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In the school bus scene, Emelia is sulking in the back of the bus while all the other kids chaotically scream and play in the front seats. In the art development phase the question became, how do I convey that feeling of separation, how do I achieve chaos in the front with solitude in the back? How do I make the school bus feel like it does to Emelia?

In keeping with the psycho-realism of the film, I wanted to capture how a school bus feels to a kid. The way that I approach this, as with all art development is through a process of discovery. The first step in this was to go find a school bus and take some reference photos as a starting point. I found a school bus parked outside of someone's house. I began to take photos of the outside of the bus while a big Doberman snarled and barked at me from behind the fence. As I was doing this, a lady drove up in a pick- up, and I asked her if she knew who the bus belonged to. She told me she was the driver and let me go in and take some photos.

With that as a starting point I began to play with the light. The challenge in lighting is to take the natural lights that a scene would have and use those to create an emotional space. In the bedroom for instance I used a green table lamp that had been knocked over to create an eerie under-lighting for Emelia (like when you shine a flashlight under your chin to tell ghost stories). School buses have no interior lighting and are lit entirely through the windows. So I had to figure out how to use that to create the emotional mood I was going for. In the film, Emelia is sitting in the back of the bus far away from the other kids. I wanted to have the viewer drawn to the back of the bus where Emelia is. So the first idea I had was to make the bus have this dramatic "God-ray" lighting like a cathedral. You can see the result of that initial study here on the right.

This looked cool, but it did not seem to fit with Emelia's personality. I thought it would be more fitting to have the back of the bus where Emelia was sitting be dark and foreboding, like a black hole, rather than filled with light, and have that darkness drawing you in. This fit better with Emelia's character and with the mystery of "the back of the bus". After all, a school bus is not a cathedral, but more of a "prison transport". So I made some sketches to work this out playing with different camera angles. This was the right direction but presented some problems as far as the lighting was concerned. A school bus has windows going from wall to wall, and school buses are always driven in the day time. So how could I make the back of the bus go into pitch darkness using the natural lighting of a school bus?

Looking at the sketches, I found my solution: I needed to change the perspective of the shot from looking from above, (as an adult would - seeing an overview of everything), to looking from below, (as a child would in the middle of the chaos). This had a dual effect of better capturing the emotional mood, as well as hiding the problematic bright windows behind the tall seats. With the source of the light (the windows) hidden, I could concentrate on only showing the shadows and patches of light cast on the seats and floor, giving it the feel of a creepy forest where the tree branches cast shadows on the ground. The result is the image at the top of the page. Now all I have to do is add 25 screaming kids!
Above you can see Emelia daydreaming in the back of the bus darkness, far away from the other kids. In a rather eerie scene, Emelia watches as the exact same ideal suburban house with the exact same mom and dad goes by, again and again and again and again, illustrating the horror and hollowness of "gated community" perfection. Brrrrr.

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