Thursday, September 22, 2011

Animation 101: Constructing a Story for a Short Film, Part 4: Resolutions and Endings..

This is the fourth part of constructing a story for a short film. Part 1 introduction. Part 2 The Image. Part 3 Conflict. Part 4 is Resolutions and Endings.

Every short film should have a good ending. I can't overstate the importance of a satisfying ending. In a lot of ways it's the ending that is remembered. You can have the greatest technique or characters, subtle actions, conflict and build up.. but if the ending isn't complete, it's all a waste. But let's back up a bit, and talk about "Resolution." A resolution is quite different than an ending, I would say that a "Resolution" is simply the first step to achieving a quality "Ending."

The conflict we established and built up requires some sort of "Resolution." Something needs to happen that ends the conflict. This resolution can introduce a new conflict, can neutralize or satisfy the original conflict, or can introduce an element that makes the original conflict insignificant. All fine ways to resolve what you have built up. In the most simple form, what you must do is solve the conflict in a witty, interesting, creative, emotional, and unexpected way.  Let's return to our relaxed cyclist. He's continuing to ride, oblivious to the mass of smelly stinky impatience directly behind him. This massive body of cars, trucks and buses have developed into a ineffable body that fills the frame behind the peaceful cyclist, who is a speck comparatively (contrast!). Now enter the first part of the resolution, we go very wide and they start to cross a bridge (symbol).. immediately it begins to shake, it can't hold the weight. It looks as if the entire group, cyclist included, is going to crumble into a twisted heap into the ravine.. but it only happens the exact moment that the cyclist reaches the other side. CRASH.. now.. dead silence. peace. contrast to the previous shot... Resolution. The cyclist quietly continues his ride. (this is the resolution, not the ending)

In Michael Dudok De Wit's epic film "Father and Daughter" the conflict with the daughter is her missing her father, who disappeared in a boat when she was young. The film takes us through her entire life, shows her growing up without him, but always having this connection, and keeping it in context of a bicyle (symbol).. always looking if he will return from the lake. The build up happens through her getting older, continuing her life up through marriage, children, and old age, but she will never give up hope. This distinct struggle demands a resolution, and the film would not have been so effective if it had ended with her simply always waiting.  Finally, so much time has passed that the lake has dried up, and she is an elderly woman. Despite her age and frailty, she journeys out into the lake which is now a grassy field. She finds the sunken remains of her fathers boat. She curls up into it, and dies. (this is the resolution, not the ending)

At this point it's important to note a key element to story: What does the character want? If you crafted your "Image" and developed your "Conflict", it shouldn't be such a hard question to answer. If you can't answer this question, an alarm should go off, you are most likely dealing with too much complexity and lack of the glorious simplicity of an idea.

There are many ways to reach a "Resolution" in your story. One method is to give the character what they want, but not how they thought they would get it, or not what they expected it would look like. Perhaps they don't even know they get it! Our loyal cyclist has no idea that the bridge collapse took care of his conflict.. because the conflict itself existed outside of the character (see how easily all this stuff can be twisted?). But there's no question what the cyclist wants.. he wants to continue his wonderful relaxing ride, he wants to remain in his happy state. The bridge collapsing made this possible, unbeknownst to the protagonist.

In my film "Handshake" the resolution, after a hallucinatory build up, is that the male character gets literally ingested by the female character.. and then there is that wonderful silence. It's that contrast that typically follows a resolution, this contrast will lead us boldly to a satisfying ending.  In "Father and Daughter" the old woman curls up and falls asleep (dies) and we cut to a extreme wide shot.. everything has changed. There is a contrast we can taste. It almost feels like an ending. A good resolution will do that, it fakes you out a bit, it gives you an pre-ending, so to speak.  The old woman awakes, but the world looks different.. she gets up and as she gracefully walks, she morphs into a little girl, she runs, runs faster.. directly into the arms of her father who is standing there waiting for her.  Thank you Michael for creating such a wonderful masterpiece.

"Father and Daughter" Michael Dudok De Wit.

Let us continue on the "Ending", the final bookend that contains your main idea in a nice package. Endings are synonymous with satisfaction. Your final ending may be very dramatic, or a simple gag, of course depending on your Image, conflict, and resolution. A satisfying ending doesn't have to be character related at all. There's a great technique employed by more non-narrative films, at the end of the film, they simply back up an show the grand picture, an all encompassing shot that either shows the technique that drove the film, or the entire world in which the film took place.  At the end of George Griffin's "View Master" he simply backs up to reveal all the cycles of walks and runs we have been watching are on a wheel, similar to the wheel used on the old toy "View Master", hence the title. It was a very satisfying ending to a film whose conflict very well may have been "what exactly are we watching?"
George Griffin's "View Master"
I've outlined several different ways to end your film in my past Animation 101 post: 5 ways to end your story, and I don't need to re-hash them. Especially since there are a multitude of ways to wrap up your story if you keep in mind how the Conflict is solved by  your Resolution and how that relates to your Ending, and you remain experimental and creative at problem solving. Often times shorts will use an "Exclamation Point" at the end of the film, just to give it a bit of a leap going into the credits. Again, let's go to our Cyclist. The threat is gone, he's continuing to ride joyfully, but after all that conflict we hear a tiny little ringing, we reveal a precious little girl riding a little pink bike with streamers (contrast to the man). The man is startled, almost falling.. he rides to a stop and allows the little girl to pass, he smiles as he looks around. We're satisfied. An ending can be a simple gag that accentuates and contrasts the Resolution. The audience instantly agrees that a little girl on a little bike is more powerful than all the machinery that an urban commute could throw at us.

Your short film is a gift the the world, it's for everybody and should communicate clearly what you wish to say or illustrate. Don't expect the audience to speak a language they (or you) don't know, but at the same time, know that the audience is smarter than you think, and most likely smarter than you the director. Animation has the distinct quality of being non-intimidating and completely approachable medium, use that to your advantage. You have their attention! Don't abuse that. The medium you chose to work with has limitations that you need to take advantage of, concentrate on what you can do, not what your medium can't or isn't very good at doing. Good filmmakers make use of Subtlety, pretentious filmmakers use Mystery and complexity, and call it Subtlety. 

In this series we broke constructing a short film story into four chunks, The Image, The Conflict, The Resolution, and the Ending. And I need to remind everyone reading this that this is only a framework in which to experiment. Twist and pull this, change it around, sew a head on where an arm should be. But most importantly, communicate and create. Ultimately, this is what we were all put here to do! Good luck, this was fun!

2 comments:

  1. thanks for sharing the genius. i miss the old days at pratt when you were my teacher!

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  2. thank you mr. smith.. now all i have to do is make a film!

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