Tagged: narrative

BOOKS

Here’s a list of books, textbooks and manual that I have learnt a lot from and found really useful. They range from books on film aesthetics, screenwriting, storytelling, animation and motivation.

The Art of Dramatic Writing  by Lajos Egri
The best guide to writing narrative I’ve read yet. It teaches you how to write solid characters, structures, premise and pacing, and it also shows things to look out for that will make your narrative fail. Just keep in mind that it’s written primarily for writing stageplays and not screenplays so certain things don’t always apply if you’re writing for film. It also doesn’t take into account visual storytelling techniques as it’s written primarily for dialogue based theatrical storytelling.
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The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
Probably the most well known book of comparative mythology and religion from Joseph Campbell. This book looks in particular at the ‘Hero’s Journey’ which is a form of narrative that permeates the majority of our fiction today and throughout history. Quintessential for writers who want to understand their craft, even if they don’t want to follow the hero’s formula.

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Re-Imagining Animation by Paul Wells and Johnny Hardstaff
A really interesting book on contemporary animation and it’s changing culture. Primarily focusing on the changing rolls of animation in the post-digital age. Invaluable for intermediate to advanced animators and animation academics.

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Sight Sound Motion by Herbert Zettl
An in depth textbook covering the aesthetics of moving image filmmaking. It looks at the fine details and choices in film-making and their psychological effects on the viewer. The book covers, light, lighting, colour, area, depth and volume, screen volume and effects, time, motion, continuity & complexity editing and sound. It can get a bit dry at times and as a cinema goer you will already know some of the elements in this book, however it’s worth sitting down and reading it entirely.

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Film Art by David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson
Staple textbook for many cinema courses in film schools & universities. Looks at the aesthetics and mechanics of cinema in slightly broader context than ‘Sight Sound Motion’. Useful as a basis in understanding cinema for creators, academics and critics alike.
If you want this, get the edition before the latest and buy it second-hand as new editions cost a ridiculous amount of money for minimal new content.

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B Book by M Dot Strange
A great book from an actual independent feature film animator/director. It looks at motivation, turmoils and the life of a dedicated fringe artist.
“I wrote this book as sort of an artistic pick you upper… a kick in the ass… a slap in the back of your head to get you going creating the awesome work that you should be!” – M Dot Strange

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The War Of Art + Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield
Really motivational books from author Steven Pressfield. After reading these I worked harder than ever. They talk about the personal need to create and becoming professional in your approach. There’s a couple of parts that talk about Pressfield’s religious connection to creating which didn’t really gel with me as I’m quite secular, but i just ignored these and the other parts were extremely relevant. A good book for when you’re stuck in a rut.

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The Animator’s Survival Kit by Richard Williams
The best textbook I’ve found yet for character animation. Useful regardless of what animation style you use. Written by the director of ‘The Cobbler and the Thief’. The examples given by Williams are quite stylized and cartoony but just tone that down if you want more realism or varying style in your character animation.

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In The Blink Of An Eye (2nd ED) by Walter Murch
Insights and rules formulated by master editor Walter Murch. Editing is a hugely important step in film-making so the better you get at it as a D.I.Y or independent filmmaker the better your films will be. Incredibly useful information for filmmakers looking to get better at their craft.51KFHHJJAZL

The Conversations: Walter Murch And The Art Of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje
A five lengthy interviews with aforementioned master editor Walter Murch by the writer of The English Patient. They go through a lot of interesting content throughout their conversations. Worth a read if you read ‘In The Blink Of An Eye’ and want more.

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Rebel Without A Crew by Robert Rodriguez
This book is mostly journal entries from Robert Rodriguez in the early 90’s when he was 23 years old and making his debut film El Miriachi with a $7000 budget. While I’m not particularly into his films, it’s an interesting and motivational look at D.I.Y and independent film-making. Good stuff.

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ALLEGORY OR MESSAGES WITHIN STORY

All good narratives have a message, point of view and themes they explore through the characters and their interactions. A narrative that doesn’t do any of this will be pointless or shallow… a bad story.

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this lately with the script I’m writing. In ‘The Art of Dramatic Writing’, Lajos Egri makes a convincing case for the use of a clear cut premise (message) in the narrative. He states that “An unclear premise is as bad as no premise at all.”, and he also goes on to say that you can only have one premise to have a successful play/narrative. While I agree that a good narrative needs to do something on that level, I’m not sure how much I agree completely with these last two points Egri makes.

If we take Oedipus Rex by Sophocles for example, we can say that the premise is ‘man cannot escape his fate’, but I can’t help but feel that it operates on many more levels than that. It explores ideas of choice, free will and inevitability. I guess what Egri says about premise is viable IF you do a whole bunch of other things as well.

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With this in mind as I’m writing, I keep drifting to allegory to depict the premise of my story. Allegory is something that is really hard to do well, so I’m not sure how far I’ll go down that path. It’s really easy to be ham-fisted and lack subtlety when trying to get across the premise. I see it time and time again in narratives, the story has a message and something to say but it’s overdone, preachy and sanctimonious. The audience can see it too and they are not convinced. And although I think having an unsubtle premise is better then none at all, both options have to be avoided for a good successful narrative.

A writer such as George Orwell does allegory really really well especially with books such as 1984 and Animal Farm. Another person who does it well is Hayao Miyazaki especially with films such as Princess Mononoke and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. While you could boil down what these stories do to a simple overall premise, is doing so useful for formulating your own story? Maybe but it seems to come with it’s own dangers. One example of this is We Are The Strange by M Dot Strange. Although I really like the animated feature. I’ve noticed that one thing that it doesn’t do well is a subtle premise. It has a strong and admirable message but it’s executed excessively. This makes the message less effective and causes the whole film to lose cohesion.

So that’s my goal right now, to write a great narrative with a strong premise, yet do it with subtlety and have it woven into the rest of the structure well. I’m studying films and stories I think do this well and trying to work out the mechanisms they use. When I figure out how to utilise a good premise and message subtly within the story I’ll let you know ><

-Hamish .S

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transitioning from Experimental to Narrative

I want to make animations. I’ve known this for a while, but I’m just starting to come to certain realisations… that I want my work to be experimental and different from conventional media out there… but most of all, that I want to make animation with a strong narrative element. Narrative and story have a hell of a lot of power to them, and if it’s done right and isn’t purely the ‘same old shit’ it can change people or just make people think. Abstract animations, or animation without story are really interesting and I love a lot of them, however my interests definitely lie in slightly more conventional territory. Fear not though, my work will still be really fucking odd.

Narrative is a huge concept and can be pretty abstract so there is still shitloads of room to do varied and different things with it. Previously the majority of my work and animations have been experimental and if they had a narrative focus, it was secondary to other things I was trying to do at the time. I did this for several reasons, one of which i think was that I found comfort in pure experimentation and lack of adhering to any conventions. I’ve decided to bite the bullet and train myself to make the best narrative works I possibly can, even if that means my first few are completely lame and don’t really work(which is a definite possibility).

I’m currently working on a 3 part comic Zine and two narrative animations. I’ve never really written dialogue or characters before so I’ve got my work cut out for me. I’m finding that the comic zine is a really good exercise in writing for characters because I can write a lot of dialogue and a lot can happen in the scene; yet it won’t take me over a year to actually produce the work from script. It’s still visual but it’s quicker than animation and useful because I have trouble writing something if i know I’m never going to use it.

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One of the animators that I look up to and respect, M Dot Strange has previously talked about aspects of his work and the order of importance he places in them. He puts 4 of aspects in order of more to less important.

Mood

Story

Character

Originality

I agree with him and feel that this ordering is important. Originality is important, however it isn’t the MOST important aspect with the kind of work I want to create. Story and Character are extremely important; however because I’m not interested in realism, Mood and world building are key to creating an effective final piece. These are all important aspects which need to be worked on, but putting them in order helps to make my goals and priorities clear when creating work.

It’s going to be a long(and possibly embarrassing) haul but it’s time to truly start.

Happy easter!

-Hamish .S