Whenever you develop a film, you inevitably end up losing a lot of characters, material and ideas that you originally intended to include in your film. It is inevitable and it is important to know when to get rid of your babies.
Here are some of my dearest thrown babies (I really need to stop using that analogy):
The original cockroach room (when he was going to be a puppet maker), which I filled with characters that I loved as a child (and still love now) – including Dorothy and her crew (the lion, the scarecrow and the tin man), Alice (lost in “Puppetland”), The Mad Hatter, Humpy Dumpty, Pinocchio and Gregor Samsa.
The plant headed gang, which I finally removed from my story because I didn’t have enough time to animate.
The ostrich old ladies playing Bridge and betting their own eggs:
Today is the day. I can’t deal with the stress anymore. For the last months, I’ve been practising meditation, yoga, going to the gym, waking up early and working with my film more than 8 hours a day. I told myself if I would follow this strict routine and I would make it. These last two weeks everything is falling apart, I can’t meditate, missed all my gym and yoga classes, ended up staying till very late at night drawing and I’m missing most of my self-imposed deadlines.
I thought this might be a good time to breathe and look back and try to understand why I originally decided to take this crazy path, so I went back to the origins of this idea and the visual and literary references that inspired me in the first place.
Back in Barcelona, I graduated from a BA in Arts and Humanities and did my final work on the elements of the grotesque and fantastic in modern art and literature, so I think many of my inspiration came from authors and artists that I was interested in back then. One of my constant inspirations is Franz Kafka and there is no doubt the character of the cockroach comes from my obsession for Gregor Samsa in The Metamorphosis. Although the story is clearly different, both Gregor and my cockroach convey this loneliness and feeling of alienation from the world. I knew I wanted all my characters to be somehow alienated and ultimately deeply lonely, so to me the cockroach worked very effectively visually and it was also a homage to one of my favourite authors.
The shrimp headed lady is my favourite character and the one I enjoyed the most working with throughout the film and I wished I had more time developing her as a character. You only get a glance of her feelings throughout the film but to me she is one of the most heartbreaking characters. While most of them are experiencing their loneliness mainly because they are physically alone, she is the truly lonely person, as she is always surrounded by people and physically in contact with other men, but still always feeling lonely. She was clearly influenced by surrealism and the first time I thought about her was this Christmas in Barcelona, after checking a book from Rene Magritte and finding his painting The Collective Invention (1934), portraying a woman with the head of a fish laying in the sand of a beach. That really had an effect on me and kept me thinking with this fish headed lady. Then the shrimp lady came to me, I don’t really remember how or when, but it just soon became a character that seemed to have always existed in my head. Later on, I went to a Salvador Dali exhibition and saw all his obsession with shrimps (including his lobster telephone!), so I thought my character was quite surreal after all.
The Collective Invention (1934), Magritte
The clown was the idea that came first and started the whole “freak house” concept, which all originated from a night at the theatre with my dad, also this Christmas, watching an hilarious clown show in Barcelona. It had been years since I last saw a clown live before, but it was a revealing experience to me. Funny enough, my high school thesis (in Spain we do a big high school thesis during the last two years) was about the circus and the education centres that taught circus in Spain. That Christmas day with my dad, something clicked with me and I suddenly realised that clowns were the most excellent creatures to animate in the world as they are all body and facial expression, they are the epitome of caricature. They are pure cartoon, pure anticipation. So I decided I needed a tragic clown in my film. Then the trapeze lady came out after, also related to the circus, and I was thrilled by the challenge of animating such complex yet beautiful movements.
A part from the character development, some other things inspired me to develop the story. The window concept was probably unconsciously inspired by a film I’ve always been fascinated about, which is Rear Window and the way the get to know its characters by looking at them through big windows. It’s funny how we realise on how this films stuck with us when we are on the process of creating. This sequence and the film itself is a cinematic masterpiece that I recommend to all:
Another reference was a famous comic stripe created by Francisco Ibáñez called 13 Rue de Percebe which periodically shows the lives of different characters living in the same building. I’ve always drawn buildings wide open showing the lives of the people living inside, so my mother, who had always read this comic during her childhood, spent the last two years mentioning it and telling me that I should do something similar to that. It was a great example and it helped me understand that it can be quite an entertaining concept.
Before animating anything for my graduation film, I started working on the backgrounds of each room of the story. The idea of designing the backgrounds didn’t especially attracted me at first and I was much more excited about starting with the character animation. Nevertheless, I quickly started enjoying the process and I felt that creating the character’s room was in a way another form of character design. It made me think about each character in new, exciting perspectives.
Who is he/she? Does she live alone? What does she do with her spare time? What does that tell me of her? Does she go a lot to the cinema? Does she enjoy music? Is she old fashioned in the decoration of their apartment or up-to-date with the latest trends? Is she tidy or chaotic? Does she have a good income or is she poor? Is she educated? Has she travelled a lot or not? Does she have an obsession? Who is her family? Is she close to them? Does she has pictures of them hanging in the wall? Does she spend a lot of time inside the flat or is she mostly at work? The more specific were my answers for each room, the more complex and interesting becamethe character.
Funny enough, I felt that I knew most of my characters pretty well by the time I finished their room. I realised how much you can tell about people by looking at the space where they inhabits most of their time.
That was all incredibly enriching and made me look at background designs with a different approach.
However, it was often very tempting to end up overfilling my backgrounds with lots of details and elements that made that space an illustration in itself, so I had to keep reminding myself that it was still a background and the most essential thing was the action of the character. The best way to know when I was overfilling the design was positioning the character doing an important action on that background. If his presence was not fully clear or he was not the centre our attention, the background needed to become more simple and more organically blended with the story.
Here I include two of the backgrounds I’ve designed for the story and some of its inspiration:
For the clown background, I was very inspired by a painting I loved as a child called ‘Der Arme Poet’ (the poor poet) by Carl Spitzwerg (1839). I remember always fascinated by this poor artist living on a tiny humid attic.
We are all here about to have a nervous breakdown while finishing our ENO films when I suddenly thought… hey, this is a good moment to update my blog.
I thought it would be interesting to show some of the drawings I did while thinking about my final graduation idea… These two were part of a initial idea for a film about three friends that go to spend a sunny day at the ladies pond in Hamstead Heath. Although I still want to make this film one day, I decided to go for an idea that actually excites me more than anything else right now. More illustrations coming soon…
This weekend Sara and I decided to go to The London Illustration Fair despite all the pressure we had from next week’s deadline. I have been meaning to go for really long and I was not going to miss the opportunity this time. In fact, I often cancel interesting plans when I am stressed with work, but whenever I give them a go I end up feeling better and fresher to approach my desk again. This time was no exception. Both Sara and I woke up feeling lazy, guilty and somehow regretful for purchasing these tickets, but by the end of the fair we both felt exceptionally excited and renewed.
It felt, as we expressed while walking next to the river, like a breath of fresh air.
The fair consisted of four floors full of stands with all kinds of illustrators, all using different approaches and technics. It was all very casual, the illustrators were very friendly and always receptive to talk to us. Sara was really fascinated by the different types of relief printing that they used, so we asked to one of the artists how we could use this technique and which were the best materials to use. I was particularly interested in the use of coloured pencils and how to create detailed and rich illustrations with them. In fact, I think I will give it a go during this holiday break.
Afterwards, we left the buildings with our pockets full of beautifully designed cards and a big smile in our faces. We went for a walk next to the river and we started chatting about our own illustration projects while looking at the city. It was a cold outside, but London looked beautiful.
In this Northern micro universe, I sometimes I forget I live in this amazing city.
Sara and a very much needed coffee by her side.
Some of the illustrations showcased (unfortunately I didn’t spend much time taking pictures)
While working on the ENO project, I have been also doing short animations on my spare time. I have a lot of fun doing them (as well as illustrating), so lately I’ve been using most of my free time to do even more drawing/animating… I’m not too sure that this is healthy for me as I find myself spending most of my day sitting in a chair and by the end of it I start feeling slightly depressed and questioning the meaning of my futile existence. First world problems, you know.
That is one of the reasons why I started running about two weeks ago and I have to say that so far it’s been great and really helpful to my routine (maybe it can help some other animators).
I’ve also been doing quite a bit of sketching, but that is another story… (and another post)
Thanks for your attention, blog, and let’s catch up soon!
I just recently read The Unbearable Lightness of Being and I thought this was a funny alternative to the title of the novel haha probably not funny for anyone else but me, but I just wanted to express my feeling towards my blog. The more time passes, the the more unbearable is the pressure of writing my blog again and the more impossible it seems to break the ice. It’s an endless circle. Like a pile of dirty laundry that keeps growing and you keep procrastinating. I can already listen the voice of my tutors saying “well, then, write more!” and they are right.
Hey and here I am! Ready to clean all this laundry and not die in the attempt.
Okay so. This was a good summer break. I think it is worth mentioning. I didn’t rest too much but I did learn a great deal about animation by working in the industry as an assistant animator, doing mainly in-betweening and cleaning-up for two different productions.
If I had to think about the best lesson I learnt doing this job, I think I would highlight the importance of the in-betweens. I remember reading it in Richard William’s Animation Survival Kit before, but I never understood how right he was until I had to in-between for other animators.
At first, I thought that the space where I would be able to be creative would probably be the clean-ups. I guess clean-ups do allow you to be creative in some ways, but it was mainly the time when I was sort of thinking/ daydreaming/ listening to audiobooks while doing nice satisfying drawings – my hands were there enjoying and perfecting the form of the drawings but my head was far, far away.
Nothing compare to the complexity of in-betweening. That’s when I got to play. That’s the time I got to learn from many mistakes. The time I realised that mechanical in-betweening only leads to lifeless animation and lifeless characters. That a lot of times you need to favour the in-between to one key or the other to give it life. That doing in-betweens is not the time to put your headphones and start thinking about your daily chores, the guy you fancy or your weekend plans (that, to me, it’s the clean-up). In-betweening is the time where you can actively participate on the animation.
I remember one specific case when I had to assist in the animation of a dog. This dog was now old and had some trouble walking and in this particular scene he was trying to run to the door because someone had just ring the bell. He needed to look excited but still having a bit of a hard time walking. When I in-betweened his legs, the result was very plain and mechanical, it didn’t look right. Robin, the director, gave me the tip to animate his legs always favouring the moment when he is holding the leg up instead of doing a literal in-between position. Apparently that was a very tiny difference, but when I did it it changed the complete feel of the movement. Now it looked alive, quirky, characteristic. So the in-between made a complete different animation. After this, I started playing around with many other in-betweens and I started discovering the fun of creative, active in-betweening.
Well, this is my thought of today, it was a short post, but more will come up after this (I’ve just broke the ice yeey).
I have now completed the final version of my Children Society’s film (only the sound left) and I am now starting to feel the refreshing thrill of summer! No more days locked in my room animating and living off cuscus, no more endless days working in the dark studio at CSM, no more guilty hangovers telling myself I have to work and then ending up watching an entire season of First Dates. For the next couple of weeks, I am free! Free to leave my room, enjoy the sun, smell the grass, roll down a hill, hug a tree, walk around, run, swim, dance, laugh, jump. Nothing else because I am basically broke by now.
Today I want to show some of the concept designs I developed before starting the film, which were based in all the research I talk about in my previous post. As the theme was poverty, I wanted to make a fairly simple and austere design that reflected the reality of poverty in the streets. No colouring, no romanticised backgrounds (which was also very useful because it gave me a lot of time to focus only on the animation and not the colouring/clean-up process). Regarding the characters, I was a bit scared of ending up making them looked too dark or grotesque, as that would have given a misleading representation of their reality. I initially wanted to make them shockingly realistic because I thought that would have a bigger impact (as you can tell in the concept art), but afterwards I decided to give them a more warm and child-like look that perhaps would help the audience connect more with them and feel immersed in the children’s universe (maybe I was wrong, I am still not too sure).
Now I wish I have used more some ideas that I originally had during the development process.
But still, I can say I am quite happy with the final result. I attach two still images of the final animation here.
Hi blog, I owe you an apology. I have been very focused on the Children Society project and you are usually the first thing to neglect when I am too busy, but I promise I will give you tons of love now and juicy information about my last animation adventure.
Right. The Children Society project. I have to admit that the first time I heard my audio I was scared. I had to animate a rap of a child talking about children poverty. I am not the right person to make this film, I thought. To be honest, growing up in a sheltered family in Spain didn’t was not going to help me understanding the real struggle that these kids go through. Because I loved the cause of the charity and because I really wanted to make justice to such a important and heartbreaking issue, I was scared I wouldn’t be able to convey that painful experience in my animation. Whenever I have to talk about a subject, I try to put myself into that situation and build some kind of association to it. However, it was difficult in this case. For a moment I thought about going to the areas with more poverty in London and trying to speak with people about their experiences. It was probably not the best idea and it kind of felt morally wrong and almost patronising – like hey here is the art student trying to immerse herself in the world of poverty for an artsy project at university. I am probably sounding really naive right now, but I am just being honest.
At the end, I decided to read books about it, watch documentaries, and check a lot of photography and art about child poverty. I told myself I wouldn’t start with design or storytelling until I really immersed myself in the subject. I really wanted to make a good film for the Children Society and I knew the only way to achieve it was making sure I was completely involved with it. So I read articles about child poverty, watched the BBC documentaries “Poor Kids” (2011) and “Eyes of A Child” (1999), checked lots of photography books including “Bronx Boys” (Stephen Shames), “Barrio: Photographs from Chicago’s Pilsen and Little Village (Paul D’Amato), “Street Play” (Martha Cooper) and read “Angela’s Ashes” (1996) to get a more narrative perspective. Some of this real stories were terribly sad and they made me feel really empathetic with the unfair struggle of all these children.
While doing this research, I also started going to the council houses close to my area and observe at the children playing in the park and chilling in their balconies. I obviously didn’t talk to them, but I just observed how they passed the time and took constant notes about it. At the end, I think my final film was highly affected by the fact that most of the things I observed during these days were in the street or with a balcony in between (if you watch the film you’ll understand why). I tried to choose about ten stories based on observation and cases I read/watched and somehow try to include them in the film.
It all became very useful and one weekend I gathered all the information together in order to develop the storyboard of my film. For an entire day, it all felt unstructured and chaotic and it seemed like nothing made any sense, so I decided to draw each of the scenes I had in my head in different papers and I tried to organise them as if I was building a huge storyboard in the floor of my room. Funny enough, that worked, and by the very end of that night I had the idea almost completely developed. I took really long and at some point of that day I remember feeling hopeless, but it was soooo worth it at the end!
Now when I look back I almost feel like I have completely forgot the initial skeleton of the story while animating the film, but I think it has always been there somehow – as much as I cover it with muscles and skin the structure won’t change and that is probably why it is so important to go through all that research and planning of the film (apologies for such graphic analogy). As Clair Murphy said in her class, you need to know the bones of your story.
Anyway, I will stop getting metaphorical or I will never stop talking. Here I include some heartbreaking images that helped me during the research: