Wednesday, November 27, 2013

CoP Practical Progress!: The Day Boy and the Night Girl

My CoP project has evolved since my last post, yet again - I am now focussing my research on how a knowledge of film theory and techniques, such as a good understanding of cinematography and mise-en-scene, is an almost crucial aspect of becoming a great concept / visual development / production design artist.

For the practical side of the project I will be adapting a fairy tale into a finished colour script, set of character sheets, and set of storyboards (storyboards/conceptual illustrations showing key moments in the overall story, and then more detailed boards detailing movement and character acting of one or two specific scenes).

After much research the fairytale I've chosen is "The Day Boy and the Night Girl" by Scottish author George Macdonald.

This story tells the tale of a witch who molded two people from birth by restricting and controlling their environments; she steals the babies of two different mothers, and raises them from birth. The boy, Photogen, is raised to be strong and fearless, and to never experience the darkness; the girl, Nycteris, is kept locked in a chamber where she is allowed to see no light other than that from a single lamp. 

One night, at age 16, Nycteris manages to escape from her chambers and discover the outside world, lit by a full moon. Around the same time, Photogen, a determined hunter, disobeyed the witch by following a big cat (a nocturnal beast) into the forest surrounding the castle. As the sun sets, he becomes increasingly afraid and terrified. Eventually they come across each other and Nycteris comforts him and reassures him that the night is nothing to be afraid of.

As the sun rises again, Photogen's courage is restored and he abandons a now terrified Nycteris, who finds the light blinding. That night, Photogen tries to prove his courage again by venturing into the forest, only to discover he is still too afraid. He realises how selfish he was to leave Nycteris in the daytime. 

They come to realise that they can use their strengths to support each other's weaknesses, and in realising this they manage to defeat the witch and escape her cruelty. They come to celebrate their differences (even reaching the point where Photogen prefers night and Nycteris the day) and get married.


There are are a few reasons why I was inspired to choose this story.

Visually, the fact that light and darkness, and daytime and night-time, and the interaction between the two are such significant themes gives the opportunity to experiment a lot with the styling, colouring and lighting of the environments. In the narrative, Photogen and Nycteris are described as having such contrasting physical characteristics that it will be an interesting challenge to design them in a way in which they still manage to compliment each other.

However I found the fairytale most interesting because it actually subverts some fairytale cliches. Firstly, the witch, named Watho, is motivated by curiosity, not evil. She desires to know everything, and sets up this peculiar experiment really as just a way of satisfying her warped curiosity rather than for any specifically malicious reason. She is actually more of an evil scientist character than a traditional witch, as she demonstrates no magical abilities.

Secondly, as blogger Mari Ness writes in an interesting analysis of the story: "...for a Victorian novel, the book offers a startling reversal of typical Victorian gender roles, with Nycteris, not Photogen, doing the initial rescuing. Admittedly, even in rescuing, she retains the ideals of a Victorian heroine: she is beautiful, nurturing, and comforting, not the fighter and hunter that the manly Photogen is. But for all that, she is braver than Photogen, and she is the one to persuade him to step beyond his fears of the night."

Thirdly, the entire story is quite morally ambiguous. Darkness does not simply signify evil and ignorance, and similarly light isn't necessarily a symbol of goodness. Both characters are flawed and incomplete until they learn to love each other. Cynthia Marshall has written an analysis of the fairytale and Macdonald's writing which is viewable here.

" Not only does the split between Photogen and Nycteris lack any obvious ethical significance, but the final point of the tale is the necessary joining of the realms of darkness and light. Ordinarily in fairy tale, a plot in which the good, beautiful, and clever triumph affirms a basic antinomy, but in this case the tale confronts, questions, and ultimately destroys its own distinctions. Despite an initially apparent polarization, "The Day Boy and the Night Girl" reveals intense moral ambivalence."

Despite being quite obvious as an allegory, I think it's still an interesting tale to explore as there is a lot of development in the two titular characters. Photogen starts off the story as a typically hard-headed guy who's only interest is hunting, but there is a lot of opportunity for development of his character after he first discovers the night - learning to accept that he is allowed to experience fear and weakness without necessarily completely overcoming it, is quite a relevant and important emotional story. Similarly, though Nycteris is very comfortable at first to just explore night-time, she comes to realise there is a whole other side to life that she has been ignorant about, and in essence she must learn to have the courage to leave her 'comfort zone'.

"The three main characters each seek progress, but through different channels. Watho attempts to gather and subjugate, Photogen tries to conquer through ability, and Nycteris uses her imagination to further her understanding and knowledge of the world to better see how she fits in it. The Day Boy and the Night Girl is essentially a tale which depicts MacDonald’s belief in the imagination’s ability to take the focus off of self, thereby opening the imaginer to a world of companionships which can lead to true wholeness." (from Wikipedia)


The first step to adapting this into a practical outcome is to define my approach; what will the tone and style be, and what will I be using as reference for inspiration? To focus this, it is important to define a target demographic - or, if age is too limiting, to define what sort of response I wish to evoke in the audience. 

I spent some time deciding whether I would like to experiment with a more serious, impressionistic design with the aim of being more visually interesting, experimental and artistic, or a more light-hearted tone that balances strong, clear designs, illustrative backgrounds and emotive storytelling (basically the approach of the classic Disney fairytale films). 

After getting the opinions of my tutor and classmates I've decided on the second approach as I felt more naturally inclined to do something more characteristic and appealing as opposed to a "fine art" animation. I'm not going to simply imitate Disney, but to experiment with styles and take inspiration from a range of sources and art genres, including Brian Froud, Arthur Rackham, Ray Nielsen, Edmund Dulac, John William Waterhouse and others.

I would like the direction of the film to be fairly fun, charming and approachable whilst still being multi-layered and emotionally resonant. Light and darkness are clear symbols for people's strengths and weaknesses and I find this to be an important theme to explore, but in a manner that avoids moralising or patronising. I'd like for it to be quite gender-neutral with a good balance between Photogen's and Nycteris' qualities, and suitable for kids of around age 5 or 6 upwards but sophisticated enough to appeal and engage teens and adults as well. 


On a side note, I found there is actually an opera based on the story by Jordan Corbin Wentworth Farrar. One performance, directed by Louisa Jonason, is on Youtube. Unfortunately I can't understand a lot of the lyrics (I don't understand how people follow operas!) so I'm not sure how exactly they've developed the characters. It'll be interesting to see how they've adapted and built upon Macdonald's story.


Time is a huge issue at the minute and I'm hoping to have broken down the story into key sequences, and have done some thumbnails and rough exploration of colour and environment by the 30th.