Overview of animatic draft March 2021
Mary’s story is a compilation of single image narrative marker drawings from a workshop on gender issues in coffee sector in Gumutindo Fair Trade coffee cooperative in Eastern Uganda. Gender inequalities in the coffee sector in Uganda and in East Africa has been a key focus of my consultancy work. The overall narrative is therefore grounded in very common patterns of inequality throughout the region on which advocacy is needed.
The community drawings were selected because these are some of the most expressive single image narratives that have been produced in participatory workshops I have facilitated. Several (but not all) of these drawings are by Mary herself. I also had video and photo footage of the workshop and Mbale context. Some of this material I used as the basis for my own drawings. Including Mary’s head that I drew in pencil from a photograph, then and then edited in SilverFX.
The main part of the animation are 2D frame by frame animations in TVPaint of the line drawings from the community workshops that I sequenced as a constructed narrative: 1) Bride kidnap 2) Property inequality 3) Nagging children and lazy husband 4) Husband goes drinking with girlfriend 5) Mary is left working in the fields 6) Mary gets a cow 7) Mary is left looking after the cow and shop while the husband still goes out with second wife. These are placed in a contextualising ‘reality wrapper’ of photos and my own sketches/drawings from photos including possible added animation of 8) Mary has fantasies of being a butcher with a sharp knife to take out her anger???. Another possibility would be to add/substitute video footage of the performers, particularly a section showing alternatives with men sweeping and helping women.
The music soundtrack is one of the songs about gender inequality in the household written and performed by workshop participants in local Gisu language. I do not have an English translation but the Swahili words used enabled me to match roughly the meaning to some of the images.
Mary’s Story: Key Translation Questions
General style/message medium
- Anger? vulnerability? strength? comedy? tragedy?
- Original flat black marker line or more artistic ink?
- Use of colour? shape? fracture? follow more African cartoon style?
- Sequencing of narrative? As a scene-based sequential narrative? As composite of cycled looped vignettes like ‘Tango’ to show the burden of things?
- Importance of dramatic timing?
- Balance between comedy and tragedy to counter ‘not all that feminist whingeing again!’ reaction and attract attention.
- Best way of contextualising the narrative to show that this is the situation of very many women in East Africa. Does the use of photos/sketches work?
Illusion of Life: realism/magic balance
- How far should the animations observe conventions of visual dynamics? Which visual conventions are necessary for clarity across audiences?
- How can clarity and drama be enhanced by selective use of colour? camera moves and lighting?
- Which visual conventions can be ignored to follow the original drawings and give a more ‘authentic/artistic look’? eg in use or non-use of perspective?
2.2.2: ‘Mary’s Story’, Uganda
Another narrative that is very important for gender advocacy in coffee sector. Animations based on community drawings by women and men coffee farmers from a Fair Trade coffee cooperative in Uganda. The drawings are separate one-image narratives that are expressive in themselves – the most expressive being ones by a woman called Mary. They work very well as simple line drawings animated using Disney principles: squash and stretch, arcs, anticipation etc. Timing will be key.
But for an animation they need to be collated into some sort of narrative. Hence the use of a drawing of Mary’s head. Or use of cycles like ‘Tango’ by Zbigniew Rybczyński. I have a music sound track from another workshop with drums, whistles and singing that would work well for this.
This will be a one minute looped cycle animation compiling the vignettes. With a more fluid, in-betweened dramatic version. Colouring the same line drawings, reordering or combining in different ways is quick and straightforward in TV paint, and could then be used to produce two different versions.
Using DxOFX for any photos – TVPaint – possibly Adobe Animate for cycled loops of movie symbols if TVPaint does not do these well.
Box 5b: Mary’s Story: Key Questions
Illusion of Life/Magic/authenticity
- How far should the animations observe conventions of visual dynamics? Or follow the original drawings. eg in use or non-use of perspective.
- Which conventions are necessary? Which can be ignored to give a more ‘authentic look’?
- Need to look at camera moves and lighting
- Sequencing of narrative? As composite of cycled looped vignettes like ‘Tango’ or more fluid sequential narrative?
- Importance of dramatic timing?
- Anger? vulerability? strength?
- Original flat black marker line or more artistic ink?
- Use of colour? shape? fracture
Creative translation assessment of animatic draft
The current animatic is a ‘maximalist version’ where I threw different sources together to see how the narrative might work and possible timings with the sound track, and make an initial assessment of how different styles might work together and complement each other for some feedback before redoing the whole thing.
Fidelity to community voices and context? the focus on animating the original marker line drawings is the closest I can get to fidelity to the original sources. The addition of gouache and crayon overlay on role play photos also maintains close fidelity to what was said in the workshop. But the narratives have sometimes been constructed by me based on contextual information because the workshop documentation had some gaps.
Visual magic and creativity? I find the general style and mix of animated and figurative media quite striking, but there are other contextual photographs and images I could adapt. I now need to think much more strategically about timing, colours and style to reflect the message and how to lighten things with more comedy in order to emphasise the serious points.
Plans/possibilities for further development
The line animations still need a lot more work with:
– clearer in presentation of narrative thread to show separation/links between scenes, or cycle build-up to angry boil.
– clarify the characters – Mary, husband, co-wife – through consistent use of features and/or colour of hair/clothes.
– follow Disney animation principles to increase dramatic impact and contrast comic moments and serious moments through timing, exaggeration, squash/stretch etc.
– consider possible use of camera moves.
– fit the animated movement to the rhythm of the sound track to enhance the drama and clarity.
– think about staging and contextualisation of the narrative through title/intro and ending. Including whether to use Mary’s head as a unifying device, and if so how and when.
black and white line animation
Original inspiration: Line animation in Adobe Animate
My initial aim aim was to produce animations that were faithful to the expressive single image narratives in flat black marker, sequencing them in an ‘invented but believable’ way that could balance comedy and seriousness.
I was very much inspired by the expressiveness of simple stick figures of political graffiti artist STIK and the ironic humour and expressive lines of David Shrigley. In an early You Tube search for ‘short textless line animation’ I also discovered ‘Nuggets’ by Andreas Hykade that encapsulated most what I had in mind.
I planned to do the line animation in Adobe Animate, based on the short textless animations of Flash animators like Ross Bollinger and Alan Becker. But with a much more conceptually rich storyline provided by the original drawings.
Experimenting with narrative
I started to explore the overall narrative. The community drawings were all single narrative images, most of which I had some documentation of. But they were images posted on a GALS Diamond infographic as ranked things women liked or did not like about being a woman. These gave a generalised quantified account of likes and dislikes for 10-12 women, but not an individual story in time.
My first idea was to construct a sequential narrative starting with different things women did not like in a sort of life cycle sequence, ending with possible dreams of owning a cow. After consideration I chose as the ending one of the ambiguous images of the small man with large woman leaving the woman with the alcohol shop and cow – still left behind by her husband and co-wife with even more responsibility of the cow and shop will she be able to control the money of still need to give it to him?
A possible second approach I thought of later that would be potentially more faithful to the original workshop process, mixing the images in a looped ‘cycle of life’ like ‘Tango’ by Zbigniew Rybczyński, ending with some sort of comic or tragic concluding clip. To show the cyclical build up of pressures to boiling anger.
!! More to do here about creative prompts and storyboarding in my Sketchbook
After initial attempts with Adobe Animate I started to experiment with line animation on my iPad as a more RSI-friendly was to put time into learning animation basics. I started by experimenting with changes in facial expressions and effects of different types of line in different iPad software.
I then chose the co-wife drawing as one of my very first animation experiments on my iPad because it presented many of the line animation challenges I knew I would have to address. As I was aiming at line animation rather than textural painting effects, I experimented in Rough Animator because it has relatively good layering and time-line management features.
As I was new to animation at this stage, I learned a lot from this experiment about animation basics on the iPad, and it showed me how complex even simple animation can be in terms of balancing timing and movement, simple walk cycles walking forward etc. But the result was quite difficult to fine tune on the iPad to something I was happy with. Though I could have achieved more even in Rough Animator if I had known what I know now about animation principles.
TV Paint experiments: line animation
Between Assignment 3 and 4 I started to learn TVPaint from Howard Wimshurst’s Animation Academy and Bloop animation on-line training because of its better drawing and timeline animation features compared to both iPad and Adobe Animate.
I used TVPaint and the Animation Academy course to develop skills in Disney animation principles and walk cycles. This meant I could become more ambitious in what I tried to achieve with the animation. In particular how to achieve some degree of humour with simple line animation.
Although my original ideas had been in line, with possibility of addition of flat colour, the visual methodology I work with also uses colour-coding to signify particular meanings like visions, ‘green fruit plans’ based on the four marker colours. Experienced members and staff of organisations in Rwenzoris in Western Uganda have also used attractive stylised colour figures in adapting their drawings for eg manuals on coffee techniques.
So before deciding on style, it was obviously relevant for translations to also look at colour possibilities.
In parallel to my line experiments I was proceeding with my on-line research on other animators.
Particularly African animators and the different ways in which they had used line (flat, jittery, thin/thin), flat and shaded colour in bright or limited palettes. These all used text/dialogue and comments from You Tube viewers indicated they liked the ones that looked most like Hollywood rather than the more ‘ethnic’ ones. I also soon decided these were done by a large pool of skilled young animators, putting in a lot of ‘RSI-time’ with whom I could not compete. Although possibly I could develop contacts and collaborate with them as consultant. If on-line communications could be made to work.
TV Paint experiments:
colour and shape
- simple line style like the drawings themselves – single width
- geometric line
- colourful line style, maybe with fractured approach.
Sketchbook revisited: broadening out the style
I also worked on Sketchlog 2 Community Voices to think more deeply about the community drawings, and how they might be interpreted through different sequencing narratives compared to my initial story. I also experimented with sketching context photos in different pencil and ink and wash styles to whether and how I might integrate these sketches into the animation for ‘contextual realism’.
Evolution of narrative format and Style
Peter Millard, Since the Better (2015)
Animatics to March 2021
Responding to Feedback
!! Do this as a pdf
I can see quite a big disconnect between the drawing style of the face – which I understand has been drawn by someone else – and the drawings to the right of that face.
Maybe this is a good thing or maybe you want to unify them under a consistent style. You could perhaps commission the artist to make more sketches like that one? Or you could meet in the middle of the two styles?
Are you basing the styles of the people on the right on other community member’s drawing styles too?
In part 2 i notice the perspective of the landscape. The house currently sits on the horizon. In perspective this would suggest that the house is on the edge of a cliff or is a giant looming on the horizon. Either way, that there is no land behind the house. typically we “cut through” the house, or any object, with the horizon line.
Currently your lines have no pressure input for size or opacity. Whilst this is not wrong, it does reduce the amount of information you can communicate in a line. lines with pressure input feel more organic and give the artist greater control and ability to express with the line.
The drawing process of them forming is quite a nice touch. It might be a little controversial – one could see it as a bit of a gimmick or could see it as a callback to Windsor McCay. I wouldn’t dwell too long on the drawing part of it though, I would just have them form over half a second or less, then the rest be focussed on animation. The wonderful thing about animation is the illusion being played right in front of you. You can see that they are drawn imitations, but you can’t help empathizing with them.
I really love the kind of split screen / overlay of the close up and the long establishing shot. it communicates well that the character is recalling a memory or thought. I think after a bit of time spent on that composition, the audience would understand that and you can move away from that composition, having already established that this is in the character’s memory.
Refining the animated clips
(still to complete and then refine the final animation)
1: First wife marriage kidnap
2: Man owns the Land and Property
3: Nagging children and lazy husband
6 First wife slave, second wife pleasure
7 Woman gets a cow
8: Even more work overload
This is a picture of a (smaller with trousers) man taking a woman (largest with skirt) away? (they have linked hands) from another woman (mother? co-wife? friend? bar owner? pimp?) who has a table with drinking utensils and house (alcohol bar? marriage table?) while a cow (whose?) looks sideways on the scene. But the meaning is unlear: This could be a woman (larger) taking her husband away from the bar. Could be a man and his girlfriend leaving the bar. The women could be co-wives. Or the man could have bought his wife with the livestock bottom right – but normnally that would be given to the woman’s father.