of the film:
in our case the value is love.
CAUSE is the moral of the story, the lesson learned:
in our case, you can’t run away from your problems/your past, you need to face them in order to move on.
so lets try and create an equation from my film, ready? here goes:
What if a broken-hearted hero decided to leave it all in order to move on? He would find that love is only achieved when we face our problems.
I know what you are thinking, wha-wha-whaaaattttt?
I may have bitten off more than I can chew, but hopefully some of you understood. Just in case here is an example (courtesy of Robert Mckee) from the film GROUNDHOG DAY:
What if a cynical, self serving hero woke up every morning to relive the same day? He would find that happiness is achieved/fills our lives when we learn to love unconditionally.
Too much? There really is no way around it, you need to read the books. There are no shortcuts.
Stage 4: outline
Ok so now we have a general idea to work with. so it’s time to start working on the general outline of the film. This is kind of like the first blueprint of the film, subtext and messages, without really thinking of it scene by scene. Think of it as the description of the chapters in the film.
In my case, I was putting a lot of effort into the story. Unfortunately, I had a schedule and a deadline and I was growing short on time. I knew I didn’t have enough time to work out a perfect story, so once I was happy with the beginning and end of the film — I continued on to storyboarding.
I believe that if your story has a great ending, the audience will forgive a loose middle. Looking back, I see many things I should have changed, but it required time, which I didn’t have.
Here is a copy of the final outline of the film, you may recognize some terms from some of the books I recommended.
You may also notice, that the final film is almost completely different from this outline. Looking back, I wish I had stayed with this version, it is more subtle, sensitive and truer to my vision. This brings me back to what I said earlier: create films that YOU want to see. Maybe one day I’ll create a new film, based on this outline… who knows.
Had I more time, I might have worked on the outline forever. It is very easy to get sucked into these processes and sidetracked. So set a deadline, and know how to move on.
Stage 5: treatment
So now that we have an outline, its time to go into treatment. Now we basically flesh out the entire movie, as we imagine it scene by scene.
This is the most detailed description of the film you will write before actually writing the script, or in our case drawing the storyboard.
You will prbably find that some ideas from your outline do not work well in treatment, that’s ok, this is natural. Don’t be afraid to throw away your old ideas. kill your babies. this is true progress.
Here is a copy of my final treatment for the film:
Stage 6: script.
At this stage I moved on to the storyboard. But looking back, I think I could have benefitted from writing a script (see next chapter).
So… write a draft, you’ll thank me later.
Stage 7: timing the film.
Just a quick tip, in most cases students and novice filmmakers do all the story development without really knowing how long the film will actually be in the end. Then when they start editing it all together to a videoboard or animatic they find that they have a 12 minute film!
This is obviously a problem and histerical cutting and editing usually follows. Production-wise this is a problem, this means you wasted many precious production hours storyboarding scenes that need to be cut.
Had you timed your film at the script-stage of your film you could have saved tons of time!
There are many ways to do this, professional script writers know that one page of script equals a minute of film. I personally have no idea how that works, and am not as experienced as they are, so I can’t really trust that method.
I suggest going over the script and reading it out loud, playing out the actions as well, while timing yourself with a stopwatch. This takes practice, so try doing it a couple of times. Keep in mind that you prbably won’t be able to act out your entire film without delay. So stop your stopwatch between pages, or before acting out non-dialogue scenes.
Another good idea that helps me, is going over the entire script, and thinking about how much time each action takes. For example, if your script says the character closes the window you can decide that this will take about a second. Afterwards just read the dialogue and add the timed sequences at the end. If you don’t have any dialogue in your film, you may find this extremely useful. Don’t have a good sense of timing? Get a friend or classmate to help you! Don’t have friends? Be a nicer person!
Stage 8: Initial design
Had I been working with a partner, this would probably be the part where I move on to storyboard while he/she starts the design/concept art. However, I was working alone, and as much as I wanted to move forward, I needed to figure out the visual style of the film. So I started doodling.
Although I wasn’t focusing on design, I did want my characters to be aesthetically pleasing. So I built a reference board from people I admire (Pascal Campion, Nelson Boles, Lou Romano, Kris Anka and more) and tried to be inspired by them. Here are some sketches:
Looking at my initial sketches, I found I liked the sketches with long legs. And then I remembered something my second year figure drawing teacher (Tami Bezaleli) told me: “long legs always look good. You can never draw legs that are too long.” Of course this is not a univerasal truth, if you draw someone with monstrously long legs — it will be pretty ugly.
But you get the idea. Make em’ long.
I really liked the sketch in the top left corner and the top row sketch in the middle (the one that kind of looks like the little prince). So I decided to try and push those sketches, and see were it took me.
Here is the next batch of sketches:
When drawing these initial character sheets it would be best to draw out poses that will be in the film. Unfortunately, I didn’t think of that… oops. So I just checked out various poses from different character sheets and tried to implement it on my character. This may be fun, and cool — but it does not help the production. So next time, I will try to poses from the film. Another good idea would be to draw poses according to the personality of the character, this may actually inspire your animation.
In general, even when working alone, pretend you are a part of a team. Imagine your job is to inspire the other members of the team. So if you are on the art team, create art that inspires the storyboarders and animators. And vice versa: while storyboarding, create things that will inspire the art team… Jeez I wish I had thought of that before… oh well..
Stage 9: Beat boards
This is the step where you draw out the main beats of your film. About 15-20 drawings should be more than enough. This will give you a feel for the film and provide motivation for the wee hours of the night.
I actually didn’t draw out the main beats of the film, I moved straight to thumbnails and storyboard. This may have been a mistake. I think it’s good to beat out your film, just to see everything is working right.
Stage 10: Thumbnailing / shooting script
Before storyboarding there are some things you should do first.
I like going over the script/outline and just thumbnail the whole thing out. Some people call it a shooting guide. Anyway, I just go over the entire script and draw ugly thumbnails. No reference. Not too much thought. Just intuition. This is great, it helps you cleanse the creative process of clichés and sometimes helps you find some nice ideas. In general this gives you a nice feel of the film, and helps you establish your expectations from the film, the storyboard and yourself. Here are the first thumbnails I did for the film, take a look you may recognize some of the beats (although almost everything was revised).
Stage 11: Storyboarding references
Many people believe reference is cheating. In my opinion this is far from the truth. It is true that you must know how to use reference, but by all means — use it! We live in an age of infinite information. The internet has changed the way things work, and I am sure that if the animation greats of the past had these assets by their side — they would embrace them.
After thumbnailing you should have a rough idea of how you want the film to play out. This is a great time to start going over references.
So how do you find references? Usually you will have a couple of films that you feel have a similar tone to your film. In my case, it was 500 Days of Summer, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind, Scott Pilgrim and a few more. But I wanted more.
So I went to this amazing website: FILMGRAB.
This guy is amazing, he is my hero. Every day he uploads screenshots from a different film. There are hundreds of films there. So, with my film in mind, I went over them, and whenever I saw a frame or a composition which felt appropriate for my film — I saved it. Afterwards I studied the chosen frames, and tried to understand what I liked about them and what elements could be implemented in my own film. The final result is very different from the initial frames I liked. But by collecting references I was able to learn from the masters of cinematography and hopefully up my production value. If after reading this you still feel this is cheating, I recommend you try it anyway, because as you start studying the cinematography of films you will find, that they share many similar frames. Everybody uses reference.
Stage 12: Choosing your frame size/ratio
Many people don’t give it much thought, but it is important to choose the resolution you will be working on early in the process. this affects many aspects of the film, first and foremost — composition.
how can you storyboard without knowing the proportions of your frame?Anyway, it’s time to decide. Is it PAL, HD, cinemascope or maybe something you made up?
In my case, I chose cinemascope 1920 X 800.
My film is a romantic drama comedy, and it is long. Not your average animated short film. I chose this format because it felt more mature, and I hoped it would give my film a more mature cinematic feel to it and also on a subconscious level, make the viewer feel he is watching a mature film.
Did it work? I don’t know, but it looks cool.
Stage 13: Storyboard
So with your thumbnails, shooting script and references in hand, you are ready to start storyboarding.
I strongly recommend reading FLOOBY NOOBY’s series of posts on the cinematography of ‘The Incredibles’, parts one, two and three.
And also THIS comprehensive piece on storyboarding.
And here are some quick tips from me:
Guiding the viewer’s eye
The center of attention (COA) is where you want the viewer to look and basically the most important thing in your film.
While storyboarding, ask yourself, where is the center of attention (COA) in this frame? Where was the COA in the previous frame and where is it in the next? If the COA changes from one frame to the next — you need to keep this in mind. Sudden changes in position are great for changing the setting, surprising the viewer and in general — disorienting the viewer. But if it’s a sequence meant to work together seamlessly — drastic changes in the COA could damage your film.
Choosing your shots
Close up, long shot, medium shot — there are many different shots to choose from. How do you know which one is best for you? Well, if you imagine the shot as your own POV it might help.
The closer you are, the more intimate the situation. So if you are trying to create an emotional dialogue scene, consider using a close up and not a long shot.
If your shot consists of the hero jumping and running around, you might want to pick a shot that allows you to show the movement.
And the last thing to keep in mind is keeping things fresh. Try to make your shot choices as dynamic as possible. What do I mean? Don’t have too many close ups in a row, same thing for every other shot. Too much of one thing gets boring, and takes the viewer out of the experience.
Are all the elements in the composition helping the viewer focus on it? Or distracting? Make sure to guide the viewer’s eye in the right direction.
50 Shades of Gray
Anyone who is an animation geek has probably seen professional storyboards. They usually have grays to emphasize certain aspects of the scene. Of course you don’t really need 50 different shades, but it is useful to have a couple. I find the amount of default grays in the FLASH color picker is enough for me. Use this technique to emphasize the important elements of your scene, to establish depth, to emphasize drama, to show the time of day and more!
Not only will your storyboards be easier to read, this will also serve as a reminder once you reach more complex stages of production (animation, color scripts, compositing).
Always ask yourself what is the objective of the shot, what is the emotional value. If its a frightening shot, try tilting the frame a bit, making it feel unbalanced. If its a
Still searching for more books on the subject? try these two:
Composing pictures, Donald graham.
Dream worlds, Hans Bacher.
Here is the first version of the storyboard from my film:
Notice the drawing are extremely rough. Im not falling in love with the process. Im just trying to visualize my film the fastest way possible — so I can see what works and what doesn’t and then start revising. Just like Andrew stanton fails, your gonna fail — so at least fail fast and get it out of the way.
Stage 14: Revisions
Don’t be afraid to revise your work. It may feel like you are moving backwards, but this is actualy progress. I know its tough to venture back into an old photoshop, flash or after effects file (or any MAYA/MAX) file, but if something doesn’t work you need to revise. And believe me, at almost every stage you will need to re-work your stuff.
Of course, don’t forget you have a schedule to keep. If you are at the point of no return — move on! Do better next time. Nobody is perfect.
In my case, after pitching my initial story to some peope, I realized it wasn’t working. In the original story, the hero was unable ot move on because he was seeing horrible flaws in every woman who approached him, kind of like the opposite of the movie “Shallow Hal”. Not only was this inaccurate, it was also wrong for the film. So I went back to the drawing board, and after about 8 versions I had reached a version I was relatively happy with. Had I more time, I would have revised more… but like I said: you have to stay on schedule. So I moved on, and I hope I will do better next time :-)
Here is the final storyboard for the film:
Stage 15: color script
After finishing the storyboard, the natural step is to continue to the videoboard/animatic. However, I feel that after so much story development and storyboarding, we need to take a step back.
At this stage, I decided to work on the color script. This gave me a break from story, let me get my hands “dirty” with some color, and actually helped me find a better understanding of my story.
After all, story is king.
Every element of your film is supposed to strengthen the story: animation, design, soundtrack and even the color script.
With color you can evoke and emphasize emotions in the story.
Let’s say you have a sequence that is very fast paced, you don’t want to start changing the colors in every shot. The audience will be having enough trouble as it is trying to keep track of everything and hold on, that’s why you should use familiar colors. Or maybe you have a funny/surprising moment, you can emphasis this moment with a sudden change of color.
Color is extremely important. I recommend reading “The Noble Approach”, which has plenty of tips on color.
Anyway, I didn't have too much time, so I decided to keep the colors pretty simple, schematic and didactic. The films chapters (summer, fall, winter, spring) also helped me with my color choices. I gave each chapter the appropriate palette (fall — reds, yellows, oranges) and this also suited the emotions I wanted to evoke (winter — sad colors, party — happy energetic colors). For the Flashbacks, I chose a sepia-like scheme which felt appropriate (gave it a historic archival feel). Here is the final color script:
I guess you could say I went a bit too far with the color script. There really is no need you draw the eyes or facial expressions, this also distracts you from the big picture. However, notice that I drew a specific color frame for every shot in the film. I don’t know if many people do this, but I found it very useful later on in production, when I was short on time.
If you want to see some beautiful color scripts, check out Lou Romano’s work on THE INCREDIBLES and UP. Inspiring stuff.
Stage 16: proof of concept
This is a very important stage of pre-production that many people tend to skip. Proof of concept means to create a short 5 to 10 second test of the final film, and when I say final… I mean Final. You do everything! Background, color, full animation, compositing and everything else you think you will do in your final film.
Proof of concept will help you in many ways:
- Helps you see if your “vision” works and is aesthetically pleasing.
- Helps you understand the production costs of your “vision”.
Imagine reaching the final stages of production only to realize that your film looks like shit. Imagine reaching the final stages of production and realizing you have no chance in hell to finish it on time.
That’s what proof of concept is for. Here’s mine:
Proof of concept is a mini-test, and after completing it you will have a better idea of how long the production of your film is going to take and if you can actually keep your schedule. In most cases, people realize they bit off a bit more than they can chew and make much needed revisions (e.g. picking a simpler way to color your characters, cutting down on the after effects, changing your animation from ones and two’s to three’s and four’s…
On the other hand, you might decide that your “vision” is perfect, and the story is what needs a little “trim”. It’s up to you.
Either way, the proof of concept will help your pipeline.
Stage 17: animatic
By now you should have your storyboard, and you should be feeling comfortable with it. It is time to put your money where your mouth is. Ediing everything together to a living breathing animatic!
While working on my animatic, I took the old storyboards and started editing them in after effects, adding keyframes when I felt it was necessary. I now know that this wasn’t the best solution.
Here is my animatic:
A VERSION OF THE ANIMATIC WILL BE UPLOADED ONCE THE FILM IS RELEASED VIA CARTOON BREW’S STUDENT FESTIVAL
I would recommend creating your animatic in flash, camera movements tweens and all. This is a new stage of production and it deserves more respect. This of course does not mean you need to start animating, if your character walks across the screen he doesn’t have to be fully animated, but a little tween to make him glide across the screen would be great. I will soon show my finished animatic for the film, but I would like to show you some more successful examples from our dear friends at Pixar.
Pixar Studio Stories are fun little behind the scenes anecdotes that they add to their DVD’s. I feel they are the perfect example for how detailed your animatics should be. Here are some links, there are much more on youtube if you want to see more:
Stage 18: soundtrack (music)
Sound is extremely important. Some might argue it is 50% of the entire film experience. Let’s put it this way: if the sound is good, nobody will notice. But if your sound is bad… may god help you.
Your film and soundtrack need to go hand in hand. Sound is just another way of telling the story. In my case, my film didn’t really need a composed soundtrack like most student films have.
I wanted music, but I felt that many student film soundtracks, due to lack of budget have a very limited MIDI-feel to them. We obviously aren’t a big studio so we can’t afford a live orchestra recording… chances are you can’t really afford multiple instruments/musicians. In addition, working with a composer on a tight schedule, you usually don’t feel the music is exactly the way you imagined it.
I decided to purchase my music through the VIMEO MUSIC STORE. This gave me creative freedom, multiple intruments and gave my soundtrack a unique and diverse feel to it which (in my opinion) gave it high production value. it’s a very tedious proccess, kind of like looking for a needle in a ahaystack, the search options make it easier, but in the end it still took me about a full week to find the right tracks. After that, I had my soundtrack, licenses and all.
Stage 19: soundtrack (voice acting)
Most student films don’t have dialogue, and for good reason. I generally recommend avoiding dialogue. production-wise, it is time consuming. But some films feel kind of forced without dialogue, which is what I felt with my film. Unfortunately I had no experience doing this, so what I thought would take two weeks ended up taking about 5 weeks. This proved problematic later on in production when I had to compensate for the lost time. Anyway, back to recording the voices — after the first session of recording I thought I had everything I needed, unfortunately when I got back home and edited it all together, I found the recorded voices added 3 minutes to the film! This hurt the pace of the film and I decided to record everything again. This time with one actor.
Here is the original animatic, before the second recording session:
A VERSION OF THE ANIMATIC WILL BE UPLOADED ONCE THE FILM IS RELEASED VIA CARTOON BREW’S STUDENT FESTIVAL
If you do choose to add dialogue to your film, here are some tips before recording with voice actors:
- Record a self made “guide” and add it to the animatic. This will help you get a feel for the text and how you want it to be read. It will also prove useful when working with the actors in terms of timing and pace.
- Do not record the final voices yourself. Unless you are a professional actor. Voice acting takes years of experience.
- Don’t block your actor’s creativity. Let them do a couple free runs and see what they come up with, they may surprose you.
- Try to be as accurate as possible when directing the actors. I recommend going over the script beforehand writing down the emotions you think are most apropriate for each piece of dialogue.
- Don’t be shy! If you are not happy with the results — ask for a revision.
Stage 20: killing your babies
So you have your animatic, congratulations!
…but something isn’t working. It maybe too long, or maybe it isn’t funny enough, maybe (god forbid) people don’t really understand the story yet, there a billion different problems… take your pick.
The solution? It’s time too take the surgeons knife.
Do you really need that super “cool” scene in the middle of the film? Do you really need that long exposition? Is that joke really THAT funny? Chances are you have some extra “fat” to trim from your movie. So go over it and start trimming. Don’t be afraid to kill your “babies”. And if you can’t see any part that needs trimming, screen your animatic to some classmates/friends/family… i’m sure they will provide insight. And if they aren’t very verbal, just observe them as they watch: when do they seem to lose interest? Interveiw them: what did they understand? What did they miss? These are all clues to better your film.
Here are some deleted scenes from my film (in no particular order):
Your film will never be perfect.
Know when to move on.
Do better next time.
Before diving into production, I wanted to talk about about managing the production process. In short, now is the time to be very organized.
I used google docs and dropbox for my production and it worked great.
The next few paragraphs may be very boring, but they are essential to finishing on time while maintaining consistent production value.
Notice I used the word consistent. We often hear the term “high production value”, meaning a high quality looking film. But let’s face it we aren’t PIXAR, we lack the talent and the resources.
Students and independent film-makers aim high with their films, but forget that consistency is key. What good is that super-cool spaceship explosion scene if the rest of your movie looks like crap? Not only does it look bad, it also hurts your viewer’s overall experience, taking him/her out of the film whenever quality drops or rises.
I have found the best way to maintain consistent production value is via a very organized un-sexy googley spreadsheet, here’s mine:
Here’s what I did. After adding the shot number and a brief description I wrote out all the stages of production:
- Lip sync
- Posing / Keys
- Background Animation
- Various color stages performed by the talented Yoav De-Shalit.
Not only are these stages essential, they are also in order of IMPORTANCE. This is extremely important, because if you do all the effects at the begining of production, you may find yourself without time to animate, or without all the backgrounds… and that’s bad. Another stage I like to leave for the end is color, that way if you run short on time you will at least have a black and white version, and not a half color half pencil test version.
Organizing the stages in order of importance basically ensures you have a film in your hands from stage 5. So if you are on a tight schedule, you will be able to stop at any time, and turn in something incomplete yet whole.
I know lots of students and aspiring film makers like the more romantic approach, of working on shots that excite you first, but trust me: you are in for a world of pain if you go that route.
Now you may notice I also had a column called “difficulty”, this is the most important column of them all. I gave each scene a “difficulty level”:
Easy, Medium, Hard and EXTREME!
In general, I would recommend creating difficulty levels for the backgrounds, animation and effects (if you have any).
This method will help you maintain consistency. While working on something, there is a learning curve we slowly improve from the experience we gain. The more we do the better we get. When applied to animation, you gain experience while animating the easy scenes, and by the time you reach the hard scenes you are already a pro, thus maintaining a consistency level throughout the entire film.
What happens if you don’t do it this way? Well you will probably begin from the first shot, and work your way throughout the entire film, creating a gradually improving film that starts out looking like shit and ends up looking good. Or even worse, if you just randomly pick shots, you film will sometimes look good, sometimes bad and sometimes horrible, often forcing you to redo hard shots you attempted at the beginning of production, only to have failed and leaving you in an overal frustrated state.
Consistency is key. Use difficulty levels, it works.
Stage 01: Lip Sync
So you’ve finished pre-production, and you are itching to get your hands on that one amazing scene and start animating. Well…. hold your horses!
Before advancing to the “fun” stages, let’s wait a while and use that energy and excitement to further other stages, which are usually a bit tedious.
If your film has dialogue, lip sync might be a good place to start.
Every animator has his own style, but from what I've seen many of them like to start off with lip sync and then move on to animation. I guess there’s just something weird about seeing an emotionless character moving across the screen. Maybe it’s because the first thing we look at is the face, and when the face has no expression it makes it hard to judge if the rest of the body mechanics are working in sync.
There is a lot to be said on lip sync, it’s not just a series of 5 different mouths you alternate and adjust according to text. There are different factors to keep in mind when creating lip sync: emotions, volume and character traits define the size and shape of the mouth at any different moment, and don’t forget that you also need to decide where the mouth is placed (if your character’s mouth on the side, maybe he’s trying to say something without people noticing…).
Another thing to keep in mind is to keep it simple. You don’t need a shape for every letter of the alphabet. The good old vowels and a couple of consonants usually do the trick just fine (A, E, I, O, U, R, S). If you try to hit every single sound, you’re just going to end up with “lip sync diarrhea”… that’s a nice mental image, isn't it?
Another thing to try and maintain is interesting mouth shapes, usually consisting of both straights and curves.
So here’s a method I use to shorten the process and get the technical stuff out of the way, so I can focus on the stuff I said above. I use toon boom’s auto lip sync thingy, it’s not 100% accurate, but it gives me a ballpark idea of when the mouth opens closes and the basic shapes. Keep in mind that if your dialogue is in a foreign language, it might be less accurate,that said: it worked fine for me and my hebrew dialogues.
Here’s a nice tutorial I used to get the hang of things:
So in the end, I created a minature head on the top right corner of my screen and put the lip sync there. That way, when animating I always new what the shape of the mouth was supposed to look like at any given frame, which allowed me to focus on the body mechanics. You can also add in blinks if you want. Here are some examples:
And here is the scene from the phone call, notice the change in emotion:
Stage 02: backgrounds
Congratulations! You are entering production!
After finalizing your animatic you are probably tired. It has been nerve wrecking, full of self doubt, you’ve killed many babies… So before diving deep into production, I think this is a good time for a change of pace.
Let’s start drawing backgrounds.
I am no background expert, so I don’t have too many words of wisdom.
I recommend reading Dream Worlds and The Noble Approach.
My process was as follows:
Here’s a nice method I learned during figure drawing class, which I used for this specific frame, and generally helps with composition.
Take a classical piece of art, and start breaking it apart, until you reach the raw composition. I’m sure there are many uses for this sort of study…
one thing is for sure, you will get some pretty interesting ideas.
Here are some final backgrounds:
Stage 03: background characters
Production is well on it’s way, but I prefer to ease into the process. That’s why I decided to continue creating “assets” for my film. Backgrounds are ready, so let’s create background characters! They play an important role in the film, they will help you sell your world and make it feel inhabited.
Plus, if you leave this for the end of production, you probably won’t have time to do it. Another advantage is afterwards, when animating, you don’t need to start desgining characters, you just pick a couple from your “bank” and add them into scenes.
Here is my “bank” of background characters:
Some of these are from memory, and some of them are from reference, but in general they help give the feeling that the world is alive and there are more things happening around the characters.
We’ll talk more about using background characters later on.
Stage 04: video reference
Video reference is a touchy subject with animators. From my experience, there are people who love it and people who are against it, saying it is a form of “cheating”.
In my opinion, video reference for animation is not cheating!
Yes, some people abuse it and just copy it frame by frame, but that’s not cheating either, it’s just stupid. But what about the “old days”, you ask?
Video reference is supposed to help you analyze and understand motion. In the “old days” people used to act out scenes for each other, or look at themselves in the mirror. Video reference is for the exact same purpose, only it takes advantage of “new” technology (video). I also remember one of the 9 old men saying that if they had the oppurtunity they would have used the new technology we have today.
Use video reference often, but use it wisely.
Don’t scrub through your video, copying every 4th frame, that won’t get you anywhere. Look at the video, find the extreme poses, understand the mechanics of the movement and then create your own interpretation based on your conclusions.
If you copy the reference frame for frame you will get very boring results. Animation is not real life, it doesn’t move like real life, not even presumably “realistic” disney movies like Tangled or Frozen.
And if you still feel video reference is “cheating”, then animating on the computer is also “cheating”! Stop using TVpaint/toonboom/flash and go animate on paper Mr. smartypants! And throw away your Wacom too!
Here is some reference I created for the film, with the final result as well:
And here’s an extra embarrasing one:
I love how my dog remains asleep on the couch, unaffected by my screaming and overall craziness. That is the sign of a true animator.
Stage 05: Posing / Keys / Blocking
Yes! It is finally time! We can’t delay it any longer!
Hold on there! Before you dive into straight ahead animation on one’s, you need to take a step back. Many eager animators will just start working on a scene, romanticizing the process…but we have a SPREADSHEET!
And the spreadsheet says we are supposed be doing “posing”, or as you may call it “keys”. As Richard W. says, these are your storytelling poses.
These are the poses that best tell the story of the scene you are working on.
Just like in Richard W. example here: one drawing of a man walkink, another drawing of him picking up chalk and lastly, the man drawing on the chalkboard.
Draw only the bare minimum.
Keep in mind that later on, you may have to re-position these frames, as the animation’s timing may change slightly, so don’t worry.
Don’t forget to start rough! Like we said before, start rough and gradually refine. Here is the posing progression for one of my shots:
In some cases, you may prefer to have a bit more poses, like in this case where the movement was a bit more complicated:
And sometimes, you just get carried away :-)
I prefer to do cleanup right away, after I feel the rough is final.
Stage 06: pushing your poses
Before moving on to breakdown, I want you to ask yourself: is this pose REALLY providing all the storytelling information necessary?
Or in other words, are you pushing your poses as far as you can?
You may be drawing a sad pose, and in your head you may actually be in a sad melancholy mood, but this might not be coming through your poses.
Draw a pose, now look at it, is it really REALLY really reading clearly?
Lets have a look at some of my pose progressions:
Now let’s compare the poses from the animatic to the film. Notice the tweaks I made in order to ensure the emotion is reading clearly.
Now how about the silhouette? How is that reading?
If you paint the entire pose in black, will people understand what’s going on? Most likely no, and that’s fine. In the drawing below I thought everything was fine, but after testing the sillhouette I noticed that the head is barely visible. Also there was a tangent with the elbow and the knee.
First off, gotta give credit to Alex Woo’s Gesture class. I took it while working on the film and it really opened my mind. When I reached the posing stage of my film — i really felt how much it helped.
What’s my thought process? I start off with the scene and ask myself :
- What is the story the pose is supposed to tell
- Which emotions are involved?
With these answers in mind I move on and then try to make the line of action, silhouette and overall shape portray the story and emotion as accurately as possible. Don’t be afraid to exaggerate and push the pose as far as possible. This is animation, it’s OK if your poses aren't always anatomically correct.
And again, I really recommend the Alex Woo’s Gesture class at Schoolism:
I took the self taught class, but I’m sure the critiqued one is infinitely better. And if you do sign up for it, enter this promo code:
I think it gives you a discount and ME some redeemable money points.
Stage 07: Breakdown
So now we have the entire film in key poses, which is great. The next step is breakdown, again by level of difficulty. Trust me.
Breakdown is not arbitrarily drawing another frame between frames. Breakdown is that specific frame which will show how the character moves from pose to pose. After breakdown you should have a true feel of motion.
Breakdown will decide the pace, and personality of the actions. If you add a breakdown which is physically close to the next frame, you are creating a big gap from the previous frame, this gap means the character moves quickly to the next pose.
Lets see how the previous shots progressed:
And again, with the last one, I took it too far, pretty much inbetweened.
Stage 08: Inbetween and Polish
These are to separate stages, however in my case I was running behind schedule so I had to cut something from production. As I said earlier I focused mainly on story, and it took up quite alot of time, so I knew I was going to have to let something go.
I ended up hiring the talented Yoav De-Shalit for paint, and also decided not to finish the animation. Although most of the scenes had inbetweens and eases, it did not have the polish I originally intended. I’m sure you noticed the animation is a bit choppy, well that was the price I was willing to pay. I believe I made the right decision, but this is subjective.
Anyway, here are my thoughts on inbetweening:
Inbetweening is not just filling in the missing drawings. A bad inbetweener can change a dynamic and well paced animation to a very linear one. So always keep in mind where the motion is going.
As for Polish, I guess it means adding the fine fine details to your animation. The delicate eases, moving holds, facial twerks and what not. If you are a student or an independant film-maker, chances are you won’t have time to polish your entire film, but you can pick key moments in each shot and add it there. Just don’t work to hard on one shot, you don’t want to hurt the films consistency.
Here are the final versions of the animation we have been following, not as polished or inbetweened as I would have wanted, but that’s life!
Oh, by the way, here’s a sequence I studied when trying to understand how to animate a character with more than two arms. I know my results aren't pixar-worthy, but I believe studying from the best always helps.
Stage 09: Exaggeration
Animation gives us the chance to “cheat” the natural way of movement in order to achieve the “illusion of life”. I used two “cheats” in my film, smearing and multiplying, which I feel added alot of “flavor” to my film.
However you shouldn't use these techniques on every opportunity. Think about the context, the situation and what it requires. An emotional scene may not need a smear during a head turn, even though it is possible. And multiplication may sometimes give a comical effect to an otherwise subtle scene. So, like in all the other decisions you make, think about the context and ask yourself what the story needs.
Because i’m a big fan of extreme squashing, stretching and multiplying arms/eyes etc I tried to limit myself. So for the film I decided to use this “effect” only when the main character goes a bit crazy / delusional… which is what the story needs. Otherwise it gets a bit too cartoony.
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