Chasing Thoughts — Making of the short movie “Chasing Sparks”

Trailer “for Chasing Sparks”

I started the first days of 2019 working on a comic book. I already had found a structure, define some chapters, and was sketching pages when I saw an opportunity to participe on an short movie competition.

In 2018 I won a small award with my short for the We Are the North festival here in Portugal where I live. After winning that award I didnt produce any other “longer” content, only making some loops for the Loopdeloop ( screenings, that showed some of my loops in some places around the world. But the wish to make more shorts never went away.. so when I found about this new competition it gave a deadline to work (and I really need one or I could easily spend 2 years on the same scene) and made me put that comic book idea on a shelve and start animating.

My small animation for the We Are the North contest

“Chasing Sparks” was born inside of an airplane to Prague as I went there to attend the Mouvo Festival, a great event for motion designers and animators. I had a quote from Carl Jung stuck in my head: “People don’t have ideas. Ideas have people”, it was an observation on the power and danger of ideology, and I though that would be a good subject for the movie, and also mix that with creative process in general could result on a interesing concept.

The first idea was to have this character follow creativity as a tangible thing, in the shape of a flying particle. Im not a big fan of too much expressionist animation so I was thinking to make the character with less facial expression possible, to contrabalance that I though he could have a dog (made with basic geometric shapes) that would be more expressionist and show the emotions in his place.

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Early drawing for the main characters

I didnt know at the time how the story would go and how could end, and since the movie is not release yet at the time that Im writing this text I dont want to comment much on that.. I can only say that the secound part is a more abstract one, showing how an idea can transform the ambient around, and at the end inspiration taken from somebody else (an author, a filmmaker, a musician…) can only take you to a place, to keep going further you need your own original idea, and that was exactly what I was experiencing as I was making the movie: my influences could only give me half of what I needed, the rest it had to come from my own mind.

Other people can help that too, I was making the movie I was telling about the concept and a lot of friends gave me their opinions and that made me rethink some parts of the short, thats why at the end I printed a zine with some of the early sketches and storyboards and gave to those that helped me with some of their creativity as a gift. I even receive a direct message from a musician offering me to make the soundtrack, that offer didnt go forward for logistical reasons but nonetheless he saw an early version of the animation and gave me a great feedback.

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Print with storyboard and sketches for the collaborators

I was animating and editing at the same time, that was good to have a better notion of time and what scenes I had to make. Since I was working with a deadline, and a short one, I choose to focus on the first and the last part of the movie first, because those where the one with more narrative impact, and leave the middle one, the more loose and abstract, to the time that I have left.

When I started editing I had the idea to experiment with transitions between the scenes, instead of using “boring” fades and cuts. “Citizen Kane” is one of my favorites movies and the transitions that Orson Welles made in that film always inspired me (spoiler: the end of “Chasing Sparks” uses a transition directly stoled from that movie), so I made some “pop-up” transitions, where one scene leaked out of frame to the other one. But I knew that for more cool that the effect was I couldn't overuse it… so I opted for a more traditional montage on the parts that a linear narrative was more important.

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Storyboard from a sequence with elements between panels

The short was suppose to be in 2D but there was one element that I wanted to make in 3D: the “creative particle”. Since the story is about chasing an idea, and ideas are complex, they have more than one side, so it made sense conceptually that the “creative particle” should be in 3D. It was hard to find a way to visually represent an idea, first I tried some spheres but in the end a polygon made more sense. There is also a meta meaning: in After Effects we work with keyframes to animate, and the symbol of a keyframe is… a polygon.

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First test for the 3D particle with animation

While I was making the movie I was also struggling to find a title, the original one was “Chasing Thoughts” but it didnt ring right to me… after that came “Creative Process” but was too much on the nose, as was “Chasing Ideas”. It was while I was doing some research about the subject that the word spark came, and I liked right away because there was a direct visual aspect to it, like an image of a bright lamp. And so became “Chasing Sparks”.

The whole process was basically 1 month and a half. It was very hard at some parts, but nothing that made me give up.. it was at the same time very fun and rewarding. It was cool to see people getting interested when I talked about the concept. I also decide to not eat pizza during the making (for a non-related issue), and Pizza is one of my favorite dishes and a good companion to long nights animating, so that made the whole thing a bit more harder I guess… but I did it, I finish the whole thing on time to send to the competition and even have time to made a trailer and a poster.

The movie is now on the hands of a friend of mine that will make a better mixing on the audio, but my work is done. I felt terrible empty when I finished because it was something that took me a lot of time and energy and all of the sudden was gone.. but some minutes later I was already having ideas to make something else.

Im not sure if Im going back to that comic book… actually that idea already grew legs and became something completely different, I guess ideas really do have a live of their own.

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