This was the first animation test for this project. I stood in the mirror and poked and prodded at myself, describing my body into the microphone.
It wasn’t a particularly comfortable experience, but it wasn’t that bad either - if anything, listening to it, it feels a bit forced. This is something I’ve come up with several times when just talking to myself into the audio recorder - it feels quite unnatural doing it, like I’m putting on a voice or I’m acting somehow. Some of the content is really interesting, and sometimes quite hard to listen back to, but it doesn’t make for good storytelling. I’m hoping that maybe being in conversation with other people will help that along.
After a lot of thought and a long development process, I’ve decided to put a pin in the “Patient” project. It wasn’t really making me happy chipping away at it, and whilst it was a good excuse to learn Moho, I couldn’t really pull it together as a project - something just wasn’t right about it. Maybe there’s a time and a place for a project, and this still isn’t it.
However, sometimes the end of something inadvertently causes the beginning of something else. Thinking about that project, and getting into a funk about it, actually got me thinking about other stuff that makes me unhappy, which led me to the start of a new project.
I’ve always had issues with the shape of my body - body image issues, I suppose. At Pictoplasma a couple of months ago I saw one of Anna Ginsburg’s recent works What is Beauty and it got me thinking about the big push for body positivity in the last couple of years. But it also got me thinking about my own lack of positivity about my body, and wondering where that comes from.
Long story short, I’m embarking on a new project, working title MAN SHAPES. I don’t yet know whether it’s a documentary, a fiction or even a flipping podcast at this stage. What I do know is that I want to try and understand what it is that would make me happy about my body.
That’s carefully worded. What I don’t want is a big conversation about how the media teaches us what beauty is, diet culture is bad etc. What I’m interested in is a much more personal look at male body image - what is it about my experiences that have made me so self conscious about it? Where does that come from for me, and do other people feel that way too?
It’s early days yet, and I’m quite busy at the moment, but I’m excited, genuinely excited about this project.
Haven’t have much of a chance to work on Patient since Picto, but yesterday I took the opportunity to learn a little more about MOHO and ways of speeding up workflow. Speaking to Will Anderson about it while we were in Berlin, he was taking a lot about how he uses “actions” - pre-set bits of animation he’s made so he only needs to make them once, and then insert them into the timeline. What this means is that he can focus on the secondary animation and tweaking the presets so they fit a specific situation - but doesn’t have to spend time repeatedly making the same basic animation over and over again.
I like the idea of speeding up storytelling (when you get to that stage) by having pre-made a bunch of assets. There’s something about that that connects to the “minimal animation necessary” kind of thought that Flebus and a lot of UPA shorts were made with. With that in mind, I made a bunch of actions for my grandad rig, that means that I don’t have to keep re-animating eye direction unless it’s necessary.
I also did the same for the mouth shapes. These are a bit trickier, as the character’s designed in a way that means for his mouth to open it intersects his whole body. I’m sure there are easier ways of doing it, but the way I’ve done it sort of makes sense for the time being. Also, I set myself the restriction of not accurately lip syncing - it’s not about every individual phoneme, just some key ones.
Change of character
Following Picto, where I sat down and thought about the character of the Grandad a lot more. I played around with making bigger feet like my original drawings, but it was a lot more effort for minimal payoff, which isn’t in the spirit of what I want to capture - a slow film that’s quick to animate. I made the hands bigger, which I’m sure will come back to bite me as I made them smaller for a reason I can’t remember…!
What I realised over the last couple of days is that doing the technical, figuring out how things work, rigging, animating actions, is all really satisfying, and actually takes my mind off the “filmmaking” side of things, but helps me understand what I want from the character a lot more. I find myself going “no, because his hands wouldn’t move like that because he’s nervous” - aspects of the character design and animation that reflect the character.
Being at Pictoplasma and seeing how much amazing stuff there is and how hard people are working sort of out the fear into me a little bit. I definitely need to up my game, and hopefully it’ll light a bit of a fire under me to actually start taking this film a bit more seriously. Not that it needs to be serious - that’s something else I’ve been thinking about.
Quick and dirty
Listening to some of the talks also reminded me about the benefits of working very quick a rough in the early stages - kind of feeling your way through a thing until it feels right. Doing that by diving straight into Moho has bee really advantageous for learning some of the basics of the program, but it means I’ve skipped a bit of a stage, and it’s a stage I kept getting tripped up by the first time around - really understanding the characters, and what the film is ACTUALLY about. Because it doesn’t feel like it’s just about the grandad in hospital any more - it’s how a family comes with this situation. It’s about getting old, and it’s about family.
Anyway I went back to the place I’m staying, picked up the fattest, dirtiest carbon stick I had and just started roughing some stuff out real quick, and I think even in the first five minutes it’s helping me get more in touch with the character, and the feel of the piece.
The other inspiring thing from a lot of the speakers, particularly the folks from MINIT and Laurie Rowan was the importance of restrictions. There are some restrictions I put in naturally, but it’s probably worth formalising them and writing them down - making kind of a manifesto for the film. I need to figure out what that is, but I think once I have the rules a bit tighter - which I think will come from drawing more, understanding what I’m trying to say more - I’ll get what I had with some elements of Herman - tighter rules f rocking more creativity.
Today, having spent ages thinking about starting the film, I officially animated something. I’m animating quick and dirty, like with Herman Brown, so I can make things really quickly and let the animation develop as I go. I like working instinctively, but within a rough structure. I’m going to keep going along this vein and see what happens.
One thing that’s different to Herman is that I’m animating the characters in one program and compositing in another, meaning I don’t have background elements in. I haven’t figured out how that’s going to work yet - but then, I haven’t decided how it’s going to look yet.
i’m not entirely sure the “attack” - which looks more like a heart attack than a stroke, but a stroke is difficult to animate as it’s kind of just someone falling over. I think at the moment it's not really long enough; the timing’s off or something. Something to be working on, anyway.
I was playing around, learning Moho, and started mocking up some more digital concept art that suited my basic understanding of Moho’s rigging/puppeting tools. I really like these, and they animate well, but they lack the kind of style that I associate - rightly or wrongly - with my grandad. I went back and found some older tests and, if I can make these work with Moho, are much closer to how I see the film.
In the spirit of starting the blog, I've decided to keep a production diary of the progress on my new film, Patient. It’s mainly to keep me honest, and to keep me focussed.
This is a project I wrote the initial draft for while I was at the Royal College of Art, about an old man dealing with being stuck in hospital. It was based on real like, on the hospital experience I was having regularly visiting my abuelo in hospital after his diabetes-related stroke. Originally, it was actually almost exclusively one shot, entirely focussed on feeling like visiting hours at the hospital - things changed when you weren’t there, and you were never sure what state you were going to find him in when you arrived. I didn’t make the film at the time as it felt a little too close to home, living it and trying to deal with it and making a film about it at the same time just wasn’t working for me.
After my abuelo died, the story (in real life) had an ending. Time passed, and with a bit of distance it’s the right time for me to revisit the project.
I’m also using this film as an excuse to step away from using After Effects, and learn Moho. It’s new, and a bit of a challenge, but I can see it being an interesting way of animating this and compositing it afterwards. I’m hoping I can make it work for a pared-back, UPA-style animation, mainly because the designs don’t involve splitting the head and body like the did for Herman Brown.