The Zenith Project – A freeform project spanning the course of several months, allowing the students to pursue anything they might want to try. From fashion design, to animation, to writing, to engineering and mathematics, the Zenith project allows students to take school time to pursue their passion and create the ultimate and most ambitious Freestyle project.
Hi, how’s it going. My name is Spencer Viaggi, and I’m a Senior at Freestyle Academy, here to present my woefully incomplete project.
This is a discussion on my Zenith Project, a story called “Privateers!,” its history, and what I learned from it. Since this video will first be presented to the PM freestyle class, some of the initial audience will know a thing or two already about this. However, for the sake of informing the other non-school-related viewers, I’ll hold off on anything that could only be understood by Freestyle students. You’re welcome.
Now, Privateers has been a project that I had been working on since about September of 2016, under the working title “Story Thing.” I knew what I wanted to accomplish, a 24-episode story about a group of fairly remarkable people accomplishing unremarkable things, such as coming to terms with themselves and who they were, finding love in unexpected places, and learning to open up to people that you care about.
For extra content (An hour-long lecture broken up into 3 parts) on my Zenith, please visit this link.
The story started off as a musical experiment, in a setting where magic was controlled by three disciplines of music. Rhythm, Melody, and Harmony. There was a fully-fledged magic system and story, complete with thinly-veiled references to my own life and an amount of snark that could make Statler and Waldorf blush.
It was the story of a young girl who coasted through school on sheer magical talent, and had to learn to work hard when she becomes overshadowed by someone who spent all of his life trying to surpass her. Of course, to make things morally easier for the viewer, the boy that overcomes the protagonist is obviously evil, and he sends the protagonist, her mysterious teacher, and her less mysterious other teacher on the search for a magical artefact called the German Horn to save the world from his musical conquest.
Eventually, the passion left that story, as awesome as it was, and my mind wandered and I latched onto something similar. A story about a group of young adults who are being forced to save the world, more or less against their will. This one experimented further with group dynamics, the formulas used to write these stories, and the ridiculous amount of symbolism that I could cram everything with.
I was learning how to write these stories. I figured that I’d abandon this idea as well, but at this time I was getting lots of great practice. I began comparing characters to specific other characters from better-known stories, like the Epic of Gilgamesh and The Odyssey, and I got a better feel for the kind of story that I wanted to write as well as how to craft it.
Finally, a few weeks before the project officially started, I got the story that I would follow for the next five months. “Privateers!” is a tale of three outsiders, who, after stowing away on a pirate ship, are exposed into a world of discovery, intrigue, and adventure.
I worked on this project obsessively. I would talk to people about character designs, I would ask for advice, I drew up flags and maps and I built the world and I built the story and I built the characters and nearly everything that I could do. I worked days and nights and weekends, shoved other projects aside so I could focus on my project, and even started learning animation so I could begin storyboarding.
However, over spring break, disaster struck. For you see, my workaholic tendencies are very strictly momentum-based. And when you hit a wall of “vacation,” you either accelerate ridiculously or slow to a crawl.
Mine was the latter, but not by choice. I had known for weeks ahead of time that I would be sent to England for the week, to look at schools. I would be thousands of miles away from the computer that I could work on. It was my intention to use that week for writing and coordinating with other artists to help work on characters and storyboarding.
But then on Wednesday, April 12. My bag was stolen. With it, my Chromebook laptop, notebook, graphing calculator, and passport. I could no longer access most of the internet, I could no longer use my notes on the world and other characters, I couldn’t do any complex mathematical equations, and I couldn’t leave the country.
We rushed to London, to the American Embassy to get an emergency replacement passport, but by the time we got there, it was a bank holiday due to Easter, and we couldn’t get another passport until the next Tuesday.
Eventually, we got home, but progress on my project had slowed to a crawl and it became impossible to finish on time. I resolved to continue working on it for as long as I could, in addition to making these videos explaining what I learned whilst making this project.
If I don’t have a finished result, the least I could do is have a lot to show for it. Thank you for bearing with me.
Privateers! is the story of Mele Kiaora, a girl from the fictional nation of Omoa, from the island of Tamaki Makaurau during an age of sail-esque era. One day, a group of traders from the nation of Drenthe appear on the shores, bringing with them the house of Van Laaren. The Van Laarens want to use the island as a stopover point to expand a lumber business into the land of Kuei. Mele, seeing an opportunity to get away from her regular life, stows away on a boat with Lucette Van Laaren and Baldrick Leroy Alfredsson, also known as “Roy.” Lucette is a loopy, daydreamy-type girl, who wants to escape from her family so as to get away from marriage and the high life of Drenthe society. Roy is the son of her family’s butler, and is a misanthrope.
However, unbeknownst to Mele, Lucette, and Roy, they stow away on the boat of Captain Ian Patch, a Drenthe Admiral that defected from his homeland and joined forces with the Omoans. He is tasked to find a warlord called Meridia, and retrieve a mysterious device called the Florendo Invention from her.
Once the three are discovered, they must learn how they fit in through this world. Mele discovers her uncertainty when she becomes the ship’s first mate, Lucette tries to combat her laziness, and Roy begins to wonder if he really does hate everything.
It takes on a nearly sitcom-esque feel as it explores the world around them. What would happen if the crew solved a murder mystery? What would happen if there was a sports tournament against a rival team? What would happen if we ignored the main characters and focused on the background characters for an episode or two?
It goes on like this for a good long while, with an end goal of finding Meridia and restoring the Florendo device, but with no real direction in it until the end of the sitcom phase. By then, we know a lot about the world, and the people inside it, and the tone we’re going for. We like the characters, their interactions, everything. This is when the bombshells start being dropped.
Word comes from the capital of Omoa that Roy and Lucette’s parents have died. They were killed in a raid by Meridia’s forces. This sends the series down a more serious path, as Roy explores the loss of his father and begins a deeper exploration of himself and who he seems to be. The crew takes a sharp turn towards Meridia and begins to prepare for an attack.
During a fateful confrontation, the crew finally capture Meridia and the Florendo device and bring her back to Omoa. There, they are greeted by the chief of the Omoan nation, and Meridia is sent to prison as they are all treated to lavish gifts. However, the true intentions of the Omoan Chief are revealed, in what is probably not going to be a SHOCKING TWIST.
What will be a SHOCKING TWIST will be the death of Ian Patch, who is killed by the chief after discovering his evil plans. Ian has, throughout the series so far, been a very pleasant and polite person, often being the one to offer advice to the characters in a non-annoying and non-condescending way. I would have made this more obvious and apparent earlier, but it’s difficult to write “by the, X character is extremely likeable.”
The Omoan Chief’s true intentions will be revealed as some kind of revenge plot against the Drenthe. He reveals that he was the one to order the deaths of Roy and Lucette’s parents, and that the Florendo Invention is actually an “engine,” or a machine that allows boats to move without sails. He unveils an army of ironclad boats and declares a formal war on the Drenthe.
The remaining crew escape from Omoa, being pursued by the Omoan fleet. Among them is Meridia, the antagonist of the first half of the show. This causes tension among the crew, since they don’t know if they can trust her in lieu of Captain Patch.
After this comes what I like to call the “angry sitcom.” It’s like the earlier phase, but a little more dramatic, not necessarily angry. This is about the crew getting to know Meridia, coming to terms with the loss of Ian, and being even more angsty and emotional as they get closer and closer to an emotional breakthrough that will resolve their character arcs.
Characters begin to meet their breaking points here. Turnabouts happen, arcs get more intense, eyes start to water. Roy will freeze up on nearly every conversation, Mele will struggle with every decision she makes, and Lucette will struggle to get out of bed. They are being hunted by the land they used to love, and conflict and strife is breaking out all around as the Omoan-Drenthe war escalates.
After a few episodes of them becoming more and more prepared, they eventually decide to attack the Omoan capital and take down the Chief, to restore the world to its former peace. As the hour of confrontation draws near, the characters are physically prepared, but are emotionally near their breaking points.
As for the ending, all I’d like to say is that it’s going to be interesting. Thank you for bearing with me.
When I started on my Zenith project, I was absolutely determined to get it done. At this point, I am no longer absolutely determined to get it done, and I’m okay with that. Acceptance is the first step, dear audience. My project was an incredibly ambitious story with 24 episodes that were due to be scripted out. I knew that I couldn’t script them all out, so my goal was to have 1 or 2 scripted by the end of the project and 1 storyboard.
By the end of the project, I had 1 scripted out and about a tenth of the storyboard done, but it wasn’t my fault. Which was a nice change of pace. When I was visiting Universities in England, I had my bag stolen, which contained my notepad, my laptop, and my passport. This set me back a fair few days,and by the time I got back I was too late to finish my project. I still had plenty of things to present and teach about the process, and now I know so much more about how to make these things in the future, which is something that I’m very proud of.
In conclusion, oh crap. Wait, this isn’t three pages.
I collaborated with a bunch of other people for the sake of character design and story. For the story, I bounced the idea off of a bunch of different friends with writing experience and workshopped it over and over again to make sure I was telling a decent story. For the design, I talked with Ms. P, Skyler, Izzy, Elena, my pal Eli, and did a lot of thinking over and over to make sure that things worked out. I sent character sheets out to different artists who offered to draw things, and came up with new designs all the time. I sent the story to as many people as I could, even some who couldn’t work on it. I was absolutely determined to get this done.
Then, before I was due to start storyboarding, I went to England. I was planning on corresponding with people and continuing to work on things for a good long while, when my bag was stolen from a hotel in Bath. In my bag was my Nintendo, my notebook, graphing calculator, laptop, and my passport.
This, understandably set me back a bit. I was no longer capable of playing games, checking notes, making graphs, corresponding with people, or return to America.
This kinda killed my momentum, and just like that the project could no longer be finished in time. So it goes. When I got back, I consolidated what work I could still present and made sure that I could still have enough to make the Zenith presentation to the Juniors.
In the end, what I had were 3 slideshows. One was about Character Design, one was about Storytelling, and one was about Worldbuilding. I decided to let the audience pick 2 of the presentations, which I would then discuss at length. It was a little more work than I could have gotten away with, but I figured it was worth it in lieu of having actually done what I had set out to do.
I’ll be honest, I’m still very disappointed in myself. But, there’s time to be sad later. Progress marches on, and time waits for no man or woman.
The presentation went pretty well, and now, if I so desire, I can use the slideshows as bases for video essays. Once I finish all of the other jobs I accidentally just accumulated. Who knew the end of Senior year would be so manic? Here I was thinking that school was almost over, but I gotta do Visa stuff and exhibition stuff and then Flo signed me up for a job I didn’t ask for and then there’s the documentary thing.
Crap, I only have 1 page left to answer all of the stupid stuff. Okay, lightning round. You ready?
I chose this idea for a project because I thought it would be challenging and interesting, and would give me a really great portfolio piece. It would also teach me a whole lot about story formats and how animation worked. I learned how to do worldbuilding, character design, collaborate with others, and write a medium-form story effectively. Had I completed my project, it would have made it far more interesting and good and funny than anything I would have been able to make last year or the year before.
My collaboration led to more interesting and consistent character design, and held my story together much more effectively. I wouldn’t change a thing about the interaction and collaboration, but I WOULD change a thing or two about the project as a whole. If I could do the whole thing over again, I would save the whole “getting trapped in england” thing until AFTER the project was done. And I would also get rid of Winter and Spring break. I’ve always hated them.
Creativity definitely benefitted the most from this project. I came up with so much ridiculous stuff, and so much funny stuff, and so much good stuff. I’d love to reprise working on this project again, if I wasn’t the only one doing it. And if it was my job. That’d be swell. The least good 21st century skill was probably Social and Civic responsibility, because I don’t really care about that so much. The world can manage itself, it doesn’t need me spreading my morals.
Aw crap, I think I’m gonna have to break into page 4 now. Curse you, double-spacing! Without you, I would be allowed to write so much more cool stuff. Here we go. Okay, Learning Experiences I’d use in the future? I don’t really know what I want to do in the future, so I don’t really have an answer for you. I guess if I’m writing, I now know a whole lot more about medium-form storytelling, so yay for that. If I’m animating or designing I learned a lot about design. Heck, I even learned about directing animation.
As for the whole “Ignite your own passion; elevate your skills and experiences; create your ultimate/most successful Freestyle project?”
I did okay on the first one, great at the second one, a bit awful on the third one. Honestly, my first year narrative is probably my greatest and most successful Freestyle project. Oh well. Last question on this two-page “lightning round.”
One meaningful final thought you would like your reader/listener to remember about the story of your project or its lasting value for you. Me? I learned a lot from it. If I had more time, a crew, and some funding, I could probably bring down the house. This was an okay project. Cheers.