Wednesday, June 11, 2014

6/11/2014 So it begins

Hi. Not sure if this is intended for anyone but future me to read, but this is a production diary. ...

Before talking about the actual production, I should note the context it's starting in - as in my personal world!
So I'm unemployed and living in Asheville, surviving on savings. Emily and I had our son Arthur exactly four months ago today, and I'm only now thinking about anything other than him.

Having Arthur put an end to the original career plan, which was to do freelance in NYC a quarter of the year which would be enough to make it in Asheville. Now as a dad that's out. So I've spent quite a long time trying to see what other options are possible other than the late shift at Arby's.

Emily and I have settled on me being the full time parent since she has a steady career at the moment. That will definitely be my primary "career" until Arthur starts school. Not much work will lend itself to that schedule, so it has to be something I do by myself on my own schedule.

And so, after a million other plans, I'm going to do a narrative animation. We'll see if, when, and where it makes any money, although I'm hopeful considering the lack of other opportunities. I think it will find an audience somehow. If nothing else I think it will lead to other work down the line...

I guess this (6/11/14) is as good a date as any to set as the start date, although the ideas and preparations have been kicking around for a few weeks...

This is going to be a Christmas special. I think it will be called "No Christmas for Ned". Or maybe it's an anti-Christmas special. Not really anti- Christmas but anti- "Christmas special". Or maybe just a spoof. But heartfelt and really dealing honestly with alienation and being "different".
The plan is to do it pretty much solo, although probably getting some voice artists and other sound folks later on.
It will be a musical with songs I write. ...

The audience is basically kids and families that don't celebrate Christmas (as well as people who sympathize with them) and how they feel during the season. It centers on Ned, who is implied to be from an atheist family. But the special should be as universal as possible and NOT political or preachy. (!) ...

Right now the whole thing is just a bunch of sketched out concepts in a mental shoe box. Here's what exists so far! ...

The "script":

 2 min - song "every year"
 3.5 min - kids tease ned
 2 min - song "poor ned"
 3.5 min - ned asks parents
 1 min - song "the question!(ask us later)"
 3.5 min - asks mall santa why he ignores him
 2 min - song "you must be bad"
 1 min - walking home
 1 min - song "every year" slower, sadder
 3.5 min - meets other kids
 2 min - song "the season for the reason" ...

VERY goofy movement
reason for not celebrating xmas is never explicitly explained
ned is emo/goth?
ned is charlie brown-like but not too depressing.
whole story is on a single "set" that corkscrews up a mountain. starts low ends high.
 there is a constant snowball fight throughout - snowballs hitting things in the background and also narrowly missing Ned constantly.
whole show one camera shot?
set is cheesy cliche xmas stuff like little victorian house decorations and snow globes.
very shallow depth of field like a toy world.
early scene of kids in classroom trading absurd amount of gifts while ned gets none. they get passed right in front of his face. one of the kids hands out ferrets from his family breeding farm. They all have ridiculous bows on their heads.
teacher is spazzed about xmas and wears all xmas clothes, hats, etc...
teacher sings a pity song to ned in class while kids mock him behind her back...
teacher asks all other students to give ned one of their gifts and they all give him their ferrets. From then on he's followed by a herd of ferrets...
vehicles get ambushed with snowball barrages
end scene starts ominously with other outcasts in silhouettes
ferret sings or talks at the end with no warning
voices will be actual kids like Peanuts
kids are about 8

6/11/2014 Learning

So what's been happening up to this point?
Not too much yet. Right now I'm really getting my nose to the grindstone re-learning a lot of Maya. I'm doing my best to stop being an animation specialist and truly becoming a generalist. A lot has changed in the years since I first learned anything other than animation. So before I really get going on NCFN I have to get back up to speed on modeling, rigging, lighting, rendering, texturing (or whatever it's called now!) dynamics, and effects. 
The other thing to learn is how much to learn! In other words, learning enough to get things done but not trying to become and expert at all of it.
It's a colossal undertaking but I'm pretty excited about it. I'm currently going through rigging tutorials. So far to go!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

6/15/2014 Father's Day!

My first father's day!
   Recent progress: continuing through rigging tutorials and learning a lot, including stuff about scripting which I'd really like to dive deeper into...
   Mining Pinterest for character design inspiration. Not easy to find things I like but that's good, I guess. It shows that I'm discerning? Hard to find kid designs that are not either cloying Disney/Pixar fanboy drivel or Tim Burton wannabes. Plus the anime influence. Does every character have to look like a desperate puppy? Not Ned!
  All the tutorials are going to take weeks, and design probably just as long. I'm hoping to start sketching soon, though. Not sure how much early embarrassing stuff I'll post... I dread showing anything but also want to document it for better or worse...

Monday, June 9, 2014

6/19/2014 Very Pinteresting

Still going through the epic rigging tutorial videos. Damn there's a lot to a good rig. The special will have very few rigs used over and over.
Mining Pinterest for kid character design references - finding some good ones...
Also collecting a HUGE amount of set ideas. Basically the whole town is going to be those porcelain lit-up Xmas houses.
I'm thinking that the sets should be WAY over the top with decorations. The town should look like the most gaudy holiday theme park possible. Lots of those inflatable things in all the yards. Ned's house will be the only one that doesn't look insane.
I also want to record Arthur's babbling and have Ned come across a baby trying to communicate with him. It might be a recurring thing.

6/20/2014 Ideas

Two kids in the classroom gift exchange give each other $20 gift cards from the local toy shop. They both react like it's the perfect gift and hug. The camera flies at warp speed to the shop register where the owner gives a double thumbs up to the camera (chaching sound and $40 readout on register) and then it flies back to the hug.

The hook line for the "Every Year" song will say "Every year I'm left out in the cold." At the end when he meets the other outcasts, the reveal is that Ned is singing the song slowly and before he can say "cold" the others sing it in a rising harmonic chord one at a time.

At the end, the Xmas kids come as a group to invite Ned to an Xmas party but he says no thanks and goes with the outcasts to get Indian food at one of their families' restaurants. The Xmas kids' invitation is totally insincere and they even say that their parents forced them to do it or else Santa would only give them grocery store gift cards. Quick cut to the mean Santa saying "Harsh."

Maybe the closing song is "Indian Food" talking about how it's good for Christmas. Maybe the mean Santa is eating there when the kids arrive.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

6/23/2014 Ideas

Santa has a thick accent and a black beard. Ned asks about it and the Santa gets bent out of shape saying that Americans are suckers for Hollywood misleading them about Santa's origins.

The outcast kids all wear gray like a gang and have ski masks and seem like they're after Ned to cause him harm until the end. They whisper "Ned" and approach him and he runs away.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

6/25/2014 Ideas

Ned rescues a younger kid from a mob of other younger kids at the beginning. They've been doing some Xmas-themed bullying, wrapping him in lights, poking him with oversized candy canes.
The kids are exaggeratedly tiny compared to Ned.
After Ned releases the victim, they sing a song to Ned with the lyrics:
Don't blame us - we don't know any better - we're too young to know right and wrong...
When we're alone we feel weak and tiny. When we're together we're tough and strong..
The last notes of the kids' song are the rising tones of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor. But it doesn't resolve into the last chord. They don't stop singing the notes the whole time they chase Ned to the school. Their voices shake with the impact of their running. ("Str-oOoOoOoOoOoNnNnNg")
The kid Ned releases turns out to be the Indian kid at the end - the leader of the grays.

Friday, June 6, 2014

6/30/2014 Ideas

Held up by my parents visiting.
Have to finish my HTML and Java classes this week.
Now jury duty tomorrow!
Still going through the very helpful but very long rigging tutorials.

Teacher compels (using grades) Ned to censor the class singing "Silent Night" by using an air horn when a religious lyric comes up.

Teacher has a sweater with a "telephone pole" on it. (NOT a CROSS!)

Teacher calls Ned "a diversity".

When the songs are playing, they all have the usual jingle bells. But every time, people can be seen actually stopping in place and jingling the bells.

There is always a blizzard going on so nothing can be seen beyond the houses and row of trees.

Cameras should have a very shallow depth of field.

I think I've decided against having Ned's parents in it at all.

The whole town is on one street going up/down a mountain.

The whole story should start at Ned's house on top of the mountain, travel down almost to the school at the bottom of the mountain during the first song, then travel back up the mountain until the end at the restaurant.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

7/3/2014 Thoughts

Took a day of sitting through a full day of juror selection, but I dodged having to do a trial!
Still finishing up with my classes though.

I had second thoughts about the teacher being overtly Christian. I don't want to get into bashing anyone and try to keep the tone silly and light.

I still definitely want to do the air horn, though!

Speaking of silly, I think I'll have people continuously sliding on ice and doing pratfalls, including sliding helplessly down the steep sidewalks and knocking others over.

I'm thinking that maybe I could do all the voices myself a la South Park (most) or Fat Albert.

7/7/2014 Rig-tastic!

Wow! Found a really good auto rig plugin online. No more watching rig tutorials (for now). This will save me a massive amount of time! Hopefully it will work as advertised. If it does, it more than suits my needs.
Also found a really great set of animation tools - pose library setups, etc. Very awesome.
Next up probably modeling tutorials.
Just about done with classes - just need to take the final tests this week.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

7/12/2014 Slowing Down?

So things might slow down a bit - even slower than the snail's pace I've been on! Classes are done - I passed - but priorities are shifting a little.
I'm still doing tutorials - modeling now - and I counted up all the ones that I want to do before I start doing real work, and it works out to about 65 hours of stuff to watch. That's what I'm going to hold myself to.
Before really moving forward on Ned, though, I'm going to do a set of animations to upload to stock animation sites and see how that goes. Hopefully generate some income! I project about a month of that.
So 3 to 4 weeks of tutorials, then probably 4 weeks of stock animation, then really getting a solid start on Ned. Add in a little over a week of traveling.
But I will be loosely doing pre-production in the meantime. Continuing to come up with ideas, thinking about designs, song ideas, the script, etc... Not much CG stuff but important steps forward.
It sucks to put things in front of Ned, but it has to be...

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

7/15/2014 Sweaters

Everyone in Ned's town will have insanely tacky Xmas sweaters.

I thought maybe the teacher might play an instrument during Silent Night, but I'm not sure. Maybe a really loud bass? Pencils could vibrate off the desks...

Thinking maybe everyone should have noodle arms... 30's motifs (updated) like visible exclamation marks, etc...

Monday, June 2, 2014

7/28/2014 Background noise / the look

There is a constant background of overlapping Xmas carols coming from stores, cars, etc.
What to do about realism vs stylized?!?!?!
Great idea from Emily: take examples of CG character surfaces and experiment in PShop...
Definitely not going for super-realism, but also not hyperreal simulations of things like wood, cloth, clay, etc.
Try to "mess up" the perspective and lighting (including shadows) if going non-real. Not exactly orthographic but something along those lines. Lighting individual surfaces with translucence instead of using lights? Or each thing having its own light? Hmm...

7/30/2014 Classroom ideas

More ideas for classroom scene:

  • Every time Ned blows the air horn, the kids jump and get nervous - pants wetting suggested...
  • Kids get increasingly angry with Ned...
  • They sing "Silent Night" extremely quietly, contrasting with the loud air horn...
  • Ned blows horn for "virgin". Teacher corrects him saying, "Very good, Ned, but you didn't need to censor the word "V- *BWAAAAAHHH*.  Everyone in this ROOM is a v- *BWAAAAHHH* and it has almost nothing to do with religion!"
  • For "Completely Diverse Present Time", that one kid hands out mice from his father's pet store. They all have reindeer horns and are in snow globes....
  • Ned complains that he didn't receive any presents. The teacher says, "Of course not, Ned! You're a diversity and it's against the law to offend you!" Ned stares angrily and the teacher relents and instructs all the students to give him one present. They all give him a mouse...
  • As students leave the classroom, Ned has no mice but we see a snake in the foreground shaking his tail. Instead of rattles he has jingle bells strapped to his tail.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

7/31/2014 Mice and Ice

  • The mice handed out as gifts are actually dog paddling in the snow globes.
  • Ned says hi to the snake at the very start.
  • Rather than people shaking jingle bells for every song, possibly have anthropomorphic jingle bells walk into the scene. This means really committing to anthropomorphisizing (?) everything!
  • When Ned confronts the little kid gang, he throws a giant snowball in the air, then a smaller one, which breaks the big one into little ones (like one of those missiles that breaks apart in the air). Each snowball is a direct hit on one kid, and chimes play notes to a carol on each hit. (Maybe "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem").
  • Maybe the kids don't have their own song, just sing the Bach canon with lyrics like: "Better run.... you have made us annn-gry..... Better hiiiiide.... we're after youuuuuu....  Heee-eeer we cooooooooommmmmeeeee...."
  • We get a closeup of the Indian kis waving thanks to Ned.