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Week #46: Creative Writing Challenge – Animation

December 20, 2021

Write a story that takes place across ten seconds.

Elise Cho sat in front of her computer. The blue light washed over her face and illuminated her mother’s harsh frown behind her. Elise had just received her acceptance to Savannah College of Art and Design’s (SCAD) animation program, but her mother, Dr. Cho, had been the one to find the letter, forcing the current situation. Elise had applied to Harvard, Brown, Yale, and Notre Dame just like Dr. Cho had instructed, but she’d also applied to SCAD, Rhode Island School of Design, and California Institute of the Arts. Dr. Cho had plans for her daughter. Elise had plans for herself. They weren’t the same plans.

So here they were, in front of Elise’s computer. Elise had pulled up the 11 Second Club website. Dr. Cho was silent. Elise pressed play on the winning entry from four months ago.

The screen filled with an animated scene of a teacher in front of a lab bench. Students crowded around the other side, facing her. Some were staring off into space. One was on his cell phone. One was sticking his hand in a fish tank and another was trying to get into a computer to play music. The teacher smiled, but you could see her eyes dart to the misbehaving students. The teacher explained directions for a lab they were going to do and was vigorously shaking a bottle labeled “Organic Fish Fertilizer”. The teacher called out each misbehaving student in between instructions, drawing them back into the activity. She did this without missing a beat of her instructions, but the look of frustration on her face represented one Elise had seen on her own teacher’s faces.

Ready to perform the experiment, the teacher organized the students around the bench and opened the bottle. It exploded all over the teacher and showered the students in fish spray. The odious nature of the bottle’s contents were clear in the expressions on the student’s faces. There was surprise, disgust, sickness, anger, and some schadenfreude. There was a moment where everyone pauses, glancing between each other as if trying to figure out what to do. The students made eye contact with the teacher, who had a mischievous grin across her face. They all raced out the door and the teacher chased them with the bottle as the credits rolled.

Most of the animation was simple, using Cartoon Animator 4 to do the bone rigging, but Elise Cho specialized in facial expressions. She’d spent many late nights watching YouTube videos about how deepfakes create expressions and doing research on facial muscle movement. She had a pile of notebooks with smiles quirked at different angles, eyebrows raised various heights above eyes, and dimples upon dimples. She liked dimples.

Elise had entered the monthly contest on the 11 Second Club’s website just to practice and to get some feedback on her skills. The task was to use any technique to animate an 11 second story. People then voted on the best videos and chose a winner each month, but the comments were valuable since everyone had some kind of animation experience. Most of the comments Elise received were praise for her realistic facial expressions and helpful hints on how to make the bodies more realistic to match.

The timing of the win was fortuitous and Elise was able to send both the clip and info about her win along with her college applications.

Dr. Cho’s voice cut through Elise’s thoughts about fixing the teacher’s hair in the final scene. “It’s very lovely Elise, but I don’t understand how something like this could be a good future for you. We stick with Harvard, pre-med, and then you’ll go to medical school. That is a better future.”

Elise had prepared for this conversation since she’d won the contest and realized animation was what she really wanted to do.

“Momma, do you trust me?” Elise asked.

“Of course I trust you Elise.” Dr. Cho’s voice was softer.

“Then I want you to spend one hour in this chair and look through this website. I want you to look up the program at SCAD and where their students end up working. I want you open this folder,” Elise pointed to a blue folder on her desktop, “and I want you to look at the projects I’ve done. I’m good momma. I’m really good and this is what I want to do. Look at it all. I’ll meet you in the kitchen in an hour.”

Dr. Cho studied Elise, but Elise’s face was calm and earnest. Dr. Cho nodded and sat in the chair Elise had vacated. Elise closed the door quietly as Dr. Cho pressed play on Elise’s animation again.

** I found the 11 Second Club when I googled 10 second stories. I needed inspiration. I proceeded to watch all the animation winners from the last three years. Some of the stories are funny, some romantic, and some sad. There are all different kinds of animation styles that range the gamut from line drawings to super realistic renderings. It reminded me of a short version of the Netflix series Love, Death, + Robots, which is a two season collection of beautiful animated short stories about love, death, robots, or a combination (warning – the series is for mature audiences because of violence and sexual content). I highly recommend checking out both the website and the Netflix series if you’re so inclined.

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