Once upon a time…

Once upon a time, there was a woman who everyone thought was a witch…

I am trying to figure out how much time I have to establish the series of past accusations against Elizabeth How. I have started drawing a series of poses for the cow that chokes on a turnip. Like the sequence in My Grandmother Ironed the King’s Shirts I discussed a few posts ago, one that took 24 seconds to tell the history of the demise of all the former kings of Norway, I’ve been studying the brief sequence in The Incredibles when Edna Mode puts her foot down with Mr. Incredible about his new supersuit, announcing definitively, “No capes!” It takes her all of 30 seconds to tell the stories of the deaths of five different supers because of accidents with their capes:

This is how I’ve timed it out:

Timing for the “No capes!” sequence in The Incredibles

As the film stands now (Take #8), I’ve got the opening devoted previous accusations – three of them: afflicting Hannah Perley (6 seconds), the cow choking on a turnip (3 seconds), and the sow leaping in the air and falling dead (2 second) – followed by the ministers defending her from those accusations, before the trial deposition sequence begins at about 20 seconds in (counting the time for the titles). As I’ve got the cow sequence drawn right now, it’s gotten to 6 seconds. It may depend on what kind of narration goes with it – how long it actually takes to say what it is. I have a couple of other bizarre accusations in the records, too, that I may be able to put together in a few seconds of storytelling.  The “no capes” sequence starts with a 17-second beginning to establish the theme of the danger of capes, then the following four “stories” take progressively less time: 6 seconds, 3 seconds, 2 seconds, and 2 seconds.  I’d like to spend the longest time with the initial accusations regarding Hannah Perley. Then I have the cow choking on the turnip, and the pig leaping up and dying.  I don’t know that just three will do it for the lead-in. I probably have enough stories in the records to do a couple more, but they’d have to be really quick.   I don’t think I should spend more than 30 seconds on the intro. If I can get Hannah Perley in 15 seconds, the cow in 6, and two to three more deftly in 2-3 seconds each (the pig should go that quickly), I’d be in that timeframe, and ready to tell the BIG story, about the mare. That’s when I can switch to the true-crime format and have the four witnesses tell their parts of the story. Hmm…  I’ll have to go back and see what else I can find…

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Music Track for Take #8

With Take #8 posted at Vimeo, I suddenly realized that at about two and a half minutes, it’s about the duration of the main part of “Germany,” the musical composition by Ryan Love that he had sent my way back in March, so I’ve made and posted a second version of Take #8 with a music track laid in.  There are places where it really works, and others where it’s just “off” but that’s something that can be tweaked as I animate so that the various hits come on the beats, etc.  I’m still thinking there should be some vocal work in this, with the music ducked, but this feels like progress.  I think this is where using bar sheets will have to come in. I’m not certain that this is definitely the music I want to use – I may want to see if Ryan can come up with something that works  musically closer to the rhythm of the story, but we’ll see!

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Another Pencil Test

For all the drawing I’ve been doing this past week, when it’s come to doing my first pencil test of a character, I feel like I’ve seized right up again!  Arrgh!  But I still have something, as a place to start, and I can keep pushing it from there. The motions feel stiff and artificial, although I do like the way the “take” is starting to work, and I think I’ve gotten to a better place with the “no” head shaking – I had the head turn farther on one side than on the other, so it isn’t so totally symmetrical.  Duh.

I had to do two versions of the pencil test, the first one with just the extremes, and then I used those drawings to work out the timing in the computer. I went back and redrew what it seemed I needed.  I expect that over time, I’ll have a better internal sense of that without having to do quite as much of that. I also added multiple “identical”drawings to cycle through for the holds, and I like the way that feels. I’d done that for the pipe hold early on, and liked it.

I also tried using an exposure sheet for the first time this week, and it really helped me keep everything organized as I went from the first extremes-only version to the second one with the inbetweens – except that when I shot the drawings, I cut off the corner with the drawing numbers. I was able to figure out which drawings went with which the numbers and fix it in the computer, but I won’t make THAT mistake again!

Exposure Sheet for the pencil test of Isaac Sr.’s “Take”

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Disney’s “Chicken Little” (1943)

In 1943, Walt Disney released a short called “Chicken Little,” using the traditional story of the little chicken who gets bumped on the head and starts running around causing a panic, convinced that the sky is falling. But in this WWII-era short, the fox is reading a book titled “Psychology” (although it was really “Mein Kampf,” they opted to not be entirely transparent on that count), and at the end, he gets Chicken Little to lead all the chickens into his cave, where he eats them and plants their wishbones in a way that makes them resemble gravestones.

Chicken Little: Foxy Loxy and the cave entrace

Foxy Loxy finishing off a wishbone

Foxy Loxy planting a wishbone in what looks like a cemetery of wishbones

Foxy Loxy getting in his last digs at the narrator, who is audibly upset that this wasn’t the ending in HIS book.

I showed this film to some students a couple months ago, and they were suitably horrified by the ending. When I was talking with one of the students yesterday about the end of my film and all the shorts I wrote about in my previous post, she reminded me about that one, so I went back and watched it again. There’s a tension in the storytelling, between the narrator and the character of the fox – especially at the end, after the fox has eaten all the chickens, when the fox has clearly “won.” I am going to look at more WWII-era propaganda cartoons because these clearly are trying to emphasize the mortal stakes that were at hand. I found this one a little too heavy-handed, but it is another clear example of a cartoon with a fatal ending that I want to try to learn something from as I work on the ending of my film.

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Breaking the Fourth Wall

After an evening of watching Tex Avery cartoons – both his Warner Brothers and MGM work – and two documentaries about him (Portrait of Tex Avery from Turner in 1988 and the other in French, Tex Avery : un univers en folie, from 2003), I feel like I’m getting some ideas of how to loosen up my drawings some, but I’ll have to see how that plays out in the coming days in my sketchbook.

I did have one thought on how to work with the ending of the film – when Elizabeth How is hanged.  I’ve been stumped because it’s like, “GREAT! I’ve just gotten them to laugh at lighting the mare’s farts on fire, and now someone is getting killed!”  I came across a cartoon by Avery with a lethal ending, Lonesome Lenny (1946), in which the character Lenny has managed at the very end of the cartoon to kill Screwball Squirrel, who still manages to hold up a sign that says, “SAD ENDING, ISN’T IT?” just before the iris closes on the film:

The end of Tex Avery’s Lonesome Lenny,  after Lenny has killed Screwball Squirrel

I’ve poked around and looked for other examples of this, and remembered another one in Avery’s Jerky Turkey (1945), when the turkey and the Pilgrim who has been hunting him through the whole picture have finally given up their battle and taken the advice of the bear who has walked through several scenes wearing a sandwich board that reads, “Eat at Joe’s” – they decide to go eat at Joe’s – except that it turns out that “Joe” is the bear, and he eats them.  The Pilgrim holds up a sign from inside the bear’s belly, saying, “DON’T EAT AT JOE’S”:

The end of Tex Avery’s “Jerky Turkey,” after the two characters have been eaten, commenting from inside the bear’s belly.

Then there’s the end of Chuck Jones’ Gee Whiz-z-z-z (1955) where Wile E. Coyote holds up a sign, asking “HOW ABOUT ENDING THIS CARTOON BEFORE I HIT?” and then another as the iris closes, saying “THANK YOU”:

The ending of Chuck Jones’ Gee Whiz-z-z-z

As the iris closes on Gee Whiz-z-z-z

And in the (sign-less) ending of the the classic What’s Opera, Doc? (1955), when Elmer has finally killed the wabbit, a dead Bugs Bunny pops up his head momentarily before the iris closes, to ask the audience, “Well, what did you expect in a opera, a happy ending?”:

The ending of Chuck Jones’ What’s Opera, Doc? when Bugs lifts his head up momentarily to talk to the audience about the ending, before he drops his head again and the iris closes.

This is giving me some possible ideas for how to deal with the unfortunate but necessary demise of Elizabeth How in my film. She has to die, but maybe if I steal a technique like this, I can make it a little easier to bring the audience along.

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More sketching of the Deacon

To do my pencil test of the Deacon (Isaac Sr.) contemplating what to do, I really need to work more on what kind of expressive acting range I can give him, and what I want to communicate about his inner workings in those expressions in the situations he’s in, so I’ve started just trying to sketch him in all sorts of ways. It’s becoming increasingly easy to draw him recognizably – imagine that! – but it still feels like I’m just scratching the surface on getting him to be expressive.

Isaac Sr.: various expressions

Isaac Sr.: various angles

As I work on getting to know how to draw him better, I need to see how much I can push the drawings yet retain his recognizability. Most of the emoting currently seems to be coming in the eyes, eyebrows and mouth (I’ve been kickstarting myself with Nina Paley’s Face-O-Matic to start getting more expressive). I am having trouble, though, dealing with the jaw and it’s effect on the shape of his face/head. I should push it further than feels comfortable/recognizable and see how that goes, but I’m not there yet. I have been playing it pretty safe in these drawings, working on mastering the character and keeping it consistent, but I’m concerned that it will result in the character being too static and just not funny enough.

I’ve also got some started for Tom, the Deacons’ brother-in-law:

I’m going to watch some Tex Avery tonight, since he does so much to push his characters into all kinds of shapes – to kick my butt some to take some chances!

Tex Avery: Wolf from Dangerous Dan McFoo

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Giving dimension to my characters

I worked for a while this evening on Isaac Sr., trying to take the drawing of him from the very two dimension comic face looking straight on, to be able to move him around in space to seem three-dimensional while still retaining the cartoony look of the character. It sure helped to have the maquette I made a while back!

Isaac Sr. straight on

Isaac Sr. looking 3D

Now the task at hand is to figure out a sequence of key poses and expressions for his face that tell the story of him going from reticence and apprehension to resignation and acquiescence on the “cure.”  I have a nice sequence in my storyboard, but the key thing will be not to run it too quickly!

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