Thursday, March 19, 2009

Gerald's Last Day

Legendary NFB animator Kaj Pindal (with whom I have the pleasure of co-teaching an Animation History course with) has a great way of describing the process of making an animated film. To paraphrase- "Making an animated film is like writing a novel one word a day." In other words, the challenge is to create a world that lives and breaths and captures your audience, BUT you have to do it through a process that is incredibly slow and careful.

In still OTHER words, it ain't easy.

Justin and Shel Rasch, a California-based duo, has somehow managed to make it look easy.

Their stop mo film Gerald's Last Day runs just over 11 minutes, and tells the story of a chubby pooch (Gerald) who is facing "termination" in the dog pound at the end of the day, unless someone takes him home.

When I talk with students about developing strong stories for short animation, I really try to encourage them to focus their efforts (at least initially) on 1)- character and then from that, 2)- character's objective. I've learned the value of this through my own storytelling efforts, my work in animation and live action film, and from my studies with renowned story editor/writer/filmmaker/ professor Amnon Buchbinder. Keep your character focussed on his/her/its objective, and you're on a good path, in terms of developing a story.

Consider the following objective: "I want to continue living." That is essentially the strongest objective a character can have! And THAT, quite simply (and powerfully) is what drives the story in this short film.

It's so clean, so clear, and so deeply rooted (thanks again to Buchbinder's language here), it allows the film to fly forward like an arrow, perfectly, towards its conclusion (which it hits like a bull's eye).

This film is doing very well for itself in animation festivals and competitions. That success is due in no small part (along with very nice animation and performances) to the clear/clean/concise quality of the story. When I finished watching it, I felt supremely satisfied, and why? In part because the character had stayed on task in terms of moving towards his objective.

That's not to say he ACHIEVES his objective, but rather that he stays on task. You'll just have to watch the film to find out whether poor Gerald finds a home.

Also, briefly, in terms of the "less is more" school of acting (especially when considering acting with puppets), the climax of the film is very strongly done. The acting is modest and restrained, and reveals a very careful directing hand. What could have been a very sappy, overdone moment instead honestly touches the heart.

This is close to a perfect little film. And it's extremely encouraging to any indie filmmaker (working in any form of animation), because it's literally a "home made" film. Justin and his partner Shel (who contributed greatly to the film, not just co-directing but also creating a VERY tight edit) toiled away in a home studio to bring this to life, while also managing outside jobs and SEVERAL kids.

Wow. What an inspiration (for an exhausted father of just ONE little ankle biter).

I can't wait to see more work from this film making team. They are already well underway on their next stop mo project, which you can follow here.


Ken A. Priebe said...

Hi Chris-
I agree...Justin & Shel have made a great film, and have been inspired me to keep plugging away on mine (Storytime with Nigel).

Also saying Hello and introducing myself...I teach stop-motion here in Vancouver and for Academy of Art online, and wrote the book 'Art of Stop Motion Animation'. I enjoy your posts & animation exercises for Sheridan. So from one stop-mo instructor to another, keep up the good work! Feel free to email me and visit my blog...would be nice to connect.
-Ken Priebe

ChrisW said...

Hi Ken: thanks for the comment. I checked your blog, you gave Justin and Shel's film a great quote. I love that film, AND how they're reaching out to the stop mo community to help them spread the word. Low tech/ low cost marketing... they're so smart (and talented).

Your book is awesome, I certainly have a copy, and recommend it to students all the time. Lots of great tips and techniques...

Let's keep in touch (I'm going to link to your blog).

Mark Mayerson said...

I differentiate between objective and motive. Staying alive is the motive. Getting adopted is the objective, the tangible thing, that will satisfy the motive.

Gerald could have the same motive and different objectives. He could be trying to tunnel out, he could be trying to steal the keys, etc. These are different objectives that all have the same motive.

Loved the film, by the way. Thanks for showing it to me.

ChrisW said...

Mark, I think your clarification of motive and objective in this case is bang-on. Thanks for clarifying.

And I'm glad you liked the film, I know you're certainly not easy to please in the story department.

jriggity said...

Thanks guys!

It so cool to see you guys discussing the film....and Meeting more members of the community.

You are correct...Staying alive is the motive. Getting adopted is the objective...

A few things you wrote in the review were very helpful reminders .

thanks for all the words!