2 Steps to Make Your Art Enthralling


2 Steps To Make Your Art Enthralling
young animator

By Robert Thacker

Robert Thacker is a teenager who loves creating stories through animation and fiction podcasting that combines the strange and the familiar.

My Craft – Storytelling

Hey there! My name is Robert Thacker. I’m a young animator and storyteller. I run a podcast about the arts. Today I want to ask you a question. What are your favorite movies?

Films in general connect with us because they combine both strangeness and familiarity.

A film that is totally strange to us means we can’t relate to any of the characters, we can’t recognize how the world works, and the storyline feels convoluted. A movie that is completely familiar lacks anything interesting. We don’t care that John Doe gets up every morning at a quarter till 8 and downs a coffee. We already know what a day at college or at the office looks like. What makes a film great is being able to relate to the characters, seeing them do those familiar things, but at the same time seeing that they aren’t quite like us. They have funny mannerisms, personal weaknesses, conflicts to overcome, goals and dreams that we may not share. But we do know what it is like to have a dream. And we know how difficult it can be to try to achieve it.

That’s one scenario. It’s an example of how stories reflect both the real world and the imaginative one. Imaginative films make us curious. Relatable films make us cry. Or laugh. Or grow angry. These emotions, and so many more, can be conveyed through any medium. But there is something special about animation that makes us love it in its own way, perhaps for some of us even more than live-action. That may be because animation inherently does not look realistic. It is a stylization. It is not just another way of expressing the same kind of story as through live-action. It is the lens through which we see the film – and therefore it affects everything we see in it.

Let‘s look at Studio Ghibli’s use of the fantastic and the familiar

Ghibli has a fabulous reputation everywhere in the world in the animation community for films that touch us emotionally and by drawing in our curiosity to their worlds. Director Hayao Miyazaki’s films would be different films in every possible consideration if they were made in live-action. They could be, with the advent of hyper-realistic graphics. What we love about these films isn’t that they look like the real world – it’s that they don’t. And yet even though they don’t look like our world, they reflect back something beautiful that we can relate to.

Studio Ghibli’s very first film was Castle in the Sky.

Castle in the Sky

This film has adventure, comedy, heart, wonder – it is almost the quintessential adventure movie for me. The key to this is that it is a wildly fun romp combined with moments which are stunningly beautiful and moments which are deeply touching. A great example of this is the Laputian Robot’s arc in the story. His destruction of the castle is jaw-dropping. The emotion of the scene is a mini-climax of the whole story, ringing with the same themes and touching very nearly on the same emotions of the final climax of the movie. I won’t spoil it for you because it is a real treat to watch; but if you have seen Castle in the Sky, you probably already know what I mean.

This dramatic combination of wondrous animation and an emotional core is something that I try to work into my own art as well. Animation can uniquely bring out the incredible and the magical. All of these things inherently have a bit of realism in them. The fantastical is only a mirror for reality. It is referential, or, at very least, heavily influenced by it. So when I create my own art, I try to find and bring out the realistic reflection of human emotion and nature of our own world.

Castle in the Sky still

Another great example of this is Pixar’s Inside Out – a movie about anthropomorphic emotions

Inside Out takes us inside a world that we are very familiar with – and yet presents it in a new way. I am talking, of course, about the human mind. And within that we also see familiar themes that we may not have thought about before. The actions and reactions of the characters in that story world feel realistic because they get at something that is true and honest.

Inside out analysis

Take, for example, the scene halfway through where Joy is trying to cheer up the disheartened Bing-Bong. Bing-Bong is saddened because he is being forgotten. Joy’s attempts to encourage him fall utterly short. Funny enough, though, it was when Sadness went over to him to just sit beside him and talk to him that Bing-Bong was able to find calm again.

Obviously we, in the real world, will not be bouncing with joy all the time. Sometimes accepting the grief is the best way of getting over it. And that’s pretty much the entire theme of Inside Out – so it’s a fantastic mini example that builds up to the main theme at the climax of the film. It is powerful because it rings emotionally true.

Here’s the takeaway

We as artists will create a strong story when we look for things that feel real to human life and try to bring them out in our animations. That is what I learned from Castle in the Sky and Inside Out. It is perhaps the best piece of storytelling wisdom that I have discovered. Animation is the perfect medium to take advantage of the combination of strangeness and wonder and familiarity and groundedness. Their exaggeration can be fun and exciting, as in the train chase scene from Castle in the Sky – or they may be heartbreaking, like the final scene in Inside Out. Either way, the combination of detailed accuracies that show us the worlds and characters, and the imagination which fills us with wonder and suspense and curiosity – that is the kind of power that animation has. Use that opportunity. Make the audience feel that the world you have created is true – yet strange and intriguing. Go make great art.

Robert Thacker’s podcast about the arts can be found at IndieHoot.com or on Twitter at twitter.com/RobertThackerJr