Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Animating to a script- Alienated!

My new project, a six week group task, requires us to animate to a script penned by the second year students. There were three scripts to choose from, as well as three others from a previous year, and so initially we read each of them and discussed their merits and potential.

Several were similar to one another, focusing on fast-paced shots and many settings, but one in particular stood out to us: the tentatively titled 'Script 3'. Great name! This script focused more heavily on character performance and acting as opposed to action. We all agreed that this slower pace would allow us to create a far more believable animation by focusing on a single central character. The basic storyline is as follows:

'The protagonist, a paranoid man, is ever alert due to mysterious noises he can hear through the wall of his living room. Just what is his neighbour doing? The man has made many notes on his neighbour's activities, showing just how much of a threat he foresees. Eventually though, after listening intently to more strange noises, the man musters the courage to step outside and peer through next door's window. To his surprise, inside is a man, a dark reflection of his own condition, albeit exhibiting far worse symptoms- the neighbour is worried even more about what the protagonist is doing in his house. struck with the realisation of what he will become if he does not change his ways, the protagonist returns home and throws away his notes.'

We broke that script down into its individual elements, taking note of the descriptions and details in the script to design our characters and begin to plan the animation. From this, we developed a range of considerations relating to character and set design, aesthetics and the tone of the piece.

First of all, we established the main theme- the psychological disorder of paranoia. Paranoia is an irrational thought process usually motivated by fear or anxiety. Typically, the sufferer perceives a threat to his or her own well being. It has been said that one in three people in the UK regularly suffers with some form of paranoid fears.

It was whilst researching this condition that I discovered an interesting piece of information: 'People may develop paranoia at any age, but young people tend to have the most spectacular delusions, for example, that aliens are controlling (their) thoughts’.

Now, this is essentially an animation based on a psychological illness, which does carry quite a dark tone. Always up for adding humour to our work however, we decided to use our creative skills to adapt the script to play directly off the aforementioned 'alien mind control' belief. This would enable us to add a lighter sci-fi feel, and provide ample opportunity for pop-culture genre references (for those wondering, we were inspired by seeing the movie 'Paul' at the cinema, which was excellent!).

Our adapted story follows the protagonist as a man terrified that aliens are controlling his mind. Worried as to what is making the unnatural noises he can hear from next door, he peers inside his neighbour's home and is shocked to see an alien. He hides to gather his thoughts, before looking inside once more- to find that the 'alien' is nothing more than a stack of household objects. Realising his overactive imagination has been playing tricks on him, he finally removes the ridiculous tin foil hat from atop his head, resolving to give up his silly obsession for good.

After drawing up a set of specifications for our characters and sets, we assigned each group member a task- mine was to design the lead character- a paranoid man in his twenties, with an unkempt appearance (messy hair, tired eyes, stubble/beard), pale complexion and a gaunt structure. As always when designing a character, I produced a range of different concepts to work towards a final design. 

After deciding upon a final facial design, I proceeded to design the character in full. The script requires the protagonist to play a guitar at one point, hence the following concept:

Of course, it was necessary to consider my character in three dimensions, especially since he must eventually be made as a physical puppet to animate. As such, the images above will be an invaluable reference when sculpting. My group agreed that due to the subject matter of our animation (paranoia and isolation), the aesthetics should be quite drab and creepy. We looked at a lot of Tim Burton animations such as 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' for visual reference, and I made the choice to use a pastel colour scheme with a lot of grey tones, giving a dark and washed-out look. 

For the purpose of judging dimensions for our sets and props, we decided our primary character should stand at 20cm tall. For reference, this image when printed shows the character at actual size, and will be used to gauge the relative size of the objects. Also shown here is an alternative outfit- our script dictates the character changes clothing at one point, and so we plan to create both versions seen here.

So, with our characters being designed and story idea in place, it was necessary to plan said story in full. We all collaborated, pitching ideas to each other, and I took as many of these into account as possible, drawing up a rough series of thumbnail storyboard sketches:

In the first week, whilst it was my task to design the protagonist, other group members were assigned tasks including the alien design, pre production references and set design. My friend Bea (over at was tasked with creating our final storyboard images, and did an outstanding job! 

You can see the similarities and differences therefore between the thumbnail sketches and the completed storyboards. The next step is to compile the audio track that we will animate to- many of the sounds can be obtained through online sound effect archives, whereas some others we shall need to record ourselves. Once we have these files, we intend to combine them with editing software to create our full audio sequence, and once this step is complete we can finally proceed to create a dope sheet, and an animatic using the storyboard images. 

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