Monday, August 31, 2009

Hooked by Les Edgerton

Hooked by Les Edgerton, "write fiction that grabs readers at page one and never lets them go. Decent read, flows smooth, has some good examples of how to "show not tell"

Main point: Gotta start strong, right in the inciting incident, with no fancy words and backstory, right in the middle of the action. Open as quick as possible then dive into solving the problems.

Opening needs: 1)inciting incident, 2)main story problem (learn to love again) 3) surface problem (there's a bomb) 4) setup (where we're at, who's who, what's going on, as short as possible!) 5) backstory (absolute minimum possible! you can fill it in more depth later once you've hooked 'em) 6) brilliant opening sentence (opening sentence is what gets a publisher to buy your book) 7)language (strong, original verbs. don't pair adjectives (each additional one halves your power) use "said" instead of some overly fancy dialogue tag) 8) characters (introduce them to the reader by showing their reactions to the inciting incident. have them DOING stuff. don't say he's a miser, have him save his teabag in his fancy coat for reuse)(and don't overwhelm the reader with too many characters to early 9)setting (readers don't care about all that long flowy descriptive stuff you can right, quick and clever is better) 10)foreshadowing ("a brief hint of what's to take place at the end will make your story feel complete to the reader")

Readers have to live through the inciting incident and experience it with the characters so they can understand and care about it. Think smaller not bigger. If a bomb is your inciting incident how are you gonna top it, with a bigger bomb, bad idea. He says the inciting incident in Thelma and Louise is when Thelma decides to go on the trip without her husbands permission, not the rape, it's the first moment of defiance in her. So inciting incident won't be obvious enough for the protagonist to realize their "story problem" so you need a "surface problem" strong enough to get them moving (Thelma and Louise killing the rapist.) Surface problems can be overcome, but always lead to new ones, which gives us time to unfold how big the story problem is, until all problems get resolved in the end.

How do you figure out your story problem? Ask "why". You want to drag a dude around looking for the lost city of Xenon, WHY would he do this? Um.. to impress a girl. Can't he imress her another way? Um... there's this Walter guy who made our dude eat sand a year ago in front of the girl and now he has to prove he's a man to her because she's just looking at him with pity. Boom, there's your inciting incident, eating sand, and an antagonist, and probably our dude is really trying to get his self respect back for himself. etc, ask why and chase up reasons like that, pick them up put them down shuffle them around etc. Having trouble distinguishing between story and surface problems? You can photograph a resolution to a surface problem (getting the girl to love him = wedding photo)surface goals are particular while story ones are all encompassing and more general. Keep asking "what does my protagonist really want, so deep they don't even know it?" Try and get the goals entwined, Thelma and Louise running from the law works well with Thelma breaking free from men. You're antagonist's goals are probably opposite of your protagonist's but don't make him straight evil. Hal wants to capture Thelma and Louise because they're wanted for murder, and because he doesn't want them to wind up killed. The best story worthy problems are the writers own because you'll already be emotional about them, so you'll write stronger (if you can take it).

Always get your story down to particular individuals. It won't work to make a story about "Freedom", but it did work to write about Uncle Tom and his experience with slavery.

He was so mean that wherever he was standing became the bad part of town.
At that moment, the bad part was State Street just past Maplecrest, in the Georgetown Shopping Plaza. Behind it, actually, back by the dumpsters behind the Cap 'n Cork.
Into one one of which he was stuffing the body of his wife.

that's all the setup and backstory you need. Don't need to go into how he became a bastard right now, don't need to describe the town. Quick and Dirty, use words cleverly to crowbar the most important info into very few sentences.

We are used to noticing the big melodramatic moments, but the moments that really count are the dramatic moments. Dad dying is a melodramatic moment (big, huge, Thing), the first small realization of just what that death really means to our character = dramatic moment (intense, emotional, specific individual, to the bone.)

Show us who the characters are by their actions, and specific details. You don't need to give us specific's on how they look, we'll fill that in. "I was just finishing my afternoon flossing when I noticed the chip in my backup Peter Rabbit teacup." The audience starts forming an idea of who this person is based on flossing in the afternoon, and having at least 2 Peter Rabbit teacups.

Specific details can help paint vivid pictures. "He was forty eight, a fisherman, and had never caught a significant fish" the simple detail of "significant" makes that sentence much more interesting. Good writing is strong verbs and concrete nouns, not flowery useless adjectives and adverbs. Give the reader a character who's obviously cut from a different cloth then the everyman, and you create a compelling opening.

red flag bad openings: open with a dream, or an alarm clock buzzing, opening with dialogue (we probably won't know who is who), or too little dialogue (long walls of text)

Open short and sweet, quick scene giving a strong short flavor of who's involved and what the inciting incident is, then get to work to solve it.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Making of Chicken Run

has some nice guts to the puppets scenes, armatures, replacement faces, etc.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Blocking thoughts

Jason Ryan mentioned that lately he's been animating the lipsynch before anything more then the golden's, because he's noticed that when the face isn't animated yet he tends to add more to the body to make up for it, then when it's all in it's too much. I have come to a similar discovery, that even though I feel like the eyes show the character thinking and feeling the most, I have been short changing my eyes by animating them late into the process, so not leaving enough time for them. The more you pull back the stronger the performance can be, getting the face and eyes in there sooner might help to keep it subtle. Might make it easier to milk the golden's longer because the golden's can be a frame for the thoughts occuring in the eyes.

So here is a reminder for myself: Next shot, block golden's, maybe 1st pass of keyframes, but get eyes and facial expression golden's in asap. We'll see how that works.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Heroes of Newerth - Our new game

guess we've finally announced for real. For anyone curious, here's what I've been up to for the last year.

digital painting tutorials

I run across this drawing tutorial page occasionally, never when I'm actually looking for it, so figured I'd post it here so I could track it down next time I need it. It's made by Niklas Jansson and its pretty thorough.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Juiced and Jazzed

Check out Juiced and Jazzed by Justin Webber, fun and light and joyously 2D.

* rest of the credits
Andrew Chesworth
Aaron Quist
Joe Kim

Justin Weber

Andrew Chesworth
Aaron Quist

Monday, August 24, 2009


Slapped out a quick horse walk today (no you can't see it ;) on Rhett (thank you Chris Carson) and brought it home to have my wife help me understand it better (she's a rider). As we were analyzing it we found this great youtube clip with super slow mo reference. And it looks like searching youtube for 600fps might pan out more reference. (side note, rhett's anatomy is a little funny, so be aware of that. And there's a tiger out there (also with somewhat suspicious anatomy.))

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Screenwriting Formula

Been reading stuff on writing lately. This stuff very plainly lays out the formula for Hollywood films, which lets face it, can be very powerful entertaining and fun, but can also be predictable and dull. But knowing the formula and thinking behind it makes it easier to use the formula's strengths and side step if you don't want that flavor.

The Screenwriting Formula by Rob Tobin, an easy read with lots of examples from recent films.

Quick summary: you need a hero, ally, and opponent. The opponent should somehow be the cause of the inciting incident. And there needs to be a character plot (learn how to open up to people) and a straight plot (stop the bomb).

Full notes:
Screenplay typically: Act One=25-30 pages, Act Two=60 pages, Act Three=30 pages (screenplay page typically=1 minute movie time)
Act 1 is about defining and describing the hero. Movies are short we only have time for people to have 1 major flaw. Also need to show hero's redeeming qualities so audience will be interested/care enough about them to see them through. Show hero's motivation, and point of view so audience understands hero. Introduce opponent and maybe the ally, end with the inciting incident.

Act 2 (first part)you need to figure out the driving force aka objective storyline (ie. stopping the bomb) and the real point aka subjective storyline (ie learning to love again). The commercial hook you're gonna sell the film with is the objective storyline, like a boy finds a space alien in his closet E.T., a down and out loser gets a one in a million shot at boxing championship of the world -Rocky. Objective storyline often provides a time limit. Act 2 starts with hero's emotional response to the inciting incident, then their physical response (what they actually do). Ally offers help. Hero makes a plan against opponent. Hero balks at giving up flaw (ally might have to finish 1st plan). Opponent counter attacks and states their point of view. Ally challenges hero about balk. Stakes are raised (bomb's gonna kill more people). Hero confronts their flaw, reconnects with ally partially redeems themself and they bond, big fight with Ally (hero doesn't want to give up their flaw, ally wants them to) hero explains flaw Ally reveals own struggles.

Act 2 (second part) Hero chooses flaw or opportunity (let 'em blow up, I'd rather not risk loving). Hero and Ally unite against opponent. Stakes get higher again (gonna blow up the moon too). Opponent counters, situation is becoming a mirror of the one that created the flaw in the first place. Stakes higher (gonna blow up the ocean). Hero breaks own rules, but even that doesn't help. Opponent does something making hero really choose flaw or opportunity and reveals full extent of danger (highest tension point heroes on the edge of the cliff hanging by his pinky toes). Events are now a complete mirror of the origin of the flaw (flashback may be necessary). Final decision. (sometimes a chance to revoke final decision and backslide.)

Act 3. (Act 2 was apparently find opponent, catch opponent, train to fight opponent seems like the authors chronology doesn't quite agree with himself. All or nothing (guess we're back on the cliff with pinky toes). Damage to hero mounts. Low point for hero, then discovers a way to fight back. Audience learns of the full threat. Hero learns of the full threat. Final battle, fully engaged. Hero restates point of view. Battle over win or lose. Optional final twist, should raise raise the emotional stakes of the battle and lend an edge or some irony to the whole act.

7 Elements of a screenplay:

Hero - sympathetic or interesting enough for us to want to know what happens to them and follow them for 2 hours. (humans relate to humans, a story about a tornado is not as interesting as a story about a tornado chaser)

Hero's flaw - viewed by the hero as a behavior that protects them in life. "All stories are essentially about a hero who has to overcome his flaw in order to accomplish some worthwhile goal. Thus the hero (and audience) faces innate conflict choosing between the worthwhile goal, and the necessary for survival flaw." Figuring out the flaw, you'll probably create the backstory to find the original event that created the flaw as a defense mechanism. Brokeback Mnt. flaw=fear that if being himself will get him killed, Rocky=fear of getting in a situation where he will prove he's a loser.

Enabling Circumstances
- how the hero's placed themselves in life to maintain the survival flaw. The Wedding Crashers who are terrified of intimacy work in a divorce law firm

- the one who instigates the inciting incident and prevents the hero from achieving their goal. The opponent could have the hero's best interest at heart, opponent/ally is very common in romances. Forest Gump the opponent is Jenny, who prevents Forest from his fulfilling his goal of being with her. Million Dollar Baby Maggie is the opponent because she forces Frankie to open up and care about her.

Hero's Ally - Helps the hero overcome their flaw, spends the most screen time with them, especially during Act 2. If the ally fails it's a tragedy. Ally suggests how the hero should proceed, through advice, example (bad or good), or some other way. Brokeback Mnt. Jack risks his life living true to himself, hopefully inspiring the hero to do the same. Forest Gump they gave Jenny the flaw (mistrusts men) and Forest does the ally thing of being a good man no matter what, so she can overcome her flaw.

Life-Changing Event - Comes at the end of Act 1, usually instigated by opponent, forces hero to choose between their flaw and an opportunity (key point).

Jeopardy - "asking someone to give up their flaw should be like asking someone to take off their bulletproof vest in a gun battle."

Choose a few elements and use them to figure out the rest. If you have a woman who is afraid to make connections, you can decide that her enabling circumstances is defining herself with her job, and her opponent's going to be an autistic nephew who's parents die and she becomes the caretaker, etc. Knowing your flaw helps you build a backstory that makes your character real. The hero's goal doesn't always help them, the author's example is of a miser who wants to hold onto all his money and so becomes lonely and isolated and unable to actually enjoy his wealth with the opponent being a generous loving person wanting the miser to help a worthwhile cause. The flaw has to be possible to overcome, a guy without a hand can't have to play piano in carnegie hall.

Use the Elevator Pitch to make sure that your story has the required parts. The pitch should sum up the objective and subjective stories within 2 sentences. "A meek and alienated little boy finds a stranded extraterrestrial in his closet and has to find the courage to defy authorities to help the alien return to it's home planet." A "high concept" pitch sells itself. High concept has a definite identity for the hero(lawyer), hero's flaw relates to identity (lies to get his own way), event forces hero to choose between flaw and opportunity (can't lie anymore, quit job or find a new way), idea is new not a rehash, sense of irony (more ironic for a lawyer not to be able to lie then a plumber). Being able to immediately imagine consequences from the inciting incident is a good sign. (a priest falling in love with a woman)Think extreme opposites. (plumber being forced to tell the truth is not as opposite as a lawyer)

Intrinsically conflicted characters are more interesting. A mathematical genius working at MIT, as a janitor.

He says titanic is not on any Top Best Movies lists, so he uses his formula to make it a better story (he says it was the $250million budget & $50 million ad budget that made it so big.) There's 2 heroes, he chooses to go with Rose. He says Rose has too many flaws (5), you need 1 flaw so that the EVENT and story can work around it. There's only 2 major events in the movie, Rose falls in love, the boat sinks, they are not related. So he decides to make Rose's flaw that she gives up true love to marry for money (currently in the movie it's Rose's mother who wants her to marry for money). Jack is the ally/opponent, as the 1 true love, he moves their affair to backstory before getting on the boat. Then he contrasts Rose in the upperclass sailing with her Fiance to America, with seeing Jack in the steerage representing her love, her self, and her people that she comes from. So the life changing event is her discovering the lover she thought she left behind is on the boat with her so she must really make a choice between love and luxury. So the whole movie is about Rose choosing between staying with the upperclass above, or returning to the hard life of the poor below for love. So the original elevator pitch: "A callow young woman who is engaged to a handsome, wealthy man she does not love takes up with a young street urchin who teaches her to spit and have sex in the back seat of a car on the maiden voyage of the Titanic." vs. his new version:"A desperate young Irish woman who abandons her one true love, as well as her family, country, and heritage, to marry for money. She boards a luxury liner with her rich fiance, headed for an American wedding, only to discover that her lover has followed her aboard...on the maiden voyage of the Titanic."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Simon Tofield master of Observation

Dude named Simon Tofield made these brilliant shorts. This is where I aspire to get my observation skills. Hey You reading this blog, help me out here; how do you think he does it? How do you think he takes all he's observed of his cats and encapsulates it into his cartoon? When my cat meow's all night at me to feed her, I get annoyed because I feel like she's being irritating on purpose. Maybe Simon takes note of those feelings he has as the owner and runs with them. It also seems like he keeps running with how the cats trying to achieve it's goal, exaggerating it to where it's funny because it's impossible, but totally plausible that a cat would if it could. I have two cats and I loved these shorts because they felt so true to me, but if I had tried to make a short about my cats I couldn't have done this well. If I could form it into a question what makes these shorts so great then I'd be better able to figure it out: How does Simon _________ so well? (distill cat behavior?, translate observations into entertainment?, identify characteristic behaviour from specific behaviour?, ???got any ideas?)

This one is interesting because it is not as successful as the others, I think. I think Simon does not own a dog, so the observations are not as true. There are some parts that fit, but the whole picture isn't as clear. Maybe he's got years and years of close cat watching built up, but not as much on dogs?

you folks have any ideas?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Animation w/ glow sticks

By Darcy Prendergast

I love the little hopping guys. There's something about light, like long smooth overlapping shapes, that just sings for me.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Second Wind - Ian Worrel

Ian Worrel is working on a new film called Second Wind. He's thrown up some production artwork. His other film Icarus and the Tree Herder was so interesting, I'm looking forwards to this new one.

Icarus & the Tree Herder from Ian Worrel on Vimeo.

*edit, looks like he finished!

Second Wind from Ian Worrel on Vimeo.

Dirty Moving Holds

Jean-Denis Haas has a great post on dirtying up your graphs for keep alive

Bill Plympton Master Class Notes

Nancy Beiman took notes during a Bill Plympton Master Class. Some interesting ideas on doing your own stuff.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Ma - Catch your Breath

Michelle has a nice post about pauses during story telling to let you absorb what's happened. With clip of Ebert talking about it also.