My choice of audio is taken from the well-known duet, 'If I only had a Brain', sung by Dorothy and her new friend the scarecrow, in Wizard of Oz. The song choice produced debate from my online animator friends, placing doubt as to whether a new interpretation of such a highly recognisable classic could be enjoyed by an audience. However, after much iff-ing and butt-ing, a discussion with my mentor gave me the confidence to pursue the possibilities within this clip.
Here are my reasons:
I love musical theatre. My grandfather got took me to see Oklahoma at Bridgwater town hall when I was seven years old. I remember laughing through the programme before the show began. Looking through the song list; Oh what a beautiful morning, a girl who can't say no, people will say we're in love. Was my grandfather serious?? Then the curtain opened and I fell in love with the stage.
From the many musicals I have seen since, I love that Tangled was released as a musical. The characters performed the songs, rather than the music be played in the background. Alan Menken, composer upon traditional classics including Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, did a wonderful job with the score. I cannot begin to count the amount of times that I have played the 'I've got a dream', which also struck a cord with love of the pantomime villan. These include character favourites like the Beast and Captain James Hook.
I then came across the reel of Michael Amos, who had I the opportunity to interview for the 11 Second Club blog. He animated the Trolley song the Trolley song from Meet me at St Loius, sung by Judy Garland. Seeing this inspired me to want to animate to musical performance.
The song, If I only had a Brain, just felt right. I felt a connection with the song, enjoyed the clarity of the vocals and thought about doing a Frankenstein character who wanted a brain for evil purposes.
My first idea was inspired by Malcon Pierce's 11 Second Club entry, A Mindless Day's Work. This in turn had been inspired by Disney short, Runaway Brain. I felt working with a mad scienctist chimp could create a variety of unusual acting choices. However true this may be, I know I would have felt too connected to the Disney animation.
My online teacher, Matthew Finch, was a massive influence on the choices that followed. Talking with him over a year ago, he had this idea to produce a reel that explored a single set of characters. How they walked, breathed and acted, would provide an opportunity similar to a film studio setup. Instead of random acting choices, decisions had to be made that were appropriate to character.
As a pantomime piece, I wondered how this scientist would obtain a brain. Would he steal it from inside a lab, would he be a grave digger... That was it!! It seemed highly appropriate to character and offered the opportunity to explore specific choices within an unusual setting.
My mind started racing. For the setting, I could have the opportunity to work from the environment designs of Andre Holzmeister.
His beautiful work for Lego was reminiscent of Tim Burton's Nightmare before Christmas and the work of Dr Seuss, for which I am a big fan. Andre's style showed a world fit for cartoony animation, something I wish to explore to a degree.
Character design - girl
We also spoke of character design. Currently, my modelling and rigging skills would not support moving too far away from the designs of ready-made rigs. Matt's would!
Now, as far as I can remember, I have always been a fan of puppets. At university, I built a life size wooden puppet and carried it around for a week. I took it around Bristol, London and with it being December time, we popped into to see Santa's Grotto. On the flip side, I remember there was a clown doll that use to sit on my nan's chair. Passing the room as a five year old and imaging the clown coming to life, always gave me the creeps.
With the release of Wreck it Ralph, I couldn't help but be inspired by the Sugar Rush dolls. They seemed to fit this cartoony world. I particularly like their shoes. Together with a google search of Halloween costumes, and Matt's love of Boo from Monster's Inc., I found a design I liked.
As the leading character, it was important that Frank's design allowed him to move in a way that was suitable for the type of animation I hoped to produce. Matt felt the audio clip had the opportunity to include a mini 'Gene Kelly' dance. 'What's the point in using this audio, if you are not going to include a dance?' Well, I wanted to steer clear of too many Wreck it Ralph similarities and also I saw in my head the duet between Tiger and Fieval in American Tale. So to move away and allow for something much more nimble, I turned once again to a Tim Burton inspiration; the 90's children television favourite, Beetlejuice.
It allowed for the character to be nimble on his feet, while adding another dimension of character. I mean, if you live most of your life without a brain, personal hygiene is never going to be one of your core values.
I came up with the above designs. Simple when you consider my sources of inspiration, but I felt something was starting to click.
Now at this point, I must mention the cut in Frank's head. Matt came up with this wonderful idea of the girl lifting up Frank's scalp, peering into the emptiness inside and asking 'What would you do with a brain if you had one?' He also provided this concept art to sell the idea.
I was sold, but it was one idea. Would it make it to the final cut?
Building upon the idea
The first animatic I produced tried to incorporate the idea of looking inside Frank's head.
I tried to break up the timings of the beats. I had this idea of her falling off his back and sliding down his leg. The dance to move back Frank back to screen left, was an idea inspired by Danny Kaye in The Court Jester. Frankenstein tends to have these big heavy boots. I felt this would limit his movement, especially if I was going to include a Gene Kelly moment. Then I thought, why not incorporate this idea of his feet being weighed down into a dance movement.
My problem was that the ideas felt disjointed; the characters had no chemistry and were not working together.
Matt advised that Frank was digging up a grave, he didn't need to be in the process of having a spade in his hand. He could already have the hole dug and is instead holding a skull and looking inside. It inspired a new idea regarding Hamlet's 'To be or not to be'. The pose is instantly iconic and would pose it's own questions about Frank's motives.
I shot a session of ref, exploring different ideas.
Yet, this didn't solve the problem of too many ideas happening at once. The idea of the girl looking into Frank's head and Frank looking into the skull. Too many ideas were happening too quickly. I considered dropping the girl looking into Frank's skull and simply having her perch on his shoulder. I then came across this image:
Eureka! I drew this out as soon as possible:
By using a simple camera cut, I could sell Frank's value of the skull. I am a big fan of Fantasia's Night on Bald Mountain, which shows this close up of this demonic hand. Hands can be so expressive and could carry the opening of the shot. This would then provide more shock factor, and a comedy moment, to reveal the girl staring into Frank's head.
I also liked the idea of her running along his back to steal the skull at the end. If Frank is kneeling down and hunced over, his shoulders could provide an unusual platform for her to run across. It would also be nice to show his some facial expression and whip of the spine as Frank reacts to her feet digging into his body to take each step. It would be an involuntary reaction, which so unusual expressions could sell. These expressions can be felt rather than seen as this still from Tangled illustrates.
Concluding this post, I feel I have tried to move myself away from the animation of Tangled and Ralph that I love so dearly, but now returned with my own sense of purpose. Now looking forward to the next step.