I’ve been planning the animatic for the film these last few days. I had done a VERY rough animatic using drawings from my storyboard already, which was finished off months ago. But when talking with Marcus Elliott, DOP extraordinaire, he had some questions for me that I couldn’t answer yet. Questions like: how do we transition the set between certain scenes as set elements come on or offstage; what’s the distance some of these set pieces will need to travel; will the follow spotlight on the main character need to dim at any point; how much of the set do we see in certain scenes; etc. My animatic and storyboards didn’t have enough info, and it’s quite hard for me to visualize some of these specifics until I really think it through and plan.
So, I’m planning all the details of timing, action, and characterization — all important things to do before a shoot. I’ve also learned, though, that in general, it’s a good thing to be open to new things while in the process of creating. The film would be awfully boring to work on if there were no new things to think about — if the animatic answered ALL creative questions down to the last blink. Yawn.
The first step for me is taking pictures of the set. These will provide the basis for a rough edit, as I move from scene to scene, using Erín‘s MP3 read of her poem as a scratch track to determine timing, and some past QAT recordings to use as placeholder mood-music. Then I’ll be shooting some live action of the people, to superimpose over these plates. Now, this is probably something that many stop motion animators don’t like doing… I feel like it’s similar to rotoscoping live action, which is a “cheat” that a lot of 2D animators I know would disapprove of. But for this it seems essential. I have a certain type of character in mind, and I’d like to get inside the head of that character, and find out how they would act within the situations of the film. I happen to know a 7-year-old little girl who would be a perfect Sabela, so we’ll set up a small shoot with her, acting out the character’s movements, scene by scene. Her sister, mom, and dad will play the family of the film, so very little acting is involved.
I’d like to think through possible angles for my background plates, without locking it down too firmly, so I know how to direct the action for the animatic. Then I’ll piece it all together, overlaying the live action footage into the photo plates of the animatic. I’ll have a guide to each character’s personalities and movements, and hopefully save a little room for some spontaneity as new ideas may arise.
The thing is, I think new ideas are more likely to spark if there’s a comfortable foundation to what’s happening in the day to day work of the film. I had a pleasant surprise, for example, while working on the dining room set — which I had previously planned pretty precisely (oooh, alliteration!), right down to the details of colour palette, style of furniture, and overall design layout. Somewhere towards finishing the dining room elements, I decided that the whole scene needed a lit-from-below gridded platform, which I then quickly built. In the end, I think the new platform makes the room. (I should take pictures of it, I’m really happy with how it turned out.) I followed my plans, then my instincts, and ran with a new idea.
So it was being open enough to trust that new direction that allowed me to even go there, and it was the solid foundation I had in the planning that gave me the comfort level to arrive at a slightly new direction. As in all things, I’m finding that there needs to be a balance between two opposing approaches, and that when spontaneity and structure work together harmoniously, the creative process can be a wondrous thing.
On a mildly related note, Keri Smith talks about a new movement of creative non-doing and the wisdom of farming philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka on her blog, The Wish Jar.
From the link about Masanobu Fukuoka, in his words:
To become one with nature — agriculture is an occupation in which a farmer adapts himself to nature. To do that, you have to gaze at a rice plant and listen to the words from the plant. If you understand what the rice says, you just adjust your heart to that of the rice plants and raise them. In reality, we do not have to raise them. They will grow. We just serve nature. A piece of advice I need to give you here. When I say gaze at a rice plant or stare at its true form, it does not mean to make an observation or to contemplate the rice plant, which makes it an object different from yourself. It is very difficult to explain in words. In a sense, it is important that you become the rice plant. Just as you, as the subject of gazing, have to disappear. If you do not understand what you should do or what I am talking about, you should be absorbed in taking care of the rice without looking aside. If you could work wholeheartedly without yourself, that is enough. Giving up your ego is the shortest way to unification with nature.
True, too, about making little cabbages out of rice paper… Here’s where all the plans have to melt away into an open mind.