“Hey! You are still here? Working on diploma?”
“..Umm.. yaa.. its going on..” (shameface!)
“So, whats the story about?”
“..well.. its about this girl, and that she is trying to make a film.. and well.. err.. its about her trying to make the film.. its actually about my story you see.. my struggle.. umm…”
This was about the standard reaction I got when I spoke about my story to anyone.
The painfully obvious reason was that I myself wasn’t confident about my own story. Not sure of it enough to say exactly what was happening in there, in my head, or on the paper.
Ok, so I have my story. But a one liner is not a story, is it? It was the premise, or the theme, or the plot synopsis, but definitely not the whole story!
Thus began the second phase of this project. Finalizing my story.
While the first phase, (deciding on the story) took me almost 3 months, I thought that once I had this main beast under control, the rest should be easy! Well at least easier!
BEEEEP! Wrong again!
I must sadly confess, that the meandering route I have taken, winds about the mountains of despair, leads through the jungle of multitude choices, via the murky waters of indecisiveness and the past the fog of nightmares, and leads finally up to the plains of resolution, but only after having fought through each of the previous obstacles.
After writing about 5 different scenarios, I decided to start storyboarding it to help me visualize it better.
After about 6-7 thumbnailed storyboards, I decided to start making it into an animatic, so that my guide would be able to understand my point more clearly without me having to do live sound effects and such as I explained the sequence to him.
Well, May progressed to July. I had 14 storyboards with a variety of drawing styles, shapes, aspect ratios (!!), ranging from sizes of 2-3 inches high to as small as literally the size of my thumb nail!
I myself got so confused that at any given time I didn’t know what the character would do next, and the storyboards became like a huge contest of ‘Spot-the-Differences!’ as each version had some minute change which seemed to make the world of difference, but which I couldn’t keep track of anymore.
Then we had our 4th semester jury, where I recieved feedback from the faculty, who seemed to find it interesting, maybe a tab superficial, but had potential. I had the go ahead to finally start animating the film, what with it being my 9th animatic and what not!
But then I took a long awaited break from the project to go home, where I enjoyed a month long vacation of doing absolutely nothing!
When I came back, I originally came with the plan of finishing this film quickly ( sort of like a trial run) before embarking upon the major project, the diploma film. I started working on the character design, style and treatment, finalizing the small details before actually starting the animation. But at the same time I got the opportunity to work for a real live client project, working with experienced animators from my alumnus as well as Isabel Herguera, our visiting faculty, on a short animation project.
I realised I would have too much on my plate, and that if I wanted to do justice to all the work, and thought, (mostly thought!) that had gone into the project so far, I had to make it a good film. And to do that, I needed time.
So with the go ahead from my guide and coordinator, Sekhar Mukherjee, I officially registered my classroom project as my Diploma.
Wow, just like that, I went from lagging in the second-to-last project to being smack-dab in the middle of my diploma!
But with the fresh learning from the other project, and the time and distance away from my own work, came a new perspective.
The story was no longer ‘okay’ for me. I could only see the silliness, the desperation to be funny, the lack of cohesion, the superficiality, the flat and boring tonality of the story.
Out came the papers with 16 by 9 frames drawn on them. I was back to drawing more storyboards! (Only this time I tried to keep them larger than 1/2 inch and legible.)
It felt like I was trying to come up with a new recipe for a classic dish, adding ingredients, putting in a dash of nuance, removing a tablespoon of gag, adding a layer of subtext… but all I ended up with was a mixture of this and that with no real substance.
I also went through this process rather slowly. I read blogs, got inspired by other peoples work that I saw in the library, on the internet or through film club, so inspired that it made me demoralized.
I then had a sudden strike of brilliance one day. It blind sided me, and I ran back to the table, scribbling out a storyboard, and running after my guide to see it, almost harassing him! Within 2 weeks another of those days happened, and I veered off in some completely other direction.
But the third time, I realized that these thoughts were not completely useless. If I compared the initial versions to the later ones, there was a marked difference. (Yay! I was getting somewhere!)
After much pruning.. summing up the stages of story:
1. Originally the character appeared to be lazy and restless, not completing her work on time, infact wasting her time and ultimately not doing anything. Things around her remind her of her fast approaching deadline, and her last minute panic makes her slip into a post-apocalyptic nightmare where demons haunt her and discourage her from finishing her work, plauging her with doubt and filling her with insecurities.
2. Same story, with a touch of over exaggeration added to make it funny (didn’t succeed), but the demons were one dimensional, unrealistic and not fully fleshed out characters.
3. The sequence of events changed, becoming crisper and more concise, eliminating superfluous details, improving the character of the lead, helping us realise that she wasn’t a no-good, lazy creature, but rather a hard-working, but misguided artist suffering a creative block of sorts.
4. The story became over-worked and flat, monotonous, and boring. The character of the girl was established, but the nightmare sequence was too unreal, and the demons were transformed into one single monster, which would be a demonic version of herself, repeating all the discouraging words she had ever heard, and reinforcing her self doubts.
At this point I realised that the reason for all the confusion was that I could not define the character of the monster accurately. This led me to realise.. that there was no need for a demon or monster. The problem with the character was all in her head! (just like me! what a coincidence!)
Thus emerged a new version…
5. The character was quickly established, including a bit of back story revealing that she alone was not responsible for her lack of progress. The frustration and confusion were also emphasised without being repetitive. The pacing was slow in the beginning leading to intense confrontation, which led to the climax and then resolution.
But the main change, was the ‘monster. I found it difficult to visualize the exact behaviour of the creature because it didn’t exist; and I couldn’t bring any realism in its existence int he film.
But there were doubts and insecurities plaguing her. They were plaguing me! It was my own voice in my head.
It made me do things I didn’t need to, doubt my own capabilities, be under confident of my work, and was an overall downer!
It is said that art imitates life. Well that was the hint to do a bit of ‘copy-and-paste!’
The monster was tossed in the bin, the demons were banished, what was unleashed was the power of the mind. She had to fight her own self, her own doubts and insecurities, that was her biggest enemy.
Thus ended this phase, with the film ultimately being centered on the character, putting all her thoughts, feelings and emotions out there, for all to see, and for herself to fight against.