Friday, December 5, 2008

The Power of The Unusualness
A grandpa with a huge white beard sits in the foreground of villages, playing chess with his grandson. Behind them, there is a landscape of an urbanized city, full of grey buildings with shinning neon lights. Everything looks peaceful until the trains crash together and create a lot of smoke, but the grandpa is still slowly trying to pick up his chessman. Then a UFO comes across them and flies into the city, sucking people up, but the grandpa and grandson are just paying attention to their chess. Even when Military airplanes start flying across the sky with rumbling noises, and one airplane throws a bomb creating a big explosion and a big hole in the city, the grandson still waits for his grandpa for his next move on the chessboard. Finally, as one airplane throws an atomic bomb down in the center of the city, the entire screen goes white due to this explosion. After the screen fades back in, the whole city in the background gets totally destroyed except the sky and the ocean. The village in the foreground is still the same, as the grandson and grandpa are playing their chess, enjoying their life. At the same time, some ducks come in, walking and quacking.
I was really touched and a bit shocked when one graduate student ran to me after seeing the screening of this piece, and said: “I like your animation, I really like it.” The excitement shown on her face told me that she really did. As an animator, I’ve never felt so encouraged because she seemed to have received my “signal,” and understood it. Since the traditional storytelling always makes me sleepy, I intend to create a personal style that speaks to me in my story. However, because the traditional style in Hollywood excites most people and indeed produces a lot of successful examples, I always felt pressured that my audience would not be patient with my experimental story. Therefore, such a simple and positive response from her satisfies all my expectations on this technically complicated, conceptually ambiguous and experimental project. My attempt is to explore more stylistic possibilities in animated films, and to seek some original ideas of storytelling through animation to communicate with the audience.
This school project “G136” is the second film that I’ve created and the only one so far that represents my experimental spirit with my own animation both technically and stylistically. The way of storytelling in “G136” can be described as two straight lines: one stands for the destructive events on the city, and one stands for the peaceful life of the grandson and grandpa in the village. These two “lines” go straight in the same direction but never intersect. Practically speaking, a war story should never talk about a suburban life, but a thought like this is very conservative to me. I intentionally looked for an appropriate way of combining the two in order to develop this parallel relation into a more interesting story.
The idea of this “two lines” structure began one day when I was trying to think of a funny story for my animation class. I was sitting on my chair, struggling for the entire two hours while having only one hour before class. Suddenly as I remembered the moment when I laughed at the spectators’ simultaneous reaction to the ball in a tennis match, I had a brainwave about my story. The unique funniness in this moment is that the insiders do not notice their simultaneous reaction to the ball, and I found that reaction very comical. I loved this unusual funniness and was hence inspired by it to explore further for my project.
“So what other occasions are funny like that?” To catch the attention, the story usually has a funny, overt and extreme content, so I brainstormed an amount of combinations that could make me laugh when coming across my mind, such as fairy tale characters plus the UFO. However, it’s a weird feeling when I laughed at something that makes no sense and is irrelevant to any kind of culture. This “brainwave” mysteriously and evilly affected me to laugh, as the funniness comes out nowhere logical or reasonable. Based on all these strange combinations, I began developing short stories for each one. Ultimately I got to the idea of having a contrastive image that a grandpa and grandson are playing chess while the big urbanized metropolis is being destroyed by different disasters. I was impressed how this contrast is visually funny, but at the same time, makes me think even more for the “why.”
Normally no one would like to see strange and random things unless there is a purpose, as I used to believe. However, by having composed the draft for the first panel in my storyboard, I noticed that I was wrong about this theory. I kept laughing at the weirdness that fully saturates my drawing: Grandpa with a huge white beard contrasting to grandson with no hair; a huge explosion that is frightening the entire city, but not the grandpa and grandson; ducks walking through after the atomic bomb. This first image contains all the random ideas that were totally generated with no specific implication from my mind. I used my instinct to create contents in the composition for the sake of entertaining myself firstly.
Thanks to this instinct to visualize, I was able to, in a very short time, develop this composition in an absurd way: This absurdity was not logically created, but emotionally or instinctively trashed. Although the composition might look incomprehensible or even meaningless at first sight, through a longer time, it gradually becomes a very articulate and purposefully structured image. This observation immediately inspired my next decision: letting this composition last a longer time. I risked doing that for two reasons: it works well visually; secondly, there is only 15 minutes left before class. In fact, I later found out that the experiment of having one single shot going on the entire three minutes is technically very difficult and dangerous to achieve, but I still said “I love challenging myself before graduation” due to my obstinateness. The issue of the ducks, as I thought, would be complaint by the audience, but not many of them mentioned it even if it truly came from my random thought. Unexpectedly, by extending the time, the composition gets visually much more interesting and stronger so that it enables the whole image to look like a well-thought-out plan.
Successfully and luckily, my emotional instinct and rational attempt arise the absurdity with a deeper and more compelling thought. Thanks to this unintentional absurdity, my film has never failed to at least surprise the first viewers. Instead of developing logic within my story, the film simply presents moving images about a grandpa, a grandson, trains, airplanes, bombs and ducks on an unreal background. None of these subjects has absolute reasons to appear in the film necessarily, but the gathering of them has an unknown charm, that I was excited with, to interact with the audience. This charm is the attitude of my film that forces the audience not to be passive about what is being shown, but rather to read and to give themselves a second thought. “Why are the grandson and grandpa not reacting to the disasters?” and “Does the duck have some meanings?” were the questions I intended to throw out from the absurd events. However, it is also a resultant of the fact that I looked for some excuses to deal with my nervousness with this experimental exercise. Therefore, for me, as an animator, I take my film as a multifunctional project which firstly satisfies my personal curiosity about the “unusual funniness” in animation, and secondly challenges me to keep this animated film away from being meaningless or boring to the public.
My selfishness of exploring the “unusual way” for making a funny animated film hence allows me to try making a film differently, but also gives me an unconscious guiltiness. I keep hearing people questioning the reason and purpose of this project, including the meaning of detailed elements, and some people think that my concept is very pretentious after knowing it. Unfortunately, I have been an obstinate person so that I would never regret what I’ve decided and been excited about. Indeed, public opinions affect my thought and confidence throughout the whole time, so I often feel sorry, even at the moment of the first screening of “G136.” However, I convert my guiltiness into my strong motivation and belief in confronting with the technical problems for this film.
Unlike live-action film, animation needs the animator to work on creating everything that would appear on the screen. “G136” challenged me the most on the background painting, the airplanes’ modeling, explosion effects, the timing, the entire composition and rendering. This experience meant that I’ve only finished 1% of my film when the composition was planed out. There were more than ten technical issues complicating all the ideas that I had before. I owned ideas that might have been added to the scene, like a tsunami, a volcano, a robot and many crazy subjects in my original storyboard, for presenting more amounts of distracting events to raise the contrast within the composition. In the process of achieving this project, I gave up so many of those possibilities due to the technical difficulties. Nevertheless, I still kept myself open to the new, simple but good ideas, such as the most random subject in my film: the ducks. Although this practical issue limited a bunch of my original ideas, thankfully afterwards, I realized that this obstacle enables me to send my focus on the process of the presentation, rather than on what to be presented.
“G136” is the title made at the very last moment before the deadline, and it’s actually the name of the lab’s number where I’d been working on my film. One student raised his hand after my screening, saying: “Why is it called G136?” “Because this film is about randomness, so why not just keep up with it?” I was surprised how fluently and confidently I was speaking about this to the entire 100 audiences, while my real reason for giving this title was just that I almost forgot to do so until the last moment. This experimental project is challenging and risky, as it could have become meaningless if it fails to make people laugh. However, I am glad that I did not follow my logic to complete this film, not for the success of winning the laughs and compliments, but simply for the fact that the original inspiration, the brainstorming, the technical approach and the conceptual presentation are all derived directly from my mind. Based on this experimental project of exploring my way to tell a story, I succeed to communicate with the audience visually, as well as myself. I’d rather play chess everyday in the countryside, not being contaminated by the world that sees my “unusualness” as “the rest.”

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