Friday, September 30, 2011


I've just returned from my 11th Woodstock Film Festival – What a great event! I was up there for three big events. One, the NY premiere of Alexia Anastasio's wonderful documentary about me called “Adventures in Plymptoons”. Two, Signe Baumane and I curated the annual animation show – this time it was a dark and disturbing show, but audiences seemed to dig it.

And finally I did a book signing of my very popular Rizzoli book, “Independently Animated, Bill Plympton” at the Golden Notebook bookstore in downtown Woodstock.

But of course the biggest event was the awards ceremony where Signe and I were joined by Chris Wedge of Blue Sky Studios. They very generously donated prize money for the animation prize. It's the first year we've been able to offer money for animation and the winner was Juan Pablo Zaramella for his wonderful film, “Luminaris”. Everyone loved the movie.

I want to thank Meira and Laurent and the whole team of workers and volunteers in Woodstock, and especially the fantastic audiences who seem to love animation. We hope to return to Woodstock next year with another great show.

Check out the photos!

Man with Dog

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Snooty Nose

Your annual reminder about the raw power of Glen Keane..

I really wish this last one had the audio.. it's my favorite keane pencil test of all time. "but she is being so DIFFICULT!"

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Facebook Sketchbooks..

I've posted another Public Facebook Sketchbook, Sketchbook 5. You can also view Sketchbook 4, Sketchbook 3, Sketchbook 2, and yes, you guessed it, Sketchbook 1.  I've always believed facebook to be a great place to store and share sketches, and encourage others to do the same. Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Scar Pencil Tests, Andreas Deja..

I will always love pencil tests, I'll even go so far as to say I enjoy the texture and raw acting better than the final product. Pencil tests embody the spirit of the animator, as well as the character that is being portrayed. My next film "Pull" is being entirely done in Pencil Test (albeit, very fine scanned and well compositited, nothing "test" about it). Enjoy these from the man.. Andreas.

Andreas Deja: Scar from Lion King/ Part 1 from Jamaal Bradley on Vimeo.

Andreas Deja: Scar from Lion King/ Part 2 from Jamaal Bradley on Vimeo.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Sequence from Public Domain 1988..

Saiz, Barbee, Sanderson, Thomas.. i watched this til my eyes bled when I was 16. Enjoy.

Idiots and Angels in New Jersey!

For those of you poor wretched people living in caves who missed my theatrical screening of the classic “Idiots and Angels”, I have great news – you get a second chance! Tuesday, Sept. 27th at 8pm, I'll be presenting that highly reviewed feature at the State Theater in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

I'll also be signing copies of my new Rizzoli artbook, “Independently Animated, Bill Plympton”. If you buy a copy, I'll draw a caricature of you in the book! Plus, everyone who comes gets a free sketch from me. Plus-plus, I'm being introduced by the great “Mutts” creator Patrick McDonnell. Wow, can you get better than that? See you all there!

Face Studies at Dusties

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Solid Drawings from Alessandro Barbucci ..

I'm a sucker for this type of comic book drawing.. very slick and commercial, but very appealing. Enjoy. also check out his site. later.

Faces on Train

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cop and Victim

Epic Sketchbook: More Don Low from Singapore..

I've featured Don before, he's a true to the bone sketchbook artist! I love his photos that include the subject he has drawn. There's just so many things I admire about this type of sketching. I also really love when he incorporates written observations or descriptions with his drawings. Walt Stanchfield states in his wonderful book "Drawn to Life" that your sketchbook should replace your camera, and I think Don is a good example of precisely this happening. Enjoy.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Philadelphia Animation Festival kicks off this Thursday..

A great young festival is emerging in Philly, the Philadelphia Film Animation Festival (September 29-October 2) is putting it's hat in the ring, focusing on "undiscovered" animators, meeting them in person, and encouraging attendees to get involved with their next project.

Orange Ô Desespoir – John Banana, France

The opening of the festival is heavily focused on international short showcases of both film and animation. Official Selections are determined by an independent panel of over 35 community screeners, not based on personal or political connections. Interesting showcase, PAF is showing the world premiere of over 50 "21-Day Filmmaking Competition" shorts, a collection of short films and animations created over three weeks last August.

Gilded Age Gladiator - Brad Lambert & Rob Benica, USA

Project Twenty1 is hosting the event.. the company that started the fest with the 21-Day Filmmaking Competition in mind. "My goal was to get my animator friends 'back on the wagon' after graduation," says Stephanie Yuhas, Project Twenty1 co-founder and Philadelphia University of the Arts Animation alumni. "The most talented people I know were working at coffee shops and pet stores. My friends that worked for major studios in New York and LA were too tired to even consider creating shorts in their spare time and too frustrated to try the traditional festival route. just wanted to give them a reason to make art again."
Desperate Crossing - MinSeok Jeon, USA

You can purchase tickets and passes here. You can also support this non-profit movement by making a tax-deductible contribution on Razoo or getting involved as a volunteer or partner.  Hope to see you there!

Screaming Man

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Animation 101: Constructing a Story for a Short Film, Part 4: Resolutions and Endings..

This is the fourth part of constructing a story for a short film. Part 1 introduction. Part 2 The Image. Part 3 Conflict. Part 4 is Resolutions and Endings.

Every short film should have a good ending. I can't overstate the importance of a satisfying ending. In a lot of ways it's the ending that is remembered. You can have the greatest technique or characters, subtle actions, conflict and build up.. but if the ending isn't complete, it's all a waste. But let's back up a bit, and talk about "Resolution." A resolution is quite different than an ending, I would say that a "Resolution" is simply the first step to achieving a quality "Ending."

The conflict we established and built up requires some sort of "Resolution." Something needs to happen that ends the conflict. This resolution can introduce a new conflict, can neutralize or satisfy the original conflict, or can introduce an element that makes the original conflict insignificant. All fine ways to resolve what you have built up. In the most simple form, what you must do is solve the conflict in a witty, interesting, creative, emotional, and unexpected way.  Let's return to our relaxed cyclist. He's continuing to ride, oblivious to the mass of smelly stinky impatience directly behind him. This massive body of cars, trucks and buses have developed into a ineffable body that fills the frame behind the peaceful cyclist, who is a speck comparatively (contrast!). Now enter the first part of the resolution, we go very wide and they start to cross a bridge (symbol).. immediately it begins to shake, it can't hold the weight. It looks as if the entire group, cyclist included, is going to crumble into a twisted heap into the ravine.. but it only happens the exact moment that the cyclist reaches the other side. CRASH.. now.. dead silence. peace. contrast to the previous shot... Resolution. The cyclist quietly continues his ride. (this is the resolution, not the ending)

In Michael Dudok De Wit's epic film "Father and Daughter" the conflict with the daughter is her missing her father, who disappeared in a boat when she was young. The film takes us through her entire life, shows her growing up without him, but always having this connection, and keeping it in context of a bicyle (symbol).. always looking if he will return from the lake. The build up happens through her getting older, continuing her life up through marriage, children, and old age, but she will never give up hope. This distinct struggle demands a resolution, and the film would not have been so effective if it had ended with her simply always waiting.  Finally, so much time has passed that the lake has dried up, and she is an elderly woman. Despite her age and frailty, she journeys out into the lake which is now a grassy field. She finds the sunken remains of her fathers boat. She curls up into it, and dies. (this is the resolution, not the ending)

At this point it's important to note a key element to story: What does the character want? If you crafted your "Image" and developed your "Conflict", it shouldn't be such a hard question to answer. If you can't answer this question, an alarm should go off, you are most likely dealing with too much complexity and lack of the glorious simplicity of an idea.

There are many ways to reach a "Resolution" in your story. One method is to give the character what they want, but not how they thought they would get it, or not what they expected it would look like. Perhaps they don't even know they get it! Our loyal cyclist has no idea that the bridge collapse took care of his conflict.. because the conflict itself existed outside of the character (see how easily all this stuff can be twisted?). But there's no question what the cyclist wants.. he wants to continue his wonderful relaxing ride, he wants to remain in his happy state. The bridge collapsing made this possible, unbeknownst to the protagonist.

In my film "Handshake" the resolution, after a hallucinatory build up, is that the male character gets literally ingested by the female character.. and then there is that wonderful silence. It's that contrast that typically follows a resolution, this contrast will lead us boldly to a satisfying ending.  In "Father and Daughter" the old woman curls up and falls asleep (dies) and we cut to a extreme wide shot.. everything has changed. There is a contrast we can taste. It almost feels like an ending. A good resolution will do that, it fakes you out a bit, it gives you an pre-ending, so to speak.  The old woman awakes, but the world looks different.. she gets up and as she gracefully walks, she morphs into a little girl, she runs, runs faster.. directly into the arms of her father who is standing there waiting for her.  Thank you Michael for creating such a wonderful masterpiece.

"Father and Daughter" Michael Dudok De Wit.

Let us continue on the "Ending", the final bookend that contains your main idea in a nice package. Endings are synonymous with satisfaction. Your final ending may be very dramatic, or a simple gag, of course depending on your Image, conflict, and resolution. A satisfying ending doesn't have to be character related at all. There's a great technique employed by more non-narrative films, at the end of the film, they simply back up an show the grand picture, an all encompassing shot that either shows the technique that drove the film, or the entire world in which the film took place.  At the end of George Griffin's "View Master" he simply backs up to reveal all the cycles of walks and runs we have been watching are on a wheel, similar to the wheel used on the old toy "View Master", hence the title. It was a very satisfying ending to a film whose conflict very well may have been "what exactly are we watching?"
George Griffin's "View Master"
I've outlined several different ways to end your film in my past Animation 101 post: 5 ways to end your story, and I don't need to re-hash them. Especially since there are a multitude of ways to wrap up your story if you keep in mind how the Conflict is solved by  your Resolution and how that relates to your Ending, and you remain experimental and creative at problem solving. Often times shorts will use an "Exclamation Point" at the end of the film, just to give it a bit of a leap going into the credits. Again, let's go to our Cyclist. The threat is gone, he's continuing to ride joyfully, but after all that conflict we hear a tiny little ringing, we reveal a precious little girl riding a little pink bike with streamers (contrast to the man). The man is startled, almost falling.. he rides to a stop and allows the little girl to pass, he smiles as he looks around. We're satisfied. An ending can be a simple gag that accentuates and contrasts the Resolution. The audience instantly agrees that a little girl on a little bike is more powerful than all the machinery that an urban commute could throw at us.

Your short film is a gift the the world, it's for everybody and should communicate clearly what you wish to say or illustrate. Don't expect the audience to speak a language they (or you) don't know, but at the same time, know that the audience is smarter than you think, and most likely smarter than you the director. Animation has the distinct quality of being non-intimidating and completely approachable medium, use that to your advantage. You have their attention! Don't abuse that. The medium you chose to work with has limitations that you need to take advantage of, concentrate on what you can do, not what your medium can't or isn't very good at doing. Good filmmakers make use of Subtlety, pretentious filmmakers use Mystery and complexity, and call it Subtlety. 

In this series we broke constructing a short film story into four chunks, The Image, The Conflict, The Resolution, and the Ending. And I need to remind everyone reading this that this is only a framework in which to experiment. Twist and pull this, change it around, sew a head on where an arm should be. But most importantly, communicate and create. Ultimately, this is what we were all put here to do! Good luck, this was fun!

Woodstock Film Festival!

Only a few more days till I make my big appearance at the fantastic Woodstock Film Festival! You can meet me at several events, one is the Animation Shorts screening, “Dark, Deep, and Funny” where I'll be joined by the incorrigible Signe Baumane. There are two screenings of this show:

Saturday, Sept. 24th – 2:00 pm - Bearsville Theater 291 – Tinker St, Woodstock, NY
Sunday, Sept. 25th – 4:15 pm - Upstate Films II RHINEBECK – 6415 Montgomery St, Rhinebeck, NY

We're also having the New York premiere of Alexia Anastasio's intimate documentary about me called “Adventures in Plymptoons”, both myself and Alexia will be there to answer questions.

Friday, Sept. 23rd – 4:00 pm - Upstate Films II RHINEBECK – 6415 Montgomery St, Rhinebeck, NY
Saturday, Sept. 24th – 11:45 am - Bearsville Theater 291 – Tinker St, Woodstock, NY

Then after we'll all be going over to the Golden Notebook bookshop to do a signing of my new book from Rizzoli Press, “Independently Animated Bill Plympton”. For everyone who buys a copy, I'll do a caricature of them in the book! Such a deal!

Saturday, Sept. 24th – 3:00 pm – The Golden Notebook – 29 Tinker St., Woodstock NY

The Golden Notebook will also be selling “Independently Animated” at the Bearsville Theater screening of Adventures in Plymptoons, don't miss your chance to pick up a copy!
So please come by any or all of my special events and I'll give you a free sketch on one of my cards. See you there!

Happy Man

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Animation 101: Constructing a Story for a Short Film, Part 3: The Conflict!

Conflict hangs out in the same playground as Contrast, and it is possibly the single key element that creates a story. Without conflict, there is no story, only character and design (which can work just fine by the way, story can become a big pain.. but I'm not going to start on that).  Characters Create Contrast. Contrast Creates Conflict. Conflict also includes something very dear to animators, which is Motion! Take your "Image" that you carefully crafted, and simply put it into motion. There you will discover your conflict. It will be a lot easier if your original image has contrast built in, but if it doesn't, no worries.  One of my students, Maryellen Atkins, created an image of a ship inside a bottle. The moment she put this image into action we had a story. The ship is trying to escape.. it slowly moves back, then strikes the glass as the entire bottle moves forward. The ship wants freedom. The conflict is clear, it's trying break free so it can sail away in glory.

Maryellen Atkin's "Ship in a bottle"
I like to look at my image and ask myself what the opposite of that image would be, and illustrate that right next to it.  One of my students, David Huang, has been observing how people ride bicycles. One of his more interesting observations was a very relaxed rider. Let's use this as an example of finding the "Conflict" within his "Image"... there he is, riding peacefully along, riding with such a relaxed attitude that his feet aren't even on the peddles.. they are thrown up on the handlebars and he's in a full reclining position with his hands behind his head. Nothing can disturb this man. Not even.. BANG an impatient, dirty, noisy, massive public transit bus, filled with horrible impatient screaming people. It follows directly behind him, practically on top of him. Contrast of scale, mood, color, emotion, gracefulness, weight, cleanliness.. gentlemen, we have "Conflict."

At this point it's vital to stay true to your character. Contrast does not equal Contradiction! Another student I know created a character that was very poor and desperate, yet there he was sipping sake and smoking cigarettes! That is a contradiction. Better to support your character's personality with props and circumstance, rather than going against it. This will ultimately serve the conflict as you make each personality very clear. This same poor and desperate character will look even more poor and desperate when confronted with a wealthy, well fed antagonist.  Allow every element to feed into your conflict. If your character is starving, exaggerate his thinness, have him eating his belt, study how hungry people move, how they talk and walk. Illustrate the extreme opposite of this, and study that. Study how fat people move and talk, how they eat. Study Study Study. There is a world out there to observe and digest.

Conflict needs to build. Years ago, my screenwriting teacher called it "Upping the Stakes". I like to simply call it "build up" in preparation for a release. This is the volcano that is about to erupt. This is the bridge that is about to collapse. Push it farther, build up to an extreme, and hold it as long as you can.  Then, bring back some contrast. You're building, building, building... and then break to a quiet subtle action.. then back to building building.  animator PES used this trick when he animated commercials for Coinstar. PES typically gives all his objects a directive, a mission. He then builds on this showing a larger world of multiple objects all striving toward a similar goal, boldly moving and breaking through barriers. But then he will cut to a more quiet, individual moment, a character struggling to do what all the others are doing without effort. This character is the "Gimp" and brings contrast and emotion to the build up sequence. This break from a build up is a wonderful way to inject a bit of contrast at the very moment where everything is at it's most tense. PES did this again in his short film "Game Over" where we are led on a tour of classic video games, acted out by household objects. When we cut to a new game, there is a quiet mood (for example the deep two note melody of "Space Invaders") and each game sequence builds up until it's time to cut to the next game. PES brilliantly ended this short with pac man disappearing into a simple "Game Over".. (more on endings and resolution on next post).
PES's "Gimp" character for Coinstar
In a short film Conflict can often times be simple continuation and building up of circumstances, gathering up into a crescendo and a leading to a breaking point.  Your image of a single character walking.. he's joined by another, they pick up the pace, they are joined by another, and another, and more.. until hundreds of people are sprinting in practically one entity. The conflict here is the action itself, it's race against itself, and it's unsustainable pace. Everything must stop at some point.

Characters fighting to pull each other free from "Handshake"
 In my film "handshake" the conflict is clear, the two people are stuck together, and wish to pull themselves apart. I build this up, or heighten it, by illustrating that the harder they struggle the more entangled they become, this struggle then builds and builds. But Conflict doesn't always have to be so obvious, it can be subtle or even mechanical, or it can be the build up itself like I mentioned. Conflict is something that can be reinvented in new ways, and here is where your creativity and experimentation will pay off. There's a more intense personal conflict happening in Hisko Hulsing's "Seventeen." We see a teenager coming of age, and his conflict is the outside world of monstrous maturity. This world is represented by several factors, including prostitutes and thuggish co-workers. The main character is also struggling with himself, and the desire (or inevitable decline) to actually become part of this world.

Conflict can come in so many ways. Conflict is everywhere. It's in the picture frame that won't stay up, it's in the drunk man trying to focus his eyes, it's in the dented aluminum can standing next to a brand new un-dented version. Conflict is your "Image" put into motion, given a struggle, some type of circumstance that brings it away from the norm. What we've done here is establish this normal state, and then change it, giving it a challenge, a story. This conflict inevitably ends with the "resolution." And that is up next.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Martha's Vineyard International Film Festival

Once again I visited the Martha's Vineyard International Film Festival – I believe it's my sixth year – the festival is a production of the wonderfully ebullient Richard Paradise.

I got to meet Aaron Shock, the director of a fascinating documentary called “Circo” about a small time Mexican traveling circus.

The Annual “Animation Spectacular” was Vaccese, a big hit this year. Hosted by me and the very talented Joy, we had a packed house and turned away numerous fans. The big hits were “Bottle” by Kirsten Lepore, “The Mouse that Soared” by Kyle Bell, “Book Girl and Cabinet Girl” by Jane Wu, and “The Incredible Flying Books of Morris Lessmore” by the great William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg. Everywhere that I've seen this last film play it wows the audiences. People run up and say they absolutely have to have a copy of the film. I'm glad I don't have a short for the academy awards this year because the books film is going to clean up!

This year was the best year for me at the Martha's Vineyard festival, great sun, great food, great swimming, great films, great people and great audiences. If you have a film for next year, definitely enter it into next years Martha's Vineyard International Film Festival.

Animation 101: Constructing a Story for a Short Film, Part 2: The Image

Every idea comes from a single image, no need to worry about a story at this point, that comes later. This image is what the story is built around. It's the very first brick, but is not necessarily the foundation, matter of fact the first image can become a rather minor part of the final picture. What's important here is to start somewhere, and start with something that sparks interest and establishes emotion. More often than not, for animators in particular, this image is a hybrid of several observations recorded in your sketchbook and then fused with a personal emotional flare. For example, the way different people drive, the way certain woman walk or eat. Perhaps the relationship between a triangle and a circle (I can see right away that the triangle is upset that it can't roll around freely like the circle). Or, it can simply be two clouds with distinctly different shapes (perhaps one very large, and one very small). One of my Thesis students last year, Kai-sen Chan, came into class on the first day with a sketch of a cactus hugging a flower. Perfect! On that he built his film "Plant Story."
Kai-sen Chan's "Plant Story"
The image that a film is built around typically expresses some type of cleverness, intrigue, conflict(more on that soon) or irony. For my film "Puppet" the image that I based the story from was a quick sketch of a kid wearing a hand puppet, but the hand puppet had a very mean expression, as if he was about to do harm to it's creator. This image creates interest and is deviously ironic, and the panic that is building within the kid can be felt. In Konstantin Bronzit's masterpiece "Au Bout Du Monde", the image was most likely a single house teetering precariously on the sharp point of a mountain. The image evokes thought, as we have certain preconceived notions of what a house symbolizes (solidity, safety, home), and the idea that it is balancing on a graphic summit begs for further information. It's interesting to point out here that the "Image" doesn't necessarily have to be character based, it can be environmental.

Konstantin Bronzit's  "Au Bout Du Monde"
Very often a strong image that becomes an impetus for a film is something that doesn't sit right with the viewer, or contradicts the viewers typical definition of what they are looking at. Or, more on a basic level, makes us laugh. Peter Ahern's very first image for his thesis film "Down to the Bone", was a kid who is inside out. He built the film around this very funny image.

Peter Ahern's "Down to the Bone"
Even within non-narrative films, an image is created in the beginning. In Ishu Patel's film "Bead Game", he created a row of small beads, mimicking his sketches of the snow drifts in the arctic. This image captured what he wanted to communicate, which was the way particles move together to create broad smooth lines that reflect the beauty of the natural world. In George Griffin's "View-master" the image was a bunch of people walking and running. This image led him to intense study of the animated looped cycle, and that in turn steered his technique that dominated the overall message of his film.
From George Griffin's "ViewMaster"
In Koji Yamamura's film "Mt. Head", the image of a small plant or tree growing out of the character's bald head intently creates intrigue. When we see this image we ask ourselves why this is happening, as well as feeling the roots of the tree burrowing into the bald skin of the character. It's bizarre, and creates an emotional interest in the character.

Koji Yamamura's film "Mt. Head"
Furthermore, an effective image typically illustrates a strong contrast in several ways. Contrast, is of course, a very important element in practically every part of film making, and we will discuss it more later. For now, let's just say that we should all be searching for contrasts, and attempting to put it in every place we can cram it into. Use that imagination of yours to find wonderful contrasts everywhere.  A very large but graceful man, riding a very small and delicate bicycle could very well be more thought provoking that an average sized man riding an average size bike. Contrast equals interest. If we see a goofy clown, and an anvil falls on his head, we may chuckle a bit.. but take a slick business man and drop an anvil on his head, and it's an uproar. You see, we expect something crazy to happen to a clown, but a man in a business suit creates better contrast with that particular action. Vice versa, if a clown sat down at a business meeting and started talking serious business.. we would laugh.

One time I was talking to Bill Plympton about his creative process behind his most beloved film "Your Face". He told me that he was sitting on the subway in New York, and across from him was a man with a very small, very scrunched up face. So scrunched up that it looked like it was going to just keep getting sucked into his head, and then reappear on the outside, only to get sucked into the middle of his head again. And we literally see, very early in his film, this image true to form.  It's a theme that I love about his work. He divulges in his observations about people, pushing them further than mere representation.
Bill Plympton's "Your Face"
Another effective method of achieving this "Image" is through the use of audio. When I was creating my idea for "Masks" I had an audio track to inspire me. I simply played this bizarre track, and images would appear into my brain. The first image I drew was a group of masked men singing to each other, being watched my little people a fraction of their size, the men looked like they were in a trance, resonating the trance-like score created by Karl von Kries. Music can do this, it evokes imagery, and becomes a very visual medium when you listen to it in a certain manner. I'm sure Nick Park couldn't resist seeing animals in cages when he first heard the interviews of people talking about their lives in nursing homes. From that audio the visuals came. The essence of this formula can be exemplified in Walt Disney's masterpiece "Fantasia." The artists created the imagery solely based on the direction and feel of selected classical scores, and remained beholden to those musical scores. Audio in this way works as a device to give  the artist a frame in which to work, limiting where he/she can stray outside of that frame (for example, the Disney artists could not, in any way, change the music), and limitations can often be your friend and closest ally. "The enemy of art is absence of limitations" stated Victor Hugo.

At this point it's a good idea to ask yourself what the "Normal state" of your image is. Get to know your image so you can answer any questions about it possible. These facts won't be in your film, but knowing them will affect how you make it move, react, struggle, etc. The "normal state" of Nick Parks animals in a zoo, are just that.. animals in a zoo. The "Image" creates interest because there is a microphone in front of these animals. But it's important to know the state of these creatures prior to the recordings. In feature film making they call this "Establishing the norm" and you really can't move on into your inciting incident without doing so. Since we're concerned with making a short here, this process needs to be condensed a bit. As I mentioned in the introduction, the use of symbols is a great way to establish this norm, or instantly give the viewer a bit of back story on character. As just a quick example, a circle is instantly recognizable as an approachable, friendly entity. Where as a prickly star shape has more of an edge to it. The audience will subconsciously pick up on the long spines and lack of soft appeal, and you can take advantage of that preconception. Often times, in a short, the very first shot will establish this norm.  In Michael Dudok De Wit's film "Father and Daughter" the very first shot establishes the deep bond between father and daughter, illustrated by showing them riding bicycles together, the bicycle itself becomes a symbol of their connection and is used throughout the film, all the way to the end.
First scene of "Father and Daughter" by Michael Dudok De Wit. This image immediately establishes the deep bond between father and daughter.

So, go create that all important "Image", allow it to guide you on your journey to creating your story. Let this image work for you, and your story will grow rapidly in your mind. Allow the relationships and contrasts to ask questions about the characters and situations, allow it to establish the normal state, and suggest intrigue into what may be happening. Pay close attention to what the emotional state of your image is. If you don't know what the emotional state is, all you have to do is ask yourself what the character or object in your image is feeling. We all have these images within us, for various reasons. Who knows why we, as artists, feel the need to express these things and put those images out there. It's just what we do I suppose.  Animators are sometimes intimidated by starting a short film. This is typically due to fact that they are inundated with complex solutions to their ideas. We often look at problems and our first action is to add garbage to it, make it complex. This is not how story works. The short story is simple, wonderfully simple. This simplicity is summed up in your very first "Image." Stay tuned, next up is Part 2 of "Conflict!"

Monday, September 19, 2011

Animation 101: Constructing a Story for a Short Film, Part 1: Introduction..

The Short Film is a very different beast from it's more long winded counterpart. A short doesn't have the time to tell intricate details about characters, back stories, or environments. We have our audience for a very brief, very precious period of time, and we can't waste any of it. A short film is like living in a tiny New York City apartment, you own very little, and what you do own has it's place. Within this apartment there's very little room to indulge in anything that isn't vital, and often you are forced to get rid of a lot of stuff, in exchange for clarity and a de-cluttered living space. The art on your wall has to be chosen carefully, because, well, it's your only wall. The filmmaker must be brief with his/her short and stick to the idea and not stray, yet cannot rush anything or cram info in at all. Often times shorts use symbols more readily than features, symbols have preconceptions attached to them already, thus one more thing the filmmaker doesn't have to worry about, or spend precious time divulging. It can be a challenge to express a clear idea in a matter of minutes, but it can also be a very clear and concise vehicle of communication.  There are several types of "Stories" you can employ in your short, some don't concern story at all. In Nick Parks short "Creature Comforts" we see a collection of interviews from elderly care homes translated to animals living in a zoo. The interviews themselves are so interesting and filled with character that the story becomes a simple exercise in recording, hence the film begins with the levels of a recording device, that's all the information we need to get going.

It can be suggested that where a feature tells a story, a short expresses an idea. This idea is packaged in a complete manner, and wraps up in a satisfying way. People that know me know that I'm not a big advocate of story in general, or at least I don't share the obsession of overstating it's importance, I believe it is purely one of the key elements to making a short, but shares this importance with character, design/aesthetic, overall appeal, technique, as well as execution of that technique. Many of the cliche chunks of advice filmmakers hear all the time are even more important with a short. "Show don't tell", "Get in late, get out early", "The medium is the message", etc.. all even more important when we only have a handful of minutes to express our idea. The medium is truly the message, so choose your medium well. The content will likely dictate your medium, for example, JJ Villards epic piece "Son of Satan", features the gritty poem by Charles Bukowski. JJ employs a raw, gritty, and awkward line art as if out of his sketchbook. The style and medium matches the equally raw words of the voice over.

When I first started making shorts, over 15 years ago, I was hesitant and worried about my skills as a story teller, animator, and lots of other things, so I kept things simple, brief, and based on the idea. I didn't realize it back then, but I was on the right track from the start. Humility can help you in many ways! understanding your limitations and working inside those limitations is key. There's a world of creativity that lives and breathes inside your limitations, in other words, there's limitless ideas within your limitations of skill.

I knew I couldn't' draw that well, but I also knew I had a knack for weird abstract action, like morphing, and twisting. My first film was called "Drink", based on the simple premise that we have many personalities in us all. To express this I illustrated different people crawling and stretching out of each others mouths.

We see incredible short films all the time, but rarely do we slow down and ask ourselves "Why" they work. What mechanics behind your favorite shorts contribute to their success? I love asking the question "Why!" There is so much to learn and benefit from others victories. There are so many ways to do things, and of course you don't have to follow the techniques I've outlined below. These are methods I've found useful, as well as many of my colleagues. I've written this more for the struggling idea maker, the person having trouble getting started or wrapping it up. These are not rules, they are suggestions, and suggestions are designed to be twisted, torn apart, chewed up, and spit out. So with that attitude, let's begin. In the following days I will post a 4 part series on Constructing a story for a Short Film. Most material is drawn from my personal notes while teaching the graduate thesis program at Tisch-Asia.

Fun with Shadows

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Facial Studies

Some interesting Public Art from TrustCorp...

I'm new to TrustCorp, and I'm totally appreciating the guerilla style and approach of replacing mag covers.. in particular the very pop context.. epic. Enjoy.