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Shep Turner
by shept on 26 May 2020 for Rookie Awards 2020

Flicker is a 2D animated short about a tumultuous moment in the friendship of two young boys, Avery and Matt. It overwhelmingly deals with themes of relationships and empathy but touches on themes of the importance of nature and the effects of abuse as well.

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My senior year of studying animation at the Cleveland Institute of Art was dedicated mostly to the development and production of my thesis film, Flicker.

I was challenged to write outlines, do thumbnails, draft and revise storyboards and animatics, research visual styles, create character designs, paint background images, rough animate, clean up, and composite assets to create this film, as well as seek out help in the form of voice actors, musicians, and clean-up assistance and work with and direct those collaborators as the project moved along.

This was the largest-scale project I had ever worked on at the time, and while being on every part of the pipeline was challenging, I've found that experience to be invaluable to me. And I'm glad that I got to tell this story that meant so much to me.

I had been writing and developing the main characters of this film, Avery and Matt, for many years prior to starting work on this film. One of the central themes of this particular story was empathy, but that was a central theme for most of the stories I wrote about these characters.

The appeal of these characters to me had been this idea of finding refuge in another person. In much different ways, Avery and Matt both grew up with troubled home lives, but they always found solace in the time they spent together. For the most part, Matt had only sympathy for Avery, and he wasn't the type to get angry at all in general, but I thought in this film I'd explore where his breaking point would be - what would it take for Matt to get upset with his best friend?

These are some of my earliest concepts for the film; how the characters would appear, thumbnails of different locations that might be included, and a few rough story beats that would get across some of the main events. I was still working on the script at this time, so I was still testing out a lot of things and seeing if they would work. I thought several locations would be used in the film but ended up confining the story to the forest. Initially the story started out with a look at Avery's tumultuous home life but that too was taken out because upon writing further, the scene proved unnecessary.

Once the main events in the plot were more or less figured out I moved on to creating beat boards to lay out the most important events that would take place and get a feel for color scheme and how each scene should feel.

I also started concepts for different story locations and started to figure out how those locations should look, while I also begun research on background painting styles to prepare me to start rendering backgrounds, as one of my first steps toward the final production.

I also created this aerial view layout of where the story took place and where characters would move throughout the duration of the film to help me with my boarding process.

I did some tests to play around with background style, exploring different uses of texture and toying with the idea of using photographs for backgrounds instead of painting.

I spent a lot of time creating my animatic, revising it to get certain shots to work better, and adding photographs I had taken as placeholder background images.

After gathering inspiration and exploring what would look right for the tone of my film, I began painting backgrounds.

To create a total of over 50 backgrounds, I created a number of reusable assets such as tree shapes, leaf shapes, foliage, grass, and ground textures.

With my backgrounds completed, and my animatic working, I started rough animation.

And when moving onto cleanup, I made this guide for myself to help me easily pick colors and speed up the process further.

Eventually I decided to employ cleanup help from other students, so I created a guide to explain how I wanted everything to look so that everything would look cohesive. And what followed that was just a lot of cleanup, compositing, editing of the audio I got from my voice actors and cutting together the soundtrack from my composer.

What kept me going more than anything during this project was my own belief in the message of my film. The importance of empathy, and extending compassion to others who may not have grown up with much of that at all. The importance of relationships, the similarities between man and nature, and the lasting affects of abuse. This was a story I felt I needed to tell, and being that it came from a place of love, I enjoyed every moment that I spent working on it. I hope that it reaches and affects many other people.

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