Because our animation is going to feature rabbits and have dark themes it seemed right to address the similarities between our film and Watership Down (1978) based on the 1972 book of the same name.
Of course the stories are very different, what with Watership Down being about a warren of rabbits on a journey to find a new home after their previous one was destroyed, and then rescuing enslaved rabbits from an evil warren. Our story is simply about a rabbit conquering her fears in a very surreal and intense manner. Both stories, however, do touch upon the topics of overcoming fear and it would be silly not to at least use Watership Down as a stylistic inspiration.
I’ve always loved how the rabbits actually looked like rabbits. Caricature was kept to a minimum, but yet the characters were still distinct and recognisable from each other. The backgrounds in the film were also beautiful and painterly, which made the characters stand out all the more.
The bold colours and striking silhouettes on this fan-made poster looked beautiful and I thought it would be a nice inspiration for the more intense scenes in the film.
Fiver’s visions in the animated movie are always surreal and abstract but yet are always very calm and spooky. I liked the tone and especially the colours as I think they bring a great mood to the film. I feel like they would be great references for the middle section of our film.
Quotes from the book that relate to our story:
“You know how you let yourself think that everything will be all right if you can only get to a certain place or do a certain thing. But when you get there you find it’s not that simple.”
“He fought because he actually felt safer fighting than running.”
“A thing can be true and still be desperate folly, Hazel.”
“There is nothing that cuts you down to size like coming to some strange and marvelous place where no one even stops to notice that you stare about you.”
“Rabbits live close to death and when death comes closer than usual, thinking about survival leaves little room for anything else.”
“A wild animal that feels that it no longer has any reason to live reaches in the end a point when its remaining energies may actually be directed toward dying.”
“Rabbits need dignity and, above all, the will to accept their fate.”
Another film that I like that I want to draw inspiration from is Bambi (1940). The fight scene between Bambi and the rival buck/Ronno is very visually stunning with dark shadows and harsh lighting and colours creating a very intense atmosphere. I thought it would look incredible to try to replicate that style for the more intense lake scene of our film.
I also went on Pinterest and put together a board of illustrations of forests/rabbits and wolves to get an idea for the kind of aesthetic we could go for.
I looking through illustrations of forests, I thought it would be really nice to maybe attempt to give the backgrounds an almost watercolour-like texture to make the main characters stand out more.
Another reference I was looking at was the game Ori and the Blind Forest.
I only began to play this game rather recently, and instantly fell in love with it’s painterly art style and gorgeous atmosphere. How the game instills a sense of dread with little to no dialogue is remarkable.
The tone is bleak and mournful, and is established purely through the visuals and the soundtrack. Our hero, Ori, is a white, glowing beacon of hope in the age of decay and fear.
I would love to create something as visually stunning as Ori and the Blind Forest.
The climax of the story is the most important part, and we were given feedback from Mike that our climax was probably the weakest part of our film, and needs to pack much more of a punch. I thought of a scene that would be similar to what we originally planned, but would be a lot darker and more surreal.
She turns around and comes face to face with the wolf, the culmination of all her worst fears. The wolf stands still, towering over her, and snarling. Drool pouring from it’s mouth like water, clouds billowing from it’s fur like fog, and lightning burning in it’s eyes. The rabbit is unable to scream, she is so terrified. All of a sudden, the great black wolf lunges at her, but instead of biting her, the rabbit is forced into the water. The lake is dark and overwhelming. The rabbit desperately kicks and looks around, but can’t see the surface. She begins to panic, thinking of how much of a failure she is, and how she can’t even cross a stupid little stream and how much better off her warren would be without her. In the end, she gives into her fears, closes her eyes and is still. But not dead. Breaking the silence, the buzzing of a bee can be heard. The rabbit opens her eyes. She spots the bee flying through the water as if it wasn’t there. The rabbit follows it with her eyes as it flies towards the field of dandelions below. The rabbit realises that she is floating above the flowery hill that she was initially trying to get to. She floats there, amazed, watching her warren just beneath her, eating the flowers. She can even see the tree, with it’s silhouette still visible under the water. For a moment the rabbit forgets that she needs to breathe, and suddenly snaps out of it. She swims towards the surface and takes a deep breath. She pulls herself back onto the log, and the wolf is waiting.
Following on from Callum’s research, we decided to make our story about a rabbit, as they experience anxiety most closely to humans. We also felt that rabbits are very cute and likable creatures that the audience would want to root for. I myself had never actually held a rabbit until a few weeks ago and instantly fell in love with the animals.
Callum and I sat down and spent an afternoon writing the story. Our idea for the actual plot of our short film is as follows:
A warren of rabbits is busy eating dandelions in a pleasant forest clearing. We see a smaller rabbit, most likely the runt, trying to squeeze through the masses of fur to get to the tasty flowers, but she’s not quite strong enough. Just as she thinks she might be able to grab a bite, the sentry lets out a squeak and the warren moves on. Our rabbit is left behind with only the nibbled stalks of the dandelions and a few scattered petals. She turns to see where her family has gone; they’re a few feet away, eating more dandelions. She hops over to the rest of the warren, but by the time she reaches them, they’ve already moved on. She is yet again left with only stalks. Our rabbit is visibly upset. She looks to see where the warren is running off to next, and sees that they are running over the crest of a hill. The sentry stops and looks back to her, expecting her to follow. Our rabbit springs into action and hops after her warren. As she runs over the hill, her destination is revealed: a beautiful hill covered in a blanket of yellow dandelions. On top of the hill is a curved golden tree, almost acting as a beacon. Our rabbit binkies in excitement. There will be enough flowers for everyone! However, as she runs over the hill she comes face to face with the obstacle that lies before her: A small, trickling stream. The larger rabbits are already beginning to cross, hopping over the water with ease. Our rabbit freezes. The water terrifies her, even if it is only a trickle. So much could go wrong. She could slip and hit her head, she could drown, she could be attacked by a predator in ambush. The sentry squeaks for her to follow, snapping her out of her panic. She takes a deep breath and plows forward. She inches up to the back of the stream, and gently dips her paw into the cold water, but fear takes hold of her again and she jumps back from the stream. Getting angry at herself, the rabbit looks at her reflection in the water. She tries to convince herself that she is just being stupid. The water won’t hurt her. All of a sudden, a drop of water breaks her focus. The rabbit looks towards the sky, which is now greying over. It is beginning to rain. The lush greenery of the meadow is now changing to a more muted tone. The rabbit blinks, confused. She then realises that something feels wrong. She looks down at her feet. They are submerged in water. The rabbit panics and leaps back out of the way. Frightened and confused, she looks to her warren across the now river. They don’t even seem to notice that the water has risen. They happily eat the dandelions and don’t pay her any mind. Even the sentry doesn’t care. Our rabbit screams to them, trying to get their attention, but nothing works. A gust of wind blows her sideways and she stops, turning her attention instead to finding shelter. She spots a leafy shrub nearby, and runs towards it, abandoning her warren. She hides in the shelter of the leaves for a moment, shivering. She is unsure of what to do next. Should she just return to her burrow, or should she try to brave the river and rain to get to her family? She begins to think about what might happen in both situations. If she stays she might get forgotten about, and be alone and exposed, or even starve. If she goes, she might drown. She doesn’t know what to do. All of a sudden, the heavy rainfall on the leaf becomes too heavy, and it snaps and falls on top of the rabbit. Soaking wet and shivering, the rabbit gets her to feet. She thinks, I’m already wet, I might as well continue. Using the broken leaf as an umbrella, she begins to walk through the rain and back towards the stream. She feels incredibly exposed, as the rain and fog has made it look as if the forest itself has retreated. The rabbit keeps seeing bird claws in the trees, and fox scratches in the shrubs. Afraid, she picks up into a run, but slips on a patch of mud and is sent sliding down the hill. She is stopped short by the water. The rabbit looks up, and realises that the river has now turned into a gigantic lake. She grips onto her umbrella tightly, hoping for any shred of comfort. She can’t possibly swim across, she’ll drown. There could be pikes, or worse, lurking beneath the surface. She looks up and down the bank for any signs of a narrow crossing. But, as luck would have it, a fallen tree makes is carried by the currents and stops just by the rabbit’s feet. Our rabbit cautiously moves towards the fallen tree and sets a paw on it. She looks out to see where it leads. We see that it stretches into the horizon with no apparently end. But it is the only crossing she has. Afraid of what might happen if she stays behind, the rabbit carefully steps onto the tree and begins to walk. She is trying her hardest to be brave, but the buffeting winds and lapping water makes her footing uneasy. She is also certain that she sees shapes beneath the water. The storm begins to get worse. She also begins to think that she sees hawks in the clouds. The storm escalates until a flash of lightning lights up the scene and thunder shakes our rabbit to the core. She freezes, gripping tightly onto her leaf umbrella. A gust of wind blusters around her, and sounds eerily familiar to a wolf’s howl. This terrifies the rabbit and she begins to run. The storm is continuing the swell and get worse. More lightning flashes and rips open the sky, but this time the lightning reveals the dark, intense silhouette of a snarling, hungry wolf. Lightning continues to flash as our rabbit darts along the log, avoiding the ravenous waves and they crash along the tree. A bolt of lightning strikes just in front of the rabbit and she rapidly skids to a halt. In her panic she lets go of her leaf. She has nowhere to run. She turns around and comes face to face with the wolf, the culmination of all her worst fears. The wolf stands still, towering over her, and snarling. Drool pouring from it’s mouth like water, clouds billowing from it’s fur like fog, and lightning burning in it’s eyes. The rabbit shrinks and curls up, defeated, and crying. She fully accepts her death. A few moments pass and nothing changes. The storm is still raging and the wolf is still snarling, but the raging wind almost becomes muffled as the rabbit softly cries. All of a sudden, she hears the distinctive buzz of a bee. She opens her eyes and pinpoints where the bee is coming from. It is beneath her. She looks down, and beneath the waves she can see the hill of dandelions all swaying in the breeze. Even the distinctive tree can be seen. All the rabbits are beneath her, eating the dandelions as if nothing was different. The rabbit realises that the water can’t be real. The storm subsides and the wind calms, leaving a perfect mirror reflection on the lake. The wolf still remains, standing still and staring at the rabbit. The rabbit slowly walks up to the wolf, and carefully places her paw on it’s nose. The wolf disappears in a cloud of ash. The rabbit is alone. She looks around and realises that she is still in the middle of a gigantic ocean, but all is still. She stands at the end of the tree and looks in the water. She takes a breath, and takes a step. But instead of stepping on water, she feels soft grass beneath her feet. She opens her eyes, and sees that she is back beside the stream, but has made it to the other side. Her warren is just a few feet away, eating dandelions. The sentry turns and looks at her, acknowledging her presence, and draws her attention to a special patch of dandelions just for her. Our rabbit takes one last look at the creek, then turns back to the warren. She has conquered her fears. With a look of pride, she hops over to join her family.
As a part of our Major Project, I delved into research into Anxiety, the disorders associated with it and what sort of ways in which we can portray this throughout our Short Film.
Initially I contacted a friend of mine, Dr. Ryan Oakley, a Mental Health Counselor and acquired his help in both tracking down valuable resources to inform myself from, and getting some aide directly from him in understanding how to better portray it.
One of the first sights I stumbled on was this article from NPR.org
Callum is the one who did most of the research on the disorder in the early stages of the project, whereas I looked at other media that portrayed anxiety.
Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece is about an agoraphobic man named Scottie who also suffers from vertigo following a traumatic event in his past. Scottie’s dissociation and descent into madness is symbolised by a recurring spiral shape that often appears in the character’s eye. There is also the recurring motif of twin pillars. In fact, the entire film is full of psychedelic imagery (which I suppose was commonplace at the time, but not in a horror/thriller) which lends itself to a very surreal and unsettling film.
BoJack Horseman (2014 -)
Netflix’s most depressing cartoon was a big inspiration for this project. The show is also the subject of my upcoming thesis so I felt that it was only right to revisit it as a potential inspiration for the major project. BoJack Horseman is a show about a depressed horse who was a big-show television star in the 90s but has since lost all meaning in his life. A recurring motif in the show is water: this could be in the form of a lake, a swimming pool or an ocean. The water is always brought up whenever our titular character is feeling overwhelmed by life or by his own questionable choices.
One of the darkest moments of the show involves water, when BoJack admits exactly how he would like to die:
One of the most memorable episodes of the show (Episode 3×04) takes place entirely underwater, and features absolutely no dialogue.
In this episode, BoJack is thrust into a surreal and unfamiliar world, and is caught of guard not only by the culture-shock, but by the overwhelming responsibility of caring for a lost baby seahorse, as well as juggling the dozens of promotional appearances in various clubs and theatres to advertise his new movie. During the entirety of this episode, BoJack appears lost and unsure of what to do. He is trapped by the water. All of the native sea life can communicate no bother, but BoJack is stuck in silence, unable to even hear what the sea creatures are saying. Life is muffled and stifling. He is also confined to the ocean floor, where he walks along the seabed while several species of fish are able to swim above him. The climax of the episode reveals that BoJack embraces the opportunities that water can provide, and swims out of a second storey window completely unharmed, and doesn’t fall to his death as he predicted. He conquers the overwhelming weight of the ocean and instead sees it as a medium of opportunity.
There is also an episode which takes place almost entirely in BoJack’s mind, and gives his depression a voice. During the entire episode BoJack’s inner monologue can be heard, and is given it’s own chaotic art style. It is a brutal portrayal of depression.
BoJack Horseman would serve as one of the biggest inspirations for our short film, as we admired its use of water to symbolise being overwhelmed, but also its surrealism and its effectiveness in making the world seem all the more unfamiliar and terrifying.
There are also dozens of other films and television shows that touch on the topic of mental illness but few decide to express the disorders in a very visual manner.
This year we were thrust head first into the project I have been looking forward to every since I first joined the course in 2014. Over three years I had compiled a long list of ideas for an animated short (which is what I really wanted to make). These most of these projects included dragons which would be an absolute nightmare to animate, especially for a longer project. However, I did want the theme of the short film to be something that I personally care about and that I would be invested in over the 10 months or so of production.
I talked to my teammate, Callum Luckwell, about what kind of story he would like to tell. He expressed that he was excited about the possibility of animating a horror film, but not one with a lot of jumpscares. He wanted to make a horror film with a heavy, foreboding atmosphere and creepy visuals. He pitched an idea called “The Diver” which was about a man from the Victorian times being drawn to the ocean in the middle of the night and deciding to dive to the bottom of the sea, where he is inevitably eaten by a massive deep-sea creature. Though we both loved the idea, we realised that it would be technically unchallenging as most of the film would take place in the black ocean depths.
After throwing several ideas around, I proposed to my teammate that we could possibly create a film about anxiety disorders. We were both hesitant at first, knowing that short films about mental illness don’t exactly sit well with the lecturers, but after some discussion we figured out how it could work.
Our plan is to keep the whole anxiety metaphor subliminal, with the main focus of the story being on one character’s journey to overcome his/her fears and be accepted by his/her friends and family. The allusion to mental illness would not be a limitation, but rather an opportunity to showcase some intense visuals and turn a simple story about a character overcoming fear into a gigantic, terrifying experience.