Originally posted on the MA Character animation course blog, published June 10th 2016.
So then it’s over. Although the film is not finished. After a very unfortunate experience with an evil computer yesterday the film I intended to hand in was gone in the matter of minutes. I do have everything backed up, so that’s not a problem but all the PNG-sequences that took me a few hours to export where gone and it was two hours until closing. So I had to just put something quickly together for the presentation, but it actually didn’t turn out too bad. I now have the music for half of the movie and that along with some sound design made the movie much better so I’m not that upset about it anymore. Even though I wanted to kill the computer yesterday.
It’s not that much left, about 60% of the movie is finished and coloured. About 40% is cleaned up, but I’ve decided to skip the clean up for the degree show and rather come back to it before I start sending the movie to festivals as although it’s done and it’s fairly quick to do I just don’t want to spend time on it now as the colour is much more important to the story. Some of the rough animation is also so clean that many thinks it’s the cleaned up version, so no need to stretch time more than needed now. I found out yesterday while working on putting the shots together in after effects that it luckily was a very simple process. The effects are pretty simple and the masking, which is the most time consuming, is not needed in more than about six shots. It would surprise me if it’s not finished by the degree show.
So with the presentation out of the way I guess it’s time to look back on my time working on this.
It’s now just under a year since my grandfather died and the idea for the movie was born. I usually have big problems coming up with stories for my movies, it’s been my main problem since the micro short. This was the only time I found my story in a matter of seconds, even if it was just a sentence:
I don’t know why it was so easy this time and why I suddenly got this idea that I just couldn’t let go of cause I’ve never felt so strongly about an idea or the need to make it. But it came just in time and since the very beginning I got positive feedback on it, hopefully isn’t this a once in a lifetime happening!
For the presentation I wen back to the only book I read for the research, On death and dying by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. This book is the foundation for the Kübler-Ross model, the five stages of grief. When the book came out it was a revolution in understanding grief as it was based of studies and interviews with people who where dying and their relatives. Later the Kübler-Ross model received some critic as many pointed out that grief is a personal experience and can’t be summed up in a model. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross agreed with this and later the model went from being an explanation of grief to more of a way of explaining how and why time heals and/or how life goes on. It’s more about the human experience of dealing with big changes in your life rather than what to expect when someone is dying. The model can also be applied to almost any big change in a person’s life like bankruptcy, injury and break ups and so on.
A quick recap of the five stages of grief.
First stage: Denial
“It can’t happen to me, it will go away”
The initial denial is a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept the facts. It’s a very common and normal defence mechanism and reaction to rationalize overwhelming feelings. The emotion is often shared by the whole family to protect each other. Denial is necessary to survive loss and despair until we are ready to face it.
Second stage: Anger
When the denial goes away the emotional pain and despair is often expressed as anger. The anger can be directed towards almost anything or anyone, but usually towards the ones closest to the dying. At this stage the person dying has accepted that the situation is real, but not that it’s happening. The anger is irrational and the dying will often feel guilty about getting angry, which only fuels the anger further. The natural reaction from the family is to cheer the person dying up, the family will often cling to hope longer than the person going through it and because it’s hard to face someone being upset the cheering up comes from the need to see them get happier rather than face it.
Third stage: Bargaining
“If I only do this maybe I can buy myself some time”
At this stage the one dying is trying to regain control of the situation. On this stage the one dying is feeling helpless and vulnerable and will try to find ways around the inevitable.
Fourth stage: depression
“It’s useless, I give up”
At this stage the illness can no longer be ignored or denied. The dying one loses the ability to function in his old role and the anger is replaced by a sense of loss. The dying is in the process of losing everything and everyone he knows and loves, but this is the beginning of acceptance.
Fifth stage: Acceptance
“It’s hard now, but it will be okay eventually”
At this point the dying is not angry or depressed about his fate, but this stage is not happy. The one dying usually reached this stage before the ones he is leaving behind. The struggle is over, it’s time to rest. This stage can be the loneliest as this it where it mostly comes down to the personal experience.
When I read this book there was much that I could recognize, but I didn’t want the movie to end up as an educational film about dealing with grief, but rather more personal to me. But what I realised from reading this book was that my experience of this was following what is “expected” which meant that the story hopefully would be easy to recognise for others. The book also made me reflect on which perspective to tell the story from. The one dying, the family or as an observer. As I don’t know what it’s like to be faced with death in any other way than as an observer so the most naturally would be to tell the story through the family, but this seemed limited as from what I could remember the role of the family is very vague. It’s mainly a constant state of confusion where you never know what is happening next if it will go fast or slow. Therefor I ended up with the all knowing observer who sees everything, but also experiences the events with the characters.
And lastly, after deciding on the animal to portray the story, the arctic fox I did some research on folklore around them. In general there are little myths and folklore about them, but they where for a long time seen as mystical and magical creatures as well as a symbol of persistence and strength because of their ability to survive in the arctic environment. The most prominent myth I found was that in Scandinavian folklore, mainly Finland, the arctic fox was thought to create the northern lights. In Finland the northern lights is called revontulet which translates to “fox fire”. According to legend an arctic fox is running around far up in the north and swiping up snow from the mountain tops, the sparkles in the snow that is reflected in the moonlight creates the northern light.
Other research that I recently did for the presentation was to look into death in children’s animated movies. In 2014 a Canadian/UK study was released on this where they concluded that deaths in children’s movies was much higher and sometimes more prominent than in many movies for adults. Main characters are two-and-a-half times more likely to die and three times more likely to be murdered. Parents are five times more likely to die and they are usually killed of within 3o minutes. Two thirds of children’s movies also include on screen death. You can read the whole study here, I recommend it. It’s very interesting.
Looking back at it I’m very pleased with my story and how I managed to portray it. If I could do it all over again though I would probably tried to split the movie up into smaller sections as it now has several long shots with lots of acting. I would also consider narration over the animation. But in all fairness, now that I have the music in it, it helps to tell the story. I would like to say that I would like to get better at time management, but I did start keyframing the moment I could and I didn’t completely wreck the schedule I had either. It just happened to be that this movie required so much acting for it to work and it took time to figure out how to let the foxes act both convincingly and expressive enough for the audience to understand them. So I don’t know, maybe I aimed a little to high, but whatever it seems like it will be finished soon anyway!