Ian's Rambles - SHORT Stories

Ok so in case you haven’t been following the drama, after much deliberation the plan is to have all second year students in our course at Southbank making a narrative this year. Even if it’s just a very short one that makes up a larger show reel.

I’m anticipating a hand full of students who are going to be determined to make an epic, so I have been scouring the internet for information about keeping short films short. Its something I can anticipate because it is one of the ever predictable, guaranteed student short film flaws. There is always at least one student who is going to be convinced to the point of total conviction that more is better, or that the 15 minute long story they have come up with is so perfect in its design (after just a few drafts and with no feedback from anyone else? Amazing!) that not a single shot can be cut from it. I hate to sound cynical, but it always happens, and I can relate. I remember coming up with story ideas that were way to long when I was a student. At one stage I even started writing a series of 30 min long TV episodes, and the major student film I ended up making was way to long. I think there were probably two scenes (that’s camera shots for any new 1st year students reading…hi!) in it that I was actually proud of because it was so rushed. You should be proud of every scene in you film, its obvious when you think about it.

Anyway, following a link on Cartoon Brew I found the blog of Kevin Koch (animator at Dreamworks and Animation Mentor Teacher), and after some rummaging around found this great post about just how much information you can convey in a single scene, and how many students try too hard to convey a characters setting and background. He even goes so far as to suggest that MAYBE the great Brad Bird over cooked the character backgrounds in the Incredibles, or at least that the film was just as enjoyable without them.

Here is one of my favourite quotes from his article, “The time required to set up your characters and situations is often far less than you imagine you need. Again, think of being clear and specific. Expect to do some hard work here. Hammer away at your ideas to come up with something so specific and definite that the audience understands immediately. This is why we find bad storytelling so annoying. It takes the creator so long to clue us in on the situation and character, or they keep inadvertently misleading us with useless information, that we disengage.

All of this information is of course window dressing, before coming around to the idea of narratives for all students I knew it was only worth doing if we were going to keep the films short. I’m just highlighting the information in the hope of getting some to come around of their own accord instead of colliding with me head on. I’m afraid I do not accept that a longer story is necessarily a better story .

The bottom line is I won’t be letting second year students animate stories longer than 1 and a half minutes, and that’s that. I mean it, no excuse will make me budge. I wish someone had told me to slow down and make the best animation I could when I was a student and I think I owe it to my students to address the issue when I see it.

One of the comments posted by an anonymous student that helped to kick off the whole films V’s show reels discussion featured a quote about the student film being a “once in a lifetime opportunity”, well I can tell you that in my 12 or so years of commercial experience I have never again experience such a luxury of time to hone and finish a scene as is afforded to students. Once you’re in the industry you will have ample opportunities to have to rush through your scenes in order to get something finish on budget (on time), the “once in a lifetime opportunity” is to do the best possible animation you can achieve right now. I’m not going to let my students miss it.

Here is another point of view from Temple Of The Seven Golden Camels blog, run by veteran storyboard artist Mark Kennedy. He has a two part post entitled Advice for Students on his Blog that is all gold (part 1, part 2).

"Many students seem to want to make some sort of grand, epic statement and so they try to make a longer film with a lot of scale and heft to it. Every medium has it's own inherent strengths and weaknesses and a short student film is not the best form to make an epic sweeping drama. The most successful student films of all time are, for the most part, short and simple. "

Another post on Kevin’s blog that I just loved and had to highlight was this one about leading the eye from cut to cut. Great advice and also related to efficient story telling.


frank said...

That 12 second animation I made las month (rushed at the end and never finished) had so much more I could have done.

12 seconds!

One main failing was having too much going on and not properly leading the eyes of the audience through the scene to tell the story.

Also the inanimate stage elements detracted from the animation.

12 seconds!~~~ A minute looks like a huge mountain. Matbe in 3D, maybe in 3D...

If it is at all possible I'm aiming for a narrative of about 10 seconds and hope to achieve all the required components within that time.

Ian said...

That was a very complicated scene, 3 characters all talking and physically interacting. You will get fasts Frank. Trust me. :)

frank said...

I'll get 'fasts'... oh no , that sounds painful! ;) Is it like the 'runs'?...

"Smile", the short film DJ the AnimationMentor student is working on has a really nice story.

It's about 1min 10s.


An emotional story with subtle acting.

Unfortunately, no walking or running. The push/pull action is on the cupboard door (there may be some twinning of the pose there). There is good weight in the sitting action and nice balance throughout.

He's chasing subtlty and is well on the way to achieving it, I think.

Hopefully I'm starting to see things like an animator. It feels like it.

You know, like a child sees everything at child head height but as they grow taller their perspective on things changes. Then one day they look up.

Hey! Maybe there's a story idea right there?

Ian said...

Curse my stubby fingers! I know I'm a bad speller, but I do know how to spell "fast", honestly :P

frank said...

"Phew", taznik for explonkinating. My EGO is huge since I realised I took on a complicated scene and got something out of it.

Also I found this:

With a lead in that goes, "The world's first near fatal production! 1 minute of animated cartoon goodness produced in less than 8 short days!"

How could an animator go past it?

But remember, 'Curiosity killed...'.

1 minute of animation, well we've been talking about short narratives, so it's worth a comment, maybe even an ARC blog post all its own? (more for the process than the story or animation).

It's a very detailed blog post on the whole process of making the 1 minute film.

This discovery came via Cartoon Brew.

The link is:http://katzenjammerstudios.blogspot.com/2008/01/timmys-christmas-aka-1-cartoon-8-days.html

The film has images (like the use of robots) that some viewers may find disturbing.

animation_student said...

I do believe one of the gold nuggets of advice, (I may have already heard a few times at school), in the planning/ storyboard phase for "Timmy's Christmas" was:

"Ultimately, you can't polish a turd (unless you have an extremely solid diet)."

animation_student said...

It was preceded by, "MOST of the production time was spent in the animatic stage."

Kristi said...

I adore the pool-playing analogy in the SynchroLux blog, and will start repeating it as a mantra. Camera setup is my business currently and I still get it wrong sometimes, even though I have studied Bruce Block's book too. (If you haven't, and you want to be a filmmaker not just an animator, then you should.)
It's quite possible that this worked perfectly as an animatic, but the animator chose, in their wisdom(!) to end the first shot with Verne looking the opposite way, leading the eye to the wrong side of the screen.
As you can see from this example, layout artists tend to know a little more about cinematography than your average animator, and as such should not be ignored on that point. They don't create those animatics just for fun.