Paper or Plastic is my first independent film made after graduation. It’s been 10 years since I moved out from my home country of Ukraine, so I decided to honor the anniversary by making a film about immigration. The main character is an immigrant with an ambitious dream who tries to adapt to the new country, but xenofobia and odd rules force him to go back.
After setting up the theme and before shaping up the actual story, I created a 3-act structure of the events, the basic vector of the main character’s actions and obstacles on his way.
Keeping this scheme in mind, I researched about immigration process and challenges that newcomers face in a new country. The biggest problems are: language, low-skilled jobs, housing, access to local services (like hospitals), cultural differences, prejudice, isolation etc. Many of the film episodes are based on this list. The storyboard at its early stage looked like this:
From the very beginning I knew that there would be 3 types of characters: from the first-world countries, second-world (where the hero is from), and the third-world ones.
After thinking up the possible situations and troubles of the main hero, Mikk, I started developing his character, motivation, dreams, and flaws. When I thought of him as a graffiti artist, the idea of his goal and the cause of its failing came shortly.
When Mikk’s story was more or less set up, I finalized his look.
The other two types of characters were adjusted to match this aesthetics. That included not only their forms, but also the width and roughness of the outlines, the types of shadows (how and where to place them), and the gradient fill of their skin (which was the trickiest part in animating).
In total, there are 90 characters in the film (and 2 countless crowds).
3. Vis Dev
In addition to the characters design I had to decide how the environment would look. I started with setting up the colors of the two worlds - Mikk’s Hometown and the Dreamcity.
For background references I often used google street view.
Also I had to decide the style and technique of the special effects. For cohesiveness I set up several rules like the graffiti would be drawn in pencil-style technique, and all the liquids would glow.
Only at this point I started to think about the film’s title. The obvious options like “Alien”, “Immigrant” or “Unwelcomed” didn’t spark joy. Besides, the films with those names have already existed.
I really wanted to title the film “Понаехали”, which expresses all the dissatisfaction with the immigrants’ presence (in Russian). But in English I couldn’t find the same concise phrase with the right amount of mundane rudeness.
Then I thought that the title had to express some choice connected with migration as the main character constantly questions his presence in the Dreamcity. And I made up a nice title - “For here or to go?” which perfectly expresses the choice of staying-going, and within the immigration theme. Mikk would work at a cafe selling sandwiches in that case. But google said that this title was already taken by a movie about … immigrants! Bummer.
In the final round of the name search I looked up in several dictionaries the slang allegories for immigrants. One of them was “paper or plastic”. I doubted that in real life someone calls immigrants as “paper or plastic”, but I liked the name and it sufficed my need in an identificator containing a choice in it. So “Paper or plastic” it was! Thus Mikk ended up in a grocery store packing stuff in paper or plastic.
Then I made a poster where Mikk is sitting inbetween the chairs as he doesn’t know which one to choose. The film’s logline is “Where R U from?”
5. Final Script
To finalize the story I had to think up all the missing situations and arrange all 100 shots in logical order. I figured out all the dirty jobs Mikk had to do, chose what kind of pattern he would paint, what odd rules in Dreamcity would lead him to troubles with the police, how exactly he would get a knife in his back, and what other betrayals he would experience in his journey.
I made the list of unusual things in Dreamcity which would be believable yet not very real. For example, the street musicians playing invisible instruments, a moving sidewalk, kids running around in VR glasses etc.
My favourite part in the storytelling was adding some absurd and strange elements. In the bureaucratic episodes Mikk needs to fly in order to deliver the document correctly, and in each next round he gets more naked to stress out the humiliation of the process.
Dreamcity’s fashion, dogs behaviour, transport gadgets, drones and crosswalk dancing will be copied by Hometowners in the final sequence.
When the story was ready and in order, the real production began. Animatic, rough animation, clean animation, coloring, backgrounds painting were made in 6 months (without days off). For the crosswalk dancing I studied some youtube hip-hop moves frame-by-frame.
When it was appropriate I put smears for snappier animation. It is not visible by naked eye as it lasts only 1 frame, but you can “feel” it.
Sound and music are made by Nicolas Martigne. In the film there are several dialogs in “fictional” english. I didn’t use the real language because in this case there had to be subtitles which I try to avoid at all costs. The film has a fast pace and if there are subtitles it would be hard to follow both picture and text.
All the signs and texts in Dreamcity are written in standard galactic language.
The film’s world premiere was in Ukraine at Kyiv International Short Film Festival, where I was lucky to submit the last day of the admission.
ℸ ̣ ⍑ᔑリꖌᓭ ⎓𝙹∷ ∷ᒷᔑ↸╎リ⊣!