On the Seamlessness of Trees
On the Seamlessness of Trees (2022)
Applying a nonlinear and multicursal narrative structure on a animated films shots.
On the Seamlessness of Trees is composed of a set of 34 animated sequences which present the story of two characters pursuing each other in a forest, intending to kill each other for a reason that is not disclosed.
This film’s structure is very simple: the 34 sequences are presented by software in random order. The software randomly picks one of them to begin. As soon as the sequence reaches its end, the software picks a new one randomly and so on.
There is no limit to how many times the same sequence may be presented and no other condition or limitation in regards to the order in which the sequences will appear.
The experiment was designed to help determine the ways in which the content a film present with this kind of structure should be designed in order for narrative meaning to occur.
The story of the film was deliberately left imprecise. The sequences were created in such a way as to create a confusion as to who is who in the film, to provoke a sentiment of uncertainty on where one character ends and the other begins. This approach was also chosen because it seemed to be more probable to function narratively given the randomness of the order of appearance of the sequences.
This experiment was presented in the exhibition "The Forest" in NEME Cultural Center in February 2022 in Limassol, Cyprus, where I had the opportunity to hear comments from a few visitors.
Some initial remakrs:
1. Basic comprehension of the story by the viewer:
It is clear that the basic points of the storyline are easily grasped by the viewer.
Most of the viewers understood the notion of someone being followed or chased by someone else.
Some mentioned feeling a sense of menace at some level and a sense of getting lost.
While in the beginning they had the impression to be able to distinguish separate characters, as the film went on they could not really identify different characters, nor be sure if there were two, three or multiple ones.
2. Some indications on how to design the content
Upon examining the outcome, it becomes clear that the narrative parts of the film must be constructed in a way that allows their interchangeability in time, which means that they should have a certain degree of narrative independence.
It is still hard to define, however, on one hand, the limits of this independence and, on the other, the degree of interdependence the shots need to have with each other so as, in the first case not to complete isolate the shots and, thus, result in a film that doesn’t make any sense, and, in the second case, not to insert elements that require a specific order to make sense.
3. Establishing shots and leitmotifs
The insertion of recurring images (such as the travelling through the trees, the static shots of the characters in different positions in the forest and the image of the gun) seems to work well in creating a universe into which the scattered shots of violence inscribe themselves.
4. Testing the Kuleshov Effect in the context of reccuring images in alternating positions of time:
One of the goals of the experiment was to examine how the Kuleshov effect works through the repetitiveness and reappearance of shots:
As the film plays repetitively, the order of the appearance of the shots is bound to become cyclic. Therefore, the same shot will appear both before and after another.
a) At one moment in time we see the feet of someone marching in the woods.
b) Later on we see someone holding a gun, presuming that he is the second man aiming at the man who walks.
c) After the interference of a couple of shots of travelling in the woods,
d) we see another shot of feet walking in the woods, not the same shot as earlier.
Contrary to the precise reappearance of the same character in the context of the Mozzhukhin experiment, we do not have an indication as to who the feet belong to: it is not clear whether the character walking in this second shot is the same that was walking before or if it is the one that used the gun.
In the course of the showing, it is inevitable that the initial shot will reappear, but this time it will come after the one we just mentioned, also showing the feet. This time it will also be imprecise whether it is the first or the second man (who has also, probably, appear in the meanwhile). So, on one hand, the meaning remains open to interpretation, but also, on the other hand, the meaning of a previous shot may change retrospectively, depending on what intervenes. T
he recurrence of images, with the interval of establishing shots and B-rolls, creates a process of continuous re-assignment of roles and meanings in the images that appear.
5. How does this end for the viewer
What is also important to note is that, the film not having a specific ending, it was up to the spectator to decide when to stop watching. Two visitors I asked about this at the exhibition told me that this made them feel as if they switched a film off before it ended, which meant that all those things that were unclear about the story remained unclear and a matter of speculation afterwards.
6. Indirect / abstract moments in the film
What is also interesting is that the more abstract images (mainly this shot, showing a serpentine form, which resembles a complex network of roots) were perceived by some visitors as images from a dream. One mentioned to me that he considered this to be a premonition for something to come. Some didn’t understand it at all and didn’t have an idea.
7. General conclusions
The general outcome from these brief discussions I had with visitors is that the film conveyed a feeling of unease, or even threat, but yet remained imprecise. It worked as a more abstract, atmospheric piece, without producing a precise narrative.
- The next step for this version is to attempt a similar logic and narrative structure with a more precise story, in order to see whether viewers will understand more.
- It should also be presented to a test audience with a proper questionnaire, so as to be able to better analyze the answers and get more specific and verified answers.
- Experiments which put at use an algorithmic multicursivity (as opposed to the random one presented here) will be developed.
- A combination of both will also take place: Certain parts of the structure will have their internal randomness whereas others will fall an algorithmic logic.
- Furthermore, a variation of the experiment will apply the multicursal structure on a cobination of sets os scenes, shots and individual frames all together in one film. (This will be the case of Noir)