In this second instalment of Avatar Secrets ‘Making Of’, we’re looking at how Chapter 3, Scene 6 progresses from storyboard to animation.
As anyone who has worked in animation or film production knows, the storyboard is an essential tool. Not only does it allow the director to get a sense of the way the movie is going to look and feel but it also helps to communicate complex ideas to other people who make up the creative team. Here, the storyboard also played a key role in providing a sense of the scale and scope of the project, which is composed of multiple layers of narrative.
To discuss the evolution of the storyboards, here is writer/director/producer Ramona Pringle:
Julie: How much of the visual content in Avatar Secrets is original?
Ramona: All of the visual content is original. I knew from the very beginning that I wanted to create the virtual world that we explore — for multiple reasons. First, this isn’t about one particular role-playing game. While my experience may have been on one platform, others have similarly profound experiences on other platforms — in other game environments, virtual worlds or social networks. In Avatar Secrets, we’re examining the phenomenon of connection in the digital age, and how these digital worlds enable that connection — and we wanted to keep the focus on that broader phenomenon rather than on any particular platform. Secondly, in working with our broadcaster TVO, we knew that a good portion of our audience might be unfamiliar with the world of MMORPGs, and yet we wanted them to feel the same awe and wonder, and experience the alluring pull into the digital realm. That required creating a world so rich and beautiful that people would feel the same way as I felt when I first started my exploration.
Julie: How did you begin visualizing the dissolve or blurring of what is real and virtual?
Ramona: We came about this a few different ways. First, we set about drawing the scenes set in the virtual world, but then we also drew the “real life” scenes to flesh out the story line, and to see how we would progress scene-by-scene through the chapters. Because of the format of Avatar Secrets, for the iPad, each scene, while being dynamic, is like the page of a book and can be explored through hot spots on the screen. Storyboarding gave us a sense of the scale and scope, and really helped tighten the story to its visual beats. As we drew more and more of the scenes — including some that we had existing footage for and others that had yet to be shot, we started layering the media — illustrations on top of footage, and then using those illustrations of Ramona as guides for Tristanova, her avatar, so that we are not only transitioning between media, but also between worlds. From there we developed the effects that animate between those layers — flickering as if the screen is fragmenting between layers of realities, or the perception of worlds.
Julie: What influence did the genre of graphic novels have on the aesthetic?
Ramona: It’s such an interesting overlap of form and content. At the same time as we were developing the visual style, we were also developing the user experience and technical format. The iPad is a really exciting platform for storytelling because it integrates elements of the book experience and the cinematic experience. The graphic novel aesthetic just came naturally — it has a hint of science fiction, is richly visual, and it has a dynamic sense of action despite being 2D.
Julie: Do the storyboards anticipate the depth of the final app?
Ramona: Nothing could have anticipated the depth of the final app. This project came to life as we all fell in love with the story, the process and the characters. The storyboards don’t include the incredible motion or the Z-Axis transitions from the real to virtual. They don’t capture the interplay of footage and illustrations. And, they just barely touch on all of the other layers of narratives — experts and case studies and vignettes. The storyboards were meant as a guide — almost like a visual script, and definitely a communication tool for the creative team… but as you can see, if you explore the next posts, they had a profound impact on the style of the project.
Julie: How closely do the storyboards match the finished project?
Ramona: Pretty close! We spent a lot of time on the storyboards, figuring out what shots we needed to tell the story as succinctly as possible, and what angles we wanted to use, as well as detailing transitions and more elaborate camera moves. What the storyboards leave out is the magic — the composited scenes, the integration of footage, photorealistic elements and drawings, the motion and depth created by bringing the project to life in 3D space.
Julie: Can you anticipate a similar realization or blurring happening to people in their own lives? How do we articulate such blurring in both visual and metaphorical form in our own lives?
Ramona: We see it everywhere, all the time. Everywhere you look, you will see someone who is connected or who is connecting through the network. It’s easy to say that because we’re engaging with a screen we are isolating ourselves. But the truth is, we’re as addicted as we are to our devices because they allow us to connect. We want to engage. We want to be loved. We want someone who will listen. This experience, whether it’s rooted in a video game, social network, or iChat, has become a new normal. Our digital lives — the decisions, experiences, and relationships we form in the online world — have huge implications on our real world lives, so much so that often the two cannot be disentangled. The use of the hybrid media — the layering of illustrations and photorealistic imagery is the visual metaphor for our hybrid lives, and how those two realities are intrinsically layered.