Here is the short itself:
and here is my website where you can hire me and give me lots of money: https://www.adriandalen.com/
BY ADRIAN DALEN
METHODIC REPORT 2020
In this methodic report, I will cover my bachelor assignment in animation at Høgskulen I Volda. We were given two semesters to develop and make an animated product of our own choosing. I decided on making a Digital 2D animated short That ended up being around four and a half minutes.
The short is an absurdist and anarchistic comedy about a world that has a global tradition to cut off their own fingers. The story follows a kid that has the bravery to ask “why”. A question that will lead him down a path of disappointment.
I came into this bachelor with two very clear goals. The first was that I wanted to become a better animator by challenging myself on the type of animation I worked with, And the other was to have fun and make a movie that was ostensibly for me. The way I see it. Is that I will have more than enough time to make movies for other people once I’m out in the industry. So why not take this golden opportunity and make a kind of movie that most likely wouldn’t exist otherwise. My goal wasn’t to isolate myself in a chase of a movie that was a “pure” distillation of my sensibilities. But to disregard the notion that it was made for any kind of demographic or followed any consensus on established storytelling “rules”. I would take suggestions and feedback, but ultimately it would be a very intuitively driven decision process on what felt right, or more importantly. funny. I will go more in-depth throughout the report on why I made these decisions and what they resulted in. It might create something new and exciting, or just crash and burn into an esoteric mess. Possibly a little bit of both. Time and this report will tell
So why did it end up like that?
Since I started this education, I have been to several animation festivals, visited other schools and even partaken in the selection of short film programs for our local festival. Where we had to sift through 1400+ shorts and watch 800 of them. Doing this has made me become quite familiar with the trappings that make up a student film and it’s production. And furthering my understanding of what I personally respond to and what I would want out of one. And there was one element that consistently was the root of how much I appreciated a short. And that was the attitude
Don’t get me wrong, I think It’s important to give your absolute best at every project you do and commit to it fully, even if it’s not one you are particularly a fan of. And it’s not an attack on people who want to make a more serious movie with heavier themes. But there is this trap I see a lot fall into when it comes to a bachelor project of this size. And that is overambition and a sense of feeling like this project needs to be your magnum opus. There is nothing wrong with aiming high or not even failing at reaching that high, but it can become a problem when it gets this paralysing effect where every decision needs to be “perfect”. A sense of frustration emerges when everything isn’t falling neatly into place and a worry that you are somehow wasting this opportunity where you can make whatever you want with no monetary stress or commitments to other people. And that can very quickly become a handicap for a production. So if you are making a silly little short or a deeply passionate call to action, I think it’s important to have some perspective and know that we are mere creative children, at the start of our journey and the rest of our lives. It’s not impossible, but very rare that someone gets it on their first try and creates a masterpiece right out of the gate. I’m not encouraging a lackadaisical approach to filmmaking, rather one where one goes more with the flow and lets a movie be whatever it ends up becoming. Good or bad you can still learn so much in order to make the next one even better. Just do the absolute best you can do at that point in time and learn from it.
This more emergent and sober approach to filmmaking was something that you could see from day one. The specific idea of having a society that cuts off their fingers as a metaphor for Tradition is one that I have had ruminating in my head long before the third year, among others. So when it was time to start the bachelor assignment I went directly on developing a story for this idea since I knew it was the one I wanted to work with. I decided to go with a very iterative process when it came to creating a story. So for my first draft, I just sat down and wrote the entire thing non stop as a stream of consciousness. I find it good to just churn out the first take like this and “break the ice” so to speak with the project. You remove the horrors of staring at a blank page at the start of a daunting task. The first ideas are always the most derivative of things you know, so it’s good to get those ideas out so you can disregard them. What followed was a sort of “survival of the fittest” for storytelling. I rewrote the story completely around 7 times. Reintroducing ideas, trying out other ones, changing everything,etc.. I did this in the hope to capture a very organic and spontaneous form of storytelling and see what ideas were strong enough to survive several iterations. After I felt I had a good enough foundation I stopped with the rewrites and rather just punched up and changed around on the screenplay in front of me. Which was in no way final since I wanted to keep the process of the movie loose and flexible all the way to the end.
My inspiration for approaching my short in a manner like this, more so than any individual person or creation. Is a whole movement. I was born and raised on Webgen entertainment. Fringe people in the .com boom sitting in their little corner of the world. Creating pure anarchy in animated form. The more I watched, the more I fell in love with the freeform and individualistic entertainment that didn’t have to answer to any higher power. It was simply a guy sitting in his room making something he thought was funny for nothing more than his passion doing it. There was something magical in the emergent humour where the short turnaround time would allow people to put in whatever stupid idea they had that they thought would be funny in the moment, even if it would stop being funny one day later. It made the comedy of it all more unpredictable and intimate.
But combining spontaneous and esoteric comedy that had a short shelf life with a long-form production schedule might seem contradictory. And to a certain extent, It is. There were several times during the production that I felt frustrated because I couldn’t capture this specific energy and tone I was aiming for. I tried different approaches and it wasn’t always perfect. But there are sections of the short I feel are strong and capture some of what I was looking for wonderfully.
There is one specific artist however, that seems to have figured out a way to have big multimillion productions and combine it with his specific and eclectic sensibilities. I have been a longtime fan of Yoko Taro’s work within the game industry and I decided to deep-dive a bit into him as a creator in hopes of learning something useful. And I did.
There were two major things I took from him, The first is that I leaned way too hard into auteur theory. Despite his work having a very strong and identifiable voice leading it, it’s still absolutely the case of a team that makes it a reality. and Something that makes it all come together is that he is very good at finding and cultivating the right team and people to help him reach his goals. But more importantly. I learned that Sincerity is key. It doesn’t matter if you want a story of androids killing robots in gothic lolita dresses just because you liked the way they looked. If what you are telling at its core is humane, insightful and sincere. Then people will see through it and resonate with that core. Some might be put off about your specific taste, but the ones that appreciate it will love it that just more.
The price of being weird
There is a tradeoff when you decide to coat your product in specific sensibilities, especially if the ones you have don’t hold much mass appeal. People might be put off from the surface elements of your products. But the more media I consume, the more I find that tradeoff to be worth it. Sure, you risk losing a lot of potential viewers by going more specific, but what you gain is a more strong bond with those that are willing to engage with those elements. I’m reminded of something FilmCritHulk once said as one of his reasons in response to why he wrote his essays in all caps as part of his persona. He mentioned that even the small amount of open-mindedness one needed to see past a gimmick like that, would set a strong baseline of people for good discussion, And I’ll be damned if he hasn’t consistently had some of the most honest, lovely and insightful comment sections on the web. So there seems to be some truth to it. Don’t get me wrong, I do the things I do first and foremost because it’s the type of storytelling I enjoy and is what comes naturally, But it’s healthy to once in a while reexamine the virtues and downsides of your particular brand of creations.
The esoteric humour can also be a strong tool to tear down any kind of pedestal one might have created. There is a joke in the end that the production of this short and its qualities are quickly starting to deteriorate. It sets it up by being comically blatant about the messaging of the film, breaking down the reality presented. It then further escalates until it reaches a climax where it’s taken to its absurd extremity. And I think this has several functions to it. The first is that it’s comedic and surprising in its bluntness and leaves the movie on a strong note. Another is that it’s indicative of an internal struggle I have of looking at the problems of the world rationally and being optimistic about the way forward, Which is conflicting with the growing frustration and the irrational desire to just grab something blunt and quick fix the problem when it doesn’t work immediately. And lastly it’s that it humanises the whole thing. I never wanted to communicate that I am any sort of authority and have all the answers, I’m simply a random guy that has an opinion. And showing that I don’t take myself that seriously is a great way to indicate that I set myself on equal footing on whoever’s watching it and wanting to meet them directly instead of above them.
For me, a movie is a conversation. Intentional or not, a movie will in some way or form be a representation of one’s worldview. And I see no point of watering that out, in fact, I find it one of the most intriguing parts of fiction. A story can make me understand an experience or worldview that I would have otherwise never had the chance. You can take something as simple as an argument, and make it an emotional journey that forces someone to not just understand, but empathise with the root of where that argument comes from. I don’t even have to end up agreeing with what’s being said, I can still empathise. And that is something healthy for the discourse.
So all of this informed my decision to go all out for this project. It was gonna be an unapologetic portrait of my current frustrations. Heightened with hyperbole for comedic effect but coming from a place of sincerity nonetheless since that is pretty much my modus operandi.
It might not seem like it but there is a form to all the madness. Even though I emphasised heavily the use of intuitive and off the cuff humour/storytelling. I still had to show the product to a lot of different people where the decisions would be put under heavy scrutiny. So everything that is in the final product has one reasoning or another for being there.
Some get surprised when I say this, but I am not really attacking any tradition in specific with my thematics. Might be one or two light jabs in the montage part of the short though. The strength of the analogy of finger cutting is that it’s so far removed from anything existing (except an obscure tribe in Indonesia that actually does it, which I found out after I started making the short). It serves as the logical extreme of a specific mentality rather than a symptom of that mentality instead. What I am arguing for isn’t that traditions are inherently bad, But a blind adherence to maintaining one for its own sake can quickly become damaging or at least, unproductive. It’s made a point that there has been no effort to adjust to the existence of this paradigm. There are no new inventions to make living without fingers easier, it’s just a thing you do without being questioned and try to live on as it isn’t a problem that needs to be brought forth. The universality of this allegory is emphasised by trying to represent as many ethnicities and cultures as possible and blend it all together. To show the universality of this problem and not just hone in on one thing.
There is a strength within the broadness of the subject that people can bring into it whatever they want. Even when it was on a storyboard level I have had several discussions with people that brought in different specific traditions they had problems with, and fostered good conversations with them around it. Both from old and young people. It was very confidence-boosting that so early in the production and the messaging was already shining through and resonating with people. So this allegory is something that can cover large society spawning problems that actually cause troubles like fascism and bigotry, or to something small and benign as an outdated workplace dress code. It can also reach outside the realm of tradition and point to something larger like generations inheriting their problems down to the next one.
Generational gaps are something that gets bigger and bigger by each decade as technology and society progress exponentially. We are now in an age with entire societies based around technology in tandem with people who can’t press an on button. I’m 22 and I’m already feeling like I’m starting to not get the younglings today. And naturally, this will cause a lot of friction as the divide of the world people grew up in gets bigger. And the frustration of that disconnect has very much been fuel for this short. One that is felt on both sides.
It’s no secret that this year has been a rough one. Both personal health problems and corona lockdown. It even feels weird sitting here and writing about my short while the USA is on fire and are going through what might be a social revolution. However I had a clear goal by the start and I was hellbent to see it through. And that was to have a completed short at the end of my bachelor.
Pragmatism was at the forefront in order to get this short to completion. I ended up not getting a group so I would have to do a lot of it myself. And I knew in order to keep myself afloat I would need to plan out the entire year so I could keep a holistic view of the entire production. That paired with Trygve being very good at giving me deadlines and pushing me along to get stuff done. I ended up with what you see below.
Things got changed around accordingly when needed but this is more or less what I ended up with We got some extra weeks because of the delayed delivery date, but they ended up not mattering much since I had to wait for programs and equipment from the school, alongside adapters I ordered before I could properly restart the production. I kept myself busy but there was definitely a lull in things being done. I further planned a schedule of which shots would be animated which week, Sadly I based it on a system where I deleted the shots in the list once done so I don’t have anything specific to picture for it other than an empty grid.
Doing it like this proved to be quite a good solution. Since I at all times knew how much time a part of the production would get, then I could much easier weigh the tradeoff and easier identify what I could cut down on and what I could give additional time to. Things moved around a lot during production. Halfway through the rough animation phase, I realised that there was too little time set off to lineart and colour. But thanks to the holistic overview I could cut into rough animation and divide the increased workload per week evenly so as to not get overwhelmed long before it became time to start doing it.
The biggest hurdle of the production was definitely Trying to balance all the different jobs at once. In the start, I felt myself getting spread thin with having to deal with every facet of the production. I had to jump between writing, animatic, designing, figuring out the style, getting actors and much more. I had to jump between all of those and could never fully commit to sit down and do one of them. This became less and less of a problem as time went on and it was more just labour work left like linearting and such. There was a specific point where I felt I had neglected the animatic part of the production. The last day had passed and it was time to start rough animation, however. I was not happy with where the animatic was at. It had very stiff camerawork and a lot of the same compositions. So I decided to add one more week to the animatic schedule. And really focus on making it more as I envisioned. I learned a lot from “the art of the storyboard” in ways to have more fun with my framing, Don’t just go for the immediate idea but push all the elements present.
Animatic panel before and after
Figuring out a pipeline for this project was definitely interesting. I decided I wanted to base the look and language of the movie entirely on things I wanted to become better at. Leaning into the goal that I wanted to come out of this project as a better animator and creator.
When I was doing my exchange year down at The Animation Workshop, I had a couple teachers that introduced and made me consecutively fall in love with watercolours. It’s something about how it immediately brings a wonderful and elegant texture to a piece. It’s wild and uncontrollable, so it’s more a conversation where you lead the paint but also have to let it do its own thing to your piece. I had been doing some pieces here and there but I knew I wanted to get more practise in so I decided to use it for the backgrounds on my short.
A benefit of watercolours is that it’s very expedient. You can take it further and render things with details and form if you want, but watercolour is very good at filling a space with texture and variation despite just you putting down a solid block of colour. And the more fast and loose you are with your brushstrokes, the harder you lean into the natural expression that forms with water. And in order to make sure that the backgrounds and character animation were made in complete isolation from each other, I would have to figure out a workflow.
The way I ended up going about it is that I would first make an animatic of a scene. After that I would take the composition I decided and further draw out all the details and outlines in the background on photoshop. I then took and printed the layout out on A4 paper (I decided to do it quite small in order to accentuate the texture of the paint and paper). Where I would trace the layout on a lightbox with a fine tip ink pen on a watercolour paper. Followed by me applying watercolour to it and scanning it back in to digital. If the image felt flat or the scan wasn’t quite right I would do some cleanup in photoshop and possibly add additional elements such as shadows.
Layout sketch, incorporated an earlier painting and images I was gonna parody
Setup for tracing and painting
The animation presented an interesting challenge, I wanted to challenge myself with every shot, each one posing a new challenge. My animations are often deliberately rough and lo-fi. So I wanted to try something more polished and elegant. But I had to pair this with a hectic time schedule and a solo production. For a solution, I looked to one of my animation heroes, Bahi JD.
Bahi has a very unique approach to character animation, he is one of the few that uses adobe animate to do frame by frame animation professionally. The way he does it is that he animates all the pieces of a body separate like the hands, head, legs and such. They all move in an arc independently from each other and then he goes in and connects it all to one single body afterwards. This gives everything a very naturalistic and unplanned movement with a very unique expression. And since he does it in the vector-based animation he can move around the piece and give additional movement without much extra cost in time to redraw the image.
Although since I’m not at Bahi’s level so I wasn’t able to do full animation in flash and prevent it from feeling very stiff that quickly happens when you use symbol-based animation. So my solution was that I would do the rough animation in flash. Giving me the speed and efficiency of a symbol and Frame By Frame hybrid. And then I would take the rough animation into Tv paint and lineart it like it was a normal frame by frame animation, even if something had a tween like animation. This would put in human errors and energy into the lines that would fix the otherwise sterile flow you get from a vector program.
The result was warrying from scene to scene, Overall I am happy with the result but there was a problem with some shots that the lineart was too consistent, So it ended up looking tweened despite being frame by frame. So in retrospective, I might have chosen a line style that would enable more errors and variation in line to appear, instead of the clean pen tool that I ended up going with.
When it comes to animation there are certain tendencies that pop up, they all form out of logic and it is completely reasonable that they exist, but tendencies nonetheless. So when I planned out this movie I deliberately decided to rebel against some of those notions in hope to fill my movie with a unique texture to its presentation. The immediate example would be the second shot where we have 23 individually designed characters in a crowd that all start applauding with a unique clap animation. I don’t find my design language to be particularly interesting so I try to achieve a distinct feel to my movies with weirder cinematic decisions such as these. Normally it would be offscreen or you animate a blob that alludes to a crowd clapping.
I consider design to be one of my weakest fields. There is something about it that freezes me up and I just can’t get anything done. I didn’t really get much done before we had a wonderful character design course with Celia Kaspar. She gave me a lot of useful tips and guided me to find my main character. Which would be the foundation of the style going forward, something that had been a growing issue to figure out. And once I had a visual language developed things became easier. Although I still had to design a lot more characters, so I decided to go to the best character designer we have, real life. Since I also had a lot of ethnicities represented in my movie, it would also be a good way to avoid stereotyping. I just found a bunch of images from real people from those places and just drew them all in the style, after that, I picked the best part of each and put them together to create a new character. This was also time-efficient to do it since the clothing, hairstyles and all was already designed for me, although I did take some liberties here and there when needed.
Just some of the things from early development work
All in all, I’m very happy wit how the film turned out. I feel like I met all my goals and I definitely ended up with something distinctly made by me. If I were to do things again I would probably do a lot of things differently, But for me, that is a good sign that I have grown and have a better understanding of both the medium and myself. Maybe not every single experiment was a hit but I’m glad that I tried and could learn from it instead of playing it safe.
John hart (2008) The Art of the Storyboard: A Filmmaker’s Introduction
Nicolas turcev (2019) The Strange Works of Taro Yoko: From Drakengard to NieR: Automata
I have hired and audio engineer to do the audio, because of corona he was set back and held away from his equipment., So the audio i’m delivering is not finished. But will be soonly and in time for the broadcast.