Now You Know It Anyway

"At a sunny flea market, Robin tries to sell the stories she writes."

Now You Know It Anyway is a wonderful short film produced by Dutch studio Polder Animation about a young girl who tries to sell the stories she writes at a local flea market. The film deals with subjects related to the ever-present tension between making art vs. its commercial aspects, narrated from the point of view of a child. It features self-reflexive elements with a focus on storytelling and performance, high subjectivity in narration and characters who perform the story told by the child.

The studio headed by Bastiaan Schravendeel, Sander Kamermans and Jean-Paul Tossings created this short as a part of the Ultrakort initiative by The Netherlands Film Fund and Pathe.

Staged in an urban location, good effort has been dedicated to creating the environment, architecture and props that populate the flea market. Staging shifts towards the non-realistic when the little girl starts narrating and performing the story and its characters come alive, listening to her and enacting the story. Self-reflexive elements abound, as the little girl presents a story (in a book) within a story (a film), which in turn tells the story of a tree of books that triggers an external conflict between animals due to one of them reading a book. Performances offer self-reflexive elements as well.

Also worth noting is the work dedicated to body language and expression in performances. Attention to body postures, timing and facial expressions help a lot in building a convincing performance that can captivate the audience and show that the little girl is a storyteller at heart, which makes the ending feel coherent and authentic.

Now You Know It Anyway employs a stylized 3D aesthetic with saturated colors, which have been fine-tuned by the directors to make the characters stand out from the background and help describe their personalities. Great work has been done in this regard with character design, too, creating appealing characters with discernible personalities.

Narrated from the POV of the child, camera height is kept low. Visual rhythm is high, created mostly through editing, motion within the frame and camera moves. Cameras are seldom static, focusing on the narrator and the characters performing the story. Camera moves help increase visual rhythm in line with the narrative rhythm of the story being told. Special attention has been dedicated to close-ups or full shots that help transmit characters’ expressiveness through their faces or body language.

What makes it work so well? Wonderful representation of a child’s imagination, remarkable work on performances, non-realistic staging and great use of surprise.

Director Bastiaan Schravendeel from Polder Animation kindly shared with us some insights on the making of the film:

How did you come up with the idea for the film?

The story was written at a time when we were starting out with our company Polder Animation shortly after graduating the Utrecht School for the Arts, when the financial aspect of making (short) films had suddenly become a reality. It reminded me of a time when I attempted to sell my own drawings and paintings to family members as a young kid. I remember whatever my uncle offered wasn’t enough to make me want to part with these original works, so I chose not to, and it would be the last time I tried that.

The vivid memory of that childhood realization and lack of interest in the monetary side of creating work, combined with the then suddenly relevant question of having to put a defensible monetary value on creating animated films as well as having to think how to recuperate any of that – all contributed to the spark that pretty rapidly became a tiny story about a writer trying to sell her work without being all too interested in actually charging whoever wants to listen.

There’s a strong emphasis on performance and body language. Why did you focus on that and how much did your previous work on Blik influence it?

‘Now You Know it Anyway’ is heavily reliant on facial performance, especially when compared to Blik. This was a conscious decision at the time, as I really wanted to gain some experience writing and directing dialogue (although it’s mostly a monologue) and be specific with facial expressions. This in contrast to Blik which omitted the face completely, and everything was told entirely through body language and context.

If any body language animation did come across as working well (including the drawn creatures) that’s great to hear as I feel very strongly about strong posture, but it wasn’t specifically a focus during the production of this film.

Please tell us a bit how you approached aesthetic work.

The stylized aesthetic was mostly a continuation of the style we had developed for Blik and were quite fond of. Since that short did not feature faces, creating a character style that fit within the aesthetic proved to be a challenge.

We always wanted to keep hard light and shadows, but using low-poly assets was a compromise rather than a choice. While there is a certain charm to a low-poly aesthetic, in my opinion it’s not sophisticated enough to pass as a genuine art style; it unnecessarily draws too much attention to itself. We had hoped to achieve a shading look for the characters similar to Blik using high-poly geometry, but it added many issues and complexity we couldn’t easily deal with at the time, so opted to stick to a low poly aesthetic. During subsequent development work, and ultimately for our more recent short film ‘Scrambled’, we have managed to develop the style into something more sophisticated enough that works with high poly geometry.

The creatures were meant to resemble a pencil drawing, but with strokes set entirely in 3D. The art- and technical director came up with a way to generate this line work and comp it in such a way that it looked as if it was a chaotic children’s drawing, yet maintaining enough consistency to be able to read the characters movements and expressions easily. Now we’d probably attempt this in VR as an actual 3D drawing.

Any fun/interesting anecdotes from the making of the film that you’d like to share?

The casting for the lead, Robin, had been done with audio samples provided by a talent agency – she was around 10 at the time of recording – although the character is supposed to be a bit younger. The voice actor appeared quite nervous upon first meeting her which was perfect considering her character had to start off talking to the customer lacking in confidence. I hoped we could use that in the performance, and gradually build up the confidence Robin gains while telling the story in the film.

Upon pressing the record button and recording the first read through, all the nervousness instantly disappeared, making way for a pitch perfect, extremely well articulated delivery of the lines. At age 10 she was clearly more professional than I was, and rather than building up the perceived confidence, directing her mostly ended up trying to make her sound more nervous. It was a great experience, and I’ve always been very pleased with the result.

polderanimation.com


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