A collaboration between a storyteller, an illustrator and animators.
Failing to succeed and succeeding by failing
When Steve and I started the business, we were adamant that we needed to create personal projects. Why? There are too many reasons not too. You get to experiment with new ideas, pushing your skills in an environment where we’re allowed to fail. “Fail?” I hear you cry. “Failure is quite bad, surely!?” For paid work where a client expects a polished animation by a certain date, yes, failure is very bad. On personal projects though, we can try something new, fail and learn from our mistakes. We then try something new, having learnt from our failures, and end up with something quite new. This process feeds back into our paid work, as we won’t need to experiment on someone else’s dime. This project in particular is a real labour of love and has taken us a lot longer to make then we had hoped for (lots of experimenting ), but it really did deserve the time we’ve taken on it.
Enter the master wordsmith
We first met storyteller Daniel Morden when we were in our first year of University, which i can assure you was a long long time ago. Daniel came in to teach us about telling stories and the power they have. I always remember being captivated by him, he really did demand attention from everyone. This is what you can expect from a professional storyteller i guess? What was lovely about our session was that everyone was sat on the edge of their seats, no one flinched, no one looked at their phones, no one dared move. This is one very fond memory I have from Uni that has stuck with me. I’ve always wanted to work with a storyteller and after 6 months of running the business we decided to get in contact with Daniel to see if we could work together.
I was extremely nervous about emailing Daniel, i knew how busy he always had been and I honestly didn’t think he would be interested in collaborating. But when the email came through that he would like to meet, i was thrilled! We met with Daniel in 2015 and he had a long list of amazing stories we could adapt into an animation, it really was exciting to think of the possibilities, but we had to start somewhere. We decided to go with a story that was short enough for us to tackle, but also had a powerful message…
We chose a story called “Butterfly Soul”. It’s the tale of a man’s dream being realised in the material world. We follow him from the perspective of the dream world, followed by the same journey seen from an outsiders perspective. We were taken by the re-telling of the same story several times, but from different points of view. We really liked the idea of experimenting with this concept and how we could reflect it in a visual medium.
With our story chosen, we set about planning the production. Our idea was to film in an empty studio, lighting Daniel against a black background. When Daniel is on screen, we wanted the audience to give him their full attention, with nothing getting between the storyteller and the audience. We’d then cut between film and animation as the story progressed. We thought this would give an interesting mix between theatre of the mind, where the audience imagines the scenes painted by Daniel’s words, and the visual storytelling of our animation. As we’re in experimentation mode on this project, we didn’t want to rule anything out. We had an idea of how the piece would look, but if we stumbled across a happy accident which worked better than our original plan, or maybe something wasn’t quite working, we wanted to cover all bases. Because of this, we made a clean audio recording of the whole story (taking audio from the video may have clothes rustling or other distractions we’d want to avoid). We’re happy to say that mixing footage and animation worked really well, but we’re glad we took precautions.
While it was easy enough to plan the visual style of the filming, the animation was another story. We could literally go with any style our hearts desired. When faced with limitless possibilities, it’s quite hard to narrow them down to one. Thankfully, we found a style in the form of a very talented artist.
Going with the Flow
We managed this project like any other project, paid or personal. We started by storyboarding and design. Our original idea was to create artwork digitally, as we do with most projects. We created a mood board of the styles we thought would work with the story, when I stumbled across a Carmarthen based illustrator called Flow. “This is Butterfly Soul!” was my immediate reaction (or something along those lines…). So, yet again, I was trying my luck by asking someone I didn’t know if they’d like to work on a project with us. For no money and no certain deadlines (we always put personal projects to the side when client work comes in). Thankfully, Flow said she was interested. We met and discussed how it would work over a cup of tea. Oh yeah… Did I mention we’d never animated a painting before? Now was as good a time as any to start.
We left our meeting buzzing with excitement over what Butterfly Soul could became. We decided to leave it up to Flow to interpret the story in her own style, knowing full well it would be amazing. Below are some of the first draft paintings we got back from Flow. When we first saw them we couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces. And we couldn’t wait to start animating her illustrations.
1. Recreating the artwork digitally
We initally thought since working with painted illustrations was something we had never done before that we could recreate the artwork digitally. The reason for this was that it would give us more control in animating the characters.
Our first test was experimenting with animating our main characters face. We still wanted the style of the animation to look painted so we added a painted effect, we also added some motion to the painted style to make it more interesting we .
We all agreed that it looked nice, however it didn’t make sense to recreate Flow’s artwork. Not only was she putting in a lot of time painting the assets, but also we felt like it didn’t have the same feel as the really paintings.
After trying to recreate the original artwork we realised quickly that this wouldn’t work. One of our concerns with working with paintings was that they are 2D and we wanted to create a 3D environment. With this in mind we decided to try a completely new effect that we hadn’t used before, which was what we’re calling a “Puppetry” effect. The idea being that the assets would be suspended on sticks to create a puppet effect. We tried creating a realistic atmosphere to make it feel like a puppet show was being filmed.
We all agreed this was an interesting effect, but for us something didn’t feel right and also the animating would be limited.
3. Layering the artwork
The reason we wanted to work with Flow was because of her amazing artwork. It felt right for the story and for this reason we decided to avoid manipulating it too much. We decided to cut up the assets to create the scenes, giving the animation a 3D effect. We were always going to be limited with what we could animate, but we understood how important it was keep interest, so we tried rigging parts of the paintings, for instance the leaves on the palm tree.
We had found the style of animating we wanted to use. It was just a case of doing the animating.
This project has been an exciting one to work on. It’s taken time, lots of trial and errors, but we’ve learnt some invaluable lessons that we’ll take forward to future paid projects. If you’re interested in finding out more about the amazing illustrator and storytelling teller just click on their names. Our illustrator was Florence Jackson and the storyteller is Daniel Morden.