Stealing timing…

My timing notes for My Grandmother Ironed the King's Shirts by Torrill Kove

I am still not happy with the way the film plays out, so I am going to see what I can do with Jane’s advice to “steal the timing” from some other films. The Torrill Kove one I linked to last week, My Grandmother Ironed the King’s Shirts, has a really great sequence at the very beginning that summarizes the whole history of kings in Norway, in a quick, blunt and witty way in only 24 second: 12 seconds of various kings killing each other with swords and spears, 7 seconds of a king falling through the ice and drowning, and 5 seconds of the last king expiring on his deathbed. I’ve gone through the whole ten-minute film and blocked out her timing, also looking for how long her fast cuts take. I also noticed that she includes two story tangents, one about Tonya Harding and one about gypsy ancestors, that take all of 15 seconds and 12 second respectively.

My Timing Notes for Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty

I am looking for other short narrated films, and going through the timing of the 6-minute film, Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty, because it switches back and forth between the narrator and the story, which I was trying, but unless the narrator is as interesting, it doesn’t seem worth it.

I am also looking at revising my script to follow the lead of John K., of Ren and Stimpy:

I think that maybe the effort to change the formatting will present me with opportunities to rethink a variety of things in the script.  I also haven’t given myself any place in the existing script to write up the visual gags I’ve been thinking of, so this will help. One of the gags I’ve contemplated has a forest scene with a sign on a tree that says “Duck Season”, and a hand replaces it with one that says “Rabbit Season,” then that’s replaced by another that says “Duck Season” – homage to the classic trilogy of Looney Tunes shorts – and then finally, it’s replaced with one that says “Witch Season,” as a way to mark the point in the story when Elizabeth How is rounded up on the charge of witchcraft.  I don’t know that this is one I’ll keep in, necessarily, but I need a place in the script to start putting this kind of brainstorming for what’s happening visually behind any narration.

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New version of the script

I have taken the original depositions from the three main characters and their wife/sister/mother, and gotten my father, a neighbor, and a co-worker to read from these texts into my iPad recorder. I edited them into a narrative of the story they told about burning the mare’s farts, then spliced clips from the recordings together, along with some recordings I made myself (with a pitch-shift to macho it up for male voices). I am still not entirely sure I am going to like this version yet. It deals only with the story of the mare which is a plus, but not the rest of Elizabeth How’s story, which is a minus, but we shall see. I like the fact that the narration is taken directly from the original sources, and that I can have the bizarre things happening on screen at the same time.

The new script is here:

Blue Blazes – New Script, 4/11/12

I will make a few cards that show the speaker, as in the True Crime shows, and then will play with my existing storyboard cards to fill in the action, and see how I like it.

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True Crime TV Documentary as a model

After some thought on the subject, I realized that I already have plenty of authentic voices for my film: the original witnesses! I am in the process of going over the depositions and cleaning up the spelling and punctuation, and will be asking a few people to read the depositions into a recording device tomorrow so that I can take various snippets from those and lay them in to see how that comes across.  I may also do some “talking heads” with the witnesses names and relationship to the victim underneath, like these from the show True Crime:


I think I want to do at least one shot where it’s clear that there’s someone writing this stuff down. I am afraid that the film is in danger of getting bloated, but that’s where good editing will have to serve me, and I really need to get these storyboards and story timing down really tightly before I start the actual animation.

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Rethinking the Narration

 I have watched the last version of the animatic (#4) a few times, and haven’t been happy with it, so I spent some time last night watching the following shorts that have a narrator:

Two by Torill Kove:

and this one by Brad Neely, “The Professor Brothers – Bible History #1 (Sodom & Gomorrah)” that Nina showed me last year:

I’m trying to think of a few more to watch. The critical thing they have is that the narrator  has a distinctive “voice” – by which I don’t mean it in the way that “Sarah Vowell has a distinctive voice,” but as in a way of telling the story that is evokes their personality and is compelling on its own.  So I am in search of that “voice” for Blue Blazes.  I think it’s time to write a few different drafts, each from a different perspective.  I suspect that telling the story from the perspective of being critical of the Cummings family and other accusers is not going to work as well as possibly telling it from the perspective of someone who truly believes Elizabeth How was a witch and that the business with the mare was actually a valid attempt at veterinary medicine.  More writing this week then.  And finding more short films with strong narration “for inspiration.”

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Expanding before contracting?

After the last animatic, I was concerned with the length of the film and a lot of the historical exposition minimizing the impact of the key scene of lighting the farts on fire, and I was listening to Jane’s input about not losing the audience at the beginning.  Over the weekend, my friend Nina told me that shorter was better, and of course, short entails less work!  So what did I go out and do? I made it longer, and with more exposition! That’s because I wrote out a script for a narrator and the characters, and then changed the timing of the animatic to match the audio of a raw read-through.  I also added in a few more drawings, and took out a few in the process (but not many).  of course. This may or may not help – but I can probably eliminate a lot of the “speech/thought drawings” by having actual dialog and narration.

Blue Blazes script [pdf]

I have tried several settings for the output, and have been having trouble getting the audio to sync exactly as it does in the file I’ve uploaded…  And to make matters worse, each time I have replaced the video, Vimeo has sent out another email to everyone on the viewing list! To quote Eeyore, “Oh bother.”

I am concerned about the visual confusion between Mary Cummings and Elizabeth How – and maybe with Mary’s brother, Tom, and have some ideas for making Mary’s face more angular to help differentiate her from other characters, but I haven’t had a chance yet to change the drawings od her in the existing animatic, so I added a quick splash of yellow hair onto the images of her, which I hope will read well enough for now.  This choice may or may not stay, but when I get down to drawing the characters on model, there will also be color differences to distinguish them, so this is the first start with that.

On another note, one thing I learned today, in a passing conversation, was that horses cannot throw up. Who knew? I guess a lot of my friends! (A conversation about which animals can and cannot throw up ensued: Giraffes? Yes. Rabbits? No.) That is how horses get “colic” – a generic term for a gastrointestinal blockage or stricture that can kill a horse. From the research I did into this, it seems very likely that this is what happened to the Cummings’ mare. The odd behavior, the red gums, the notion that there was a “fire” in her belly that needed to be released, all seem to be in line with this diagnosis. It also kept me from making a BIG mistake, because I had been considering having Tom administer an emetic to make the mare throw up, so I’m glad I hadn’t added that in!  I still think I need a scene inserted where Tom’s examining the mare more, and maybe giving her some oil… that transition around 1:37 doesn’t work for me.

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Take 3 on the Storyboards

After going over the feedback from Melissa West and Melissa Gabelman (thank you, both!) on the previous version of the animatic, I have gone back and redone the storyboards again, to make a new animatic, entirely from the storyboard drawings. I’ve got them all pinned to bulletin boards, but I am going to have to take them off to photograph them for the animatic, so I thought I’d snap photos of them all together:

Now to go photograph them separately and see what the new animatic looks like, and try not to stay up too much later tonight!

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Background Experiments

Most of the past two weeks have been booked by another project I’m working on, specifically about visiting archives around Massachusetts to examine 17th century handwritten manuscripts, which has fit in nicely with what I have been thinking about how to do the backgrounds in this film, but has taken all my time, and I haven’t been able to work on the film directly. My idea is to use images of the witchcraft documents themselves to form the backgrounds and sets for the film. This morning, I’ve worked a little with using a manuscript in perspective to make it look like a field, for the background of the scene where Isaac Sr. & Mary go visit the neighbors on their mare:

Sample field background

A "field" made with an image of one of the manuscripts.

I haven’t gotten it just right yet, and I have the idea that the background might move, too, to change perspective as the couple and the mare walk along, but so far, my experiments to make this happen in Flash with this image have been choppy and they tend to strobe, so I need to do more experiments before I decide whether to bag it or not.

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I made these two maquette heads a couple of weeks ago, but I thought I’d post them here now.  I will be using them to do more of my key drawings when I’m ready to start drawing those.  I may do some heads of the other characters, too.

Maquette heads of Isaac Sr. & Tom

Maquette heads of Isaac Sr. & Tom

Maquette head of Isaac Sr. - side

Maquette head of Isaac Sr. - side

Maquette head of Isaac Sr. - front

Maquette head of Isaac Sr. - front

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Rethinking My Workflow

I have found that I need to spend more time polishing the overall composition and timing of the film before I get too far into the specific drawings.  This is how Richard Williams describes how to proceed in the Animator’s Survival Kit (Thank you, Jane!):

Workflow fan from Richard Williams

Workflow fan from Richard Williams

I am still working on the storyboard, layouts, thumbnails, and starting to do SOME keys.  I don’t want to leave myself too little time for polishing the animation itself, but I really need to make sure I’ve got the main armature of the film firmed up before spending time drawing things that MAY have to get thrown out later if they don’t fit, drawings I might be so invested in that it woud be difficult to cut them and  throw them out when they really might NEED to be.

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Software & Vimeo

I am having a major issue with the way the animatics are posting to Vimeo – too many frames are dropping out.

This is possibly due to the nature of my Tech4Learning’s Frames software renders the QuickTime.  It allows me to put in a frame and then stretch the duration. The QuickTime files play fine on my computer, but not at Vimeo.

YouTube, on the other hand plays all the frames, but doesn’t pay attention to the holds, so the two-plus minute version takes all of 19 seconds on YouTube:

This coming week, one of my new goals is to find a different software to use!!!

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