Well, here I am. It's been nearly two months since my last blog. I need to stop this from happening again in the future, I've just been terrible at following through on this side of my work.
It's actually been an incredibly productive period of time for me. The day after my last blog was the day I first met with my mentor Joel Frenzer. Since then I've had two more meetings with him and each has provided me with a new perspective and approach to my work. In order to catch up from where we left off, I'm just going to go through the broad strokes of what I've done, as well as where I'm at right now.
This semester has been focused almost exclusively on process over product. I know already that I won't have a large finished animation piece to show off at the next residency. Instead what I will have is a series of studies on the cartoon I'll be completing in the next semester.
What I'm working on is a cartoon about frogs and about enthusiasm. That's what I decided during my residency in January. I wanted to explore the theme of enthusiasm, and my original idea was to frame it through the story of a frog leaving utopia to find fulfillment in the untamed wilderness. I had a basic idea of what I was going to be working on, and I had notes and scenarios written and scenes storyboarded on note cards.
When I talked with Joel, he asked me to focus on the part of the story I really wanted to make, which for me was the cathartic conclusion to the story, in which the protagonist takes on a former bully after having acquired his skills and overcoming his trials so that he could teach said bully a thing or two. I wanted it to be a brutal cartoony brawl in which the bully is hammered with all the lessons the protagonist had learned over the course of his journey. Joel told me to stop beating around the bush and just make that, so I did. I made a two minute rough animation of a fight scene between the frog and his bully set to the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. It was a blast to be able to just sit down and do that without taking into consideration how it was supposed to fit into some story. I wanted to focus on the animation over the dialogue, and I really enjoyed myself.
After putting that together, I met with Joel again and we talked about where I could go next. He suggested I step away from the story altogether and focus on the characters. How do they eat? How do they talk to each other? What is life like for these frogs? I had a month before I'd meet with him again, and I took that time to create a series of vignettes. These were all rough animations (as in just drawing the frames quickly to covey the intended image without cleaning it up) which is a stage I skipped for my first semester project. As a result, that project wound up looking pretty rough itself, and took far too long for me to figure out how everything moved. It's been very helpful and I can do it so quickly now that I'm kicking myself for not utilizing it more before.
As for the vignettes, there were 5. The first was 20 seconds of the original frog protagonist waking up for the first time in the wilderness and getting slapped in the face with a fish. The second was 45 seconds of anonymous frogs being invasive and taking food and shelter away from other animals. The third was a minute long segment in which a poison dart frog is tricked into being eaten by a heron, only for his corrosive bodily toxins to melt him a way out. The fourth was a half minute scene of a king frog being fed flies before being interrupted by one of his servants. The fifth was a minute long scene of 4 frogs eating hot dogs in their own ways. If it isn't already obvious, I've changed the focus of the cartoon significantly. I made up a larger cast sheet during this time and started focusing on the dynamics of a poison dart frog being introduced into a kingdom of regular bull frogs.
I met with Joel again at the beginning of April and we talked about what I had done so far and other things to think about. At this point I've gotten so many ideas and directions from Joel that it's hard to pick a path and stick to it. Since our last meeting, I've been trying to pin down a central conceit that can bring the frog characters I've been working on together in a way that still reflects my original theme of enthusiasm. I've been stuck trying to decide on an idea that both reflects the idea I want to work on, and makes coherent sense as a choice for a cartoon about frogs. I've decided to favor the former priority over the latter. My current idea? Virtual Reality!
Now that we're closing in on the next residency, I want to have my foundation set so I can really dive in on the project next semester. The central idea I've been revolving around this whole time has been the opposing forces of enthusiasm and comfort, and how they both conflict with personal responsibility. I've been circling the artificial utopia often presented in so many science fiction stories and wondering what would be missing from a world in which everything works for us without requiring our participation to keep it running. That's why my original premise involved a frog escaping utopia. At this point I've gotten tired of that literal translation, and have shifted my focus toward a more current day interpretation of the potential of utopia. Virtual Reality, while still in its infancy as far as its marketability is concerned, has the potential to completely change how we live our lives. When it becomes cheap and convenient to live life in a virtual or virtually augmented world, what is that going to do to our connection with reality? It's already a question being asked in popular culture with movies like Ready Player One depicting a dark future where everyone is super into marketable obvious nostalgia and nothing else.
What I want to do is explore how enthusiasm and comfort can be filtered through virtual reality and what that does to different people. It's still a cartoon about frogs, and I still want to focus mostly on the humor and visual potential of that medium. Through those parameters I'm setting up my direction going forward.