The Art of Visual Storytelling

Over the course of the past twenty years, I have seen thousands of movies and read at least an equal number of books. Some bad, many good and a few that were outstanding. As I accumulated this material, something began to happen; I was gaining an ability to break a story down into its visual, symbolic, emotional and philosophical components, laying each piece out to be studied in detail. Unconsciously, I began to build up a mental library of scene details, camera placement and motions, how to 'thread' objects, people and scenes to illustrate abstract ideas...in short how to tell visual stories.

I am a big enthusiast of the history of spaceflight, and my favorite stories, both fiction and non-fiction, tend to be those which use a realistic approach to spaceflight in the course of telling a story. I have seen or read just about every space documentary, science-fiction film, program, or book. (I think :) I am particularly fond of the works of author Arthur C. Clarke, who in my opinion is the most accurate (and absolutely brilliant) when it comes to combining theological story threads with scientific ones.

In watching films, I've come to respect a certain group of directors. So what does this have to do with anime?

Well, over the past fifteen years or so, I've compiled a sizable list of story ideas, intending to write full stories based around the concepts. This I've attempted to do several times over the years, with varying success as to getting anything finished. I came to realize that certain of my story elements have to be seen and not read. This bothered me--I had some nice Clarke-like ideas I wanted to get out into the world and this stumbling block hampered my story making efforts for quite a while, until-- quite by accident--I stumbled across anime.

It was while browsing across satellite channels that I caught a glimpse of something animated on the screen. It turned out to be the short film Presence from the anime anthology Robot Carnival. I was floored. This film had all that was best of Field of Dreams and Blade Runner crammed into one Jungian bolt of emotion that left me stunned for ten minutes afterward (for the third time in my life). "That's it.." I said to myself. "That's how to tell my stories. Animation in this visual style, with this detail level and this level of maturity." I had my storytelling venue.

I now had a specific goal in mind: stories told in the style of a Clarke novel, but told in anime. I created a term that day that precisely defined this goal: Clarke Anime. Since I knew very little about modern anime, I needed to stock up on titles worth learning from in terms of screenwriting and directing anime-style. The quest never ends...

I did discover that one splendid example of Clarke Anime already exists: Royal Space Force, or, The Wings of Honneamise. This film defines many of the goals I seek to achieve; the meticulous detail, the attention to theology, history and scientific accuracy. The slow blending of science and religion such that by story's end one cannot tell when the two threads became so perfectly entwined.

For my own efforts, I needed a 'test vehicle' to determine if my ability to create visual stories was viable. I selected the story that was the shortest and would be possible to tell without dialogue:

No Enemy But Time (NEBT)

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Christopher S. Rider --- syzygy@oldcrows.net