The Beginning

Blame Trent.
It all started when Nine Inch Nails gave permission for people to use music from their "Ghosts" album in video projects as part of a "film festival" (the videos are featured on YouTube). The "Ghosts" album features a collection of tracks that are ambient, industrial, and perfectly suited for a film score. Releasing the tracks for use with non-profit videos was an innovative marketing technique, but not very surprising coming from a musical group that has made their last two albums available for download at ridiculously low prices.
Seemed like a fun project, but what to feature in our film? We started wondering - perhaps a "ghost" is someone who hides from the law? This led to a short action story featuring two professional thieves robbing a bank. When things go very wrong, they barely escape with their lives. The video starts out slow, with long shots, and then picks up pace as the robbery starts - giving the viewer the feeling of anticipation one would expect from going up the first hill of a roller coaster. When "The Syndicate" (aka the "bad guys") appear, things really kick into overdrive as the viewer drops down the first dip...
We decided that a live action pre-viz would act as a good reference to the team and help get across the pacing and overall structure of the video. Then we added tracks from the "Ghosts" album and integrated basic sound effects. Most importantly we were able to list the shots for the animators - a total of 33 shots plus closing credits. Well, initially it was 33 shots. Things evolved at a pretty fast pace.

The Middle

Inspired, perhaps, by our proximity to the stomping grounds of the Winter Hill Gang, we dubbed the bank robbers "Winter Ghosts" - a pair of half human/half robotic thieves. Certainly they aren't the only two criminals in town. Sure we have"The Syndicate", who are more of a traditional organized crime ring, but what about other pairs of ghosts? What about four sets of ghosts?
We started scripting a set of 12 "chapters" with the thought that each would be named after a month and that we'd name the ghosts after a season. Basically, we'd create an episodic series of computer generated shorts that featured an intertwining storyline shown in a non-linear manner - the first video was "February", the second "June", then back to "April". Design the characters with specific color schemes and use the NIN music to reinforce who's being featured in the particular chapter (Leitmotif for those in the know, like the Sergei Prokofiev classical piece "Peter and the Wolf").
Think of the disjointed plotline used in "Pulp Fiction", combined with the dense convolutions of the television show "Lost". Sprinkle a ton of references to other shows/movies/music/whatever and it would be an exciting series of shorts. It seemed a little heavy-handed to explicitly label the characters with audio and color clues, but given the complicated storyline it would be easier for the audience to recognize and follow the characters. Especially given that the videos would come out every month.
Every month? After an entire summer of animators from three continents working on characters and props, we can tell you that a handful of volunteers would never be able to consistently create any sort of compelling episodic computer animation. It just can't happen without a serious budget and a Pixar-sized team of people working on the shorts as their "real" job. Clearly our project was getting too big for a short film.

The End

The full story was too cool to let go, so we've restructured it into a screenplay - "Ghosting Season". The short bank robbery video is still in the story and that scene still takes place in February - it's pretty much the exact same scene that we'd originally envisioned. The concept of a "ghost" has grown to encompass the concept of disappearing - each set of criminal pairs do their illegal work, then all sets of criminals "retire" (aka "ghost") in some way.
So, for now we've got some cool characters (designed by John S Jamtli, who totally nailed the look of each one) and things have been modeled and textured. We're about ready to put together an updated video.
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