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World Building

For people that are seeing this for the first time, these are weekly looks at progress, as we develop a system for fast, low cost production of an animation product. All WIP footage with many errors as usual.

I thought that this video would be a good opportunity to talk a bit about world building, something that is important in creating a movie experience that feels larger. It's something that's almost universally absent in indie film, because of the budget typically involved in implementing it.

World building has different meanings to different people, but the way I would describe it is expanding the attenuation radius of your audiences perception of the fictional world. It may sound like a new concept to some, but once you understand it, you'll remember seeing directors do this back to the 1920s. I'll break it down into very practical terms.

level 0 - Clerks, The Blair Witch Project, Saw, sitcoms

Only the main characters are ever really in focus, we never get any information about the world in which the story takes place. These stories are unframed.

level 1 - True Blood, Dexter, Star Trek TNG, The Sopranos, and most mainstream tv shows

The story has a defined world and setting, with some random interactions with auxiliary characters in the world external to the primary clique of central characters. Occasionally a fictional news broadcast is shown on a tv screen to establish in the viewers mind that there is a world of people within the fiction that are reacting to the events of the plot. "KTLA is live at the scene where Batman has just announced that he will be partnering with the X men after last weeks purchase of Dc Comics, Ticketmaster, and the interstate highway system by Disney/Pixar/Marvel/Lucasfilm Inc."

level 2 - Falling Down, Robocop, Rocky, Casino, Boardwalk Empire, A Time to Kill, The Dark Knight Rises, mostly movies and high budget television

Events in the outside world of the fiction are commonly shown full screen. The larger world in which the plot exists becomes part of the plot, repercussions of plot events frequently impact this larger world, and those repercussions are shown and sometimes feed back into the main plot.

Level 3 - Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Cinematic Universes

These stories have built worlds so large that full plotlines form in orbit around the central plot. The wider world is so fully established that independent fictions can spawn within the context of the periphery of what the central plot showed us. Rouge One is an entire AAA movie that occurs as a footnote to events we've already seen. Prequels, sequels, and spinoffs are often evidence that a franchise has succeeded at world building.

So how do you get started, just sitting in front of a blank screen, trying to do some world building?

1. Show on screen that life is happening outside the events of your story
2. Allow events in your story to affect this outside world
3. Add camera shots that show people outside the story reacting to the events in the story

In the video above, just some daily reels, the protagonist is simply driving home, but there are many instances of normal life going on in the surrounding street. While this doesn't have a direct impact on the events of the plot, it's significant. To give a concrete example, later in the film this same city is destroyed by a nuclear missile. While the same plot point could be delivered by only showing the nuke scene, it becomes more effective via world building, since we have previously established the existence of many people in the city.
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Upvote 1


IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
I hadn't read your posts so I was just going by the video.


IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
Oh yeah I did reply to part of your post, the video game aspect.


IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
If you ever remember where you saw it, I wouldn't mind checking it out, sounds interesting.
Can't remember but was watching this, check out Super Pumped: The Battle For Uber S1 E2, at 27:48.
I actually went and watched Super Pumped, just out of curiousity. Pretty decent show. They do some ok animation in this, though I was more captivated by the founder/VC relationship portrayed. From my experiences back in the old days, this was a pretty accurate rendition of how things go.

As far as the whole movie vs video game thing, SP is a hybrid, and I think when we start putting out chapters it will be much easier to understand. The videos where choices play out are just short films, so we do have entertain on that passive level. Obviously we can't hit the mark established by studios that have unlimited funding to accomplish simple tasks, but we do the best we can with limited resources.

Why it looks exactly like it does is too complicated to explain here, but suffice it to say that literally dozens of factors go into shaping the look, and how I want it to look is unfortunately only one of them. I agree that it doesn't look totally realistic, but I don't think we're performing too badly for the extremely limited resources we have.

Ultimately, I just hope audiences can find something to enjoy in the final product.
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Arriving at the site today to find only one new line of text, it seems like this content lull would be a good time to continue my OP tirade on world building. The reason I want to talk about this topic is that I've watched a lot of indie films, and I would say around 99% of them feature no world building at all, and it bugs me. It makes the films feel small and unimaginative. I do understand the budgetary restraints of IF, but some aspects of world building really only require imagination.

So here's world building part 2.

Populating and building reactions in your world outside the main characters is just one type of world building. Another common technique is to begin infusing your fictional world with inventions, laws, ideologies, companies, and structures etc. that are unique to your fiction.

I'll use a few simple examples to illustrate. In Star Trek, we have the replicators. If you want a cup of coffee, you push a button and one appears. In Spiderman, we have the Daily Bugle. A media organization that constantly hounds the hero with news based on the owners personal prejudice against him. In GOT, we have the wall. The audience is constantly reminded of the wall, and it plays a central role in the story.

I used 3 very different examples to help clear some confusion. I read articles where people get world building confused with things like lore, or set design. What it actually is, is establishing parts of the fictional world in the mind of the viewer or reader that are permanent and external to the main characters. Another example is the purge night law in the film series "The Purge". This is a good example because the entire plot is based on this central world building. It's not mandatory, in example, shows like Ozark and Breaking bad were excellent, and featured almost no world building, outside of some fictional organizations such as Madrigal.

Just some food for thought when you're writing your next indie film. It's possible to create a fiction that surrounds your characters, in addition to a fiction about your characters.