Wednesday, September 30, 2009

More Camp Site Inspiration

I spent the day at the camp site that is currently "nearest and dearest" this past Friday, and took a number of photos to look back on while working on Caravan. It's late in the season for casual visitors by now - slowly but surely, the long-term residents (whether by choice or unforseen cercumstance) are being weeded out from those left. While I love these shots, fall is in the air - I'm admittedly rather ecited to get another photo op when the entire woods are on fire in whatever shades of crimson and gold.

One of the various things I love about visual camping aesthetics: even the propane tank gets a little love. It becomes more then an unsightly white heap. It's part of "home" wherever home may be at the time. Flower pots and decorative wiring give it a little spirit of its own.

Indoor decorative rugs on hard-packed dirt, bonfire smoke, and a slight chill in the air.


Dad is a tremendous inspiration for Charlie Kavenaugh: The gentle spirit, relentless protector, steadfast supporter - well traveled, and road weary, who's strength of spirit and compassionate smile have inspired me for as long as I can recall.


Mia & Kelsey Doodles

Quick little bust doodles from just last night. If nothing else, they were interesting to post for the contrast: I'd yet to have drawn Mia and Kelsey in my "usual" style, opting for the more graphical look Caravan adopted very early on. I was curious, however, to see ho the characters would come off drawn "normally" (in accordance to the Book of Mel, shall we say) and the results were, to me at least, pretty amusing.

Skeptical Mia and Kelsey... a somewhat disturbing little 'Toon Bogey doodle. "YEEhaw, dumplin's!"

Mia & Kelsey - Melificated ;)


Monday, September 28, 2009

Layouts Complete!

A couple of background layouts - 3 of which are for pan-shots. Click for a larger view!

One of many milestones for Caravan today - I finished drawing all of the film's background layouts! Apart from scanning and prepping the layouts for color, I'll be spending this week compiling a rough pose reel, and moving on to rough animation as of next week. So far, Caravan is moving right along.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Chipper Charlie

A quick image of Charlie... something as a means of rebellion for having had to move around a poorly constructed model in Maya all morning - "Oh yeah? I'll draw 2D, dammit!"

I do love Charlie Kavenaugh - little Kelsey's father. He's the sort of dorky dad who tries to be cool, despite the fact that he, quite implicitly, is not, by any little kid's standards... At the same time, he's too irresistibly adorable not to have a soft spot for.

As a side: I want that hat.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Work Space (Part 2)

I finally got the chance to add just enough to my workspace to really make it feel comfortable and reflective. Here's a few shots of its latest incarnations.

Added a quilt for curtains - needed some privacy from that window! - more lights, and random bits on the table.

The general Space. Patrick and I commandeered the corner of the studio (He's got a Renaissance theme to his film, Mine's Gypsy traveler-inspired.)

Patrick rather sneakily snapped this shot while I was sketching my take on one of the characters in his film.

I especially love this space in the evening - the lighting is really comfortable.


Hello, Lovely. Nice Flippers.

Tuesday was a bit rough - I'm a traditional animator, and decided to give 3D animation a go. Class Tuesday was a series of odd, unforeseen frustrations amongst a learning curve... I couldn't wait to get out. Once I did, however, I was greeted with quite possibly the cutest doodle ever chilling on my work table - pun thoroughly intended.
This adorable Jivin' Gypsy penguin brought to you by the terrifically talented miss Kate Burck. Thank you for the pick-me-up, Kate! ♥


Monday, September 21, 2009

Work Space (Part 1)

My roomate/classmate/epicbuddyofkiltedawesomeness Patrick and I have taken to decorating our adopted space in the Senior Studio classroom to build a vibe and atmosphere that helps to both reflect and inspire each of our senior films. My stab at said decoration is going rather slowly, admittedly, as I've been so completely embroiled with background layouts, but it's getting there. Today saw to the addition of a lovely set of colored lights kindly lent by Kerry, as well as a few recent thrift store finds. A couple of photos of what I have so far are below - I'll post more as this "inspiration side-project" of sorts continues to grow. Perhaps by the end of the school year, my workspace will have become a bit of an assemblage piece all of its own?

The mat on my work table - a thrift store find - intrigues the hell out of me: hand stitched, with little mirror bits sewn into it throughout. Lovely as it is visually though, and weird as this may sound, it's the scent of the thing that gets my mind racing. It has that sort of musty air of too-long spent in a damp attic - a thick smell of great age. Handling it in the store nights ago, I was thrown back to a childhood memory I'd actually forgotten entirely until then - and one who's relevance to this whole cobbled production struck soundly.

My mother has always loved yard sales. My little brother and I would get carted around to them chronically on Saturday mornings as kids. In one instance, we visited a particularly rural home on a soggy, rainy day - I was about eight at the time. I recall the ground - huge patches of dirt paths being dark and damp and thickly scented, and the leaves and grass, post-storm to be almost unnaturally vivid. Bored with the sale - the attention span of a child - I wandered to explore the rickety old pull barn catty-cornered to the sellers' home. A tremendously aged old fellow - whether he was the homeowner, or perhaps a relative I do not know - spotted me there, and from the mounds of old things in the yard sale, he handed me a positively ancient looking rag doll. I was reluctant to take the thing - it was dirty, darkened from age, and in the grasp of what were, back then, rather frightening looking knotty old hands. But I did - bid my thanks, and skirted off as quickly.

It was a little peasant in the form of a doll. I remember instinctively the hand-sewn, patterned dress that it was wearing; A dress that was, at one time, likely incredibly vibrant. I have no idea how old that thing must of been. It was popping at the seems in areas - stuffed too tightly, to the point of great stiffness, its stuffing looking almost like wooden bits and other odd fibers I'd never seen before. It also quite thoroughly reeked of that unmistakable too-long-gone attic must. I was fascinated with the doll, for however brief a span - studying what felt like an impossibly old artifact in my hands, standing on a dirt path in the middle of fuck-nowhere central Florida. That creepy little Gypsy doll and I.

I missed that memory - am rather pleased to have it back. Needless to say, I had to get that table mat. It was $2.18 cents worth of childhood recollection, after all.

Concept art, photos of intrigue, schedules, and little snippets of anything I can find that's of interest. Some of the bulbs of my lovely strands of lights are blown... but I rather like the imperfection of it.

... My next goal? Finding a proper makeshift shade for this window!


Backgrounds Layout Progress :)

47 backgrounds drawn so far, only 19 more to go. Given I managed to get 17 drawn today, I should have the layouts finished soon. I look forward to getting these scanned so I can kick off the coloring process! For the moment, here's one of the angles of the Camp.

EDIT 001: 50 down, 16 to go!
EDIT 002: 53 down, 13 to go!
EDIT 003: 59 down, 6 to go!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sights and Sounds: Inspiration

Countless things have contributed to the inspiration for the aesthetics of this film as a whole. Family, life experience. A tremendous love for camping. he feeling of renewal that comes with each change of season - something I only discovered in the past decade or so, having grown up in the deep south. One of my greatest artistic drives personally, at all times, tends to be music. I find that, for myself at least, music - the sounds and textures of it moreso, even, then lyrical content - has such an incredibly visceral feel to it that so often lends itself to furthering ideas or even spawning them in little notes of inspiration.

Every original personal project I take on tends to land itself with a playlist of its own - a sort of psuedo soundtrack that gets a positively unreasonable amount of airtime on my MP3 Player whenever I'm working on the piece. Caravan's, at the moment, is over two hours long; intermingled sounds of bluegrass, acoustic guitar, violins, and the occassional banjo. For fun, here are a few selected tracks from that current playlist, if for no other reason, to share the visual, visceral texture from the sound that I'm hoping to lend to this film.
I mentioned camping. For reasons I will not mention here just yet - perhaps not ever, for the sake of those involved - I have had a tremendously intimate, extended, and dually unexpected amount of time spent residing amongst the deep sting of campfire smoke and the perpetual swatting of mosquitoes that camping in the woods lends itself to over the summer. Every bit of this has, in turn, infused little bits of inspiration into this project... least of all, through the occassional snapped photograph.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Lynch and Bogey

Stu "Rotgut" Bogey and Tyler Lynch

Lynch and Bogey's inclusion in Caravan was a bit of a fluke. The characters were the only two from the short's line-up to have been in existence prior to its conception: adding the into the mix was, in all honesty, just a bit of fan-service for myself, as I'm tremendously fond of them both. It helps that they seem to be pleased to be along for the ride, content with wherever I place them - they've settled themselves into the Caravan universe without effort.

Their original incarnation as characters were that of back-water lowlifes from the mid to late 1800's. Stu Bogey, appropriately nicknamed "Rotgut," lived in a broken down old Caravan wagon by a creek in the woods somewhere with his 7 large, flea-bitten mutts. He spent his ample freetime creating and peddling moonshine, and pot-shooting rabbits from the roof of his home. Tyler was an odd entity to the local townsfolk as well. He spent so much of his time at the saloon, his perpetually knackered peers often wondered where his proper place of residence was... or if he even had one. Lynch and Bogey were also, as it happens, the best of friends. In this old incarnation, I frequently referred to them as the Beavis and Butthead of the Wild West.

Despite being a rather unsavory, the pair of them are, oddly, quite lovable - silly, wash-about pranksters who want nothing more then good company and a great time. It was these aspects that convinced me to place then in Caravan - a mix that's worked out just fine by them.

In Caravan, they maintain their love for rabble-rousing, hunting, a good hard liquor. They're thieves and peddlers, and talented musicians - Bogey of his well-worn fiddle, and Lynch on a Banjo that has quite certainly seen better days. They're the first of their gypsy Clan to get into trouble at all times, and the most sneakily adept in getting themselves out of tight binds. They're also devout family men. Go figure.

Stu Bogey, in Caravan, maintains his beloved classic Caravan wagon: it's been affixed to the truck-bed of a 50's Chevy pickup. He has one old hound dog now, Hoobler, and a manky old tomcat, Icklefitz. He and his Bride, Madelyn (whom never appears in the film, despite thoroughly existing in my mind) have a 7 year old son, Wassily... quite possibly the coolest little hippie-kid ever. The Bogeys are part of the large portion of Irish Travelers to have melded into Charlie Kavenaugh's Romani clan through the marriage of old Liam McJeeters (Madelyn's grandfather) to Nana Besnik some ten years prior, after Nana's husband of over 35 years passed on.

Stu, as many of my classmates will know at least, was inspired by "Boogie with Stu" by Led Zeppelin.

And, just for fun, here's one of the original drawings of Stu, from back in 2004.

Tyler Lynch, in Caravan, sports his conversion van camper, it strapped to the hilt with satellite dishes and old AV radios. A conspiracy theorist at heart, and never one to trust the local authorities regardless of where the Clan has staked camp at the time, Lynch can often be found in the lawn chair upon the roof of said camper, a whiskey in one hand and the receiver of one of his radios in the other, a cigarette in his maw, listening intently to the goings-on of every police radio in the area. At the time little Mia Talbert begins visiting their encampment in Caravan, Tyler's long-time girlfriend, Naidine Besnik (Nana's daughter, Anya's younger sister, who will not be appearing in the film either) is expecting by nearly 8 months.

Just by comparison to the opening image to this post, below is a drawing of Lynch and Bogey from 2004. Their conversion into the Caravan style and motif was an interesting challenge, but a fun one.

Lynch and Bogey, 2004


Thursday, September 17, 2009


Minute a character although he may be in the scheme of things, I can't help but love Hoobler. When I started pitching characters for Caravan, I knew I wanted at least an animal or two, both for my own amusement and the ability to do some sort of active quadruped animation through the year. I was tossed back to one of many favorite Led Zeppelin tunes - Bron Y Aur Stomp - which was written from a man to his faithful pet.

Well if the sunshines so bright,
Or on our way its darkest night
The road we choose is always right, so fine.
Ah can your love be so strong
When so many loves go wrong
Will our love go on and on and on and on and on and on?

As we walk down the country lanes,
I'll be singing a song,
Hear me calling your name.
Hear the wind within the trees,
Telling mother nature bout you and me.

My, my la de la come on now it aint too far,
Tell your friends all around the world,
Aint no companion like a blue-eyed merle.

At that, Hoobler, Caravan's own floppy, barking carpet-dog, came to be.

Recent doodles of Hoobs:
Ain't no companion like a blue-eyed Merle.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Concept Art

Here's a series of completed concept art for Caravan so far:

The Talbert Farmhouse... charming as ever.

The Main Cast: Mia Talbert, her father Ethan, Charlie Kavenaugh, his wife Anya, and their daughter Kelsey.

The Secondary Cast: Stu "Rotgut" Bogey, Tyler Lynch, Anya's mother Nana, Stu's son Wassily, and teh Bogey pets, Ickie and Hoobs.

The most recent orthographic of Mia Talbert.

Mia's first model sheet.

A mock poster for the project; Mia and Kelsey.


The Crew

As of today, my animatic has seen its fourth, and what I believe to be, for the interim at least, final revision. I have over a third of the background layouts drawn - this weekend will see to plenty more of that!

I am very fortunate to, even so early in this project's production, enlisted the help of some wonderful, talented individuals. So far, the folks who will be working on this project include:

Niles Bontrager
Digital Compositing/SFX/Color

Larry Larson
Instrumental Score

Kat Bongard

I myself will be animating, illustrating and rendering the backgrounds, doing sound design, and helping with color. The work I have a head of me! This is going to be an interesting ride.


First Written Thoughts on Caravan 01/22/2009

Some of the first concept sketches for Caravan.

Pre-production on this film began over nine months ago; my Junior year at CCS. Amidst the process, I kept a number of journal entries dedicated to the Caravan project. This was the first, detailing the personal origins of the concept.

Written Jan. 22nd, 2009:

In the Studio class today, we have our first chance to pitch whatever is brewing in our minds for potential Senior Film fodder. Some people have known what they are going to do for ages now, many (like myself) are just formulating their concepts, a few unfortunate souls still haven't got a clue just yet, though they are trying.

I've had so many ideas come and go. For the longest time, I was going to rework "Customer Servicing", the animatic I created Freshman year with Sharmi and 'Guin. Then, however, I found out that a classmate was planning on using the topic of Customer Service, so I dropped that like hot shit, for fear of a cloning incident. Since, I've been milling around three possible angles - a short snippet from the Nexus original story arc involving Kayo, a silly comedy bit titled "Viva la Cluck" (Yes, CHICKENS) which Niles and I inadvertently decided to do as a joint film once we're both out of school, and the one I've actually settled upon in the end. It is titled "Caravan."

Caravan, in a nutshell, will deal with the cycle of alcohol abuse in families. It will present two little girls, each roughly 8 years old. One has grown up in an incredibly abusive situation - her single-parent father is a violent alcoholic. The other has grown up in a tight nuclear family who, due to monetary struggles, live a somewhat nomadic lifestyle; they and friends travel from campground to campground in their caravan of Rom\Traveler RV's, trucks and tents. When one girl befriends the other, the child of the alcoholic finds an escape with the genuine care of the Caravan. When they in turn discover the abuse she suffers, they confront her father, and ultimately remove her from the situation themselves.

During the confrontation, I want to have some sort of flash back to the father's own childhood and the abuse he suffered, and a moment of reconcile with the fact that he is in fact repeating that cycle of abuse all over again - this is the key point to the film as a whole - not that just that alcoholism is a vile disease, and certainly not that alcoholics are all just witless idiots who only care about the bottle, but that there is a cause for this action - it's a family disease. Whether or not this caravan of travelers are real, or a figment of the girl's imagination used as a method of escape from what she is going through, I'm not yet sure. I'd prefer it to be a literal escape for her for my own satisfaction, but am open still to either possibility.

I've spoken to mom and dad both about the project - did so first and foremost, actually. Both were the products of alcoholic fathers. Between growing up seeing the crippling effect that this has had on the two of them as adults in multiple areas of life, and watching my brother grow to repeat the pattern all over again as both an alcoholic and now father of a beautiful three month old baby girl, I feel that I HAVE to do this film. It is something that needs to be said, and needs to be seen.

Mom and dad have given me their full support in this - mom actually reacted with a literal outpouring of emotion - quite positive and passionate - when I explained to her my plans. I've also been invited by them both to ask any questions and receive any answers from then regarding their experiences, physical and emotional reactions to what they underwent as children of alcoholics: a barrier that has been lifted after 25 years of my own life spent grasping hints here and small explanations there, putting the story together as a whole throughout my childhood in realizing what they have been through. In all honesty, I'm hoping that the creation of Caravan, in the long run, is in itself a coping mechanism for all we have gone through and continue to cope with as a family seemingly entrapped in this cycle; that it will be a bonding experience, and, if even a little, provide us with some measure of healing for what has already been endured.



You've stumbled across the Caravan Archive, a production progress blog of my senior thesis film, Caravan, currently being produced at the College for Creative Studies. This blog will be a central hub for concept artwork, animation tests, storyboards and production thoughts on the film as it progresses. Thank you for your visit!

-Mel Miller