It is not very often that one gets to meet, let alone learn from their favourite artist, so when the opportunity came up to attend a workshop with Caroline Leaf, there was no way I was going to let the chance pass. The workshop was held within the historical walls of the Abbey of Fontevraud, nestled deep inside the picturesque Loire Valley in France. The Abbey itself had undergone a series of transformations since the first structures had been laid in 1110. Initially conceived as a religious building, it would later come to house royalty, eventually taking a downwards tumble after 1804 to become one of France's most notorious prisons. In 1963 the Abbey was given to the French Ministry of Culture, who shaped it's current face as a culture centre and archetypal ideal city.
The history of the building invited change and new ideas, facilitating a rich creative environment where we would be invited to do the same. The workshop focussed largely on the storyboarding process. We began the week with some basic film language and storyboarding etiquette exercises. Following this we developed our own characters using a series of images to inspire us. We swapped our characters between one another, leaving us each with two characters to facilitate our stories. There were two conditions set, which were: the stories were required to be one minute long and the two characters had to 'hug'. So with our characters in mind we commenced drawing to start 'finding' our story.
It took me about two days of drawing and thinking before I started to come up with an idea that felt right. As is often the case, ideas can take time to develop and sometimes appear at the most unlikely of times. I had reworked my characters and story a couple of times to no avail. Time began pushing its hands upon my shoulders and I was starting to look down a void of emptiness. Yet, I pushed on and one morning I parted early from the breakfast table and tucked myself away into a quiet room. Just like the Abbey had done over centuries, I gave my characters a new identity and this time found a story that had some legs. I used thumbnails and rough sketches to clarify my ideas and staging. It was very important that at this stage to be open to being loose and ready to throw out any drawing or idea if it wasn't achieving story clarity. Being too precious would threaten to trap you into a destructive path where ideas become stale and there is no way out. This stage can be one of the most difficult times, but also one of the most rewarding. Especially when you find a clever and unique solution to a visual problem.
I kept refining my storyboard, taking advantage of Caroline's sharp story knowledge. She helped me realise that there should be both a practical and artistic reason behind the camera moves that we choose to include. It is important to tell and interesting and engaging story, but all of this is useless if the shots that we have chosen render it unclear. Essentially, we have two audiences to please, the first audience (ourselves) and the second audience (everyone else). Eventually we all finished our storyboards and began to make them into animatics. This involved photographing the storyboard images and allocating them time and pacing using a computer editing programme. We also added any essential sounds or dialogue, keeping in mind that we were limited to 6 lines of dialogue. Luckily, my story didn't involve any dialogue!
After a final push to tweak and refine, we rendered our animatics, and after a delicious lunch and glass of a local Vouvray sparkling wine, we made our way up into the screening room. Together we watched the animatics, enjoying the development of ideas and characters we had come to know over the past few days. The screening was also the perfect way to test out our animatics on the sometimes illusive second audience. Overall it was a wonderful learning experience that I will never forget, for both the lessons that I learnt and the for the opportunity to meet and learn from the very inspirational artist herself, Caroline Leaf.