Anxiety is an extremely common affliction in society today, and it is a cyclical problem. When children have social anxiety, they stop interacting with others. Without regular interactions, social skills deteriorate or will not grow at all; this makes it increasingly difficult to reach out, until it becomes a seemingly impossible feat. Anxiety is a topic we are just learning to talk about, and many people are still unable to articulate how they feel, as the language is either extremely new or doesn’t exist yet, at least in the context of children. The goal of my animation is to visually articulate a problem that can be incredibly difficult to explain with words. By showing emotions and thoughts as characters, I will be able to give an accurate representation of an idea that many young people are unable to articulate. I want to show children in different social situations and make their fears visible through animation, instead of intangible ideas they are unable to share. I want to reinforce strong ideas of bravery and kindness, showing children that together they are stronger. Differences aren’t scary; they make the world beautiful. This animation will help children and teens by giving a voice to those who are not able to articulate their emotions. They will be able to find power in themselves and each other to conquer their fears and be tolerant of others who are going through the same thing.
Unfortunately, it’s incredibly difficult for children with anxiety to reach out to others and find supportive friendship. Instead of making friends, anxious children will choose solitude because it is the safer option; there is no risk of rejection or anything uncomfortable happening. However, this lack of interaction leads to a lack of social skills, which makes it even harder for anxious people to reach out and make strong connections in the future. It is only by facing these uncomfortable situations that they can build the skills to have meaningful, reciprocal relationships. As with every skill, practice makes perfect. This is the main message my animation conveys. While it may be incredibly difficult for anxious children have the courage to reach out, it is perhaps the single most important step they can take to overcoming the stress anxiety can cause. The more often the face the fear of interacting with others, the easier it will become.
The process of any animation is the same as creating an illustration. It begins with an abstract concept or an idea, before being developed into a storyline. An illustration and an animation have the same purpose of showing an idea visually. An illustration can only be impactful if the idea behind it is strong. Therefore, having a strong, clear story is the most important aspect of animating. Character development often goes hand in hand with creating a storyline. Oftentimes, the personality of a character can drive a storyline forward by the decisions they make. As the story becomes more detailed, the characters become more well-rounded. Only once the storyline and characters are established, an artist can begin to create thumbnails. A fantastic example of this idea is the libretto of an opera. Opera is a form of theater with no spoken lines, only music and singing vocals. The art of an opera is to tell a story through the music, as animation tells a story through visuals. However, there needs to be a solid foundation of a good story behind the music for it to be considered a successful opera; a libretto is that story. A librettist will create a strong story will a compelling plotline and relatable characters, the same as any narrative creator. The libretto is then handed off to the composer, who builds the entire opera from the foundation of that story. Animation is the same; there must be a strong enough story behind the animation to ensure the audience becomes invested in what they are seeing. The visuals of animation pull an audience in, and the storyline compels them to stay.
I began with a very abstract idea of conquering anxiety through friendship. I developed this idea into a cohesive storyline by using an incredible, simple and effective prompt that Pixar artists developed. “Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___. And since that day, ___. And the moral of the story is ___.” This is a very simple and effective method to help propel the storyline further and build a solid story arc. The result for my idea was: “Once upon a time there was a kid named Sam, who had anxiety. Every day, he would be scared to eat lunch in the cafeteria and attend recess. One day a ball rolled up to his feet at recess. Because of that, the other kids interacted with him for the first time. Because of that, Sam accepts their invitation to play, and begins playing with them every day. Until finally Sam is less anxious at school. And since that day, Sam has been happier, and he has new friends to rely on and confide in. And the moral of the story is bravery and kindness make the world less scary.” Once I had this written out, I was able to develop the visual designs for Sam and his friends; I used another Pixar method for this. Instead of beginning with a humanoid form, I drew shapes, both geometric and organic. Once I found an interesting shape that seemed to match a character, I began building the details. Certain shapes can convey different personalities; an amazing example of this is idea the opening scene to the movie Up. Everything about Carl’s design is square and angular, while everything about Ellie’s design is based off circles. This tells the audience so much about who they are at a first glance, without having to explain how kind and energetic Ellie is compared to Carl, who is more stoic.
I wanted my characters to be child-friendly; two of my main inspirations were Monsters Inc. and Disney’s multiple Winnie the Pooh 2D animated movies. While Monsters Inc. character design draws on different animal features, the end results are uniquely designed monsters that can’t easily be traced back to specific animals. Winnie the Pooh characters are softer than Monsters Inc. characters. The colors are warmer, and the outlines are much simpler. I also drew on Winnie the Pooh for the general style of the animation: strong outlines with softer colors instead of highly rendered scenes with multiple shadows and highlights. It matches my illustration style, as well as conveys a whimsical atmosphere for a younger audience, in contrast to a realistically rendered image. I wanted my characters to have the approachability and soft, stuffed animal qualities of Winnie the Pooh with the imaginative, fantasy features found in the characters from Monsters Inc. The characters from Monsters Inc. were also often spindly and thin, without the softness I wanted to convey in my animation. The main thread throughout my story is Sam realizing that his classmates are approachable and friendly, and that he can reach out without rejection. Angular linework and thin, pointy characters would counteract the kindness the characters are conveying. I decided to place horns on each character, in homage to Sully, the Monsters Inc. lead character. However, sharp, angular horns convey aggression, so I softened the outlines to create “noodle horns” that had soft curves and no sharp points. Their bodies are more similar to the cast of Winnie the Pooh, with simple linework and convex curves to convey the soft, huggable quality of stuffed animals. Sam’s body shape is very similar to Pooh’s, with a large belly and long arms that end in rounded paws. Monsters Inc. characters are rendered with a significant amount of texture, whether it is scales or fur, while the Winnie the Pooh 2D animation relies on the outline to hint at fur. I also chose to rely more heavily on the outlines. Ultimately, my characters combine the fantasy aspects of Monsters Inc. with the approachability, warmth and softness of Winnie the Pooh characters.
After the characters were developed, I was able to move on to designing thumbnails. Thumbnails are extremely quick sketches designed to map out an idea. They convey the basics of an idea and are a thought exercise to ensure the artists finds the best possible composition. An illustrator can do hundreds of thumbnails with the intent of finding the perfect composition for one painting. An animation is more complicated than an illustration in that the storyline needs to be broken down into separate scenes, and each scene needs to be designed. In my sketchbook, I have notes on each scene next to the thumbnail of the composition. These notes help me keep track of technical things such as color and character movement, as well as the main idea behind the scene and what aspect of the story I’m supposed to be conveying. I decided to break down my animation into eleven different scenes, divided by color. The first half of the animation is in black and white, depicting Sam’s life without friends, when he lets his anxiety control his actions. Color is introduced in the second half of the animation, after Sam becomes friends with his classmates. A study from 2003 states that, “having at least one reciprocal friend is associated with lower levels of internalizing symptoms, including anxious behavior.” (Ladd) I wanted to emphasize this idea as much as possible. While having supportive and reciprocal friends will not cure anxiety, it can elevate many of its symptoms. Open and honest communication can be the difference between logically working through a social problem or having a panic attack. The least constructive way to deal with anxiety is dwelling on the fear instead of vocalizing it. Once the fear is vocalized or written down, it can be looked at logically. Often, showing that the fear is unreasonable or unsubstantiated can help an anxious person be less afraid of the situation. I chose to introduce color halfway through the animation, when Sam finally interacts with one of his classmates. This scene is a pivotal moment in the Sam’s character arc, as well as the storyline. After this moment, Sam becomes less afraid of interacting with others and is generally happier at school.
The first three scenes establish a context for the world, showing Sam at school, sitting alone and struggling with anxiety. In the third scene, Wallie, one of Sam’s classmates, looks over at him, triggering Sam to have a panic attack. Some symptoms of a panic attack are increased heart rate, shortness of breath, and tunnel vision. To illustrate this panic, I showed Sam’s classmates morphing into an ominous black smoke, which began closing in around him. The next scene shows Sam alone at recess, watching the others play and choosing not to interact with them. The inciting moment comes in the fifth scene, when a red ball rolls up to his feet. This red is the first time color is introduced; this moment is simultaneously the most terrifying in Sam’s life and the beginning of his new friendships. This red color is present in the next scene when Kurt, a tall and imposing classmate, approaches Sam. I animated this character as a dark shadow growing in size the closer he became. In scene seven, Kurt stretches out his hand in an invitation for Sam to join their game. The world transitions to color as Sam realizes that he was being included instead of shunned. I chose extremely vibrant colors for Kurt’s character to show his exuberant personality, and to symbolize that he was the first person to reach out to Sam. The following scenes show the same settings as the beginning of the animation, with Sam interacting with his new friends instead of struggling with anxiety by himself. During one of the final scenes, Sam walks into the lunchroom, and Wallie turns to look at him again. Instead of simply turning away, as he had in the beginning half of the animation, he waves Sam over to sit with him. The scene concludes with Sam joining his new friends at the lunch table, a strong contrast to the earlier panic attack.
I chose to visualize the topic of social anxiety because the solutions are not often talked about. While having anxiety is widely accepted today, it is rarely discussed in depth. This animation illustrates that when one has social anxiety, reaching out to people is simultaneously the greatest fear and the key to alleviating that fear. So many people avoid uncomfortable situations, but those situations bring about personal growth and create a healthier mindset. Open communication and spending time with others can be two of the best ways to lessen the stress of anxiety.