Friday, 17 April 2015

EDITING... part I

On an animated film editing is an often changing beast. 
As a story artist I often find myself being the first editor of a scene or sequence, cutting being one of the tools in the story artist's and storyboarder's kit. Yet being able to cut a scene, chose the best camera options, give a sequence pace and rhythm does not make a storyboard artist an editor.
For that you need the ability to have an overview of the whole story, it's arch, the character's drives and motivations, track the emotional core of story and character alike, pulling, tugging, ordering and reordering, adding, taking away, shaving, trimming and at times roughlessly cutting away at what will eventually become the final film.
Editors impose form, structure and logic and what they chose to take away is as pivotal as what they chose to keep.
As director and main story artist on Yellowbird a lot of cutting and reordering was part of my daily work, from script to the voice recordings I often found myself trying to play around with the scenes, the order of dialogue, tease out the best possible scenarios, words, beats and gags.
Yet I could not have done this, and the rest of the work without the aid of the wisdom and calming presence of my editor Fabienne Alvarez-Giro and the hard work of our first editor Cedric Chauveau.
For those of you who don't know, in animation the editing of a film is done firstly on the animatics.
At its simplest, an animatic is a series of storyboard panels, edited together and displayed in sequence with rough dialogue, at times recorded by the storyboarders themselves as the actors have not been involved yet, and/or rough soundtrack added to the sequence of still images to test whether the sound and images are working cohesively and effectively together.
A scene can be worked and reworked dozens of times, new voices added, lines of dialogue changed, then the actual actor's voices added; it is a very organic process and prone to many changes.
The animatic process can be a fairly long one as each scene is slowly put together, through storyboards, then sound, then cleaner and clearer drawings, until a final cut of each scene and sequence is achieved and finally approved by all: director, producers, and even distributors and investors.

In the 3 images below you see screengrabs for the ToonBoom Storyboard PRO project of scene33 of the film.
Yellowbird arrives at a beach in Holland and is struggling with his conscience, his heart split between wanting to tell the flock and Delph the truth about his deceipt, and the blossoming affection he is starting to feel for Delph.

I previously edit all recorded audio performances by the actors into a sort of radio play, picking out of the numerous takes the ones I prefer, or go best together, in a fluid, rhythmic way even. Sometimes splicing together different takes of the same line to create the perfect one.

Once a scene's dialogue audio track is constructed we export the files as WAVS and import these into ToonBoom. The ability to use the audio when storyboarding greatly increases the power to find the true pace and rhythm in a scene: it is from the actor's performances that you find the character's true emotions and are able not only to draw the expressions and poses needed to emote these, but also to fit everything into a fluid rhythm.
I often cut to the rhythm within the dialogue, a rhythm created in assembling the recorded dialogue. This is a luxury that in live action you do not get, but in animation is absolutely necessary to grasp the accents needed to animate characters succesfully.

It is only after the film is fully completed in an animatic form that lay-out, pre-vis and then animation can start. Storyboarding and editing these into a video-board is the cheapest and simplest option to see if the story and characters work as a whole. If these are not finalized you risk putting into animation scenes which may be cut later, and this is a producer's nightmare as the expense of a 5 minute fully animated and rendered scene greatly outways the cost of a 5 minute animatic.
Though it is not only money that drives animated films to spend so long working on the storyboards and animatics: seeing the whole film as a storyboard on a screen, moving and with sound is the only way to judge if it works, and pursuing all the various avenues a scene, a character, a beat and the story can take is the only way to know if you have made the right choices.
Fabienne helped me immensely in to finding out if the choices I had made were the right ones, and below she explains a little about her work on Yellowbird, and her experiences as editor.

FG- I became involved in the project as it was half way through, which was not a problem for me. On the contrary with a fresh look at the story and characters, I was able to suggest improvements to certain elements of the storytelling, some of which were taken into account.

The way I work is always the same for all the scenes: I first need to understand its point, the psychology of the characters and the way they interact along the way. Once I’ve immersed myself fully into it, I feel at ease to breathe freely with the characters, to suggest what I feel would work best in terms of scene construction and rhythm, so that each scene can show its best colors.

A film has to be considered as a whole, even if that whole is made up of multiple parts of various intensity and nature which must all contribute to the overall narration flow.

The above images and the excerpt of the animatic are storyboarded by the greatly talented Julien Perron, who was introduced to me by one of my producers and is currently working at Illumination McGuff, Paris.

CDV- Your resume` is quite ecclectic, from documentaries to live action films, TV series and animated features. Do you feel you bring a particular style to every project you are involved in, or you adapt to the style of the project and director.

FG- The directors I’ve worked with for many years tell me that they can recognize my style. Though I could not define it, it may have to do with the way I let the scenes breathe, my tempo and a kind of classism. To work in all kinds of genre is never a problem, on the contrary it’s quite refreshing to edit different types of programs such as fiction, documentaries, advertising and animation. I feel lucky to have that opportunity.

However I have to say that editing an animation film is always a unique experience. My first time was with Didier Brunner who called me to work on “the Legend of Kells”, and my first impression was to think that there was little to none editing to be done on an animation film.

At the time I was far from imagining what working on the «animatic» entices. An animatic is like pattern to a couture dress, for an animation film, it’s the backbone of all the animation work done on the film. I was far from imagining how much freedom there is at that stage, where one can modify a scene with a pencil, transform the background as if with a magic wand, or modify a scene structure with a couple of sketches. However once the scene is locked at the animation stage there is very little room for change left. It’s always very exciting to have that ability to change significantly the course of a movie, as we did when we moved the “Christening” scene of Yellowbird in the African tree, giving a more upbeat end to the movie thus giving more sense to the whole adventure these birds had just been through.

Yet my favorite scene in the movie is the one set in the shipwreck. This entire sequence feels great thanks to the perfect balance reached between its mood and its rhythm.


Here you find Fabienne's piece in French, its original form.

Arriver sur le projet en cours de travail ne m'a pas posé de problème particulier. Cela m'a permis de jeter un regard neuf sur l'histoire et les personnages et d'être en mesure de faire des suggestions pour améliorer certains aspects de la narration. Certaines ont été retenues, d'autres non.

Pour moi la méthode de travail, quelle que soit la scène, est toujours la même: bien comprendre la situation, la psychologie des  personnages et les interactions entre eux au moment donné. Après cette  immersion, je me sens le plus libre possible pour respirer avec les  personnages et proposer tout ce qui me semble judicieux en termes de  construction et de rythme pour que chaque scène donne le meilleur  d'elle-même, quelle que soit sa couleur.
De toutes façons je vois toujours le film comme un tout où certes se  succèdent des parties d'intensité et de nature différentes mais qui doivent toutes contribuer à leur niveau au flux narratif global.

Des réalisateurs qui travaillent avec moi depuis plusieurs années  disent qu'ils reconnaissent mon style. Je ne saurais pas bien le définir mais c'est peut-être dans un rapport à la respiration, au tempo et à une certaine forme de classicisme. Passer d'un genre à l'autre ne m'a jamais posé aucun problème, c'est une forme de  rafraîchissement de l'expérience du montage que de pouvoir l'exercer dans des domaines aussi variés que la fiction, le documentaire, la  publicité et l'animation. Cet éclectisme est pour moi une chance.

Cependant travailler sur un film d'animation est toujours une expérience particulière. 
La première fois qu'on m'a proposé de le fa ire c'était lorsque Didier Brunner m'a appelée pour travailler sur "Brendan et le secret de Kells" et ma première réaction avait été alors de penser qu'il n'y avait pas de montage sur un film d'animation (ou presque pas).

A l'époque, j''étais loin d'imaginer ce que constitue le travail sur  un animatic,  qui est le "patron" (comme en couture) du film à venir et la référence pour tout le travail d'animation qui va se faire ensuite. Loin d'imaginer également de quelle liberté on peut profiter tant que le travail en est à ce stade et que les modifications se font en quelques coups de crayon et permettent de transposer d'un coup de "baguette magique" une scène d'un décor à un autre ou de modifier sa structure avec une grande fluidité alors qu'une fois que l'animation sera lancée on ne pourra plus faire de changements qu'à la marge. Cela donne toujours une sensation d'excitation et d'euphorie que de pouvoir ainsi modifier significativement le cours du film, comme cela a été le cas lorsque nous avons transposé la scène du "baptême" de Yellowbird dans l'arbre africain et que nous avons ainsi contribué à
dynamiser la fin du film et à lui donner son sens véritable au regard de l'histoire que venait de vivre cette bande d'oiseaux.

Je pense que mon moment préféré du film est tout l'ensemble de séquences du Shipwreck. Toute cette bobine est particulièrement réussie du point de vue de l'atmosphère et du rythme.

Monday, 13 April 2015


In the coming days I'll be delving into the music of Yellowbird, talking with the composer Stephen Warbeck about his work process and the score of 
our film, as well as opening the door to the animation and editing work of the film, where I have input from our main editor Fabienne Alvarez-Giro  
(The Secret of Kells) a great lady of cool, calm attitude and sharp mind.

Yet before we go and open that Pandora's Box few more storyboard samples before I start discussing animation.


Below you'll find the sequence in the film in which the flock arrives at the coastal resort of the Hotel Tree, run by the devious and conniving Owl, 
voiced by the impeccably funny Elliot Gould, who sounds like he had a lot of fun with the character infusing him with a charming blend of wit and cheekiness.

I had a lot of issues getting this sequence to where I was content with it. Initially it was so overlong it stalled the film's story, yet we had a 
and hilarious performance by  Gould, and losing any of it seemed wrong somehow.
I needed to boil down the scene and dialogue to the absolutely necessary story and character points, while retaining the scene's core 
humour and jokes.

The opening of the sequence is untouched, with the flock arriving as the mice who form the Hotel Tree staff, the Owl's minions if you will. 
In the previous scene we see the flock approch the tree from afar, the camera behind them travelling towards the far away tree. 
I opted then to cut to the mice at work to mark the end of that scene and the start of another, the simple cut away for one or two shots 
is enough to establish this is a new scene, and to introduce swiftly another set of new characters.

Putting the mice immediately at work establishes who they are in this new scene, and we immediately wonder why they are sweaping and
 cleaning the tree, and who they are.

I trimmed some of the Owl's dialogue then from his introduction, keeping a few jokes about the fact that he's already conning the flock 
into believing they arrived in Spain, and the funny interaction between him and the mouse, quickly establishing their working relation.

Then I opted to cut the presentation of the rooms, as I found this to be superflous and unnecessary, and as I started cutting I discovered 
that we did not really need to find a real explanation or way to 'lose' the children from the following scene, as they did not need to be there, 
chose to quickly see them jump into one of the nests/rooms and leave them there.

They were superflous to the following scene, which originally was a dinner scene for the adults in the group, setting up the fact that we 
wanted to have a 'bed time story' scene for the children later as a way to refresh the audience's memory of the Iron Birds.

In the first versions of the storyboard there was the added scene, prior to the dinner scene, between the Owl and the mice. 
This was a way to reinforce the idea that the Owl was just out to con the flock out of their fee and to stress the relationship between 
the Owl, a mean, unscrupulous hotel manager, and his lowly and humble workforce. 
The important story point of the hotel being in Holland rather than Spain is hit on enough in the previous scene, and in the short scene 
between Karl and a mouse so I felt this extra scene between the Owl and the mice was now unnecessary and, although very funny, 
we cut it from the sequence.

Then we come to the dinner scene which as lovely as it might have become, with the setting sun casting a warm light on the diners, 
the mice playing a striking flamenco guitar, and the fireflies providing an intimate almost romantic lighting, was again too long 
to fit into the sequence and film.

It also slowed down the story too much so I decided to include the main story or character points of this scene and its dialogue, 
into the previous and following scenes, by tweaking the lines to add the information needed to get these story points across: 
reminding the audience that Yellowbird has no name, as we have an important scene between Yellowbird and Delf coming up, in which 
this point is of main importance to the rest of the film's story.

 The following clip remained pretty much untouched, except for a tweak here or there. Yet once we went to lay-out then animation 
we moved the cameras around as the set was built differently than previously planned. So the scene was re-storyboarded directly in lay-out 
and pre-vis, rather than storyboarded one more time.

I often treated the lay-out stage as another pass of storyboarding, once the 3D elements have been placed in the set it is easier to find out 
if all of the shots work, if the distances in the scene, and the camera moves require more screen time, and if the rhythm of the scene 
works as well now that it has the 3rd dimension added to it.
This liberty to vary from the storyboard is more akin to live-action, where often you plan things in careful detail, then find yourself 
improvising something new based on the fact that the set, or location, or actor is doing something which previously could not be planned.

 Below is the whole of the sequence in rough animation as it appears in the final cut of the movie.
The temp music you hear in the storyboards is the Spanish-Guitar Flamenco piece 'a Malaguen' performed by Yannick Lebosse
We used this as reference until our composer wrote something which fit the mood yet retained the ideas I had.

For the storyboard panels of the part of the sequence where Karl confronts a mouse and extorts the truth of the Owl's deceit, and Yellowbird's 
blunderous detour, see the boards below by the talented Alban Rodriguez, and retouched by myself once the final cuts were made.