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David Trumble
In my role as a Story Artist for animated features, I always end up rewatching the climactic train chase from "Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers". No matter what my film/sequence is, I invariably find myself coming back to it for inspiration. (THREAD)
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David Trumble Jul 17
Replying to @Drumble
I think it could be the single best piece of storyboarding in all animation. Compositionally, conceptually, it's just a perfect balance of conflict, character and humour. And I thought I'd take a few words to ponder why that is. So let's get under the hood of this bad boy. (1/24)
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David Trumble Jul 17
Replying to @Drumble
Let's start with the first cardinal rule of Story: Clarity. The audience has no idea where they're being thrown next, and yet they are never lost. There's not a shot wasted, they all tell a story. And it's propulsive, each beat causes the next in a meticulous chain. (2/24)
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David Trumble Jul 17
Replying to @Drumble
It's also a masterpiece of surreality that gets to the heart of Wallace and Gromit's charm, transposing the epic onto the mundane. Feathers McGraw is the classic hustling bankrobber hijacking the train at the end of a western. It just happens to not leave Wallace's house. (3/24)
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David Trumble Jul 17
Replying to @Drumble
It's also delightful because we've already had the train established at the start of the film. Unlike foreshadowing, which can feel forced or unnecessary, I love giving the audience no reason to think something will be paid off, only to reward them with absurdity. (4/24)
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David Trumble Jul 17
Replying to @Drumble
It also fuses character motivation with internal logic. All the best action scenes are a physical negotiation of two or more characters over an environment, using what they have to try to influence an outcome. eg: Feathers shoots the penguin door, Gromit changes the track. (5/24)
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David Trumble Jul 17
Replying to @Drumble
Which leads me to my favourite element of this sequence: The humorous utilization of Wallace.. (6/24)
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David Trumble Jul 17
Replying to @Drumble
His comedy runs directly parallel and counter to the stakes of the sequence as played straight by Feathers and Gromit. But what's fascinating, to me at least, is how his bumbling ineptitude isn't annoying for the viewer (unlike, say, Jar Jar botching the Battle of Naboo). (7/24)
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David Trumble Jul 17
Replying to @Drumble
And why do we still love him while he's royally bungling it, you may ask? It's not because of the gags themselves. It's not even because of comedy at all. It's because of Story. Character. It's because of THIS scene. Don't cry, don't cry, don't cry.... (8/24)
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David Trumble Jul 17
Replying to @Drumble
.....GODDAMMIT! (9/24)
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David Trumble Jul 17
Replying to @Drumble
You see, "The Wrong Trousers" is not really about a master thief orchestrating a diamond heist with stolen tech. That's just the MacGuffin. The REAL emotional throughline is Feathers breaking up Wallace and Gromit in order to carry out said plan. THAT is the whole story. (10/24)
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David Trumble Jul 17
Replying to @Drumble
Consequently, by the time we get to the chase the main story is already concluded. That's why we laugh at Wallace, it's also why the music is so joyous. We're just so RELIEVED that man and dog are finally alligned in the story again. We got the band back together! Hurray! (11/24)
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David Trumble Jul 17
Replying to @Drumble
Quick board tangent: Never underestimate a good cut out to a clearer vantage point in an action sequence. It can only be a second long, but the audience will thank you for never leaving them behind. (12/24)
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David Trumble Jul 17
Replying to @Drumble
Second digression: How bloody good is the animation on Gromit on this shot??? So persistent, he always gets his man! (13/24)
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David Trumble Jul 17
Replying to @Drumble
Second amazing Wallace gag. I mentioned the importance of internal logic before, but in any good gag sequence you always get ONE freebie from the audience. One extra egg in the pudding that can come out of nowhere, so long as it's hilarous. Just don't throw away the shot. (14/24)
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David Trumble Jul 17
Replying to @Drumble
I mentioned being unexpected earlier. One of the most important things to remember in an action sequence is unintended consequences. It's one thing for the heroes to have obstacles, but even the villain isn't completely in control of the situation. They make mistakes too. (15/24)
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David Trumble Jul 17
Replying to @Drumble
Case in point, it's the trousers themselves that take down Feathers in the end, the very thing he co-opted for his nefarious scheme. It's Story 101, and perfectly articulates one of Park's strongest themes: technology is neither good nor bad. It's what you use it for. (16/24)
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David Trumble Jul 17
Replying to @Drumble
Story tangent: If you know you're getting to the end, don't forget to leave the audience hanging... (17/24)
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David Trumble Jul 17
Replying to @Drumble
Super easy to forget: If your sequence has a lot of balls in the air, make sure they ALL come back down. They can land, be caught, crash, but if you get to the end of your action scene and there are loose ends you've probably gone wrong somewhere and need to re-tweak. (18/24)
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David Trumble Jul 17
Replying to @Drumble
But what's that, David? You left out the most iconic part of the whole dang sequence? I thought I'd save it for last, for reasons both obvious and, perhaps, not so obvious. It's easily the most inspired gag of all the films, in conception and execution it's utter MAGIC... (19/24)
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David Trumble Jul 17
Replying to @Drumble
But that's not why I love it. In fact, the reason I love it is the same reason I watch this sequence every time I'm overwhelmed by a deadline, caught in a creative block, or just having a meltdown. Its because this shot perfectly captures WHAT. A. STORY. ARTIST. DOES. (20/24)
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David Trumble Jul 17
Replying to @Drumble
To be a Story Artist is to be stuck on a runaway train barreling towards a release date, frantically laying the track down in front you before you crash. The train can't slow down, there's stuff littering your path, and all you can do is keep laying. We are ALL Gromit. (21/24)
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David Trumble Jul 17
Replying to @Drumble
And that's why I LOVE Story so much. It's the chance to be on the front-line, to put out fires, go down dead ends and take crazy risks before a thousand other talented artists scrub in and help make it better. It's intimidating, it's maddening, but it's so, SO rewarding. (22/24)
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David Trumble Jul 17
Replying to @Drumble
And 99% of your stuff will end up not being used. Sometimes you'll run yourself into the ground for what amounts to a few seconds in a finished sequence. But every now and then, if you keep at it, you get the chance to capture something...really special. (23/24)
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David Trumble Jul 17
Replying to @Drumble
So...that's the train scene in "Wrong Trousers" for me. Excuse my long-windedness, I just had to geek out over it a bit. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to work.
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David Trumble Oct 24
Replying to @Drumble
UPDATE: Wow! Thank you so much to all the people who have liked and retweeted this over the last day. A pleasant surprise, to be sure, and perhaps it will encourage me to do more of these if I see an opportunity to share some fresh thoughts.
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