Oct 30, 2013

Old Man Animation

Been playing around with 2D animation more.  I really enjoy it and am looking forward to trying to make some more substantial shots in that style.  I especially like the animation functionality in Photoshop, which allows for real-time compiling of sketches, inks, and backgrounds.  I don't think it would work for any camera movements, but I'm just doing still shots right now.

Here's a very rough pencil test I did yesterday of an old man walking down a street.

Oct 22, 2013

22 Rules of Pixar Storytelling, What's the deal with rules, Joe Ranft, and Rule #23

A few months ago, the animation world was abuzz over former Pixar story artist Emma Coats' 22 tweets about storytelling. Many dubbed them as "Pixar's 22 Rules", as if following these, and only these 22 tips, is the way that the studio comes up with all its ideas. Some of them are definitely used by Pixar. I had the opportunity to attend a Pixar Masterclass in Chicago last year, with the first section taught by Matthew Luhn, story artist extraordinaire.  Probably fifteen of the 22 'rules' were discussed there.  Why?  Because they are excellent things to keep in mind when developing your characters because they keep the story from going stale.  For example:

#6 - What is your character good at, comfortable with?  Throw the polar opposite at them.  Challenge them. How do they deal? (think Marlin/Dory, Carl/Russell, Remy/Skinner)

#13 - Give your characters opinions.  Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it's poison to the audience. (think about some of the greatest stories ever told: The Iliad ("Sing, O Muse, of the rage of Achilles"), Romeo & Juliet, Pride & Prejudice, Moby Dick...all have driven characters who cause the story to happen.  Opinions give your characters places to go and things to learn).

#19 - Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating. (this is simply anti-Deus ex Machina, which is when at the end of a story, when there's no possible hope for the character, something miraculous and unlikely rescues them.  Toy Story 3 parodied this idea in the garbage dump scene, where the characters were literally saved from the maw and fires of toy hell by a machine.)

However, they are still simply tips, not outright rules, as Mike Bonifer at gamechangers.com recently pointed out.  He ties it all in to the late Joe Ranft, the true master of the Pixar story process, who died in 2005.

Joe, he says, would've added a Rule #23 to the list, which would've been something off the wall.

When I reflect on Joe’s approach to things, and Emma’s 22 Rules, I imagine him (and others, there were always others, everybody got caught up in his infectious energy) coming up with a game called Rule #23.  The Game would need only one Guideline: There is always another Rule. The Objective of the game would be to come up with a new Rule #23. This is where Joe would shine. All a person had to do is suggest something like this to Joe and he’d run with it. Sometimes for days. Here are some Rule #23s I imagine when I think about Joe–

- Rule #23: To see if your story is working, tell it backwards, from end to beginning.
- Rule #23: Every character should be performed as if it’s a Best Supporting Actor role.
- Rule #23: Present your scenes in gibberish and pantomime to see if the emotional content of the scene gets clearly conveyed.
- Rule #23: Begin an original story with the conclusion of another story.

And I can’t imagine that Joe would have missed Rule #23s like–

- Rule #23: Ask WWWWD (What Would Willy Wonka Do? Or What Would Walter White Do? Or call random people in the phone book whose initials are “WW” and ask them what would they do.)
- Rule #23: To see how a character would walk up a flight of stairs, stage a Walking Up a Flight of Stairs contest. Everyone has to walk the winning walk for the rest of the day.
- Rule #23: CSI: Criminal Story Investigation: What have you done, you sick bastard?!!! Confess your story!

And finally–

- Rule #23: There are no Rules except Rule #23.

This is all really important to keep in mind as you create your stories; rules are often accumulated wisdom from generations of people learning what works and what doesn't.  But in a creative field, sticking only to the rules is staid and boring.

I was lucky enough recently to have lunch with Andy Crouch whose excellent book Culture Making is worth reading by anyone.  We began discussing stories and frameworks.  He had mentioned that before making any good creative endeavor, a creator must know what came before.  A filmmaker must have a knowledge of film language, a musician must have an understanding of music that has come before, etc.  Only by knowing the rules that have been developed can an artist truly break them in a new and innovative way. Take Picasso, for example.  The entire Cubism movement was born out of Picasso's deep knowledge of his predecessors and the principles of painting.  He learned to break the rules in an purposeful way.  But he learned how to sketch and paint in the classical manner first.  Did you know that the following were done by Picasso?

In a similar way, anyone telling a story should have an idea of what classic story structure entails.  Why do we have three acts?  Why are there character archetypes?  Now, how do you meld, edit, and transform them?  That's what has truly made so much of Pixar so excellent (Andy Crouch, in fact, mentioned how in Ratatouille, Anton Ego is not defeated, as a typical story would require.  Instead, he's made an ally and a patron, not only defeated, but redeemed by Remy.  Knowledgeable rule-breaking!)

So use Emma's 22 "Rules".  Use the classic structures.  Watch movies, read books.  All that.  And be like Joe Ranft!

P.S. Here's a beautiful tribute to Joe that's been around for years but I recently found.