A crazy quest for sanity

“Rocks In My Pockets” took almost 4 years to make. It started in 2009 with an idea. In early 2010 I developed that idea into a script to be narrated by me. Voiceover driven animated features tend to be cheaper to make.

Finances have to be taken into consideration when making a film independently from big studios. Sturgis Warner, a theater director, rehearsed with me every day for 7 weeks. When I was ready, we recorded the voiceover track, which was 90 minutes long. The next stage was to make storyboards.

Storyboards are tricky. As an animator you need them to be efficient, but working from a storyboard makes me feel like a robot — everything has already been decided and you are only to follow the orders. I do enjoy the anxiety of creating something out of nothing and I like improvisation. To get around this problem, I made storyboards only for the parts I was immediately going to work on. I then turned my attention to constructing the sets.

For much of the film I decided to create a 2D on 3D look — my hand-drawn characters placed on top of photographs of three dimensional sets made of paper-mache, cardboard boxes, plywood, and lots of paint. We lit and photographed them with a digital photo camera shooting some in stop motion sequences, an animation technique that makes physically manipulated objects appear to move on their own.

I printed out the photos of the paper-mache background sets and stop motion sequences for the layouts, which serve as the composition and action blueprints for the animation. All the animation was done by hand, pencil on paper. I drew and shadowed approximately 30,000 drawings for the whole film.

The drawings were each scanned in Photoshop. We brought the files into Premiere for a linetest to see if the movement worked and to match the action with the voiceover track. Then Rashida Nasir chose the colors and supervised the coloring of the drawings. Wendy Cong Zhao composited them in After Effects, output them into Quick Time movies and edited the final film in Final Cut Pro.

We did three test screenings to see how well “Rocks In My Pockets” worked for an audience. Based on the feedback we cut the film from 93 minutes to 88 minutes (including credits) and added an opening sequence.

Kristian Sensini wrote original music for the film, and Weston Fonger mixed the voiceover and music tracks so that they fit nicely together. “Rocks In My Pockets” is now finished and will be released in 2014.

Why Animation
I think in surreal images that move and animation is the only medium that can fully express my mind. Some people mistakenly assume that animation is just for children. But animation can be a medium of very sophisticated storytelling. It is able to depict what no one can see — the utmost inner feelings and thoughts. It can deal with abstractions of problems in a way that a camera cannot. It can juxtapose inner worlds with the outside Universe and tie them all into comprehensive narratives. Animation can bring humor and visual metaphor to storytelling. Walt Disney himself proclaimed that, “animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive.”

Why Depression
The idea for “Rocks In My Pockets” came from my stream of consciousness. Like most people I think about a wide variety of things, some fantastical, some mundane, but my mind keeps coming back to thoughts of “ending it all” and the ways I could go about doing it. Why? Why do I think this way? And why I am still alive despite such thoughts? I find the fragility of our minds fascinating. Life is strange, unpredictable, sometimes absurd and I try to see the humor in it all.