Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Fury Of Master Zange - Brief look at Production

This is the latest episode for the Box O Zombies series. I had roughly 5 weeks to write, storyboard, illustrate and animate it this time, opposed to the 3-4 weeks for the last series. The story features the winner of the Kickstarter package which promised they would be featured in the next animation. I was weary of this idea (I had the winner as a zombie getting slayed in a few seconds route ready to go). Luckily, Bob Zange won the package and had the look of someone who could easily star in a comic book, on top of that he is a martial arts instructor.

I figured I would just peel back the curtain a bit and give a very brief overview of the process.

As stated above I had five weeks to get a ton of work done. I started by meeting with Marty Meinerz (he did the score and SFX for short), I threw some ideas at him to get reactions and critique. He in turn would give me some ideas on how to flesh out my vision for the animation. At the same time, he is getting a prep on what to expect in regards to his score and SFX duty.

I then write out the beats of the story, with not much detail just action. In some cases I made general notes on the camera. For example (transcribed from my original notes):

-Wide shot of house in residential area
- Cut to medium shot, peering through open doorway. Door is damaged
- Cut to pan through living space. Pictures knocked down, seats torn, blood spots, etc.
- Cut to pan of mantle that stops on picture of class.

I took this and re-wrote a few times adding more details each time. Since I didn't have time to write a full script, a lot was added during the storyboarding. I did however, figure out ideas for framing, mood and details through this process. Below are what the notes looked like a little further developed.

- Start with wide shot of a typical Chicago bungalow style home. 
- Cut to tighter shot peering through the front door which is wide open. Subtle signs of forced entry (doorknob broke, little blood, toppled plant pots)
- Jump cuts through main living area to show more signs of some rummaging (knocked down lamp, frames, chairs, blood on wall, phone off the hook.
- Cut to shot of mantle, slow pan through pictures, medals and trophies. Stops on a class picture from a kung fu school. As the camera stops the glass of the frame reflects to reveal a figure looking at the picture.

After watching a lecture from Mark Andrews (Pixar) on storyboarding I abandoned my previous technique of thumb nailing. Instead of doing small rough sketches to figure out space and movement, I sketched to scale. So that when I found my frame, I simply inked and painted over it. Thus avoiding losing anything in translation when redrawing a thumbnail to scale. So the comic started out looking something like this.

From there I cleaned up the sketches so they were more like penciled panels, then ink and painted. As I animated the video I made various touch ups, adjusting light, focus, composition and filtering in photo textures to make the images pop (photos helped make up for the inability to add detail by hand due to time constraints). Somewhere in the middle of the rough and final state seen in the animation they looked like this.

In regards to the development of ideas behind the action, there is a little more writing and less showing (so if you are bored already this is your stop). Having to develop a story for a martial artist fighting zombies put me in a pretty over the top place as far as story goes. So as a challenge to myself,. I wanted to see if I can make it feel believable, grounded and a little more thoughtful.

Originally I was trying to make the zombies the sympathetic characters. This is the origin of Bob accidentally killing a former student (some interpreted as his son which was an interesting). However the idea didn't fully evolve and I don't think I was successful in selling sympathy for the monsters.

I used a lot of reference to The Way of the Samurai and tried to have some subtle negativity along with the positive representation. I didn't want to shamelessly go for cool points.

In an attempt connect the morbid and dark idea of the zombie plague with reality, I included some Easter eggs. They may be a little too covert and out of context, so I will point them out. If you notice the address number is 731 with only the letters U-N-I-T being visible (never revealed but the street named was intended to be Unity). Also the clock is shown at 7:31. If you pop these clues into Google it will lead you the rest of the way.

As far as some background on sound, maybe Marty can give me something to post up to provide some insight to his process. On my end, I listened to a lot of Black Sabboth, Stanley Kubrick scores and the There Will Be Blood soundtrack. I sent all the material as reference to Marty with a note saying "make it feel like this but sound unique to our animations". Not an easy task. I think he conjured up the score and SFX nicely.

Overall I was challenging myself to make a few minutes of an animated comic about a zombie slayer more than just pulp action, while of course, still making it an entertaining zombie story. It was difficult and I'm not quite sure it worked as anything more than a zombie slayer story. It still has a certain degree of camp to it. However, I think the attempt was worth the time and I learned a lot about developing a visual story. Hopefully it entertains some people. If it does speak up and we might have more on the way.

Pardon the spelling errors and rambling.