March 11sec Part 1/4 – Thinking+Planning


So this is Part 1 of my planned 4 part-er on my recent submission to the 11 second club.

The final version can be seen here:

11sec_March_wJacobGardner

My March Submission


As I briefly explained before, these posts on my process are not meant to be a ‘how to’, but rather an explanation of my workflow on this particular piece in hopes that some people will be able to learn something from it – whether it’s because I did something horribly wrong or because I may have done something right. Either way, there’s probably something valuable that anyone could take away from hearing another’s process. Forgive me, I know its a lot of text. Next time there will be more to look at. Promise.

So lets get started:

On March 1st, the audio clip for the March competition was posted on the 11secondclub site. Since they take down their previous posts once that month’s competition is over, I have provided my own link to the audio here:

March_competition_audio.wav
(you might have to right-click and ‘save link as’ if it won’t play streaming)

I downloaded it from the site and put it on loop for about an hour (which probably annoyed the hell out of my girlfriend, Christen). All I was doing was thinking. Sometimes I had my eyes closed envisioning different scenarios, different staging on the same scenarios, and sometimes I couldn’t tell you what I was thinking about, I was probably just spacing out.

Mostly, I was trying to really pay attention to the pauses in the dialogue, the breaths,and also the inflection of the voice. He clearly sounded very stressed, practically on the verge of tears during the first half, rather sensitive and frankly, kind of prissy and uptight. I wanted to do something unique, and something that could potentially stand out from the rest of the rest of the submissions. I just wanted to be proud of my work and know it was original and unique. Christen said something along the lines of, “everyone will probably do a stuck-up englishman, what if you had rock-n-roll guy decked out in full KISS makeup, hair, and outfit – it would be funny to see someone dressed like that crying” And there you have it – the birth of the idea.

To be honest, I was still fairly skeptical, and was on the fence about even going forward with creating a piece for submission. I had a character, but no story, and no context. Upon voting for the march competition I was impressed with several entries that simply had a guy sitting there and talking, without any sort of context, but with an incredible amount of emotion and excellent execution. They really pulled it off nicely. However, it’s something I’m not sure I would know how to do. I just feel like without a story I wouldn’t be attached enough to the project to really give it my all and bring it to life.. or know who my character is. For those that pulled it off wonderfully, I have respect for you, and I wish I had that talent!

But I was still trying to come up with that story and context. Sometime the next day, March 2, I came up with the idea of a reality show confessional…(Some sort of American_Idol/Real_World/everything else hybrid). See, most of the time on those shows they will show you the dramatic event, then start a voice-over of a person involved in the event, and then cut to a ‘confessional’ where the person is talking to the camera (or producer behind the camera) about what happened and how they feel about it. And usually they describe what happened after you just saw it take place. How perfect! He exactly describes what has happened to him, and then gives his response to it.

I now had my character and my rough idea, but I just needed to come up with my staging, cuts, and overall presentation. So I picked up a pen and a sketchbook and tried to figure this stuff out. Here are my sketches from March 2:

11sec_March_Thumbnails

(I drew the closeup confessional one first, and in the middle of the page – hence the circled numbers describing the real order of the shots)

This was my method of working out what shots I needed/wanted. As you can see, not much changed between these ideas and the final product. It didn’t just come naturally, I had to really think hard and work all sorts of stuff out, but unfortunately its was all in my head and I don’t have anything to show you but these storyboards. Not very helpful, I know, so I’ll do my best to explain why I made the choices I did.



Why these shots?

Shot 1.) If he’s a contestant on some sort of American_Idol spin-off (American Rock God?) he’s going to be up on stage playing a song he wrote for the director’s approval (or judges or whatever, humor me). So it’s gotta start on a wide-shot showing most of the stage (both for an establishing shot and because it felt natural to show him with the entire stage in view while he’s auditioning to make him seem meek and less important). Once he starts playing the director would be disgusted with the music and start walking up on stage telling him to stop playing that filth! Once he enters the frame, the cameraman becomes alerted to his presence and zooms in on him to catch the action unfold.

Shot 2.) Having the director rip up the music from the wide shot wouldn’t be very effective, or dramatic. Plus, if I was going to do a wicked fast zoom at the tail end of the first shot, a cut right afterwards would keep the pacing up and the action flowing. So I cut to another moving camera, thats tracking with him as he finishes his walk to the music stand. I want him to grab the paper disgusted, and hold it at arms length like a dirty diaper. He rips it very dramatically and storms off. Here is where we need to see the Main Character’s reaction. In the flavor of most reality shows, I kept the hand-held feel and knew i wanted a kind of ‘whip-pan’ over to catch the immediate reaction of the man whose music was just violently torn by his superior. In order to contrast all these quick camera moves, quick pacing, and dramatic events, I wanted the character’s reaction to be practically ‘deer in headlights’ and motionless. Distressed, distraught, incredulous, and stunned. But motionless. This would help build a nice contrast amongst the fast pacing and really emphasize that moment.

Shot 3.) Usually during reality shows they will start a voice-over of the character we’re watching, and then cut to the ‘confessional’ for the finishing of their speech to the audience. So I knew I wanted an overlap in the dialogue, and then a cut to such a confessional. I didn’t want to use any sort of ‘back room’ or any sort of solitary room because I feared there would be an extreme disconnect across the cut. You would suddenly be confused and wonder when/where/why this shot is happening. So I thought that having the confessional backstage (or just off to the side of the stage) would solve that problem. It might feel like he was immediately asked for comment after he left the stage (to keep a solid timeline) and the familiar setting would serve to hold the piece together and keep the audience from wondering where he was.

A thought on staging: For the first two shots I consciously tried to keep the director on the left and the rocker on the right, and not to move the camera beyond the 180 line (never cut to a view from the back of the stage near the curtains outward toward the characters). Keeping the geography of the scene consistent will help to not confuse the audience. So why is the rocker on the left side of the screen in the last shot? A couple of reasons. First and foremost – I actually wanted to intentionally break the eye-fix across the cut (where your eye is looking. So the rocker is screen right facing left, and then after the cut hes screen left facing right). Usually this is something you do NOT want to do, but here’s my reasoning: I didn’t want the shots to feel like they were in succession. I didn’t want the cut to feel like it was another view on a continuing action – like the first cut is from shot 1 to shot 2. This way it might feel like they are two separate events:

  • A) the ripping of the paper *shots 1 and 2*
  • B) the backstage confessional *shot 3*




Character?
Next I started further defining my character. Maybe this is something I should have thought about more before I did the stuff mentioned above, but I didn’t.
Anyway, I looked up images of KISS, and realized all their makup was pretty wild. Crazier than I had in my head, anyway.

KissMakeup

Two of the guys have pointy/flame-like graphics around their eyes. I wanted something simpler to get an easier read on the character. And I remembered that I liked the way the masks in The Incredibles worked – serving as a very harsh outline of the brows to increase their readability.

IncrediblesMask

So I mocked up a sketch combining those two elements – the outlining of the brows, and the pointed star-quality of the real KISS makeup. Not only that, but the only pointy parts I have are angled downward, adding to the general look of sadness.

I also wanted the KISS hair, but not realistic hair by any means (what a pain in CG!). I remembered that KISS was on Family_Guy at least once, so I googled images of that to see if the show had a decent characterization of their wild, untamed hair.

FamilyGuy_Kiss

Not too shabby, just lots of black pointy things coming off of a big black mass. I made a quick sketch of the eye makeup and hair I was going for:

11secMarch_FaceConcept

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Alright, so that concludes Part 1/4. The next chapter will focus on Pre-Production. If anyone wants any clarification or elaboration on any of this stuff (or to tell me where I went wrong), feel free to shot me an email! I’d love to hear it!

6 Comments

  1. Hey Jacob!
    This is awesome. This detailed description of your thought process is GOLD for a newbie like me. Thanx alot. I’ve saved everything on this page and will re-read it again and again to get it all!

    Also, I’ve linked this page in a post in my blog
    http://rdsarna.blogspot.com/
    I hope its ok? If its not,,,I’ll remove it.

    Thanx again
    Ratul

    PS. Waiting for the next part!

  2. Hey Ratul

    Thank you! I’m honored to be linked on your blog 😀
    I checked out some of the walk cycles you’ve posted. Pretty great stuff there – keep up the good work!

    I’m incredibly happy that you were able to gather something from all the rambling I did on here. Hopefully something useful

    I’ll get to work writing the upcoming parts!

    Jacob

  3. Hey Jacob,

    After I heard you entered in the 11sec club competition, I went looking through the entries to find yours. Unfortunately, I was unable to find it, so I’m glad you’ve posted a version here. Unfortunately, I am blocked while I am here at work from viewing quicktimes, so I will have to check it out when I get home. Great explanation, by the way, of your process. My question is, is this a typical process for even your production scenes? I know it must change with each shot, but is it generally what you do when getting an assignment to work on?

  4. Hey James!
    It’s great to hear from you, what are you up to these days???
    I was lucky enough to get 3rd place in the competition, so if you were skimmimg through them you must have just passed right by it near the top of the page.

    Good question.
    Things at work are generally a little different, at least at this stage (the thinking and planning). The concept of the scene, the character designs, the camera angles, and the timing of the cuts are all pretty much already figured out. There is a cosntant search for improvements on every single one of those topics, and they are changing all the time. Some supervising animators have a bit of influence on these things (or least have the option of voicing their opinions – even if they’re shot down). I do not.
    However, the general staging ideas might be presented to you (i.e. character is on screen left) but you usually have complete freedom to push the staging and silhouettes (i.e the character’s specific pose, attitude, how far screen left they should be). Is this making any sense or am I making it more confusing than it needs to be?
    Of course, once you show it to directors, things can always change.

    I work primarily in separate scenes that involve just one character. I make that guy do whatever he needs to do to fit in as background character for the shots in the film, and then I copy the animation onto several body types, and they place all those guys in the background of the shots. So I have even more freedom than most. I choose how much time I need to do whatever action I need him to do and everything like that. Then they will use certain sections of the animation on each of the guys in the background to avoid it looking repetative.

    The most important thing for any animator to focus on is context. You are describing a moment in a character’s life. To understand what they’re feeling, and what they’re going through, you need to understand the context of the situation. What happened immediately before this part you’re animating? What will happen immediately after? These things can really alter how you play a scene. You also have to keep the bigger picture in mind! What was the character like when the story started and whats going to happen at the end? All these things are important to knowing what your character is giong through. At least this is the stuff I think about.

  5. Awesome input Jakey!

    Thanks for sharing this with us mate.
    I particularly found the ending bit very useful. I copied it straight into my technical notebook.

    Sorry it took me so long to read through all this, things were pretty hectic here.

    Keep rocking man!

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