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Before storyboarding, designing, and animating “Germans in the Woods”, it was especially important to do historical research and concept art to figure out how we would depict the Battle of the Bulge. With the TV premiere of “Germans” tonight, we thought we would post some of that concept art here.
Tune in to PBS tonight for the premiere of “Germans in the Woods.” Check your local TV listings to find out when P.O.V. plays in your area.
Danny Perasa and his wife, Annie, came to StoryCorps to recount their twenty-seven-year romance. As they remember their life together from their first date to Danny’s final days with terminal cancer, these remarkable Brooklynites personify the eloquence, grace, and poetry that can be found in the voices of everyday people when we take the time to listen.
Turn on PBS next Tuesday to watch “Q&A” on POV.
Jim Smith (Ren and Stimpy, Ripping Friends) and Bill Wray (Ren and Stimpy, The Mighty B!), have been working with us on our StoryCorps animation. They are both incredibly talented and have helped us take these stories to a whole other level with the background art. Jim handled layout on “Danny and Annie” (watch it on PBS tonight!) and Bill was the background painter.
It was exciting to see these two work together. Jim started by sending us thumbnail layouts, which Tim used as a guide for his animation:
When Tim was done with animation, we sent Jim the character layout showing the key poses and he drew the final layout. It was really important for him to get great line quality with his pencil, because we used his drawings as final art for the screen:
We did a very small amount of cleanup (pushing contrast and levels around, erasing stray marks and smudges) and passed the final layouts to Bill Wray. We wanted to be sure the animation had a hand-made feel, so Bill painted both traditionally and digitally. Sometimes he would combine hand-painted elements with digital painting in the same BG:
Other times, he decided to go all hand-painted:
We gave both artists as much freedom and latitude as possible. As a result, we got artwork back that was better than anything we had imagined, and hopefully they felt a stronger sense of pride and ownership of the work they did. These cartoons would not have been the same without their brilliant contributions.
Our animation for StoryCorps was covered in yesterday’s New York Times. Read the story here, and don’t forget to turn on PBS tomorrow night to catch “Danny and Annie” on the documentary program POV!
Next Tuesday, our animation for StoryCorps will begin airing on the PBS documentary program POV (check your local listings). The first episode follows the amazing love story of Danny and Annie Perasa, from their very first date to the last week of Danny’s life. Over our next few posts, we’ll give a behind-the-scenes look at the production of “Danny and Annie”.
As with all our StoryCorps work, we started “Danny and Annie” with research. It was the first time ever that we visited the home of a subject in our animation. The majority of the story takes place in the Perasa’s Brooklyn apartment, so it was particularly important to gather good reference so that we could depict their home authentically on screen. We took photos of everything; the bedroom, the kitchen, the exterior of their apartment, and even their knick-knacks. Sometimes the photos were just used as inspiration, but other times we used them more directly.
The best part of the visit was talking to Annie. She is one of the greatest storytellers you could ask for. She shared lots of her favorite stories and memories of Danny. Those stories helped us better understand who she and Danny were as a couple, and gave us helpful details we were able to use in the animation. For instance, the drinks we show them with on their first date—Annie with wine and Danny with whiskey—are the drinks they actually had that night. Annie also showed us a photo album from their wedding, which we referenced on screen.
We’ve been busily working away this summer on a series of StoryCorps shorts that will air on POV, the PBS documentary program. Each episode uses original StoryCorps audio recordings, capturing the powerful and poetic stories of everyday people. The six shorts take viewers from an intimate conversation between a boy with Asperger’s syndrome and his mom, to a Brooklyn couple remembering how they fell in love and recognizing that they now must learn to let go, and several other memorable places in between.
The StoryCorps shorts will air with selected feature-length films starting on Tuesday, August 17. We’re working on more StoryCorps shorts that will air on POV in 2011. Many thanks to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, who is funding the series. It has been a dream project!
We’ll share more about the cartoons in future posts, but for now here is the schedule:
“Danny & Annie”
“Q & A”
“Germans in the Woods”
Animation and cartoons are commonly associated with fantasy, but one of the great things about working with StoryCorps has been the opportunity to work with real people and real stories. A whole other fascinating story exists outside of the cartoon— the story of the subjects’ lives themselves. Sarah Littman, the mother featured in “Q&A”, has written a great in-depth blog post about the story behind she and Joshua’s recording at StoryCorps. What follows is an edited excerpt. For Sarah’s full post, go here.
So how did Joshua and I end up at StoryCorps in the first place? Well, every school vacation since my kids were little, I’ve tried to have a one-on-one day with each of them, doing something fun … An entire day of Mom’s Undiluted Focus.
In February 2006, I was in year two and counting of a difficult divorce and to say that thing were difficult financially was an understatement. There was no way I could afford to take the kids away, but figured I could splurge enough to spend a fun day in New York City with each of the kids, doing something that they would enjoy. Amie, my artsy, musical daughter, wanted to go see “Wicked.” Joshua’s first response, inevitably, was that he wanted to go the Nintendo World store, the self-proclaimed “gaming paradise in the center of New York City.”
Now there are a lot of things that Joshua and I enjoy doing together, but video games are not one of them. Yes, I’ll admit to having suffered from a Tetris addiction when the original Game Boy came out – I think it was that corny Russian music. But if it’s a matter of spending hours in front of a screen playing some game involving a princess being saved by an elf or an Italian plumber, call me old-fashioned but I’d rather read a book.
But this was supposed to be Joshua’s day, so I agreed that we would go to the Nintendo Store. Being the evil parent that I am, however, I insisted that we do something else as well – something cultural preferably, but I was willing to accept pretty much anything that didn’t have to do with video games.
Unfortunately, Joshua wasn’t particularly forthcoming with other ideas.
“What do you think about going to StoryCorps?” I asked him. “You could interview me – you know, ask me anything you want and I’ll answer it.”
Joshua’s reaction was probably typical for a 12 year old boy who is being told he has to do something besides going to Nintendo World: “I dunno.”
“It’ll be fun!” I assured him.
He didn’t look entirely convinced.
Sometimes, Mom just has to make executive decisions. Clearly, this was one of those times.
And so, few weeks later, we found ourselves sitting on the Metro North train into the city, our action plan mapped out. Lunch at Mars 2112, a Martian-themed restaurant on the West Side, back to Grand Central for our StoryCorps session and then over to Rockefeller Center where teen-boy mecca Nintendo World is located.
Somewhere around Mamaroneck, I made Joshua put down his Nintendo DS and handed him my omnipresent writer’s notebook and pen.
“Write down some questions you want to ask me,” I said.
I expected grumbling, but he took the book and pen and started writing. I made the mistake of not looking at the questions when he handed the notebook back. I just stuck it in my bag.
After an entertaining meal at Mars 2112, complete with Martians, mad scientists, and gooey chocolate desserts, Joshua and I headed back to Grand Central Station and found the StoryCorps booth.
It’s almost surreal how quiet it is when you enter the booth, after navigating the noisy bustle of Grand Central. We sat on opposite sides of a small table, each with our own microphone. Our facilitator, did a sound check and adjusted the mikes for our voices. Like many kids with Aspergers, Joshua was born without volume control. He has one voice setting – loud.
Our facilitator asked us to each say the date and where we were conducting the interview, and then, with Joshua’s first question, it started.
The rest, as they say, is history. But not quite. Sarah and Joshua’s story continues. They will be featured on Good Morning America this Sunday, Mother’s Day. And of course, their lives go on outside of StoryCorps. Joshua is nearly ready to graduate high school. Sarah continues her life as a mother and her career as an author and writer. It’s one of the really great parts of documentary storytelling— the story lives on in interesting and unexpected ways.