After watching it through a few dozen times, I've decided that my animation would benefit from an opening shot to establish the were abouts of the cave and the characters rather than just plunging straight inside the cave. At the point the audience has no idea there's more than one character, so they have no idea what his motivation is for being inside the cave/trying to obtain the bottle. I think its necessary to show he has friends/family/other people in his tribe waiting outside for him so he has a reason to be there. While thinking of this I realised that such an opening would be the perfect opportunity to push the 'feel good' power further. Yes its lovely that the drink makes the people dance when it showers down on them, but why are they so desperate for it in the first place? The answer should be because they're miserable. They need the power of Feel Good Drinks to make their lives happy again and chase the gloominess away. And what better way to portray misery than storm clouds and grey, overcast skies? And opening shot showing the people miserable as dark clouds overshadow them would starkly contrast against the clear, bright skies at the end of the animation when the bottle flies out, as well as the shining sun rays. I think this would be a really good way to advertise the Feel Good factor and exaggerate the effects of the juice much further. But in order to do this, first I need references.
Unfortunately the clouds here haven't been particularly interesting or dramatically stormy over the past few weeks, and if there has been any angelic looking light rays poking through the grey then I certainly haven't seen them. I did try to get some first hand references regardless, which you can see above. One thing I have learned from them is you very rarely seen an overcast cloudy sky where the clouds are all the shade shade of grey. There's always a mix of dark to light even on the stormiest days (as you can see from the Internet references below), with various sizes as well. The images below have all been found online from various sites, some of which are absolutely beautiful and brilliant to refer to.
The above photographs of light rays piercing through clouds have been especially helpful, showing me that the rays always seem to be slanted and never come straight down at 90 degrees. The smaller the gap in the clouds, the narrower, brighter and more concentrated the ray becomes, whereas a larger gap usually allows a wider, but weaker ray to pass through. Though this naturally depends on the intensity of the sunlight behind the clouds.
I next started looking at rays clouds and light rays are usually portrayed in animated media, and happened across this opening video to a Japanese visual novel game called 'ef - The Latter Tale'. While I'm aware the video is all anime styled, it is the wonderfully detailed backgrounds I'm looking at, not the characters. The animation showcases some simply stunning cloud and light ray effects, and while I could never hope to achieve something even close to that level of detail (doing so would no fit with the visual style/tone of my animation anyway), watching the way the rays of light are animated in this has given me a better understanding of how they act. It appears the rays can become wider and brighter as the clouds part, but if the clouds part too far then the light can no longer be condensed into rays and they seemingly fade away. I will need to do something similar as I intend to have my clouds part and disappear completely.
For the clouds themselves I looked at art from cel shaded video games, since they have a tendency to simplify things in a cartoony style that I thought would be useful for drawing my own clouds. Above is some background art from the game Okami which borrows its visual style from traditional Japanese paintings, and below are several pieces of artwork/screenshots from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker which take on an even more exaggerated, 'deformed' style, but still keeps things very simple and cartoony. What I especially like about the art from both of these games is how they use swirls for things like wind, fire, smoke, and clouds. It has a very charming, painterly look that I think would fit well with the style of my animation.
For my own clouds (which you can see below) I decided to incorporate the swirliness of The Wind Waker smoke but not to the same extent. I think too much swirliness would just make them look silly; they are supposed to be threatening storm clouds after all. But at the same time they look too plain and boring without the swirl, so I think just having one on each cloud works nicely. I made sure to make several of each different shade of grey and mix them accordingly to give an uneven overcast like the real clouds in the photos, and I mixed up the clouds on each to give the impression of more depth. I intend to animate each layer of clouds moving at a slightly different speed which will also add to this.
Below are screen prints of the light rays I added peaking out the clouds. I decided not to go overboard with them since the sun already has tons of bright rays moving round it in the background and I felt too many shining through the cloud would just be overkill. As they are, I think four small-ish ones work quite well, especially considering the angle of the camera looking up at the sun. As the clouds part I shape tweened the rays to grow larger and then fade away as the cloud leave completely.
Last but not least, here is the opening scene with the stormy sky. I decided to keep it a static shot (apart from the clouds moving in the background) since the people are too tiny to animate properly, plus if they're all sitting/laying around miserable then I doubt they would be moving very much anyway. This way I can draw a lot of them in dejected positions; I've tried to show most of them either sitting, laying, or kneeling down, though that was a little difficult with such small stick men... Hopefully it works well enough to get the idea across, and a thundery sound effect to accompany the dark clouds will help set the mood.