Greetings & salutations, everyone! Yet again, it has been too long between updates, so allow me to share a few comments to let you all know that both The Price and I are still alive and kicking.
I thought it would be interesting to present an example of how a finished scene has evolved from what I had originally created in the animatic. Since it was the first shot I worked on back when trying to establish a look for the rough “blueprint” (literally) of the film, let’s take a look at frames from the two versions of the opening/title sequence:
One of the first things I realized during my visit to Castle Gaiman (once I began to get my ‘giddy-awe’ under control) was how the east-facing side of the house had far more visual interest to me than the west-facing…which of course was the side I had featured in the animatic. Now, I have said before that I’m not attempting to re-create reality, nor do I feel limited by what I have seen in visiting Neil’s marvelous abode, and yet I couldn’t help but be inspired by things I hadn’t thought of or imagined. After some contemplation, I decided to reverse the orientation of the house, but it took awhile longer to fully appreciate how making that one change would involve much more than simply moving the camera from one side of the scene to the other; in fact, the impact of this adjustment was felt in almost all of the shots that follow it!
If you look at the basic composition of the animatic version, the house is rather far off in the distance on the right-hand side, with the tree (bearing the engraved symbol that becomes the first letter in the title treatment) on the left. Flipping the house meant it would face the right of the screen, and I liked that the antagonistic forces would now be approaching from that direction, going against the familiar left-to-right flow to help establish tension.
But doing that made me want to put the house on the left hand side of the frame…and that wouldn’t work since the tree needed to be on the same side to allow the title to extend to the right of the trunk…
It took some juggling and much trial and error to come up with an alternate layout that worked with the camera motion of the shot (the frame you see is the third and final stage of that motion), and conveyed a cozy, ‘nestled’ sense of the house being protected by its environment, rather than projecting an encroached-upon or claustrophobic vibe.
Early one morning , I set up my camera to capture a time-lapse sequence of the house during sunrise. While the shutter clicked away for the better part of an hour, I went for a brisk run along the roads that weave throughout the rural Midwestern landscape; as I made my way back to the property and glanced up at the home, I was stuck by the rich warm reds of the brick in the golden light. Immediately, I wanted to use those colors to establish (from the very first moments of the movie) that this place was one of goodness, warmth and of great value — worthy of protection and preservation. Once again, this was vastly different than limiting myself to the monochromatic blue-tones I had used previously — color changes everything! It is a powerful tool, and although I had been debating the merits of full color versus the “blue & white” scheme of the animatic (that many viewers mentioned was a compelling choice), the allure of what color could do to help tell this story won out in the end.
Light is incredibly effective in leading the audience’s attention where you want them to focus, notice certain details, or to create a sense of depth and space. In this shot, using rays of sunlight and the diffused layers of early morning haze helps to separate the house from the background; keeping the foreground tree wreathed in shadow sets it apart from the other elements and lends an air of mystery or menace.
There were many other considerations, especially with the camera’s movement itself. At first, I had it set up to be very smooth and precise…too precise, actually. I decided to give it a slight ‘wobble,’ almost as if a real cameraman was filming the scene with a Steadicam device (which often adds a neat, ‘floaty’ feel to a shot), and suddenly, it all felt more alive and intriguing somehow.
For those so inclined, below is a full sized frame from the opening scene of The Price you can download and use as a desktop image.
Hopefully these comments make some kind of sense; I find that a lot of the time — when those peculiar, artistic voices start suggesting things in my head — I can’t really explain “why” I made a particular decision or provide the rationale behind a creative shift in direction. As Peter Chan (an amazing concept/visual development artist who works in both the film & game industry) recently stated at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco, when your “Gut” tells you to do something, you have to make the choice to listen to it instead of to your “Lizard Brain,” that part of your mind that always wants to play it safe and logical; I wholeheartedly agree.
So until next time, keep those creative impulses flowing and ignore that Lizard Brain! And if by the slightest-of-chances you have never seen Mr. Gaiman’s hugely inspirational speech given at the University of the Arts (or if you just really need a boost & want to watch it again), here you go (and you can thank me later). Enjoy!!!