As the design team was picking up steam and churning out the fully fledged characters and environments, I started to work the script into storyboards, massaging the scenes I felt needed still some adapting for a younger audience.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the project I stepped into was much darker and moodier than any usual children's film, and it was a general consensus that it needed lightening up. It needed some humour but also some heart.
The main character was lacking likeability, and although he came across as vulnerable, you didn't warm to him yet. Rather than go through another script rewrite I opted to rewrite come of the passages with the storyboards.
This is a standard process in feature film animation, especially if the budget allows to develop the story and rework the scenes a number of times until you find the perfect solution for all scenes.
Obviously on a much smaller budget you don't have the finances to explore these different paths for lengthy periods of time, so you have to push hard to get the scenes you want, compromise a lot and at times settle for something you're not a 100% comfortable with, knowing you can tweak things in lay-out if needed.
Animation is a very organic process, and with every step another layer is added to the film, but also you have the possibility to make changes as you go along. You may get a different idea further down the line, or there may be a technical reason why you can't achieve a concept you storyboarded. Or simply you don't have the finances to achieve that beauty shot you want.
So your project grows and evolves and changes.
I did not insist in super neat drawings for our storyboards. Time was of the essence and we had around 6 months to storyboard a whole movie, with some of the scenes to be reworked completely from the script version.
This is not an easy task, and after a month planning the scenes, a small team or artist joined the production, including Dean who I've already mentioned... The others I'll give a proper credit to in another storyboard post down the line; for now I want to concentrate on a few of the initial scenes I tackled.
NOTE: The following passages and storyboards contain spoilers, so if you haven't seen the film and don't want to spoil it, look away now!
The first was the death of Darius, which wasn't the first scene I storyboarded as I took my time boiling down all the ideas I had for it, into a concise and effective scene.
You'll see below 2 of the several versions we produced, this being a normal procedure... On Fantastic Mr Fox I storyboarded the death of Rat over 30 times, some with huge changes, some with minor tweaks, until we arrived at the final version. Seems I'm getting used to storyboarding detah scenes.
The version above in storyboard format is the final version in the film, while below there are two videos.
The video below is the first version of Darius death, which takes place in a thicket of brambles. In this version, upon finding Darius hurt,Yellowbird makes a stretcher and attempts to carry the injured Darius to his abandonded house. Yet in his clumsiness he knocks Darius off the stretcher and has a rock land on it instead, so he doesn't realise his mistake. He only comes back when he does.
The rest of the family finds Darius and as they tend to him he whispers his last words.
As Yellowbird comes back on the scene the cats attack and there's a commotion with the birds throwing the tiny bird Fleck to and fro as he is unable to fly yet.
I had several issues with this version, length being one of them.
I did not want the birds to use their wings like hands, it was a very specific conscious decision to animate the birds like real animals, so although the throwing of Fleck could be achieve by using their feet I felt it was a superflous moment in the scene.
Also I really wanted Yellowbird to witness the death of Darius and not be away for it. It was pivotal to his character that he witness the hurt and understood the pain, which would constantly throw in doubt his deceit henceforth.
Also if he happened to come back swiftly as the cats attacked he may not even be aware that Darius was dead.
The cat attack needed to be the catalyst for the flock leaving the scene of Darius' demise, they are forced to leave, so they have no time to counter Yellowbird's request that he lead them on the migration until they have already left.
Finally I felt the Death of Darius needed to be treated with a sombre quiet respect, not a full action scene or comedy scene immediately after.
The music plays a big part in the scene and I feel the composer, Stephen Warbeck, nails it here, and the following scene, which I'll talk about in a following post.
In fact I'll discuss the music at length also, bringing Stephen into the conversation so we can talk through the working process of composing the score for the film.
The storyboards below are from scene 38A, the Dream Sequence as it was known for a long long while.
In fact it is not a dream sequence anymore, and as much as I like dream scenes I never felt this worked in the film. It was one of the moments in the script that stuck out like a sore thumb and my first instinct was to cut it all together. Yet I needed something to connect a scene on the beach in Holland between Yellowbird and Delf, where he tries to tell her the truth and fails, and the morning scene in which the flock is forced to leave in a hurry, being shot at by hunters.
It took me a while to come up with a solution, and it was after one of my conversations with Stephen that I had the idea of a song, a mellow, sad song accompanying Yellowbird to his nest, as he sees the rest of the flock tucking in for bed; the mothers tucking in their children; the couples snuggling in together. These are the things Yellowbird misses and yearns for and the scene is a reminder of that to us, and a reminder to him that he should come clean and tell the truth.
The idea came to me while having dinner in an Italian restaurant near Jacques Bonsergent, and lacking pen and paper I borrow a stilo from the waiter and drunkenly sketched it on the paper table mat under my plate (will scan and post this later on!)
As we're discussing musical scenes the final storyboard I'll show you the very first scene I storyboarded. I'm always attracted to musical scenes, often storyboarding a sequence with music in mind, or to music, by importing a track in Storyboard Pro. It helps me with rhythm and pace, esepcially the action scenes. I edited all the scenes with temp music, to give the composer an idea of mood and atmosphere, but also for pacing.
This scene in the icefields of Greenland (Or Norway, not sure which one we settled on in the end) comes immediately after Yellowbird's confession, and outcast by the flock he trudges through the ice and snow aimlessly.
Having been a huge fan of the Super Furry Animals since the beginning I found the right track to temp this scene with the song Sarn Helen from their totally Welsh album Mwng. Incidentally it means Roman Road, of which there are plenty in Wales and England... Us Romans we do get about!
For me the song captured Yellowbird's feelings completely and the jangly instrumentation reminded me so much of Ennio Morricone it just fit perfectly.
The track obviously does not appear in the final film, yet the score from Stephen is infused with the same harrowing emotional punch.
For copyright reasons I'm unable to play the Super Furry Animals song on the above clip, yet if you follow the link above or here to Sarn Helen you'll be able to listen to it as you watch the storyboard. I edited a short version of it which comprised of a reduced version of the opening 1 minute and 32 seconds, and the cut down version of the last 20 seconds, to make the track completely instrumental and eeire.
Incidentally I'll soon be posting a full list of music which was used as reference, or inspired some of the music of the film, when I start discussing the music composition of the project.