Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Animated Reviews: Wolfwalkers

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to see Wolfwalkers, the new film from Ireland's Cartoon Saloon.

 It's been a while since I've seen a movie in the theater--so long in fact that I don't even remember what the last one was... Weathering With You down in Ann Arbor, maybe? It was back in March I think, right before the lockdown. Anyways, about two Summers ago, I had saved up enough money to buy a nice larger-format-screen television with a speaker bar and hadn't gone to theaters much since then. 

Nowadays, the theater experience isn't one that I look forward to what with people talking on their phones (or to each other) and the high prices that theaters charge for tickets and concessions. But, there are some films worth braving the crowds for and they're usually films that GKIDS brings to the theaters, in this case through Fathom Events. So I went online and bought my ticket, then drove to the Celebration Cinema theater on a blustery Sunday afternoon. Turns out, out of all the people in my city, I was the only person who came to the theater that day to see this film. Their loss.

Some random thoughts I had while walking to my car afterwards:

  • Eleven dollars for a bottle of water and a medium popcorn. Yeesh.
  • While I liked the private screening experience, I do wish more people would come out for non-big-budget-Hollywood animated features like Wolfwalkers, The Red Turtle, Ernest and Celestine, and The Big Bad Fox and other Tales.
  • During our screening, the directors introduced the film along with a short 'making of' video that showcased some of the talent working on the film. Was a really nice addition to the experience.
  • I loved the lush backgrounds in this film as well as the shots where they made the whole city look like one of those European tapestries hanging in a museum.
  • Liked the sketchy feel to the characters. It takes us back to the days when animation cel Xerography was introduced to the industry in Disney's short film Goliath II.
  • This 'sketchy feel' did lead to some interesting shots where you could see the lines that outlined the heads of Mebh and Moll over their flowing red hair. It left me wondering if this was a stylistic choice or a digital ink-and-paint accident that made it into the film.
  • The music in this film was beautiful, especially the "running with the wolves" song, and it really enhanced my enjoyment of the movie.
Loved the backgrounds in this film.
  • The motion and body language that the animators chose for Mebh and Robyn revealed their internal characters brilliantly, and provided a very nice contrast between the two girls when they were on-scene together.
  • By the end of the film, I wasn't certain who the filmmakers hated more: the English or Protestant Christianity. Seriously, I'm Irish and Scots on my father's side of the family and there were a number of scenes with dialogue and actions in this movie that left me feeling really uncomfortable.
  • I think the downside of the incomplete education that we receive here in the States is that I went in not knowing a lot of the historical context of 1600's Kilkenny, so some of the characters' actions and reactions were difficult to process. Both Brendan and the Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea were more... broader in their appeal, a lot more approachable to an international audience.
  • There were two cute "Easter egg" references to Cartoon Saloon's earlier films Brendan and the Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea that I caught, so keep your eyes and ears wide open or you'll miss them.
  • The ending was kind of predictable, but it did leave you with a good feeling as you walked out of the theater. Had some nice messages on family and forgiveness.

If you look closely at Mebh's hair, you can see what I mean by the outline of her head.

All-in-all, this film is another solid performance for Cartoon Saloon and directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart as well as producers Nora Twomey, Paul Young, and St├ęphan Roelants. And while I didn't like it as much as I did Brendan and the Secret of Kells, it was still an enjoyable film that showcases the massive animation talent that is working today in Ireland, Belgium, and France.

* images used from the GKIDS Presskit.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Animated Quotes: Walt Disney

"The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing."

~ Walt Disney

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Animated Thoughts: TAIS Workshops in the time of COVID

Because of the lockdown, the Toronto Animated Image Society had moved all their workshops and courses online--with many of the workshops offered free to TAIS members. While there's nothing like an in-person workshop at the TAIS offices (and an "animation tour" visit to Toronto), taking a couple workshops online was a very cost-effective way to learn some new skills.

As I was in the middle of  the Montreal Stop Motion Film Festival, the timing of this TAIS event was very fortuitous as it provided a very nice break from the screenings. As much as I enjoy screenings and panels, sometimes you want to get your hands dirty and interact with the subject matter.

My current workspace

This particular workshop was really interesting and rather unique. Titled 'Stop-motion in Small Spaces: Setting up a home studio', Neil Burns ran a session dealing with the challenges of stop-motion animation production -- not of making a film on a limited budget, but of having a limited space where you could animate. So, in the preceding week, we all sent in photos of our home studios (or the spaces that we had to work with) and then Neil helped us come up with solutions that would allow us to best utilize the space that we had to film a stop-motion production -- both using a downshooter setup as well as using a 3d set.

Over the next three hours, Neil provided some excellent critiques of our workspaces based on the films we wanted to produce, the animation techniques/visual styles we were going to use, the equipment (and software) we had available to us, and the lighting issues we would most likely face in our setup. Unfortunately, while he had some good suggestions for (re)organizing my workspace, there was one issue none of us could solve during the workshop: my carpeting is really soft and plushy so it tends to make tripods, lights, and sets move slightly when I'm navigating the set and animating.

A lot of workshops I see (and attend) deal primarily with filmmaking techniques: storyboarding, scriptwriting, animation software, and animation styles (2d hand drawn, replacement, etc). However, not too many deal with some of the peripheral (yet still very important) production issues, like financing your film, managing production assets, and--in the case of this workshop--designing an efficient workspace that meets the needs of your production. Workshops like this one hosted by TAIS helps fill in some of the gaps in our filmmaking knowledge-base. While trial-and-error can work, and the internet is a vast well of information, it's nice to talk to someone who has actually been there and can provide hands-on experience directly to your personal situation.