Choosing a Strong Story Over Flashy Visuals on 'The Man Who Saw a Boat'

The Man Who Saw a BoatThe tranquility of a life spent living beneath the waves flows from the screen in Vancouver Film School student Henrique Barone's 2D/3D mixed animated short The Man Who Saw a Boat. When it came to the film's development however, Barone had to dive deep to find a story worth telling, gathering the technical tools he needed along the way. Click through to watch the short and find out more.

Self-admittedly not the most technical of animators, at least within the 3D realm he planned to venture into for his new film, Barone realised early on that he needed to step back from his initial concept and challenge himself to instead find a story that an audience could connect with on an emotional level:

My first idea was to do a pizza delivery guy, running to deliver the pizza and interacting with some objects as he goes. Again lots of squash and stretch, cool running cycles, white BGs -- but not an actual story arc. At the end I thought it had not very much potencial.

Although I could visualize a cool looking short, I notice quick that I was making up a simple film just to play safe, which is completely fine when you have an incredible tight schedule and you are scary [sic] because you are touching 3D for the very first time. But like I said I wanted to have the style underneath the Story umbrella, so I started drawing some isolated and unrelated dramatic/appealing shots. I thought it could be good to start with a guy hanging on a cliff and have the story going from there, or someone working on a gas station at 3am when nobody is there. Among those shots I drew a man with a diving bell and right above it a fisherman in the wide ocean, then I drew the fishing rod's line and both were magically connect!

The Man Who Saw a Boat - sketches

While the exploits of a pizza delivery guy may have been lacking in story arc, Barone's early character designs had potential so were appropriated and further developed for the new direction of the narrative.

As well as designing two distinct worlds (above and below the water) for the short, finding a seamless way to integrate his 3D character into a graphical 2D world was paramount. That was when Barone hit the challenges of modelling a character who doesn't fall into either the 'sharp and angular' or 'smooth and organic' 3D animation extremes:

Since the modeling techniques are very straight forward and simple, it can be quite frustrating to tweak and tweak your character and still don't get the look you have in the paper or in your mind. I think it's more natural for 3D to produce either really sharp/machine-like angles or super organic realistic shapes. Doing something graphic kind of means to fight back with what the 3D are meant to do. But it's definitely a fight worth fighting because the results can be very cool.

In addition to the above info, Barone has gone into great detail about his journey making The Man Who Saw a Boat over on his blog -- it really is a refreshingly clear explanation of the animation process, explaining core concepts such as 'rigging' and 'skinning' with plenty of visual examples.

So what do you think? Did Barone successfully convey the subtlties of emotion he was after and navigate his diver through that all important story arc?

Link: Henrique Barone blog

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I thought it was WAS visually stunning with a fantastic sound design. The story was what left me a little confused. The retro diving helmet placed it in a certain time period...and with no hoses or cables I wasn't sure the time era and didn't catch on that he lived on the ocean floor as the post described. For some reason I thought right away the man in the boat was the same as the diver because of his nose. It's so specific and beautifully rendered...but even hidden behind the mask...I assumed it was the same guy. Story wise...when he climbed into the empty boat...I thought the other guy had swum down in some kind of swap situation. Once I saw the era-specific hot air balloon I understood the concept of layers...and always moving up to another layer/level/world and appreciated that. I was just thrown with the set-up and the disappearance of the original boat man. set a great tone, was both visually and sonically wonderful and I can't imagine how long it took to create. It looked no different from a studio animated film in my view. I've watched it twice and am curious if anyone else was slightly confused by the story...please let me know your take. Kudos to Henrique on his hard work as he's obviously very talented.

July 18, 2013 at 7:32PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

You voted '-1'.

I think the story is simple and beautiful, I got it straight away! The man sees the boat and imagines what it would be like to breath the clean warm air above. To lie back and feel the sun on his face but he's weighed down by the things that appear to be vital to his survival. It is only when he releases himself from these burdens that he can float up and achieve what he desires. It's about transcending the physical. Sweet!

July 26, 2013 at 12:48AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Choose story over visuals... I'm confused because stories dont get much more minimal than the example used here. Not sure I'd call it enough to even be a story.

Nice visuals, no story. That mirrored self/time thing was old a while ago.

July 18, 2013 at 9:10PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I do really like the visual style tho. Style reminded me of a game I loved called Another World.

July 18, 2013 at 9:50PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Another short not big at all on visuals but great in story:

"Balance." Well worth a watch:

July 18, 2013 at 9:34PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I liked the visual style.. 3D with this vectorized graphics feel... but the story? I really couldn't connect with and didn't really know what the director is trying to say

July 18, 2013 at 10:45PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I NEVER UNDERSTAND THE STORY... A Man that go on a Boat? That's the strong Story???

July 19, 2013 at 12:20AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


He was imagining. He had nothing else to do so he imagined he was in that gear underwater and came up and got in the boat. Nothing deep to the story.

The video I linked in my comment above should satisfy your want of a deeper story. :-)

July 19, 2013 at 7:31AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I didn't understand the point of the man who saw a boat. So in response this is my favorite animated short film of all time. Mark Osborne's More

July 19, 2013 at 1:26AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM