Sometimes, whilst aimlessly browsing Youtube looking for inspiration, you come across a jewel. Not often. But often enough to tempt us back again and again. Last week I came across a three-minute animated film, “Thought of You” by Ryan Woodward. It was a moving revelation and I felt almost compelled to discover more about the making, and meaning, behind this short 2010 film from with a haunting soundtrack (“World Spins Madly On” by The Weepies).
Behind the piece was a story of collaboration, intermingling of the arts, and inspiration found in the unlikeliest of places. I was able to explore a new medium of art, whilst learning about an artist’s exploration of human emotions and the psychology of being human.
Ryan Woodward was a successful Hollywood animator and storyboard artist. He has worked on blockbusters such as Space Jam (1996), Spider Man 3 (2007). Where the Wild Things Are (2009), Iron Man 2 (2010), Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), and Tomorrowland (2015). He started his career in Warner Bros working in special effects, and hand drawn animation, before moving into story boarding for live action scenes for companies such as Sony Pictures. He commented that “working on some of those films, it felt like [he] was doing ok, and [he] had a good network of people” which would likely have led to a long, sustainable career. But he had an itch to do something unique and different, so he left. He “couldn’t resist” the opportunity to become a university teacher in Utah. He’s an interesting guy.
Woodward became an artist because as “inner beast of creativity” consumed him “to the point of being miserable if [he didn’t] let it out and do something with it.” He created “Thought of You” after hearing the song while flying to his Utha home on an airplane from Los Angeles. He was feeling depressed and overworked. He immediately connected with the lyrics. When you get such a strong feeling from a stimulus, as an artist, in Woodward’s view “you have to do something with it.” He wanted to depict the sentiment that the world spins on and on, out of our control, and the only thing that keeps us rooted are the thoughts, people, and places we miss and love.
Woodward decided to express his feelings through animation and dance. Yet he has no background in dance. Thus together with Kori Wakamatsu (a modern and contemporary dance choreographer) and two young dancers, he set about integrating the arts of contemporary dance and animation into one expressive piece of choreography and film. It was a large workload, especially for Woodward. Two and a half minutes worth of animation, at 24 frames per second, means over 4,000 drawings. But as Woodward put it “it’s not work”, it’s really enjoyable. Woodward wanted it to be a distant view of an image, from one direction, no close-ups, or zooming in and out. He didn’t want it to be cinematic, just a simple image, as if watching the figures on a stage. No facial expressions or dialogue. He wanted it to have meaning to the individual, so they could easily impose their own ideas onto it.
The beauty of the film lies in its simplicity. Woodward illustrates only the basic lines of the body, with minimal personalizing detail, and no colouring. This simplicity allows one image to flow seamlessly into the next and allows huge scope for interpretation when it comes to the depictions of the figures, and what their story may be. The dance is reduced to its most basic movements and lines. There is abstract imagery, as when the female figure emerges with wings and when the male figure’s arm stretches into seeming eternity exploiting the unique possibilities of animation. I would have liked to see more of this experimentation, pushing the boundaries between retaining the story, and creating interesting creative abstract imagery. In an interview with David Maas, Woodward explained that “there were times I really just wanted to stick to the dance and not push it too far into the abstract. In rough passes, I noticed that when I went too far that way, it watered down those moments when the characters do slip into that iconic symbolistic animation. A good balance was needed in order to allow the viewer to appreciate both the beautiful technique of the dancers and the creative surreal moments.”
YouTube can be a distracting vacuum of time and energy. We all know the warnings. But among the cute kittens and pop culture ramblings, there are works of true beauty and unexpected depth. The world is filled with new and exciting arts forms, of new creations to be found, enjoyed, and explored. The very randomness of the discovery adds to the reward.
Never stop looking and never stop exploring.
“I hope that people that watch it do have some sort of a moving experience. I hope that it does make them think a little bit about their current relationship that they’re in, and then whatever comes of that, comes of that.”
Watch the film here:
To see more of Ryan’s work visit his website: http://ryanwoodwardart.com
You can follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ryanwoodwardart?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw