This stage was devoted to extracting a narrative that articulates all the subtle nuances of the "Little Shop."
The challenging part about visualizing music with lyrics is balancing between a literal illustration of the lyrics and a more abstracted/metaphorical treatment. Especially because this was a score from a musical soundtrack where, in its original medium, the characters’ singing is the very means that drives the narrative forward, it was difficult imagining a treatment where the characters are not directly engaging with the music. In order to not fall into this sort of one dimensional interpretation of the audio, I decided to approach the music video as a visual narrative that could live on its own. In this effort, I had to listen to the music repeatedly to really fine tune what I personally got from the music, really listening to the underlying story that so compelled me to the soundtrack in the first place.
Here I’m about to diverge into a real gritty (quite dramatic, might I add) dissection of my personal responses and inclinations so feel free to skip this following paragraph:
I’ve always been fascinated by the mid-century Americana and the cultural artifacts that live to this day, whether that’s melodramatic films, doo-wop music or vintage illustrations that scream unapologetic optimism. This era when the promise of the American Dream seemed so tangible, so real there was no shame in expressing one’s unaffected belief in the idea; when every corner of the perfectly packaged suburbia seemed to affirm the Americans the rightful victory of capitalism; when the explosive rise of advertising plastered the minds of the American public with a seductive language that happiness can be attained through the purchase of this and that. This exact era turned out to be the same era where emerged a haunting realization that even such a prosperity guaranteed no deep fulfillment of life or no restoration of meaning, a realization that even the ideal that carried the highest of hopes may, in fact, be as futile as all that had miserably failed humanity in the past. While the recognition of this discrepancy between the American Dream and the reality was explored in much aggressive and explicit manners in the following decades, until the end of the 60s there was still a sense of an effort to keep going along with the upbeat, feel-good vibes that had defined that very decade, even if that meant repressing the looming dark reality from emerging to the surface.
I think the musical “Little Shop of Horrors” does a fantastic job using this subtle tone of the time to translate the dichotomy of the upbeat spirit of the American Dream and the depressing reality of class struggles in capitalist America. The doo-wop treatment of the musical’s gory plot dramatizes the discrepancy between the two, therefore rendering the cheeriness of the music more so eerie than uplifting, and perhaps even futile. My personal connection with this sense of futility was something I felt was not a unique one. In fact, I felt bringing the discomforting sensation to the forefront would create an opportunity for people to identify with it, therefore affirming those who have ever experienced the same sense of futility that they are not alone for feeling such a way. Ultimately, they would feel seen.
Hashing out my personal connection with the musical articulated why I wanted to tell this story and what I wanted people to walk away from it with. The project found a deeper agenda which became the foundation of my creative development; the rest of my creative decisions aligned to serve this very objective of the project.
For the first round of storyboarding, I sketched out major keyframes on 16:9 rectangles tiled on tabloid paper. This set of storyboarding was more for my sake in that it was an exercise to transfer my first visual impression of the lyrics on paper. As if to capture the ideas before they flee, these storyboard scribbles had no concern for legibility as long as I could recognize them. As my professors have helped me realize over the years there’s nothing like good old pencil and paper to think out loud with, the noncommittal nature of the scribbles helped me test, shift and rearrange my ideas with great flexibility.
Storyboard Round #1:
lo-fi sketches for hi-fi content!
lo-fi sketches for hi-fi content!
The second round of storyboarding turned out to be as important as the final production. Although I knew this storyboard animatic was mentioned in Alex Grigg’s post, the thought of having to make an entire 4:00 animatic just to brainstorm sounded like a hefty laborious job I wasn’t sure I could afford to spend time on, and was looking for excuses to get around it. However, realizing that my first round of storyboarding had no communicative value to receive a constructive feedback for my progress, I figured I would make a quick animatic of an excerpt just to give an example of how I was envisioning these storyboards to play out. Upon making even the first 30 seconds of the animatic, I quickly found out how imperative this process of testing and calibrating the pacing of my images with the pacing of the music earlier in the process would be. Not only so, it allowed me to look for opportunities to make each keyframe more dynamic. For example, instead of a static illustration of an environment with just the characters moving, I had a chance to think about other elements in the environment that could be animated so as to make the world more believable and organic. I was able to integrate motion more successfully into the process of designing keyframes without making them feel like an afterthought. In retrospect, this process was the true unsung hero of the project; getting this portion of mental heavy lifting out of the way liberated me to focus on the visual development for the rest of the process, which is always my favorite part of any project.