Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"...sewing machine" Notes on Character/Setting

Though this post is a part of the whole "...sewing machine" series of posts, I would like to make it a reoccurring bit -- where I give my thoughts on the development of character, and character arc in animation -- if for no other reason than for the practice of effectively communicating these ideas.

"...sewing machine" is a dialogue exchange between two characters. Only one of the characters is mentioned by name, "Joe." For simplicities sake, I will call the second one "Bill." Both characters are married. Below is the transcript:

-Bill- What'd you get Anne?

-Joe- Stationary set-- some paper and envelopes-- leather binding...

-Bill- Joe, you'll never learn...

-Joe- Why? What's the matter?

-Bill- No woman wants a stationary set. Get her something personal!

-Joe- Well, it's got her initials on it...

-Bill- No, no... You want something more sentimental, Romantic!

-Joe- What'd you get Faye?


-Bill- Sewing machine.

I began thinking about the dialogue, who these characters are, where they come from and where they could be talking. The exchange is extremely casual -- "small-talk," if you will -- and struck me as an exchange between two men at work. While my initial thought was of two construction workers talking over a boxed lunch, I felt like I had seen this idea on many occasions, and that it doesn't fit the flow of conversation. I also toyed with the idea of really playing on the unexpected, and having the two characters be non-human (talking frogs, etc.). Though this has the potential to push the humor of the piece, I want to dial things back a bit and see how much I can pull from a simple situation, and simple interaction. This exchange could take place on any given day in these character's lives (provided it's a gift giving time), and as such they should be doing something that they could be doing on any given day. In the end I let my psychological imaginings of the characters determine the setting.

 Note -- A character design professor of mine got us into the practice of scouring Google to inspire our character design. We would choose a random image of someone, often absurd and unexplainable, and use it as a jumping off point to imagine who that character was. I will use the same technique to illustrate my thought process (it's also an excuse to add some color to an extremely wordy blog).

I picture Bill to be an aging salesman who is extremely good at his job. He is not used to being told no, or even questioned. Accustomed to delivering smooth and eloquent pitches, he struggles with "turning off the charm." Bill knows how to work a room and is rarely for want of friendship. Born to a working class, he privately rejects luxury, but is known to enjoy a fine cigar in the presence of company. His dress is modest, and his success as a salesman can be attributed to his ability to empathize with a diverse demographic of customers. He is very competitive by nature.

He has been married to Faye since college. They were high school sweethearts. She is one of the few people that capable of telling him no.

For some reason I couldn't help but think of Joe as a gardener. He is the like-able guy who has nothing but nice things to say about anyone. He is the first to work and the last to leave. He enjoys relative success, yet does not aspire to rise any higher on the corporate ladder. Though he means well, his intentions are often misplaced, as he will often just miss the point. Never-the-less, this doesn't deter him from trying, and he is always striving to please those around him.

He got married to Anne later on in life, and struggles to try and be the perfect husband. He is a family man through and through, and makes sure to be attentive to her needs. He tends to be a home-body.

The two men are insurance salesman at a small company in the Southeastern US (this last choice stems from my mother working as a secretary for insurance salesmen a few years back. My imaginings of0 Bill are partially based on them). They have worked together for years, and their common ground of being married men has fostered a friendship between the two. They make it a habit for one couple to host the other for dinner at least once a month.

I pictured this conversation taking place at their office's breakroom. Joe has just finished wrapping his gift to Anne, and is enjoying a cup of coffee, hoping to escape the busy holidays. Bill, still hard at work, enters to refill his mug and, seeing Joe, takes the excuse to take a short break.

I then worked out a quick model of an generic office set (8 hours).



It's all fairly generic, but will be more than sufficient for this clip. My hope is that the blandness will keep the focus on the characters. I was careful to think of where I would be placing the cameras, and how the room would be shot, to avoid any unnecessary modeling. Once the animation is done, I may go back and add a few "holiday decorations" to add another dimension to the set and drive home the scenario, but for now it's serviceable. All that is left now is to add the hero props (coffee mugs, pot and gift), and get down to animating. More on that tomorrow.



Total time spent: 26 hours

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