May 27, 2013

Making a short

Happy summers! I've been meaning to write up this post, mostly (like most things I post) to remember something. Also as a sort of thanks to every blog, twitter, tumblr, forum, podcast I've ever gotten knowledge out of. Not totally sure if this is the right way to make a short, but this is how I made it and I've kind of started to forget how I got to the end so here's how I remember things happening...for the most part:

In Junior Seminar we had to come up with a story we would use for our senior film. I always had this father-son story ruminating in my head- nothing specific though. I knew I wanted it to be in the same vein as Bicycle Thieves, Shoeshine, Los Olvidados, The Crowd, maybe with a bit of Coen brothers humor.

Studied a lot of italian neo-realist films like Rome, Open City

This story I had was very mundane and just invovled a fishing trip and as a story point I wanted the son to have choose between his dad and his friends. Familiar vs. exotic was a theme I wanted to explore and to a degree poor vs. rich and to a degree how the relationships between father/son/society affects the decisions we make.

Basically, lots of ideas to tackle and no focus, but I knew I wanted these two characters and explore that relationship. I felt like this fishing trip would be boring to the audience so I decided to dress it up as a pirate story.

Drew tons of ships

Filled empty spaces with pirate-y ship stuff

More ship things

My story was going to have live cannons at one point

We then had to do "headlines" of our story, three boards (ideally beginning-middle-end) to show off the entire story. I still wasn't quite sure what my final story was going to be

I wrote down my story beats I knew I wanted in the film


started boarding possible ideas in tiny thumbnails; possibly while in line at the grocery

I added more beats

Started to flesh things out a bit more to pitch to the class

having some story beats down I began to think about my location

thinking about what type of boat would best suit my story

Summer came and I focused my attention more towards developing my draftsmanship and cinematic vocabulary. Watched at least two films a day w/film studies, started boardadays, and drew in my sketchbook whenever possible.

First day of class we had to pitch our stories and quickly realized my epic swash-buckling adventure was a bit ludicrous. Much more than that though, it had no heart- no real human relationship. It was more of an account of events you'd read in the newspaper never identifying with the characters.

Things had to simplify and the character relationship (father/son) had to come up from all the ship battle I had written up.

The high seas relocated to a restaurant, band of pirates became a rival

Lamp repair became a metaphor for the son and fathers relationship

Still have cannons in this version!

Confused about where to go with my story I just started writing. Anything that came to mind I wrote down. I'd go back and back again to "once up on a time, and everyday, but one day...etc". Had to simplify as much as I could- what was really important? Why was I telling this story?

writing and drawing

still wanted to have pirates in the story

must have cannons!

researched simpler boats

writing overall beats of the new story

Very quickly we had to start thinking what our characters would look like. This would help very much help in the boarding process

possible character sketches

Thought I'd clay it up to help me explore characters

I'd later go on to maquette the dad since I wasn't feeling the 2d designs too much

son explorations

son semi-finals

dad explorations

mom explorations

So my father/son story became more domestic starting out at home, I added a mom as a plot point, and the former band of pirates that became a rival, now became a fish/fisherman combo as our 2nd plot point. Having a story somewhat down and our characters mostly figured out- it was boarding time

Boarded a couple of boards with text explaining its story purpose

Boarded some more beats- this was the scene approaching the restaurant

My 1st act was still having problems since the motivations to go to this restaurant weren't really supporting the story of the dad. At this point my story was heading to what it would become in late December, but a lot of it still felt like plot- I wasn't communicating what was happenning clearly. 

Fisherman as extension of dad and device to help plot point 2

I had the son riding the fish in an alternate story

As I was boarding I realized I need to come up with some kind of layout for this place

After many critiques with the senior project class and teacher, many revisions, tons of writing on sketchbooks, envelopes, bookmarks, napkins, etc. I finally boiled it down to a story that albeit vastly different from my initial concept, brought the father/son relationship to view. Only the beginning of the end as the story would change.

Although I liked showing that family dynamic with the mom in the beginning and ending at the house, everytime I showed it for critique it was always critiqued. After playing it through, although these scenes could have worked, it was probably part of a larger and longer story. I never thought I was going to animate this so length of the movie didn't really bother me.

I did feel though those "book-ends" were kind of dragging and I think it's because it was indeed just plot. The focus was more on the mom and mom/son-mom/dad-parents/couple relationship- lots of dyanmics that although don't require much explaining since they're "universal" was eating up time and attention on the relationship that needed to be in the spotlight: father/son.

So I took out the beginning and the end and tried to arrange things. As an awesome visual storytelling teacher of mine would say: "COME IN LATE, GET OUT EARLY!!"

I would then go on to make story tweaks to this version, I even went back to my original version with the mom and tried to make it work so that it was more cohesive. I then took out the mom and tried to hang on to the home scenes at least. I then tried another complete different 2nd act and tweaked that- basically I boarded about eight different full versions of this story not counting the multiple revisions and story tweaks which many I actually never even pitched because they were ridiculous.

New set to help stage the action of the new story

Finally I came to what I would go on to keep tweaking at the start of my 2nd semester of senior project.  

I really thought I was done and I kind of was, but as I animated things and saw things play I realized that although my story was fine (all the beats were there, made sense, short) the camera wasn't helping in telling the story- if anything it was hurting it.

Changed the 1st act

Switched fisherman to birdman

I tweaked other scenes and went through many other boards but I finally settled on what I thought was definitely working and now it was time to transfer all these boards over to flash

With lines and keys set in flash it was time to animate. I never really thought about what "style" I would animate this and really didn't have time to think too much about it so I went with a workflow I was familiar with.

Started animating keys in line

applying paint

one of many new scenes added for clarity (geography) while animating

Laying out a scene

Animation in process

Building the scene

Shot of final looking animation

After much trial and error, figuring out workflow for myself, exploring timing, realizing the efficieny in cycles and just trying to figure out this animation thing by just doing and redoing- recalling mantras and buzzwords from various animation books and teachers, hoping something would click I came to somewhat of a happy conceit for what I would be showing at the animation show.

Poster for the short

Final Film

Although the story changed a lot from what it was, the father son story was the most important thing and in the end it's what I felt the audience was able to identify with. That paternal relationship whether they could relate to it or not was a feeling and emotion I wanted to recount.

Character moments, though sparse due to lack of facial expressions and just how incomplete the film was, always elicited great responses.

The film still needs work but the only thing I would add are facial expressions, some clean-up and maybe some eases and other small animation what-nots here and there. 

If anyone else is reading this- hope it was of some help.


Lily Williams said...

Oh my gosh! I love love love reading all about it and getting to see the stages. Thank you for sharing! Such an amazing final film. The human experience is so tangible in the film, it its you hard. Beautiful Mike! As always.

Michael Barquero said...

Thanks Lily! - eagerly await your senior film.

Aparajita said...

a great read. thanks for taking the time to share your process!

Michael Barquero said...

No probs! Hope it helps