/ Animation

Howl at the Moon

I am archiving older pieces I have written on other sites, making this the definitive home for all my work. Enjoy!

Two and a half years ago I had the opportunity to take some animation classes at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. I’d been drawing again for about four years at that point, and I knew I wanted to make animation and illustration a major part of my life, somehow. One of the classes challenged us to come up with a short premise and animate it, or at least start working toward animating it. Ideally, our stories should be vignettes—perhaps a minute in total running length.

Somehow, I came up with this story instead.

We OPEN on a full moon shining brightly in the night sky. We hear the sounds of life floating up from below. The laughter of children draws us in, and the camera pans down until we see a group of them, aged about six years, playing.

    OFFSCREEN FEMALE VOICE: Omowale!`

One of the children, a girl, bright-eyed and vivacious, looks up from the games, then turns and waves to her playmates. OMOWALE runs offscreen.

    OMOWALE: Coming, Mama!

CROSS-FADE to a courtyard, understood to be OMOWALE's home. Time has passed and the bustling sounds of the village are now muted. A tall man emerges from a doorway, walking with the air of someone who has worked a hard but productive day and now washed the dirt and grime away.

OMOWALE runs into the scene from the opposite side of the scene, arms open wide.

    OMOWALE: Papa!

Her father scoops her up in his arms, spinning her around and hugging her.

    OMOWALE: Papa, tell me a story!

    MOTHER: Time for bed...

    OMOWALE: Just one story? Please?

    FATHER: Okay, just one——then it's bed time.

A dog interrupts this exchange and howls. Omowale's father takes a seat, and she climbs into his lap.

    OMOWALE: Papa, why do dogs howl at the moon?

    FATHER: Ah, good question! It's an interesting story... Alo o!

Omowale giggles and wriggles into his arms, recognizing the call-and-response signifier of a story's beginning...

CROSS-FADE to an indeterminate hillside. Everything has an ethereal quality to it. We see a wolf, standing as the winds blow, large, mostly white, with curious markings in her fur. This is the WOLF MOTHER. Omowale's father is now our narrator, heard in voiceover.

    NARRATOR: Long, long ago, before men walked on the earth, there was the Wolf Mother. She was a magnificent, magical creature!

JUMP CUT to WOLF MOTHER gently nuzzling cubs, each seemingly of a different canine subspecies.

[Biology note: the Wolf Mother is modeled after the Arctic Wolf, but enlarged to slightly exceed the known upper bound on Grey Wolf subspecies.]

    NARRATOR: She had four cubs, the dog, the fox, the jackal and the dingo, and she loved them dearly.

JUMP CUT to cubs playing in a field, with WOLF MOTHER visible on a hill in the background, watching over them. CROSS-FADE to more grown cubs playing in another field, with WOLF MOTHER visible on a larger hill, further away.

    NARRATOR: As her cubs grew, the Wolf Mother would pick a nearby hill to watch over them as they ventured further and further away.

CROSS-FADE to near-adult cubs exploring light forest, WOLF MOTHER again keeping watch, this time from the side of a mountain.

NARRATOR: If they ever got into trouble, she was there to protect them.

JUMP CUT to cubs exploring dense foliage. Suddenly, they come across a bear, growling and then roaring at their intrusion onto his turf. Without warning he charges at them, as the cubs whimper in fright and turn to run away. As he bears down on them, the WOLF MOTHER rockets into the frame from his side, crashing into the bear and knocking him over. Stunned, he picks himself up, then rises onto his rear legs and unleashes a ferocious roar.

The WOLF MOTHER bares her teeth, growling deeply, her visage fearsome and her eyes glowing. The fur on the back of her hair is erect, her haunches up. She is in full attack mode. She barks, though calling it a bark is like calling an explosion a "spark"; her bark hits with concussive force, and a rushing wind follows. Its volume exceeds even her size, seeming to come from everywhere at once. The echo is terrible, a sound like death.

The bear drops onto all fours, grunts and scampers away. The WOLF MOTHER turns to her cubs, who had cowered behind her. She nuzzles them, running her nose through their fur, examining limbs, ears, torsos...

CROSS-FADE to the WOLF MOTHER standing in a clearing, her four fully adult cubs around her. Despite being full-grown, she towers over them all. One by one, the cubs nuzzle her face, then turn and head in the cardinal directions.

    NARRATOR: When the time came for them to leave home, they headed in different directions, toward the four corners of the earth.

JUMP-CUT to the WOLF MOTHER climbing up a path worn into the side of a mountain. JUMP-CUT to the WOLF MOTHER, from behind, standing at a natural lookout, able to see three of her cubs, but not the fourth.

    NARRATOR: The Wolf Mother climbed hills, then mountains, trying to keep her children in sight. Higher and higher, until the view became cloudy and the horizon began to curve. She begins to lose sight of her children.

JUMP-CUT to the WOLF MOTHER, at the top of the mountain, the horizon clearly curved behind her. She can go no higher, and her cubs are turning into dots she can no longer make out. She lays down, head low, ears flat, tail still.

    NARRATOR: The Wolf Mother is inconsolable, and lets loose a long, sorrowful howl. Then the Sky Goddess took pity on her, for she loved her own children, the stars, too. 

JUMP CUT. A piece of a cloud detaches and lowers itself to the WOLF MOTHER, forming a ramp. She lifts her head up, ears perking half-way. She sniffs at the ramp, then gets up and tests it with one paw. Finding it solid, she puts her weight onto it, starting her ascent. She breaks into a full run.

JUMP CUT. We see the WOLF MOTHER from above, running in the clouds, yet through holes in them we see one cub or the other on the ground far below. The WOLF MOTHER runs at a steady pace, but the sky and ground rapidly cycle from day to night, terrain shifting, illustrating her tireless global journey to see that her children are well.

    NARRATOR: She lifted the Wolf Mother onto the clouds, leading her into the sky. The Wolf Mother became the moon, running around the world once a day that she might she her children...

JUMP CUT. We see the WOLF MOTHER from the side, running in the sky. Her white fur begins to glow brighter and brighter while her surroundings darken, until all we see is a circle of light moving through the inky blackness. Pinpricks of light appear. The circle of light develops contours, craters——we are looking at the moon in the night sky.

CROSS-FADE to the interior of a room, clearly back in OMOWALE's home. Her father is carrying her on his shoulder, then laying her to bed. Her mother stands in the doorway, smiling.

FATHER: And when they see her, they howl their love and longing... Good night, my little one.

Sleepily, OMOWALE turns onto her side. She mumbles her reply from within her dreams:

    OMOWALE: Good night, Papa. Good night, Mama.

FADE TO BLACK

It’s loosely based on a fable I heard or read as a child. It wasn’t nearly this developed when I first conceived it in 2011, but the core beats were all in place.

Over the past two years I’ve done some preproduction work here and there, but not a significant amount. Here are some character design scans I found on my older computer:


As for class, I produced the following animation. It’s a pencil test, really, done in blue and red pencil on A3 animation paper. Some of the details, like her narrowing eyes, are much too subtle for this stylistic approach; when only relying on linework like this, more movement exaggeration is needed to let it read clearly. The tail motion is also a bit of a mess.


In 2014 I hope to complete it, and document the production process here. I plan to use said production as a proving grounds for my Lightbox animation editor software project—but that’s a story for another day!