Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Character Portrait

3-minute digital flash animation comparing China and Canadian idiosyncrasies


Our Character Portrait is inspired by artists Lotte Reiniger and Kara Walker who specialise in silhouettes. The animation technique that our group will explore is in some ways an extension of their work, and in others a springboard for new ideas and techniques. In planning this project, we feel a deeper exploration of their process will be helpful in accomplishing this character portrait.

About Lotte Reiniger & Her Process

Lotte Reiniger

Lotte Reiniger's artistic medium was established at a young age. As a youth, she created silhouettes to perform Shakespeare in her shadow theater. In 1917, while creating silhouettes of actors and actresses at Max Reinhardt's school of acting, she made a connection with film-maker  Paul Wegener. He hired her to create silhouettes for the titles of some of his films, and eventually helped her discover the secret of animating her silhouettes. From then on she created some short silhouette films.
We found her process of animation inspiring as it is much like today's animation process. While not created on the computer, each piece of her animated work has several important parts, such as the creation of characters, movement  of those characters, characters  settings, and sound effects (including speech and musical compositions). Secondly, we are motivated by how each scene is created using a storyboard, with every detail drawn in full color. The figures and scenes are later reduced to silhouettes for animation. Taking away the lines and colors of each drawing, however, did not destroy the charm of Reinger’s characters.  She also believed that the lack of color in the black silhouettes allowed the viewers imagination more room to expand and interact with the story. This idea is very inspiring to us because our story involves the audience to interact with the story and put themselves into the main characters shoes. We are hoping to achieve this goal by using non-coloured silhouettes despite dealing with a concept of nationality and race. 

The Adventures of Prince Achmed by Lotte Reigner


About Kara Walker & Her Process

Kara Walker employs silhouettes to tell stories much like Lotte Reiniger. Based on a study of the popular art form from the 18th century Walker began experimenting using silhouette as a story-telling medium. She chose the basic black outlines of character as it simplifies the persona being represented and because her technique is based on 18th century backlighting portraitures. In Walker's eyes, a silhouette is a substitution for a true likeness of a person.  She explores the medium in many different forms, from larger paper silhouettes, to installations of cast shadows, and to the animation of silhouette marionettes. 

Kara Walker: My compliment, my enemy, my oppressor, my love

We hope to follow her character design style but with a digital twist. Her characters have exaggerated features which makes them cartoonish, and in doing so she adds some humour to the dense subject matter of race, gender and sexuality that she explores. It is important to mention that most of her animations involves around the theme of "history". She is able to portray history in her own unique way that makes it interesting again. She is both trying to entertain and inform her audiences which is what we want to do with our projects. It is very impressive how she shows us the past in an interesting way through the use of cut-paper silhouettes. We hope to achieve that same feel with our character design. Walker’s work holds interest because no matter how many times the work is seen, there always seems to be something new that had been unnoticed. 


Choosing A Story & Interview Biography
Following Lotto Reiniger’s exploration of silhouettes we decided to animate our story. However, much like Kara Walker's silhouette compositions in choosing a re-tellable story, we decided upon a story that could relate to and communicate a current world issue brought on by globalization: the living lifestyle of different countries as experienced by a youth of today.

Flag & landmass of China
We will explore the subtle differences on how lifestyle and values are experienced between the native Chinese and Canadian cultures. Our idea is born from a question brought up during a group discussion that we thought interesting with endless possibilities: Why do so many Chinese immigrate to Canada, while China is growing fast? In order to explore this concept, we interviewed Di Bai. 

Di Bai is a Chinese girl who came to Canada around one and half years ago. Her family immigrated to Toronto in August of 2010. She is a grade 11 student at Earl Haig high school, which is a famous public school founded in Toronto. Before she came to Canada, she lived in Da Lian, a beautiful city north of China. Since she spent her first half of high school life in Da Lian and the other half of high school life in Toronto she will have a lot of specific personal experiences and challenges, which she may share with us. She is our link to compare and contrast the life of international students between China and Canada. We will animate her interview using silhouette animation.

Flag & landmass of Canada

We designed our interview questions to be interesting to the viewer by exploring stereotypes, challenges and comparative questions between the two countries. The difference between China and Canada are more elusive and include differences in lifestyle and mindset that might not stand out immediately when one thinks about their first forays onto Canadian soil; though these differences stand out over time. These will be further illustrated by our interviewee which then will be used to form our script. Our final animation will explore these subtle differences between living in China and living in Canada as experienced by the personal story of Da Lian.

Designing The Story
Understanding Di Bai’s story is first step towards animating our project. With this information we will create imagery to fit the story by simplifying and abstracting the backgrounds using paper art; we hope this will offset and compliment the solid colour of silhouettes. We find that it will be easier to tell the story in animated silhouette because the viewer doesn't get lost in the little details of the character's clothes and features, but is forced to see the character as a whole. We believe keeping a character in silhouette allows a deeper connection with the story and the audience. Instead of a character with a specific trait to identify with, the character is ambiguous enough  for the audience to relate to universally. 

A paper scan by Nicole Wilk

We will break the story into scenes depicting Di Bai’s thoughts concerning the interview questions. These visualised thoughts will be illustrated movements and actions related to the matter at hand, these thoughts will be both literal and abstract and will not follow reality directly, especially during scene transitions.
Creating Characters & Backgrounds
Understanding the weight of shape in silhouettes our character has been through many designs. Our goal in creating Di Bai as a silhouette is to make her vague while representing her nationality, and in that we made her stature small (short and thin), and took care to make her appear fashionable and tidy. This is vague enough to follow Asian stereotype as well as reflect the actual appearance of Di Bai. 

The silhouette animation will take place within Flash, which uses Vector drawings.  Within the application frames are drawn and then altered individually utilizing toolbox and frame-by-frame editing. Our main character (and her family) will be represented as a white silhouette to differentiate her from the crowd (representing by the common silhouette colour of black). We will use Flash to animate movement and will rely on it for flat backgrounds that are also silhouetted.

The backgrounds will be an environment for the characters to inhabit and interact with. This may be difficult as they will be raster-based from scanning, photography and photoshop editing. The backgrounds will be abstract and creative while not being distracting. We understand that careful background design is important in order to establish the mood of the story.  Our main concept is to create simple and entertaining animation to amuse and engage the viewers. Our interest in relation to stop frame animation is the use of the silhouette.

Sound Composition
The animation will consist of voice- over narration of Di Bai herself from the interview. Sound effects will assist scene placement as well as transitions. Sound effects will be gathered from  from freesound.org which is covered by the creative commons license. 

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