Recently I looked through the notes from our two test screening feedback sessions and one note struck me as immensely important: 2 audience members didn’t feel connected to the main character right off the bat, so when she launches on her long tirade at the very beginning of the film, they just shrug their shoulders.
I know it was only 2 people out of 60, but the note made perfect sense to me. Too many times I have made the same complaint against other films, indie or Hollywood: don’t throw your character into a shower with the killer lurking unless you have made me to feel for the character. Or, at least for the killer.
The problem I was facing now was classic – how to make audience care or identify with a character in 40 seconds? Because that’s all I had – 40 seconds for opening credits that I could turn into a scene representing our main character’s predicament.
After a brief brain storm with the script’s adviser Sturgis Warner an image flashed through my electrified brain: a tiny woman pushing a huge rock up a mountain. Sturgis agreed: everyone could identify with that image – about life or work, we all feel that we are pushing a humongous rock up a mountain.
Quickly, before it evaporated, I sketched the idea on scrap of paper. Like this:
– I’ll build the mountain and 2 rocks from paper mache. – I stated. – One rock will be at the bottom of the mountain, the other will be pushed up by our character. We’ll make the rock roll up the mountain in stop motion with the help of museum wax.
While waiting for museum wax, I started to work on the paper mache set. Just glue and old New York Times can make rocks and mountains:
When the set was ready, the museum wax arrived and we discovered that no amount of it was big or strong enough to hold the paper mache rock on top of the mountain. Rolling the rock down in stop motion with the help of wax was out of question. Gravity had too much pull and wax just wouldn’t stick to paper mache.
Sturgis Warner, the film’s lighting designer and stop motion animator, suggested different solutions to the problem.
– You could draw the rock, – he said at some point.
But I had a very clear image in my head, from that brief electric brain flash 10 days before. The rock HAD to be three dimensional and in stop motion for the hand drawn two dimensional character to push it up the three dimensional slope.
Sturgis was losing patience with me when he came up with brilliant solution:
– Lets turn the end of the mountain up and tilt the camera. That way we wont have to fight gravity.
So we did that:
But even then the museum wax would not reliably hold the rock.
– If I only could hold it with my finger from the top! – Sturgis said. – Wait. A finger!
He walked away and came back carrying a long stick with a long nail attached at the end.
– Lets try this.
Then in Photoshop I erased the stick and stamped out the nail, adjusted the timing to the character’s efforts and now we had a clean rolling rock:
The stop motion sequence is ready for the animated character to enter action.