Process: Animatic

At parts during in the creation of the animatic I found it was easier to create rough drafts of the more complex animation sequences.

The scene in which one of the characters clings to his friends leg as he is dragged along the floor was particularly challenging, as it involved both a walk cycle and a full body animation of the character clinging on. I used a close up, low down camera angle to reveal the characters worried expression which added another area of difficulty to the animation. This meant I had to compromise on the shading that featured so prominently in the rest of the animation, and though I’m happy with how this shot turned out, I think the drop in consistency had a negative effect.

It’s this consistency of style that is so important in immersing the viewer in the animation. As film maker and animator David O’Reilly writes in his short essay ‘Basic Animation Aesthetics’ – ‘Attention to aesthetics gains an audiences trust, makes them forget they are watching a film and by extension feel any emotion you can think of.’1 This is the reason the highly detailed films of Wes Anderson are so immersive.

I believe this translates to animation on a much smaller scale also. It is for this reason that I intended to draw each line with the same stroke width, and use the same colour scheme throughout. However at various points I’ve betrayed this rule and I think this too had a negative effect on the animation.

Process: Animatic

After finalising the storyboard I created an animatic. I was happy with style and excited to get started so I think I may have rushed the animatic, not realising I was creating the blueprint for the finished film. However, this was my first time creating an animatic.

It was whilst working on the animatic that I began to consider the sound design of the finished piece, I neglected to leave myself enough time to fully experiment and develop the soundscape of the film but I think I was still inventive in my use of sound effects. I took influence from the independent video game ‘Super Meat Boy’ whilst designing the sounds of the characters, in which the main character is a vulnerable skinless blob made from meat. As the character bounces round the platforms of the game he squishes and squelches in the same way real meat would.

I intended to make my characters sound soft and fleshy in the same way with my sound design in the hope that they may become more tangible, and seem vulnerable as if without their armour or shell. Come to think of it a shell might have been an effective metaphor for vulnerability.

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Process: Styleframes

I take inspiration from film as well as other motion graphics and animations as I find that there can be very little distinction between the two. I have been influenced recently by the director Roy Andersson. I love his use of perspective to magnify the mundane and re-frame a scene. He, like Alain De Botton, believes in the beauty and the importance of small actions.
I’ve taken influence from his use of perspective in my animation in an attempt to make the scenes more dynamic. I think perspective is a relatively unexplored area in animation as often focus is put on the aesthetics or design of a character.

Process: Styleframes

Part way through creating the storyboards I began to envision what the finished film might look like. I created a few style frames to help me visualise what I was drawing. I got excited doing this and worked out what a few scenes would look like. At the time I was so satisfied with how these scenes looked that nothing about them changed in the final piece. I’m unsure if this is a result of my immediate and off-the-cuff style of working, or if I’m too precious with ideas.
The following images are a result of my experimentation with style frames. These style frames were a massive influence on the overall look and feel of the final piece. In hindsight I believe I should have experimented much more with style; I spent the first three weeks researching the topic and mulling over ideas, rather than devoting time to practise led research.

Despite this I think the visuals are particularly effective at a number of different points. Here(right) I think I effectively conveyed that nameless feeling of dull loneliness we can feel sometimes whilst on our phones, alone at night;that feeling of being connected to all our friends and family at the touch of a button, whilst simultaneously feeling really quite alone.

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Process: Storyboard

I came up with most of my ideas whilst storyboarding. As I’d decided only that the film was going to revolve around two friends/lovers I generated most of my ideas by taping a section of the script to the wall, and sketching ideas before finalising these into a story board. I created three different storyboards before I fully decided on the following pages.

I found that my emotional weightlifting illustrations were well suited to this topic and so they informed a good deal of the fims metaphors.

Though they are often drinking beer, I attempted to make the characters to appear as ‘big kids’ to illustrate how we can all be foolish, irrational and immature. This is in fact another philosophy of Alain De Botton’s. In his talk ‘On Love’1 he recommends we extend to ourselves and our loved ones, the same tolerance, and understanding we have for small children and their selfish behaviour. This is because we are all, at times, very selfish.

My illustrations often focus on loneliness, belonging and social anxiety and though none of these emotional issues are directly mentioned in the film I felt a it important to include them. I tried to do this without taking anything away from the original topic, but rather enhancing it with details of my own worries and vulnerabilities. I did this by making the ‘harsh critic’ Alain mentions in the first section a set of judges looking down on the character, and by having the character hyper aware of how he appears on social media.

I tried to devise a strong metaphor for each section of the film, however as I approached each part of the script separately I lost track of this aim and some of the scenes very literally translate Alain’s ideas. For example: to illustrate that the sharing of our vulnerabilities can reassure others that they are not alone in their shortcomings, the hat character shows his friend his foolish beer spill on his phone. This is a very literal way to represent this compared to the other sections of the film.

School of Life Research

Though I was already familiar with the work of the School of Life I had little knowledge of the work of Alain De Botton. As part of my research I read his book ‘The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work’, watched his documentary on status anxiety, and watched a large portion of his talks and videos available online. I think it’s fair to say my perspective has changed on a number of different issues.

His critique of Romanticism has opened my eyes to how disconnected our expectations are of love, to the reality of relationships. I’ve always had the mentality that love is a binary emotion, and it is this that dictates weather or not a relationship is successful. After watching his talks and listening to his podcasts on the topic I’ve since changed my mind.

Alain De Botton has also stressed the importance of self-knowledge and self love if we are ever to form meaningful relationships and create meaningful work. I was previously self conscious that these were these were the selfish indulgences of the spoilt millennial; I had no grasp that they were the foundation of a healthy society.

Furthermore, his insistence that ‘Being a little casual with a great thinker is the biggest homage one could pay to him or her’ has introduced me to the field of philosophy, something that previously appeared omniscient and insurmountable.

Process: Script

In researching other School of Life videos I found that the most effective films were split into distinct sections. When the film makers were able to identify changes in subject or tone, and use these changes to create chapters in the animation, the information was far easier to digest. And when that information is a solid 5 minutes of Alain De Botton informing you that you only love your husband because he hurts your feelings in the same way your father did, then it’s import the information is made a little easier to swallow.

I found that the script could be split up into 5 sections, and I used these sections to create chapters in the animation. This also made it easier to plan my workload.

The first section establishes that ‘from close up, none of us are particularly impressive’. We are all as embarrassing and as foolish as each other.

The second section explains how we all struggle to hide this fact, and ‘try to appear a great deal more normal’ than we are.

The third reveals how sharing our vulnerabilities helps us to form closer relationships and can be ‘an exchange of sympathy, for the troublesome business of being alive’.

The fourth section warns of the ways we should avoid being vulnerable to others, and teaches us the ways in which we should.

Whilst the final section argues that being vulnerable in these ways can in fact be a sign of strength, and reiterates that we are all as worried and foolish as each other, before reflecting on the fact that the sharing of vulnerability is not as commonplace as it could be.

I used these sections to structure my animation and by splitting the script up in this way, I found the project to be more manageable. I would have liked to have made the “chapters” of the film a little more obvious, and in retrospect this could have been done with some innovative transitions, or changes in tone.

Splitting the script up like this meant that I approached each part of the script separately. Generating ideas for each section in isolation meant that at points I lost sight of how the project might fit together. For example characters are depicted in a portrait shot, head on several times in the film, and I think this makes it harder to associate a visual queue with a piece of Alain’s advice as several parts of the film look similar.

Existing School of Life Films

I think the most effective of their existing films were the ones with a strong narrative. These often made use of fitting metaphors to communicate the complex ideas around emotional issues. The best of these walked the line between story and traditional motion graphic “explainer” videos (videos which very literally represent ideas or information).

I think Jesse Collett’s collaboration with the School of Life does this best. The film tackles the issue of self esteem by using clever sound design and physical comedy to make the viewer empathise and identify with a single character. Keeping the colour scheme and character design simple allows the viewer to project themselves onto the character and so better apply the messages and advice of the film to their own life.

Another example of a particularly effective, story driven collaboration is Avi Ofer, whose tender and naive style lends itself well to the film ‘Why You Need an Early Night’. Avi Ofer uses very simple, very effective metaphors to politely and subtlety offer Alain De Botton’s advice to the viewer. Advice that may come across as patronising were it not for the authentic imperfections in Avi’s film, reminiscent of the visceral work of Quentin Blake and Ralph Steadman.

I consider this authenticity and sincerity to be one of the most important factors in communicating a message that deals so deeply with our emotions. Often this authenticity comes from the imperfections in our work; the charm of a lopsided character or the wobble of a hand drawn line.

I think this is especially relevant today as we are routinely subjected to pixel perfect digital graphics, glossy advertisements and gleaming typography designed by a team of anonymous creatives somewhere in Salford. Though Alain De Botton condemns the romantic idea of the revered individual creator, I think that immense value can be found in the quirks and mistakes of the lone creative.

School of Life research

Though I was already familiar with the work of the School of Life I had little knowledge of the work of Alain De Botton. As part of my research I read his book ‘The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work’, watched his documentary on status anxiety, and watched a large portion of his talks and videos available online. I think it’s fair to say my perspective has changed on a number of different issues.

His critique of Romanticism has opened my eyes to how disconnected our expectations are of love, to the reality of relationships. I’ve always had the mentality that love is a binary emotion, and it is this that dictates weather or not a relationship is successful. After watching his talks and listening to his podcasts on the topic I’ve since changed my mind.

Alain De Botton has also stressed the importance of self-knowledge and self love if we are ever to form meaningful relationships and create meaningful work. I was previously self conscious that these were these were the selfish indulgences of the spoilt millennial; I had no grasp that they were the foundation of a healthy society.

Furthermore, his insistence that ‘Being a little casual with a great thinker is the biggest homage one could pay to him or her’ has introduced me to the field of philosophy, something that previously appeared omniscient and insurmountable.

Before that

Although I wasn’t thinking consciously about the aims of my illustrations before I created the Vulnerability film, I was creating illustrations on the same sorts of themes. Mainly they explored self-esteem, relationships, identity, and social anxiety. This may not be immediately apparent in my illustrations, as a lot of the imagery is abstract or seemingly unrelated, but I was concerned with issues whilst drawing and creating them. After reading into the teachings of the School of Life and the philosophy of Alain De Botton I’ve become far more aware of the reason and impact for these issues and their place in society, and this has informed my personal work.

I find it hard to transfer ideas from my sketches and doodles into finished pieces and I think a reason for this is I’m often unsure of the purpose of the finished piece. The collaboration meant that I was forced to commit to creating something final and complete, whilst gifting me with a reason for doing so.

As my illustrations explored similar themes to the film, they were useful in informing both the style and the characters throughout the process. I even found that some of ideas in the film were taken directly from drawings I’d made previously. (The character squatting a pair of smiley faces, intended to illustrate a person struggling with dealing with their emotions, is used in the final film).
The bold lines and thick black shadows of my drawings were intended to juxtapose the sensitive characters and so this too worked well in the animation. At first I considered including imperfections in the animation as a stylistic choice to represent the vulnerability of the characters (at a point in the film Alain talks about how we are all as worried, damaged and broken as each other; this was something I felt was vital to express through the style of the animation).

These imperfections could have taken inspiration from the sketchiness of some of my doodles, however I found that drawing each frame 3 times resulted in the characters wiggling and boiling and so I opted for this process instead. This was, although time consuming, very effective in making the imagery appear fragile.

The characters I’ve been working on here in my illustrations are the same characters that feature in the film. I chose to use this existing character for a number of reasons.

Firstly the character is simple enough for the viewer to project themselves onto, and endearing and expressive enough for them to empathise with when they are inevitable physically and emotionally wounded.

Secondly the fact the character is large in stature and “laddy” in appearance addresses, (or at least hints at), the issue of young men bottling up their feelings.

One of the main aims of the film is to convince the viewer that sharing our vulnerabilities strengthens our friendships and relationships, and rather than making us appear weak and pathetic, shows how strong we really are. The masking of vulnerabilities and of emotions in general, is a problem that is particularly prevalent in young men as bravado and pride stifle the kind of healthy sharing Alain De Botton champions in the film.

In retrospect I realise the viewers of the School of Life are likely already open to the idea of emotional intelligence, and of the candid discussion of feelings. Young males new to the concept are unlikely to be exposed to the video, and if they are, there is no guarantee they’ll identify with the character.

However I hope the throwing of love letters between the characters in the film at least encourages displays of affection and respect between male friends in some small part.