Saturday, December 22, 2007

FROM INSIDE, the illustrated movie

Can a graphic novel be translated directly to film?



From Inside isn't a typical comic book. The things that made it a unique graphic novel are the same things that worked in favor of translating it to film -- things I've mentioned in previous posts: No dialog (no word balloons), no sound effects, a very simple rectangular panel design for every page (instead of crazy-angled panels with characters busting out of the frames).

...and most importantly: no fight scenes.

What do you see?

Most people would answer: "A woman."

That's incorrect. It's a painting of a woman. When we look at artwork, we accept it as a substitute for reality -- whether it's a simple drawing of a stick figure, a painting, or a photograph.

If I were to animate this image, I would cut the figure into pieces: arms, hands, fingers, eyes, eye lids, hair, etc. Each element could then be animated -- bringing the figure to life... but not really.

When I cut the From Inside paintings into layers for animating (like cut-paper animation), I found that there was a point where a certain amount of animation caused the images to switch from being a surrogate for reality (paintings) to being what they actually were: pieces of cut paper moving around.

An example: compare the treatment of still photos in Chris Marker's great La Jetee to how photographs are manipulated in The Kid Stays in the Picture. In La Jetee, we look past the actual photographs and feel as though there is a wider world beyond the edges of the screen. In The Kid Stays in the Picture, we know we are looking at small paper photographs that have been multiplaned -- we don't see a world, we see graphic design.

With From Inside I wanted to maintain the emotional impact that comes with having still images be read as a substitute for reality -- of being evidence, a record, of actual events rather than pieces of paper moving before your eyes. I would animate right to the point where representations became real, physical objects and then take one step back to "painting."

...And I found that character animation got me to this switching point on a much steeper curve than animating inanimate objects -- probably due to some weird variation of the uncanny valley.

Anyway... this is why having no fight scenes worked in my favor. I didn't have to deal with the problem of translating comic book illustrations of figures moving with high energy. If I'd had to, I would have had to either break the "paintings that move" rule I set up for myself and fully animate the action or use stills and hope that you the viewer wouldn't feel cheated by looking at a mere painting of a kick-ass fight scene.

Actually... there was one scene in the graphic novel with a lot of figure movement. I kept the "it's a painting" feeling by using fast camera movement, quick cuts and good sound design. It worked for this scene, but employing those same tricks over and over would have grown tiresome.

(It's not Batman vs. Superman, but there will be blood)

I like on-line comics that are static pages, but animated comics with a bit of motion usually don't work for me -- especially if it's an action comic. Action doesn't have much of a punch when your hero is an inanimate paper cut-out sliding from screen left to screen right. (Excepting the Mr. Incredible & Pals short on the collector's edition of The Incredibles which brilliantly pokes fun at these shortcomings and makes me realize that many on-line animated comics today are a lot like old superhero cartoons).

Also, I don't mean to say cut-paper animation can't build an emotional connection between audience and story. I love cut-paper animation and can think of plenty of examples where I am pulled into a story and don't dwell on how it was or wasn't animated:
- The end titles for A Series of Unfortunate Events.
- This: Dragon
- Stuff that was designed to look like cut-paper -- Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends for example.


There are some animated comics that I like because they do not try to replicate the visual language of printed comics. They're more like motion graphics. The animated comics at the Fox Atomic site are a good example (find them within in the comics section -- 28 Days Later, Turistas).


...and this... well... this one walks an amazing line between illustration and animation... and live-action.

Dante's Inferno


Since I don't ramble this much in real life, long posts will now have spoken word versions at the end so you can scroll down and get to the point.

Spoke Word version of this post:
"From Inside is an animated film, but watching it feels exactly like reading a graphic novel."