I don’t usually revisit early drafts of things that are well and truly finished, but I happened upon my very first scribblings about Hilda Bewildered. I use a Scrivener file for an ‘ideas binder’. I’d completely forgotten that I initially imagined this as a Christmas story.
Film School Rejects shared a short film called Gumshoe, which is four minutes shot from a first person point of view. As FSR note:
First person POV can be tricky to pull off because of how limiting the field of view is. It’s the same thing with found footage, but even without the shaky cam (or at least a less shaky cam), it can be disorienting and leave an audience frustrated by the loss of control. When it’s done well, it can be very cool. Still a gimmick, but an entrancing one.
In the noir film, the first person point of view serves several purposes and one of those purposes is to add a comic (as well as comical) tone. The ‘kapow’ type voiceovers add to this humorous tone. A woman’s legs viewed from the top-down quash any real attempt at the familiar ‘sexy pose’.
What roles might this POV play in picturebooks?
I have made use of it — though not across an entire work — in Midnight Feast, in which the reader views the hallway from the young protagonist’s point of view. The point of view soon shifts to one of ‘reader’ because a touch on the screen sees the protagonist in front of the reader, pressed against the wall, trying not to be seen.
A shifting point of view adds variety to a picturebook, which is especially necessary in a story like Midnight Feast, in which the action takes place entirely inside one small apartment and stairwell. But even in cases where there are plenty of beautiful settings, an illustration from first person point of view can aid reader identification with the protagonist, and so I’m making use of it again in Hilda Bewildered. Below is a screenshot for page 22:
In this case I included the hand of the main character. The green ring is significant to the plot, and I also needed the speech bubble to be coming from somewhere (even if it is just a hand). Technically, at that angle, a passenger in the back seat of a car would not see the taxi driver’s eyes but rather his head (I only know this because I worked from a reference photo) but I have illustrated the driver’s rather menacing eyes and I’ve made sure they are looking straight at the reader. In conjunction with the first person point of view, I hope that when the reader first turns onto the page, that those eyes will heighten the suspense. Where is Hilda going? Who with? What’s going to happen when they get there? All of this works better if readers can put themselves into the position of the main character.
Apart from the vast resources and expensive software and the need for highly trained personnel there is another reason for avoiding too much animation in storybooks, regardless of ethical considerations regarding whether books should even be trying to emulate animated film anyhow, and it is demonstrated in the picture below:
As you can see, it’s a purely aesthetic one. The character in the top picture is beautifully rendered, depicting the light coming from above. The character below is what we generally see in even the high budget animated features, such as those from Studio Ghibli, because the time and resources required to have shadows fall naturally and beautifully upon a moving figure is vast, and impossible to achieve unless moving into the super-duper expensive realm of 3D — which has a distinct look all its own.
Here is a screenshot from Spirited Away:
Notice the backgrounds of Spirited Away are of a different, detailed style than the characters. This is a legitimate and successful style, with the simplified characters looking distinct against the backgrounds — overly detailed characters may well make the screen too cluttered. Characters are instead given form with solid fills of darker colour, with a maximum of two tones per object — Sen’s hair, for example, is one tone for the part of the hair which catches light, and a darker tone to depict the shadow.
A more photorealistic style would depict many shades of brown. When characters in apps are animated, a more ‘painterly’ or more photorealistic style becomes unattainable. This is something to consider whether developing a storybook app or judging a storybook app for its animation, or absence thereof.
But in many works, of course, these two different styles is not an unfortunate consequence of animation but a stylistic decision — as Perry Nodelman writes in Words About Pictures:
Illustrations do have a narrative purpose. They must show us not just beautiful patterns and evocative atmospheres but what people look like as stories happen to them; that is, as they move and talk and think and feel. So their faces and bodies usually have the simplicity, and consequently the expressiveness, of cartooning, a simplicity at variance from the frequent richness and detailed accuracy of their backgrounds, which give us a different sort of narrative information. When faces and bodies do have the same solidity and detail of shading and lines as their backgrounds, they may come to seem static and inexpressive…The extraordinary expressiveness of cartooning seems to make it a particularly appropriate means of communicating narrative information. To suggest that all picture-bo0k art is a sort of cartoon or caricature is no insult; it merely stresses the extent to which the purposes and pleasures of this art differ from those we assume of other kinds of visual art.
On one page of Midnight Feast I decided early on that I had to have a tear drop falling onto a plate. I didn’t really consider how I was going to do this without owning animation software — so far I’ve not been convinced that highly animated storyapps tell a better story than ‘semi-animated’ ones like ours. But this really had to be animated.
When I looked up slo-mo videos of droplets falling — thanks, Interwebs! — I found that the way a droplet falls and splashes is completely different to what I’d imagined. When I showed Dan my animation, based closely on the video, he said it didn’t look realistic. I assured him it was ‘realistic’, but the real problem was, it wasn’t believable, so we modified reality a little and ended up with a stop-motion kind of effect which isn’t perfect but quite cool nonetheless. (I’m always amazed when my animation works at all.)
This raised an important point for me, which is as true of drawing as of animation: There is a difference between accurate and convincing. It applies to stories equally.
I’m reminded of the droplet because I just happened upon this: A Hand-Cranked Automaton That Mimics the Effect of a Raindrop Hitting Water.
Nature truly is amazing.
What colour are most movie fade-outs?
In the olden days of film, the transition between Act One and Act Two was often marked by a brief fade-out, a momentary darkening of the screen which indicated passage of time or movement in space. The fade-out was equivalent to the curtain coming down in the theatre so the stagehands can change the set and props to crate a new locale or show elapse of time.
– Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey
It’s interesting to think about how so many of the conventions in modern film — and by extension, storybook apps — come from realworld logistical constraints of yesteryear.
The fade-to-black has been played with in more recent times. One notable example is in the HBO series Six Feet Under, in which the fade-to-white stands out and makes a statement (about heaven, about nothingness, about zoning-out) in a way the fade-to-black says nothing much at all, simply because the audience does not ‘see’ something when it happens to be the default.
Along came PowerPoint and movie software for the Mac and PC, and home movie-makers were suddenly offered a lot of rope when it came to transitions. Cuts, fades, cuts, wipes, random bars, flashes, you name it, all the transitions could be yours!
Most recently, Microsoft has offered up some genuinely impressive transitions, if you’re inclined to be impressed by code.
But what does that mean for story app developers? A few things, I think:
1. It’s hard to wow readers with fancy transitions because they’ll have seen it all before. Page turns are not easy to code. Microsoft and Apple (for their iBooks) have spent a lot of time and money perfecting theirs.
2. It’s easy to pull a reader out of the story by making a simple thing like a page turn into a thing.
3. When using a fancy transition, the fanciness should relate directly to the story — advancing the plot, hinting at theme, providing the reader with foreshadowing/symbolic hints etc.
When I was a kid I thought The Witches was the most perfect book ever written. I’m scared to revisit it now in case I found something wrong with it — which I inevitably would, so I won’t.
However, Publishers Weekly has an interesting piece after a conversation with the editor who worked on The Witches with Roald Dahl. It’s a good read in itself, for anyone interested in the process of story creation.
Here are some points I have taken away from the master of gruesome tales for kids: