The day after I wanted to work on the backgrounds, to add some depth to the composition. I wanted to add some stars when the main character is in the space and some thing on the ground when he's in the real world. So I had this idea to use the camera movements I already had in a 3D space od the animatic made in Cinema 4D.
After an hour of struggle, and the help of Federica D'Urzo and Tien Huei Yuan we solved the situation by making some small 2D animations in TVPaint, using them as a material on some spheres in the animatic, and render them out. I had a background which moved seamlessly with the elements on the scene. And most of all, looked perfectly 2D.
11. A little big realization
STYLEFRAMES? WHAT ARE THOSE? Didn't even thought about doing them again. I had an idea, and I went for it. The lack of time always helps in taking out the best of me.
As the best things, it happened in two days, fast and unexpected, like an emotional avalanche. The fist day I finished animating the first 30 seconds and I talked with Stefano Boracchi, philosopher, musician and friend, who agreed to be my sound designer, and who was extremely happy to work with me.
The next day I put everything in After Effects, starting to post produce it and add some color, and he sent me a fist draft of the music, done in a hot Italian afternoon. I put everything together and I could stop watchng it. I never ever felt a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction as this one. It was like being hit by the sudden realization that this, exactly this, was what I wanted to do my whole life. And it was just beathtaking.
10. Keeping it simple (AKA "things I have to be reminded of")
After something like 7 version, Leon (my professor) gave me the ok on the animatic and said to me "now we can talk about style, I think yo shouldn't go for the one you showed me". And a inner part of me started to shake his head in denial, repeating to himself "this is not happening". Nevertheless, he had an excellent point: he make me relize that my strenght was not being precise and cartoonish and nice lines etc, but rather create something dirty, not polished, but surely alive.
There I realized how incredibly powerful a professor is, able to turn upside down entires future careers. But I also understood that a good one is able to tell you what is good for you, even if it hurts.
So well since the animation had to be sketchy and whatever, it was worth to start animating, right? I mean, keyframing, polishing, inbetweening.
And yeah, I also started to post often things on my Tumblr. I've always been a late bloomer.
(This didn't age well. Now Instagram is my weekly platform)
In the moment in which I was doing the animatic, I realized there were two great variants in the process I was pursuing: the first one was trying to be faithful to my perception of my experience of life while creating something understandable for others; the second one was the visually based creative process I established starting to work directly in TVPaint.
About the first variant, I realized that the more I talked with people, that I explained the facts from which the story comes from, the more the story was changing in the details, getting sharper, more focused, and more true to my experience.
This established a circular thinking path that went through: facts, my feelings towards them, an abstact visualization, how people perceived them, proposed changes, and facts again. The most interesting process, from this point of view, was that I discovered things about how I perceived my past, that probably I could not understand in any other way.
This constan fluidity of the story was really eased by the visual pipeline that I followed from the beginning. I was able, in this way, to change the animatic easily, without affecting the overall timing of the production schedule.
The nice thing about styleframes is that suddenly your story, your short, have a shape, a color, a feeling, that before it didn't have. So since I wanted to have this feeling of childish memories, colorful and bold and strange.
I went for a super saturated part in the beginning and the end, where the character is in the space. On the contrary, when the story went in the "real world" everything became black and white. I also wante to have this cartoonish feeling, so big fat outlines and filling with one color with a hint of a shadow.
7. The new normal
All the creative process started to flow really quick and smoothly, also because I started to think in images and therefore I didn't write any script and worked directly in TVPaint, creating a moving storyboard from scratch. This revealed to be extremely useful and effective for me, because I didn't have any constraint on the story and I managed to save a lot of time, because I did three things at the same time: story, storyboard, moving storyboard.
I wanted the style to be as simple as possible and a little bit graphical. After some first tries with a more cmplex character design, I started to take out everything that was not necessary for the story, also inside the character. This way I had more simple and easy to animate character, but at the same time expressive enough to convey the emotions necessary for the story to be told.
6. The importance of being simple.
Beautiful combination of deep, complex, simple and humorous.
After the week, I realized that:
1. The short didn't work anymore for me (and for the viewers)
2. There was un underlying path in the story that maybe was worth telling more that the actual events of my personal life and family.
3. The underlying path was actually quite exciting.
The story that came out from this process was an imprisonment and liberation story, with the character growing up within it.
It starts with a boy, floating into space to catch a star. Once he gets it, the star disappears, making him fall from the sky to the earth, between his parents. The two at first are caring and joyful with him, but later start to fight with each other and eventually turn themselves into a cage. Around the cage the society appears, pointing at the main character, whispering between each other and mocking him. To protect himself, the boy builds a shield around his body, that protects him but also prevents him to move. At this point, something happens and triggers the liberation process. He frees himself from both the shield and the cage, to end up in the sky, get back the star, put it in his chest and come back to the real world, where he's finally free to take his path.
5. Out of the project, into the world.
After the assessement, I was far too fed up with the project and frustrated by the narrative problems, so I decided to let it sink for almost one week. In the meanwhile, I drowned into Daredevil, the Netflix series.
4. Solving and experimenting
This had been a moment of intense and exhausting lack of energies: it was as if this short was forcing me to live again elements, moments and red threads of my life, that were buried by time. In life terms, this hosrt could be considered the last cigarette, the closure of a certain time span of my life.
In this phase I've changed the narrative structure for a more surreal and metaphorical one, able to, as Leon told me, tell the story without dialogue and without voice over. The aim was to convey the emotion without explaining every single fact that was happening, but still showing something related to the event.
The more I revisioned the project, with major help by Leon and Shellmy, the more it became metaphorical, abstact, and ultimately more complex to understand. I felt as if instead of simplifying the narration, I was making it more and more complex.
By doing so, I started to feel that the concept was not faithful to its premises anymore. I felt that it was losing its essence and the reasons to have that peculiar structure. This also led to the exclusion of the cigarettes to the overall meaning, leading to the perception that smoking was just a McGuffin (when, for me, it was not).
I was going on because I had to, not because I was inspired to do so.
3. A talk with Leon
How can I visualize goose bumps?
After one week of mental chaos, I realized that I needed some external help to organize the mess that I myself created. I arranged a meeting with my professor, Leon: here are the results.
First of all, it's important to take in consideration feedback but until a certain level: the movie is mine, and I do with it whatever I want.
Leon also sugested me to make a big work to clear the very core meaning of all the sequences, and make a heavy exploration about all the concept connected with cigarettes, me at every age, family, love, and Italy.
Furthermore, he pointed out three good steps I should have:
1. Clear logline: overall thought I would like to convey, far more specific than coming of age story. Clearing the fact that my story was about finding my identity, what's the conflict within this process?
2. Monumental setting: design every scene to represent the meaning, be bold and visually meaningful. Ten suggested me to use more freedom in animation, in line to what the medium is capable of.
3. Key element: go at the roots, and think visually, less words as possibile.
Futher suggestions were: be more poetic, use metaphores, visualize the essence of the dialogues, use your fantasy to create something less realistic adventure more imaginative.
Story wise, the aim should be to provoke a conflict in the viewer and trigger empathy, to make them think I so wanna know how it ends!
After very scene I should aim to trigger curiosity, to make them want to go on watching.
Being an autobiographical story, it could matter more visualize what happenened in me when the events were happening, instead of making a huge effort in condensing the explanation of the events themselves. Futhermore, this approach could lead to a major contrast between what is happening in my mind and the real situation, with interesting narrative implications.
Given the approach that I had in Bounds, play with humor and a light herated approach could my signture: why not use them?
To reach all the targets, the core sentence was layer the story.
2. Revision with externals
The fery first challenging revision was the one with the group of externals, that, instead of being a confirmation, turned out to be incredibly critic on the strucutre that I wanted to use. In narrative terms, this was a call to adventure: either I faced the challlenged, or I crawled into a corner to cry. Turned out I did both. But let's proceed with order.
As I said, I though it was good and final, but it was not. The main criticism were about the story told, that for the most of the people turned out to be obscure and hadr to tackle. One problem was that I wanted to convey several different topics: homosexuality, italian society, family issues, love relationships and others. The result has been that none of them was fully comprehensible, leading to a creative and evocative mess that satisfied neither me or the commission.
1. Leave the comfort zone
At the very beginning I had just a couple of elements that were sure: the first one was that I wanted to use some kind od 2D animation, the second one was that I wanted to write a story that had to deal with lived life, in some forms. The turning point was when I had to write a script for a Siske's workshop, and I talked with Ten about an old idea to make a short about ten cigarettes, each dealing with a specific moment in my life. I was not very sure about this idea, but Ten was, in one word, enthusiastic.
The idea was to make a some kind of realistic, narrative structure, with a rough visual style that was heavily inspired by italian traditional comics.
Slowly I got confident about the fact that I could do it, but the first problems were behind the corner. The main struggle in writing a short that is based on your own story is that you have to constantly balance between the necessity to make something that people can understand, but also something that is, in some measure true to yourself.