The Dying of the Light
Join Date: Apr 2006
I've been wanting to do this for a long while, but managed to find the time only now. In case you didn't know, the students who produced Out of Sight
had also set up a website
detailing the project's production process. Unfortunately, most of the site is written in Chinese, so I thought of translating some of it for a broader audience.
Of course, you may wonder why I bothered when there is such a thing as Google translate. But when the function produces sentences like:
These errors resulted in each card of Chico are not the same, by the early and late completion card is more obvious in comparison.
When it's meant to be more like:
These oversights made Chico look different in every frame, especially when we compared the early drafts with the finished work.
I thought, surely I can do better than a machine? So I tried, though on only the first page of three. Here is the result:
The first script
It is our department’s practice for students to start working on their graduation projects in their third year. We started with a different concept based on the theme of family. The idea came from a series of events that happened after the death of one of our group member’s relatives. We thought it would make a moving story, so we started writing the early drafts based on it.
But before we could start actual production, we got bogged down with schoolwork and didn’t manage to spend a lot of time on the project. Also, the plot always got stuck at one point or another, and we just couldn’t seem to push it forward. Before long, the summer holidays arrived…
In hindsight, we realise that we weren’t actually suited for that kind of story, because it just wasn’t the kind of material we usually worked with. We picked it up only because of events that had transpired coincidentally and, furthermore, some of us had not experienced similar things in real life, so it’s not surprising that the story didn’t resonate with us.
Most importantly, we just didn’t have enough life experience to make the story truly moving. Had we pressed on, it would have just turned out ordinary, and we probably would have lost the motivation to finish the project. That was why we decided to abandon the original concept.
Having done so, we suffered our next big headache: What kind of story are we really suited for?
The birth of OOS
After re-examining our previous works, we noticed we had some kind of special attachment to “senses”, so we started trying to describe the ability to “feel”. We realised that we recognise our surroundings and our world only through our senses and, among them, sight is the most important.
We seem to rely almost entirely on sight to live. If we removed our ability to see, how would our world be transformed? Out of such curiosity, the concept for OOS was born.
This was the idea we had: We mistakenly believe that blind people live in darkness when, in fact, the world they perceive may be a lot better than ours. The plot was: To portray the imaginary world of a blind little girl and to reveal, only at the last moment, that she was actually blind.
However, because of the holidays, our group couldn’t meet face-to-face for further discussion. We managed only to confirm the concept and the plot and, with that, we created the first storyboard. It was only after the holidays that everyone was able to meet in Taipei for serious discussion, and this would later cause unexpected problems…
It was only after school reopened that we gradually realised the impact of our early mistakes. By the time we finished the first storyboard, the story was as good as fixed, just like the structure of a new building — all that was left was to add the facade.
Even after discussing the second storyboard with our teacher, we found that we couldn’t add further ideas to the story. This became a point of difficulty during production and, at the same time, it prevented us from exploring other creative possibilities.
With the second draft, besides drawing more details and making it a little bit more complete, the main things were that we smoothed the plot and removed unnecessary scenes.
With the storyboard completed, we scanned it into group member Boss’ Flash program to create the animation script. We estimated the film to be about 4min 15sec long. We had expected the short to have a slow pace, but we didn’t know at the time that the finished piece would actually come up to 5min 30sec in length.
There was also a lot more movement than we expected, because the storyboard hadn’t portrayed action clearly enough. To make the animation more natural, we went through a lot of redesigns during production, adding substantially to the screen time. As a result, we had to work like mad to stay on schedule.
So… a lesson learnt: To avoid such situations in the future, it’s best to come up with as complete a storyboard as possible.
The importance of sound
Because sound played an important role in this film, and also because we’d never learnt audio production, group member Evaty bought a sound recorder during the holidays and attended audio classes to learn basic sound recording, processing and mixing. All these eventually came in handy.
While discussing the rough concept during the holidays, character designer Evaty suddenly thought of reusing some character sketches for the heroine. After a few more sketches, a design was chosen, and we decided to call her Chico.
Gogo’s design, however, distressed Evaty for some time. She imagined it to look like a corgi, but with a daschund’s long nose and floppy ears. It was only after she studied the shapes of some toy dogs that she managed to sketch Gogo.
The designs for the flying whale and the fish cars were also decided only after several drafts.
It was during production that we discovered that the designs of the main characters were far too inadequate. We hadn’t thought about Chico and Gogo's head-to-body ratio; the proportions of many props (such as the ratio of the magic wand’s tip to its length; the hemline of Chico’s skirt and the length of Gogo’s snout); various movements (when Chico raises her hand, how would her cloak flutter and how would the underside of her cloak look?); angles (how would Chico’s eyes appear under her hat when seen from an angle of elevation?); and the height of the different characters (when standing in line, how high would Chico be compared to the robber, the flower woman and the smoking man?).
These oversights made Chico look different in every frame, especially when we compared the early drafts with the finished work. Luckily, the two main characters were drawn by an actual character designer, allowing us to make changes on the fly. Had they been drawn by someone else, such crude designs would definitely have posed problems.
Group member Train was responsible for the background designs, originally based on some sketches by Evaty. In the end, though, Train reinterpreted the streets in a cute and mellow style, creating something we had not anticipated.
In order to portray the difference between fantasy and reality, Train experimented with many watercolour sketches and studied a number of reference drawings to eventually come up with the designs you see in the finished film.
We decided to use hand-drawn animation because Flash couldn’t produce the warm lines of movement we wanted to create. We felt it best to render movement with pencil animation lines to match the delicate watercolour backgrounds.
However, our teacher was worried that hand-drawn animation would take too long and prevent us from completing the project on time. So we did a test with the second frame, calculating the time we spent on it, and also used Photoshop to experiment with faster ways to add colours. We found that we didn’t need to use much computing power nor much time, and so persuaded our teacher to let us use hand drawings to complete the project.
In order to monitor our progress, it was important to have a schedule for every frame we produced.
We used stars to represent the difficulty of every frame and estimated that we had to finish around seven stars worth of work every week. We realised only later that this method was highly inaccurate, but because we were inexperienced, we didn’t really have any other option at the time.
It was almost October by the time we finished our experiments. Even though there were still a number of buggy scenes, and the designs of supporting characters were not perfect, we knew we would not meet our deadlines if we didn’t bite the bullet and start right away.