Parallels at Hand
Parallels at Hand is an experimental animated short film covering themes of diversity, race, and inclusion in the New York Metropolitan area. It's limited view of commonplace actions creates a unifying element and a level of anonymity between different lifestyles, situations, and the every day experiences of common New Yorkers.
Parallels at Hand started off a quick thought that grew into a larger concept. How can we otherwise present emotion in film without drawing a full character? How can we focus the camera directly on the action of the individual? And how can we present every-day in the most anonymous format?
As an artist, I love the expression that hands can lend to a scene. They're nuanced, delicate, and intimate in ways that we can't necessarily present with a character's face. Faces read with too much direct emotion. You read a facial expression like a book, although there are some that can be slight and need their own level of deciphering, when you watch hands it's like watching a poem or an orchestra.
There is so much we can thank our hands for in addition to this notion. They are the tools of life and I wanted to highlight that idea as much as possible with this film.
Since the film was set in modern day I was able to draw immediately from what I knew and experienced in my real life. A lot of inspiration came from when I was commuting into and around the city for my various classes. It was the most energizing part of my day. I loved the idea of mass amounts of people sharing the same action, but having completely separate situations and lives.
Everyone goes grocery shopping, but are they shopping for themselves, their family, a relative they're taking care of? Are hands being held because of a romantic situation or is it because its the last time two people will see one another for a while? That subtext and lack of information is what drove a lot of the choices for Parallels at Hand. We have such a limited view in this film, from a literal and situational standpoint.
In the final moments of the film I wanted to pull the camera back for a final push of emotion. A single mother who is relieved her profession can provide more for her son than she had when he was her age. A fast food worker coming home from a late night shift to an apartment he pays for himself. A dad taking the time out to help his son with his homework. Lastly a daughter, and a student staying up late to make her own mark.
I wanted to call attention more to the individual situations of certain people. What their homes look like, how they spend their evenings, and how they are all unified by a single window. Parallels at Hand is a metaphorical window onto itself, a poetic look at the details of every day individuals so I thought it was a well placed visual.
Film production kicked off in September of 2021. I had not boarded or thumbed any shots officially but had ruminated on certain ideas and orchestrations of shots I wanted to see in the film. Boarding is not in my favor as a process of the pipeline so I attempted to simplify the process as much as possible.
I wanted to focus on the most important actions for the time of day, transitioning as accurately and seamlessly as I could creatively come up with. I also wanted to diversify my angles while still keeping things close-up.
As for content, I wanted to look at various representations of situation and culture, and still have that consistency of "these people live in New York City in the modern day." So LGBT pride iconography, genderqueer representation, conservative business attire, and every day religious dress found their own important places in the morning sequence of the film.
Food in New York City is a culture onto itself. Everyone adores eating in some semblance, and New York City is one of the best cultural landscapes to find a myriad of cuisines. I wanted to use meals as an opportunity to highlight the dinner section. Steak, Tamales, Cajun, West African, and New York slices of pizza all make appearances in the later half of the film.
Animating the Film - Discoveries in Rotoscoping
Animating the film was its own undertaking. I initially had over 100 shots that needed to be carefully planned and executed in the most efficient way possible. Reference images and the modern convenience of digital tools is what aided significantly in carving a path for the final film.
Over the course of my time in art school I dabbled with the techniques of rotoscoping. Trial and error over the course of the last couple of years was the bigger factor. I was primarily teaching myself, and only had my own shortcomings to directly guide me and learn from.
In the early stages my approach to rotoscoping was little more than tracing over a video reference that I captured myself.
However this clunky and time consuming process created results that still left a lot to be desired. For the film I wanted a result that didn't initially appear as if it was rotoscoped, but looked as if it was animated traditionally. So I aimed to combine the processes as seamlessly as possible.
So instead of tracing over an imported reference video frame by frame, I isolated key poses from the video that would be my foundation keyframes. I then went over those with the pencil tool in Animate which kept my line consistent and automatically clean. From that point on all that was left to do was tie down and in-between the established key drawings. Because of this process I was able to keep each shot perfectly consistent, and detailed. I also was able to completely cut out a cleanup stage since I combined the process of animating each shot with the cleanup process. This was one of the strongest workflows for production, and carried the heavier parts of production forward.
The saved time from expediting the process allowed for more detail like, colored outlines, animated shadows and highlights, and more enticing lighting scenarios.
Lighting the Scene
The compositing process breathed so much life into this project. I love working with cast light and how serene and delicate it can be. Theres also something so encompassing by light, how it touches everything with no cowardice. Playing around with the concept of light and dark in two different manifestations was another connection that developed on an artistic level when finalizing some shots.