Sketchbook: Style Frames I and II

I'm working with style frames instead of an overall style guide as things progress, there's no reason to spend weeks putting together a briefing packet if you're flying solo for most of the production. When I do bring in additional hands it will be colorists and background artists who can work from color guides and rough layouts. The exception, though, is the sound designer. In that case I'll be doing a full cue sheet for sound to work from, something I've neglected to do with my films outside of schooling- and I've seen how the work can suffer from this oversight. Anyways. This post isn't about sound.

A style frame every so often throughout the boards should keep the palette/styles unified. There will be multiple techniques used throughout the piece so when I sit down to a scene I need to know at a glance how it will look and how it will move. Sometimes things get jumbled up in the old noggin' and the references can be invaluable. Of course animators/filmmakers know this already, I thought I'd mention it because... I wanted to.

So here's style frames I and II- these both come from the first 30 seconds of the film. There's earlier posts covering this sequence and hopefully these frames illustrate the stylistic choices I've been discussing. There'll be some animation tests soon but until then it's back to storyboards.


Research : Soaking up History

"The power to define is the power to destroy/ It is the truth for every girl it is the truth for every Goy." -Robert Anton Wilson (paraphrased)

So, in the first two minutes of this film I'm summarizing the history of Rwanda from late pre-colonial to early post-colonial and then jumping to 1977- around the time that baby Mutwale was spared from the elephant "depopulating," "cleansing," or whatever euphemism one might use to describe a massacre. He was subsequently displaced to Akagera Park in Northeast Rwanda near the border of Tanzania. So my timeline is spread across pretty much the whole 20th century and into the 21st, but this bit at the start is really important for establishing just about everything that takes place in the post-colonial timeline.

Lots and lots of research has been done for this, and I've got to give props to my sister. (Props, Jess.) She's been in and out of libraries, gone through entire bibliographies of Rwandan history, memoirs, scientific papers, written eyewitness accounts and a story outline, been in touch with historians and researchers, and yes, even lived in Kigali for 6 months. That last bit is how all this came about, so even more props for stumbling onto this story that I've grown to inhabit. Thanks for being such a fine catalyst. Mad props.

I've been through several briefings on the sequence of events: the prevalent semi-caste system in place before colonization by Germany, the taking of the "territory" (among others) of Rwanda by Belgium after WWI (made official in the "League of Nations Mandate") and the subsequent tidal wave of influence that followed after the Belgian government and Christian missionaries decided to redefine the entire society. One of my favorite little poems by Robert Anton Wilson describes how one's ability to define something, whether or not it fits that description, is one of the most destructive forces available to humanity. I forget which of his books uses it, I believe it's Prometheus Rising. I take his use of "Goy" to be the literal Hebrew translation meaning "nation" or "people," as he was not Jewish and would not likely use its modern, informal connotation. Anyways! Here I must interject with what brought on this post: I was going over the current storyboards with a donor, one that has an interest in European history:

She mentioned that the crucifix I'd used to adorn a wall made the missionary/Belgian conglomerate colonials represented in the scene appear Catholic. She then went too far back in history as a correction, thinking that perhaps I should be looking to the Huguenots (who?) for those who would've been responsible for the colonization, thus changing the relevant symbology. This is totally forgivable as most people don't realize that the first meeting between a Mwami (Rwandan King) and colonial factor (A German Count) was actually in 1894. Germans started entering the country in bulk between 1897-99. That's yesterday in terms of Rwanda's entire history. Anyway, back to Catholicism. I hadn't thought about denomination really, but it dawned on me that the implications (that missionaries essentially caused an irrevocable schism that eventually led to a major genocide- not exactly Jesus' plan, methinks) won't go over too well. With the symbology that I've got going, getting the specifics right isn't nearly as important as not getting them wrong. I decided to follow up a bit.

After some additional fact-checking it turns out the missionaries in question are indeed Roman Catholic. Along with the Belgian government, colonial forces emphasized the distinction between Tutsi and Hutu and Twa so heavily- even to the point of having registration papers that listed the distinction- that the manifesting discrimination eventually becomes the trickle-down-hate that leads to the events of the 100 days of killing. ...Over 800,000 dead in 100 days. Most killed by machete. Christ. I keep meaning to pick up a book of photography that documented the atrocities or the account of the 100 days by the head of the UN peacekeeping mission, but I just can't right now. Some part of me is afraid that the results will alter my film's focus and the rest... is just afraid.

Of course it's all more complicated than this, but it's a pretty clear path from here. Cause. Effect. Though, this film isn't about the genocide. The history I'm squashing into two minutes is kept pretty broad. It's important to understand that the history of this nation isn't just these atrocities. Though you could also look to the Hutu's precolonial treatment of the Twa as an argument that colonials aren't such a singular source of negative influence- hell, look at Japan's treatment of the natives of the northern island of Hokkaido or the disenfranchisement (how's that for a euphemism?) of the Native Americans by... Well, I guess that's colonists too. Still though, this history- It's more. One of the things my sister mentioned time and time again is how much information there is on the Rwandan genocide and how little available information there is on Rwanda. How little tangible documentation exists that isn't seen through the lens of colonialism or the prism of genocide. Maybe some of this is due to the market for information and maybe some is due to the... spectacle. Gods know some of it is due to the lack of recorded history for the area. In my case, in the case of my work, I don't think I need to point fingers or even stick to the history too closely. Then again I don't want any glaring discrepancies either. This often feels like a tightrope walk.

I'd already known that missionaries and government pushed the caste distinction because they thought the Tutsis- being taller- were sons of Ham, literal descendants of Noah (via his son, Ham.) Yes, the 'Arc' Noah. Helluva tale. I wonder if the author knew about this particular historical interpretation.

Anyway, my first instinct (the traditional Christ-on-a-Cross adornment) is actually historically accurate, whether it lends recognizable context or not. It does, I think. Stroke of luck or brilliant coincidence, I think it's a good sign. Angles are lining up. Pieces are fitting into place.

More exciting posts soon. Take that "more" to mean both quantity and degree.


Inspiration/Influence: Иван Максимов

It's always nice to discover a body of work that consistently rocks, but one that does so with a unique style and incomparable intelligence is a rare thing. I think I stumbled upon Ivan Maximov by accident when youtubing around for Alexander Petrov clips. I'll be sure to cover Petrov in this blog when I get closer to a working paint-on-glass rig, but right now Maximov's interesting combination of simple geometry and texture is a great place to stop and visit.

Niti ("Strings") is a fantastic little piece. Simple shapes and colors make it easy to discern key players and goings-on almost immediately. The layout/blocking is particularly interesting- it feels as though the abstract landscape is a real place. The story moves through the populated world pretty seamlessly. And of course the tale itself is poignant, resonant... uplifting and bleak at the same time. The love story ends happily, all is well. That final shot, though, of those strings bereft all ownership- all these connections and relationships dead with time. Spent and useless. Littering the world. It's an abstract sort of symbology that neither slaps you in the face nor becomes so elusive you can't grasp the meaning. Such imposed ambivalence is the stuff of true contemporary storytellers, IMHO. You'll find that the films of Petrov often fall victim to a kind of sappy sentimentality that often accompanies flights from reality to the fantastic; this is a tendency Maximov has never visibly been prey to.

You can tell from this Bolero short that Maximov has a distinct grasp of consciousness as the Gödelian self-referential strange-loop. (In short the model exists within the model ∴ the model defines itself; an inescapable gap of logic that Kurt Gödel proved mathematically. This destroyed the Principia Mathematica text and changed the face of logic and philosophy forever. It, like a fugue, is a perfect analogy for consciousness.) Something about this film, too, has that odd Kafkaesque sense of horrific inescapable monotony- simultaneously fear-inducing and comedic. The psychology behind both of these stories (as different as they are) isn't your average Freud-quoting superficial skim over the top of the psyche. These films dive deeply into what it means to live as a conscious being and they do it without words, imposed context, or forced didacticism. I think he even sneaked a toilet joke into that Bolero piece. Nice. By the by, I suspect this Bolero piece is Replacement Animation (using shaped cutouts) but I'm not sure.

And who doesn't need an occasional bizarre multicolored trip through a surreal wasteland led by a dog that turns the moon into many-threaded strands of taffy creatures? Nobody in their right mind, that's who.

I LUV the sound and music in that final piece.


Thumbnails Complete, Onward to Boards

Thumbnails are complete and full-on storyboards are under way.

5 notebooks of approximately 1096 little frames and the basic story is locked in. I'll have full breakdowns only after the storyboards and animatic are complete but so far I'm happy with the outcome of the preliminaries.