Friday, July 27, 2012

Animated Reviews: A Cat in Paris

Riviera Theatre - Three Rivers, Michigan
This past weekend, I decided take to the entire weekend off after working a little extra during the week. The plan was to do the 'weekend vacation in my own State' thing. Turns out, I was only partially successful. The 'weekend vacation' turned out to be a working vacation as I drove all over the West side of Michigan conducting animation-related business.

Saturday, I made the two hour drive down to the Rivera Theatre in Three Rivers, Michigan just so I could see the Academy Award nominated film: "A Cat in Paris." Only a two-hour drive from Lansing, the Riveria was my only "local" choice to see this movie. The other two locations closest to me were Huntington, Indiana and Chicago, Illinois. Since GenCon is coming up in August and I need to drive down to Indianapolis and schmooze with clients while druming up some more business, a four-plus hour drive to Indiana or Illinois wasn't very high on my list. Fortunately, before I had to make a final decision on which four hour drive to make, the Riveria Theatre swept in with a better alternative. So off I went, across the State and South of Kalamazoo towards one of those small cities with a main street that looks like a slice of Americana reminiscent of the stories my parents tell me about growing up in the 1950's.

When I entered the Riveria, I was immediately struck by the ornate molding... and the pub right off to the left of the entrance. You know you're in the right place to see a movie when the theatre has a pub with Strongbow on tap. Reminds me of the Odeon--except no pub... and at the Odeon the alcohol was usually brought in by the patrons. You wouldn't notice it until halfway through the movie when a bottle would rattle its way down towards the screen. The screen may have been small and the sound system needed some tweaking, but I still left Three Rivers wishing that we had something like the Riveria Theater in Lansing! I'd watch a lot more indy film if we did... or at least I'd pester them to bring in a lot more animated feature films.

Which brings us to the reason I drove down to Three Rivers in the first place: "A Cat in Paris".

This was a really cute film. The character design has that Eastern European feel that I normally only see in Clasky-Csupo shorts from the 90's. The characters moved with a level of fluidity that appeared to be based more on their personality and the requirements of their profession than on the perceived mass or volume of their bodies. But, as the entire film was stylized, it worked--especially when you see the cat burglar jumping around from roof to windowsill as effortlessly as Dino the cat does.

The backgrounds were lush and beautiful. I found myself more drawn to the color than the structure as everything was painted with a backdrop texture suggesting that the entire film had been colored using colored pencils. This color/texture combination introduced a vibrancy into the film that meshed well with the fluid of motion without being distracting.

I'm honestly surprised that it was called "A Cat in Paris." Dino the cat turned out to be more of a background character. In most scenes, he's relegated to the role of a MacGuffin used to bring the humans together. In the end though, it was the humans who drove the plot forward, not the cat. I suppose that there's only so much the cat could do in the span of sixty-nine minutes to hold our attention, so the presence of humans "was" required. While there were little jokes here and there for the adults in the crowd, this was definitely a film written for a childrens' audience--despite a turn towards the surreal at the climax of the film. But all-in-all, it was a fun little film that I look forward to adding to my DVD collection should GKIDS decide to release it in the States.

Cow-nosed Stingrays
Sunday saw me driving up to Grand Rapids so I could spend the day doing some sketching and collecting photo references with fellow animator and ASIFA/Central member David Van Tuyle at the John Ball Zoo. I have to give bonus points to the Zoo for having a tank filled with stingrays.

The rays were very friendly and comfortable being around people--although as we approached lunchtime, they started sucking at our hands emparting a rather creepy sensation. Turns out that having been in captivity for so long, the rays associate human hands with food and they were expecting to be fed at the time that we were there.

But still tired from yesterday's drive to Three Rivers, I didn't do as much drawing as I had hoped. However, I did get a lot of photo and video references of animals that we don't have down at Lansing's Potter Park Zoo--including Bears, flamingos, and monarch butterflies. I think that the reference I liked the most though was this clip of the stingrays which I filmed to show how they glide effortlessly through the water.

As I watch this little video, I'm thankful for what technology has brought us. I can review this video over and over on my computer as I animate with my 3d programs, or watch the video downstairs on my iPad as it perches on the corner of my drawing table, should I decide to animate traditionally using the Mark I pencil.

At times like these, it's hard to tell students not to get too attached to the digital tools that we use when many of them make it so convenient to study motion and anatomy. Even I have to admit that tweeners make it so easy to cheat when you're animating against a deadline. But when I hear horror stories about schools that only teach students the latest software instead of building a firm foundation based upon the principles of animation and the rules of filmmaking, I have to remind myself that in the end, whether your work is created with pencil or stylus, it's the animator and not the tool that breathes life into the subject matter--no matter how useful the tool may be.