to tell as my last hurrah as an Animation stu- dent at the Cleveland Institute of Art, I knew that I wanted it to be one that was meaningful, magi- cal, and full of mystery. My favor- ite stories are those that trans- port you to another world but still present relatable problems with imperfect characters. Drawing on this desire for imperfection, and tales of Celtic faefolk who lure people away with the promise of a better life, spirit animals and Japa- nese mythology, the story of the Ghost Parade was born. I was heavily inspired by the poem, “The Stolen Child,” by WB Yeats, which tells of a fairy luring away a child with the promise escape from a difficult life. One can only speculate, however, if these claims are too good to be true. I was also inspired by Japanese Geishas, a tradition in decline, where beautiful women train in arts and dance to entertain their customers. They are meant to bring one in, and make them forget all their cares and worries. But what would happen if an entertainer had ulterior motives with their promise of comfort?
Parade, deals with serious themes such as mental health and loneliness through a fantastical lens, and therefore seeks to make such grave subjects digestible to even a young audience. Ultimately, the film carries with the idea that it is okay to be broken, but one should never allow their brokenness to turn them into a villain. The Ghost Parade will be a 2D animated short film running 5 minutes, utilizing programs such as ToonBoom Harmony, Photoshop, Procreate, and After Effects. My goal with this film is to tell a dark yet compelling story, while focusing on the visual develop- ment of character designs and backgrounds. Luring in lost souls to her masked parade with the promise of eternal happiness, a lonely and controlling Geisha has her schemes unmasked when a weary orphan girl exposes her flaws. The Ghost Parade has been a labor of love, sweat, tears and many sleepless nights over the course of my Senior year at the Cleveland Institute of Art. It has a theme that is very near and dear to my heart - the importance of mental health and self acceptance. My characters show several of the dynamics of good vs poor mental health and coping mechanisms, as well as those who may enable us at our worst. I knew very early on that I did not want this story to have a traditional happy ending, with characters arm in arm, skipping off into the sunset, because reality is almost never like that, and dealing with mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety is never easy. There is no quick fix. One can not simply put on a mask and pretend that all is right with the world, because eventually that mask is bound to crack. Though this story does not have a classically happy ending, I do wish to leave viewers comforted with a cautionary tale and a plea to seek help, before you find yourself weaponizing your inner demons to turn you into a villain. And to all my fellow Senior Animators at CIA: go take a nap. You deserve it.
story changes over the course of its production. The early versions focused more heavily on the orphan girl, Chiyoko, at that time unnamed and American instead of Japanese, and not an orphan at all. She originally came to the ghost parade after being ignored by a busy father in the American colonies. I eventually tried versions of the story with the fox spirit and Geisha as the main protagonists, and found that the storyline that focused on the Geisha was the most compelling. Her complex motives and behaviors lent themselves to a version of the story that was able to more fully deliver on its theme of mental health. Above: Early beat boards depicting Chiyoko and the fox spirit’s versions of the story Above: The Geisha first sees Chiyoko through a magic mirror she has broken from disgust at her own reflection
scene at Chiyo- ko’s campsite. This storyboard is a good example of a clean board ready to be animated from. This is a shot of rough animation from the final iteration of Chiyoko’s campsite. She attempts to start a fire with a simple looping animation. Nearing comple- tion, this is the scene once it has been colored and background art has been added. Now the scene can have additional lighting and filter effects added in After Effects. Story and Animation Process My favorite parts of the animation pipeline are the pre-production processes such as storyboarding and visual development. But once the story, character designs and setting are finally in place, it is time to begin animating. I animated my film with the use of Storyboard Pro and ToonBoom Harmony, with some of my rough animation being completed in the story- boards themselves. I utilized a rough and textured brush while animating, marrying my characters to the inky, textured landscapes they inhabit. Once the rough animation was completed I performed limited clean- up, as I took care to create my animation rather cleanly from the start, and kept many rough lines to maintain the look of the raw artist’s expressive hand and continue utilizing an aesthetic of varied dark texturies. Background art was completed in Photoshop and Procreate with the use of tones and a handful of textured brushes. The animation was then colored with similar minimal tones back in Toon Boom Harmony, with pops of red and coral to lead the viwer’s eye. The final composition was finally put together in Adobe After Effects, with voice acting and music added.
Dozen Ghosts The Ghost Parade is very much a character driven story, and it was important to depict the main three characters in a way that would set them apart from one another and show their unique qualities, while also reflecting upon their story roles. They also needed to be relatable, despite existing in a world seper- ate from our own. Much of this was accomplished through shape language, and cos- tume design inspired by Japanese culture. After countless iterations, sketches and raging inner monolouges, these characters are finally brought to life.
seen much, but says little. Chiyoko is a young orphan girl who, after a series of unfortunate events, is left fending for herself. She has scraggly bangs which she cuts herself and a kimono not quite her size. Despite hardships that have left her bro- ken, Chiyoko maintains a kind heart and a curios- ity for the world around her, which often leads to trouble. Her design is simpler and more rounded than the Geisha, denoting a sense of purity, kind- ness and resolve that still exists within. Chiyoko’s design underwent many versions, some even in full color, and some with much plainer facial features. Ultimately though, Chiyoko, like the fox and Geisha, required more detailed faces and features in order to truly bring their characters to life.
Women Enabler The fox spirit was one of the original driv- ing forces of the Ghost Parade story. Right from the start, I knew that I wanted this story to have something luring someone away with the promise of something better, and this something needed to be charming, welcoming, and something anyone, especially a child, would want to follow - so this mysterious guide quickly became fluffy and ador- able. However, since he is in service to a villain, he needed to be a potential trickster himself. Once I knew this creature needed to be approach- able and cute, and the story changed locations to the forests of Japan, I used this character as an opportunity to draw an animal that I love so much: a fox! After all, if I was meant to draw these char- acters hundreds, if not thousands, of times over while creating my film, I wanted to make characters that I would enjoy drawing the entire time of production. The Fox Spirit is the char- acter whose design changed the most, going from a very sleek and minimal creature, to one with many clumps of fluffy fur and an ever upturned muzzle, ready to serve his master, no matter the consequences.
The Geisha is a controlling and vindictive woman who has lured in lost souls to her camp and created for herself a macarbe family - her ghost parade. She is an attractive woman who cannot see past her own faults and pains, and therefore hides her broken parts be- hind masks and magic. Remember, one does not need to lure, trap and manipulate others in order to find love and acceptance, sometimes self- love and therapy is truly the best course of action. Above: A mouth chart for Chiyoko and the Geisha, even though the only dialouge in the film is said offscreen or from behind a mask. Oh well. Above: The early original beat boards for the version of The Ghost Parade with the Geisha as the main protagonist.
hair, a more detailed mask and shorter pauldrons. The cape was given up as it often disrupted her silhoutte, and her pauldrons were heightened to compensate. Her hair and mask were simplified to make this already very detailed character a bit easier to animate, and give her a cleaner look. Above: A Rough Turnaround for the Geisha, including a side profile without obstruction Below: Story Poses and Expresions for the Geisha
Botanical Gardens’ Japanese cultural garden Making a film is no easy feat, especially on your own. In one year. On top of classes. And multiple jobs. So sometimes taking a break and clear- ing your mind with a relaxing nature walk is exactly what a person needs to feel revitalized - even though you end up working anyways. The Spirit Houses While visiting the Cleveland Botanical Gardens’ Japanese outdoor garden, I found much inspiration for the settings in which my ghost parade would reside. I saw plants indigenous to Japan, stone gardens, and most importantly, small shrines and lanterns. The gardens were decorated for Halloween when I visited, and small pumpkins resided in bushes and hollows, and near pools and shrines. These pumpkins made me smile, thinking they were like little spirits belonging in a Studio Ghibli film that lived in little houses without the notice of humans. This initial fantasy sent my imagina- tion whirrling, as I began to formulate how my own ghostly characters might live in similar structures. After all, Chiyoko had her campsite, but the Ghost Parade did not yet have a base of opertions. They merely wandered. They needed a place to stay, I decided, and they should take advantage of the landscape around them. They would construct their homes with whatever was around them - countless towering cedar trees. Above: Little pumpkins hiding in the Japanese gardens lent me lots of inspiration!
created while designing the ghost pa- rade’s tree top living arrangements. The homes would be linked with swinging bridges with access to the ground with ladders and platforms built into the trunks of the trees. The homes could vary greatly in size based on which spirit resided there. Afterall, there is no telling if it is only humans that the Geisha lures into her campsite. Perhaps she also takes in small faefolk, towering oni, and spirits of all shapes and sizes. She does not discriminate. Everyone has problems, and therefore everyone can be lured and drained of their life energy. The Geisha, naturally, would demand the largest space. With a balcony. And a spiral stair- case. To be fair though, it wouldn’t be easy to manage a step ladder in long flowing robes. Above: Mood Board Inspiration for further development of spirit houses Below: Sketches of the members of the Ghost Parade
and mysterious cedar forest in which the Ghost Parade lives needed to be designed with production sensativity in mind. Though I would gladly paint a million trees in full color by hand, it simply was not practical. Turning to comics and concept art for inspiration, much of the world of the Ghost Parade was influenced by the illustrations from “The Girl from the Other Side,” books by Nagabe. This manga series turned short film utl- ized quick inky strokes that gave a dark energy to its world that I knew who fit into mine. In the end my backgrounds were cre- ated with elements drawn with a small rough brush that could be re-used and manipulated in Adobe Photoshop.
colorful, desaturated and so on, I eventually settled on a world colored in black and white, with linework mimicking a traditional dry brush pen. This combination gave the scenes a cold and desolate look that could not be otherwise achieved. The bottom right illustration above was the piece that propelled the black and white designs for the rest of the film. My background art studies were completed in Adobe Photoshop and Procreate.
final film, lighting and overlay textures were completed in Adobe After Effects. The final music for the film re- mained the copyright free temp music after positive feedback from check in screenings. That leaves the voice of the Geisha herself. I knew she needed to have a warm voice with some darker intention lurking just below the surface. I eventually found voice actor aaliceh on Fiverr, who lent her voice to the film and helped bring the Geisha to life. Below: Film Color Script Above: Promotional movie poster to advertise my thesis defense
often asked if the Geisha would receive her happy ending after the credits rolled. Would she move past her own pain and become a better person? Would she leave her dark abode? The following is a monolouge from the Geisha, taking place in the final moments of the film: I don’t understand. I can’t. How could someone shattered by the weight of the world walk about and take on its weight again and again, everyday? How fitting. That the darkness should be my only companion. It is the only thing that has always remained. The light is a liar, a horrible thief who creeps into your heart only to steal away everything you have worked for the moment you are vul- nerable. No. Never again. This is all HIS fault! He promised! It was WORKING! I was fixing things! They were better off with ME! They only led sad, meaningless lives before I came along and promised something more: eternity. It crumbled. But I shall pick up the pieces. Build these walls thicker, stronger. For all that it seemed the last age was merely one of bronze, but the next shall be one of glittering gold.
Dr. Cori Winrock Steven Rawley Anthony Scalmato To my teachers who pushed me to explore new ideas and create bet- ter and better work, while reminding me to take care of myself. To my wonderful friends in the Animation department who supported me and kept me (somewhat) sane throughout the production of this film. Aiden “She-Ra” Burkley Allie “Kenny” Wygonik Remy “Miku” Burger Colleen “Aye, I’m the Geisha!” Perusek Daniel “Chicken butt” Johnson Kelsey “RIP Forg” Bishop I am so proud of all of you. I wish you all successful futures and many more late night burgers. Now go take a nap.