Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Term 3... The National Gallery Project

The last term started last week. This term every student has to realise a short animation project, that is inspired by a painting from the collection of the National Gallery in London. So now I start to write this kind of documentary of the creation progress of my final project, that I'm supposed to write. It's difficult to sort out everything that inspired me, I guess it's impossible. But I'll try to post some of the key influences.
Well, in March I've been to the National Gallery several times and had different ideas and different paintings that I liked, but it turned out to be the one that took my sight at the very beginning: it is called "Harvest: Le Pouldu" and was finished in 1890 by the french painter Paul Gauguin. He spent some time in the north of France, also in the Bretagne, where he painted this picture.

On the painting you can see this outstanding red dog in the foreground. From the painter's perspective he is standing right in front of a heap of chopped corn (or hay) with poppies. To me it looked like as if the dog had a tail of wheat and poppy, a bit like the tail of a peacock. So my inspiration of the painting was to create a character like that. I didn't have an idea of what story this character could be involved in. I talked about the idea with this peculiar character to my friends and coursemates and everyone liked it. I liked it too, so I tried to build my story around this character. Here are some of the very first character designs for the creature.

Over easter I visited my family in Germany. I talked with my father who is a painter and was inspired a lot by the work of Gauguin, too. Back in the UK, I spent some days travelling in the southwest of England and took the picture as a postcard with me. I found that the landscape at the coastline of Devon and Cornwall looks a bit like on the picture. I took this picture in a Bed & Breakfast room somewhere close to Boscastle in a tiny farmer-village. On the window I put my postcard as a comparison.

I read about Gauguin that he was living in Paris and tried to escape from there to find a simpler and cheaper place to live. He liked the modesty in the life on the countryside of the Bretagne. I could understand him, because my situation was similar: I tried to escape of London with its busy lifestyle and fast pace. So I decided that this is the basic feeling that I want to recreate in my animation project, however I didn't have a plot by the time.
After talking about my idea with my lecturers and our contact person from the National Gallery I scribbled down some plot ideas and spent some time researching. I had in my mind that it would have something to do with work. Looking at the picture, I see women harvesting and working, sailors on ships, probably fishermen, also working. Even Gauguin who is not on the picture, as an observer but at the same time working. What is the red dog doing? I researched about work and the absence of work. On my research I stepped across a dutch philosopher named Kierkegaard, who had spent some time thinking about the philosophy of boredom. I noted this down as I was reading stuff from Kierkegaard and other things.

As you can see I came across something called 'Acedia', which is something like the lack of the ability to enjoy the moment. It is something like laziness, but worse. It is not just a moment of laziness, but rather a big dark cloud that follows one wherever you go. It is when you've lost the ability of doing just nothing and enjoying the very moment you live in. Anyway, I was inspired by this. 'Acedia' or 'Akedia' is a greek word and was later also referred to as a demon, also known as the midday-demon or 'daemonium meridianum', as the christians called him. I thought this idea of a demon could fit to my idea. The doggish creature with the wheat-tail could be this demon. There could be a legend or a myth about this midday-demon, told by a narrating voice, one of the women who are harvesting the field. She is telling it to a younger woman or girl who is also working at the field, but not very concentraded or motivated. She is tired of her work and is having a break, maybe drifting away in thoughts or whatever. Then the midday demon appears to her or something like that. I noted this idea down on a busride, it may be difficult to read.

Now, I didn't mean to say, that he is some "bad" creature who comes for her to slay her or something like that. It should be something more differenciated. So I thought, that it is not her who is haunted by the midday demon. It is rather the kind of working woman, who is working restlessly to flee from boredom 0f her everyday life and lack of any joy. In this perspective, the midday demon is not to be found in the creature itself. The creature could be a symbol for fantasy or exactly this ability to enjoy the moment of life, and letting inspiration play. From this idea I stepped to a simpler version, however more effective and easier to tell in a short time:

There is no need to explain any myth or legend with a narrator voice. There will be just the situation that the younger woman is working and having a break. She looks up and sees this strange creature. It has a tail of wheat and poppy. As it sees her, the dog runs away. She is following him. Chase scene, they are running freely through the crop, playing and so on. She takes a ride on the creature or whatever. It is just pure awesomeness and joy. Then, she suddenly runs into an elderly woman, who is also harvesting at the field. She finds herself in the same place where she was, as she first saw the creature. She is looking over to it, and sees the same picture as before. However, the dog is moving away, leaving a heap of wheat and poppy behind (it was not his tail, but right behind him).
So this plot should be easy enough to get by just watching the film without getting too "arty". Here are some first character designs of the girl.

And some more of the wheat-poppy-tailed-creature.

As for the visual style, I first thought about doing it handdrawn and colouring it on cels with paint and brushes, so make it look like my first rough watercolour sketch of the dog. But I'm still worrying a bit about that. I might just draw it in Flash, trying to get a nice and handdrawn style into it. On my research I read that Gauguins style of painting was also inspired by traditional japanese woodblock colourprints, called "ukiyo-e hanga" (for example like this I think this rather graphic style suits quite well to the Flash style. I'll post some first storyboards and animatics soon.

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