Style and Other Opportunities
Up until now we have been discussing production design primarily from a realistic perspective. There are, however, myriad films that need to expand beyond a realistic style and move into a more fantastical realm. Films such as Across the Universe, City of Lost Children, Brazil, Synecdoche, New York, and Dogville utilize unreal design elements in order to tell their stories.
The fantastical is also used in lower-budget arenas as well. The web series Drawn by Pain uses animated techniques to help the audience understand what emotional forces are driving its lead character, Emily.
We will discuss the differences between episodic and single projects in Chapter 11, Special Exceptions to the Rule?, but the production design elements in the series are well established in the series’ first episode, which we can discuss as a stand-alone piece. Here is the logline for the entire series:
What is clear from this broad outline for all 12 episodes of the series is that Emily has developed a mechanism of coping with the horrors of the world around her: her absorption by her own anime characters. This is a stylistic visual metaphor for her internal and external struggles. In the first episode, this transformation happens when she realizes that she has the power to vanquish her father. This is shown through a series of shots in which first she, and then her room, are overtaken by the flowing anime style (FIGURES 4.20A and B).
Figure 4.20A The young Emily, in Drawn by Pain, is slowly taken over by her own anime world as she realizes her developing powers.
Figure 4.20B Her room and the toys she has left lying on the floor are gradually taken over by the power.
This is a crucial part of the storytelling of the film—the LEAN FORWARD MOMENT—when Emily’s life will be forever changed. This then leads to the main throughline of the series as the older Emily struggles with these inner demons (see the sidebar, “Throughline,” on the next page.) The production design helps the audience to feel this moment by introducing the combined live action and anime style at this very moment in the film (FIGURE 4.21).
It’s no wonder that it has as much impact as it does.
Figure 4.21 At the end of the first episode of Drawn by Pain, after the now orphaned Emily is taken over by her anime drawings, she turns to the camera and we realize that she now has the vengeful power within her.
In earlier sections of this chapter you saw how production design could create changes from one part of a project to another. You also saw, in Citizen Kane, how it could make the audience feel a change across an edit—from Leland’s alleyway speech in front of the “working men” to Kane’s arena speech in front of the politicians. In Monsoon you saw how differing wardrobe could be used to show change within a single frame. In these shots from Drawn by Pain you see a further use of combining stylistic production design elements into one frame.
The filmmakers could have made this distinction subtle or drastic. They chose to create a stark contrast between the two styles. The differences extend beyond the use of anime versus live action, though this is the most obvious one. There are also changes in the color palette and the amount of detail of each of the images as well as the two-dimensionality versus the three-dimensionality of the surrounding realistic frame.
The degree that you create changes around LEAN FORWARD MOMENTS is what will make your films different from other people’s. The styles that you choose, and the selections you make to highlight those changes will create your own artistic personality. But there is no doubt that the fundamental nature of these differences is common to nearly all storytelling.