Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Animated Inspiration: Paths of Hate

Wow! Just based on the visual style of the trailer, here's an animation I can't wait to see! Made by Platige Image, the Polish studio that created 'Fallen Art'.
PATHS OF HATE long trailer from Platige Image on Vimeo.

The first thing that I noticed about this film's trailer is the similarities to the 'Gremlins' sequence from the original 1981 'Heavy Metal' movie.

Both films attempted (and succeeded) in portraying animation using a rendered-in-ink, comic book/graphic novel visual style. The interesting thing is that both films started from a 3d foundation. Platige Image's website states that they created 'Paths of Hate' as a 3d modeled and animated film and rendered as a 2d animation. The 'making of' section of the 'Heavy Metal' DVD illustrates how the B-17 sequences were filmed off of a detailed physical model and then rotoscoped in the 2d visual style. So, pretty much the same conceptual foundation, just two different technological approaches to the final product.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Animated Reviews: Tangled

'Tangled' left me feeling like I was watching an olympic class swimmer holding onto the edge of the pool because he's scared of venturing out into the deep end.

I really enjoyed this movie, really enjoyed it--except for the the song-and-dance numbers. They seemed too forced and just didn't fit the mood of the film. Everything else was spectacular--story, voice acting, animation, sets, character design, everything! Like 'Princess and the Frog,' when Disney stuck to the story, I was hooked! However, as soon as someone started singing and dancing, I was bored out of my skull.

I hope Disney makes money with 'Tangled' and I hope they make more films, but I really hope that they return to my personal favorite period of time in their cinematic history: when they broke out of the "Disney mold" and made films like 'Atlantis,' 'Emperor's New Groove,' and 'Lilo & Stitch.'

One thing worth mentioning, something that I don't think is coming through clearly in my review, is that I'm not anti-musical. There's definitely a place for the 'Rogers and Hammerstein' animation--Disney has already proven that (which, for me, started with the 'Little Mermaid' since I don't remember seeing the pre-80's Disney films in the theatre). But just like comedy, song and dance numbers are difficult to pull off well--as anyone who has watched 'Anastasia' and 'the Swan Princess' can attest to. Both were cute films with relatively engaging stories, but the song and dance numbers either didn't seem to fit or lacked a certain spark.

The only song number in 'Tangled' that I thought was seamless was when Flynn and Rapunzel are sitting in the boat right at the time of the lanterns being launched. And I didn't have a problem with the dance scene in the marketplace (don't remember if anyone was singing during that dance number). All the other song-and-dance numbers felt jarring. Honestly, it felt like there was someone in development with a stopwatch, counting time between scenes with dialogue and scenes with story progression who was just waiting to say "okay, we've  hit the five-minute marker. The quota for non-singing dialogue has been met, it's time to throw in a dance number." I felt the exact same way with 'Frog Princess' but didn't think much of it at the time due to the fact that I don't like Jazz. It wasn't until I saw 'Tangled' and had the exact same problem while watching the film that I realized there was a marked difference between Disney's older films and their current efforts. And I'm not exactly sure where the transition starts since I haven't seen 'Brother Bear' or 'Home on the Range'. As this transitioning issue is rather difficult to articulate at the moment, when 'Tangled' comes out on DVD (and I add it to my collection), I think I'll do a side-by-side comparison with 'the Little Mermaid' to see if I can pinpoint exactly what is bothering me about the recent Disney musicals as compared to their older films.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Animated Thoughts: Attitude of Gratitude, Part Two

NOTE: This is part two of a series. Part one can be read here.

(Marla Schweppe)
If Erik Timmerman was my surrogate father during my time at R.I.T., then Marla Schweppe was definitely my surrogate mother.

Marla has two qualities that I quickly learned to appreciate:

1. No matter how busy she was, she always made time to look at my work and encourage me to do better and to be better than I was.

2. She was never afraid to point out that I was full of crap when I was.

It may sound flippant at first, but the older I get, the more I have come to appreciate honesty. I can easily find dozens of people who'll tell me what I want to hear, but someone who tells it like it is with the point of making you better at what you are attempting, well, that's an increasingly rare thing. Marla didn't just look at my work, she took the time to study it and she knew me well enough to know where I was cutting corners, or not living up to what I could produce, or just not pushing hard enough against my mental/emotional/artistic boundaries.

Marla has this little technique that would always snap me right back into reality. Whenever I got into that argumentative rut--usually about some task that I didn't think I was able to pull off--she'd just agree with me and follow it up with 'so what are you going to do?' Those two sentences turned out to be a surprisingly effective tactic. It effectively left me with nowhere to go and confronted me with the end result of what would have been an hour's worth of arguing in the space of one minute. And in almost every case, it provided a moment of clarity (as I usually stood there with that 'deer-in-headlights' look) where I could see the absurdity of getting worked up over an issue when I should have been brainstorming possible ways around the problem.

A major theme of my time at R.I.T. was unlearning years of learned behavior. Both Erik and Marla did a masterful job of shepherding me around those ancient emotional landmines that had stymied my efforts towards personal growth. As I look back over my notes from their classes, I have to say that I learned far more from those ten or fifteen minute, one-on-one meetings where they would close the office door and confront me about my learned behavior and point me towards a direction of maturity. To Erik and Marla, the role of a professor was always more than just teaching animation in the classroom, it was about being a mentor, surrogate parent, confessor, cheerleader and psychologist to a bunch of overgrown kids whose enthusiasm often outstripped their artistic ability and emotional maturity.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Animated Inspiration: Simon's Cat

Just because, here are two more Simon's Cat short animations, one decidedly cat-like and one more cartoony:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Animated Quotes: Joe Murray

"There's a show inside you that only YOU can do, that no one else can."
~ Joe Murray (creator of Camp Lazlo and Rocko's Modern Life)

Source: Interview, Jeaux Janovsky, November 12, 2010

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Animation Workshop: Pixilation

On the weekend of April 10, I drove to Toronto with my friend Jonathan to attend an animation workshop presented by the Toronto Animated Image Society. In keeping with my 'more time animating' mantra, I've been trying to take every available opportunity to learn and practice new animation styles and techniques as well as visit with other animators--whether they be in workshop groups or independents that are tooling away on their own films. Here in Michigan, we animators are spread out over a large distance with no real opportunities to meet up together outside of the yearly ASIFA/Central meeting or occasional ASIFA/Central meet-and-greet where a couple of us hook up to do something animation related. It's this sense of community that I really miss (and think that we are really missing out on). Yes, yes, I know "you should build your own community in Michigan." I'm working on it (more on that at a later date).

So, back to the TAIS workshops. Since I've been enjoyed the works of Norman McLaren and had never learned much about Pixilation--even though I've really enjoyed the works of PES and Oren LaVie--I figured that it was time to learn a new style of animation. Enter Bryce Hallett of Frog Feet Productions. Bryce is an independent animator who studied animation at Canadian powerhouse Sheridan College before striking out on his own to create Frog Feet Productions. In the past, Bryce also created the illustrations for Ellen Besen's book "Animation Unleashed".

Bryce demonstrating the art of pixilation.

As a member of TAIS, Bryce was kind enough to give us a brief history of the pixilation technique, show us examples (explaining how the animators performed some of the trickier sequences), and then provide us with a list of his own tips, tricks, and things to watch out for when we attempted our own pixilation movies. And then we were off to the parking lot with cameras, tripods, props and human puppets.

Despite the limited time we had during this two day session, everyone had the chance to work both in front of and behind the camera. And we all had the opportunity to see an idea of ours played out (mine was the butterfly animation above--an idea shamelessly stolen from an animation test that Jessica Bayliss performed while in college). Some of us worked through simple ideas designed to learn technique, some filmed one-cut gag films (like mine), but one group made an entire vignette about a boy and his ball which included multiple scenes, all filmed without having to delete frames from the camera and re-shoot.

By the time the workshop ended, not only had we all learned a new technique, but we had also had the opportunity to do two things that are so often lacking when working on client work: play and experiment. The TAIS workshops are like one big sandbox where you can play with your friends and nothing you do is wrong so long as you create, edit, revise, learn, and create again.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Animated Inspiration: Simon's Cat 'The Box'

Simon Tofield is back with his cat. Sometimes Simon's work makes me laugh out loud, sometimes it's just a chuckle, but I always find something amusing about this series--probably because I love cats.

Looking at this from an animation standpoint, I love the cat's smooth motion and split-second expressions. Watch when the cat tips over the box from marker :45 to :46. In one second, a maximum of fifteen frames if he's drawing this animation on twos, the cat goes from being compact with limbs tucked in to spread eagled to being compacted again, albeit in a box. The amount of motion, body language, and expression that takes place in just that one second is enormous--to say nothing of the timing necessary to pull off that gag. Mr. Tofield is simply a master at drawing these split-second expressions that parody a real-life cat's reflexes.

Also observe the layered actions at marker 1:33 when the cat pops out of the box--first one ear and then the other as the head moves and the eyes look around. Mr. Tofield draws the cat--moves the cat--not as a single entity but as a series of individual parts. Observe the motion of the cat's legs at marker 1:50. There's no symmetry in the motion, which is intentionally jarring to our expectations but breathes more life into the cat.

As an added treat, check out this animated commercial for Felliway, a diffuser spray for cats. Not a Simon Tofield production as far as I know, but amusing nonetheless.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Animated Reviews: Megamind

Based on the trailers and the spoilers, I went into "Megamind" expecting to be disappointed. As I've probably mentioned before, Dreamworks films are really hit-or-miss for me (a similar experience to Disney's dry spell back in their early 2000's, "Home on the Range" era). However there was a lot in this film that was very likable. There were very few pop-culture references or excretory jokes. And though I'm not a big Will Ferrell fan, he gave a solid performance as Megamind that didn't seem influenced by his SNL or film performances, but rather was a new character he created just for this film. The animators at Dreamworks know their craft, so the modeling, animation, and special effects were done well. The timing on some the dialogue versus the mouth positions looked a little off in some scenes, but after seeing the same thing in Disney's "Bolt", I'm wondering if that's just a quirk of the sound system at the theatre. After "Kung Fu Panda" and "How To Train Your Dragon", I didn't really expect anything less from the animation--which leaves story. This story had some really nice surprises in it. While at the surface, it's a redemption story encapsulated in the Superman mythos.  But if you dig deeper, it's really a morality tale warning us that what we want isn't always what's best for us--sort of a "it's the journey, not the destination" idea--or maybe just a fulfillment of the old adage 'God punishes us by giving us what we want.' In reality, He's probably just trying to get us to grow as human beings, but that's a discussion for another blog.

The only thing that fell flat was the overreliance on music. Some of it worked, since it highlighted Megamind’s pompous attitude. But it got old really fast. And the dance number at the end left me wondering if they didn’t know how to end the movie so they threw in a dance number. I was squirming in my seat when they did this with "Despicable Me", but at least there, it kind of made sense in the greater context of the film's previous scenes. Here, it just feels awkward and out of place.

Other than those two quibbles, I thought it was a very fun movie. Liked the character development. Thought the fish was very amusing. Enjoyed David Cross's voice acting. And really enjoyed the relationship dynamic between Metroman, Megamind and Roxanne. Don’t know if I’d go see it again in the theatre, but will probably pick it up on DVD.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Animated Inspiration: Fer Fer

From the school that brought us Vladimir Kooperman's "C-Block", this rather touching animation is from Sheridan College student Chris Darnbrough. The sound levels are kind of across the board, so sometimes it's really hard to make out what the characters are saying, but the staging, character design/animation and pacing of this film is such that you don't really notice or need dialog. I think that he could have made the characters mumble intelligibly in a tone that was appropriate for the scene and it would've worked just as well--the characters' expressions and body language really carry their emotions and intentions.

All things considered, it's a quality film. And much like "C-Block", "Fer Fer" makes me look forward to seeing what this talented student produces next.

Careful, the ending is a real tear-jerker.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Animated Events: November at the Detroit Film Theatre

This month, there are two animation programs coming to Michigan. The first is a series of animated short films and the second is an independent animated feature film. Both will be shown at the Detroit Film Theatre, the theatre attached to the Detroit Institute of Arts. So if you need to take a break from planning for the Thanksgiving holiday (or someplace to recover from the Thanksgiving holiday), take a couple of hours and support a local venue that is one of the few places we have in Michigan where we can see independent animated film.

Nine Nation Animation
Detroit Film Theatre
Screenings on November 6, 7, 12, & 14

  • Saturday, November 6 at 7:00 & 9:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, November 7 at 6:00 p.m.
  • Friday, November 12 at 9:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, November 14 at 4:00 p.m.
Program Description from the DIA/DFT website:
"A cat and mouse carry on a dysfunctional relationship sometime in the future. Two blue collar workers dissect the meaning of “normal” as the world disintegrates around them. A matchbox succumbs – much to its regret – to the allure of a cigarette. A handful of people recall various encounters – triumphant or terrifying, euphoric or everyday – with a universally unforgettable human rite of passage. Nine Nation Animation presents a selection of imaginative and cutting-edge award-winning short films from some of the world’s most renowned festivals, including Cannes, Berlin, Annecy, Clermont-Ferrand and others. Nations represented include Norway, Turkey, France, Ireland, South Africa, Sweden, Belgium, Croatia and England. This bracing, thoughtful, sometimes hilarious program is recommended for persons over 18."

My Dog Tulip
Detroit Film Theatre
Screenings on November 19-21 & 26-28

  • Friday, November 19 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, November 20 at 7:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, November 21 at 2:00 p.m.
  • Friday, November 26 at 9:30 p.m. 
  • Saturday, November 27 at 9:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, November 28 at 4:00 p.m.
Description from the DIA/DFT website:
"Based on the celebrated 1956 novel by J.R. Ackerley (We Think the World of You), the deeply touching My Dog Tulip is the first animated film to ever be entirely hand drawn and painted using high-definition paperless computer technology. Though the middle-aged Ackerley had never previously been known for his love of animals, he nevertheless decided to adopt what he described as an “intolerable” 18 month-old German shepherd with whom he quickly fell in love - in spite of her erratic and often inconvenient behavior (sometimes seen in vivid detail), as well as her distinctly canine tastes, attitudes and appetites. Absorbing, visionary and bittersweet, My Dog Tulip comes as a gently breathtaking surprise, enriched by a memorable vocal characterization by the great Christopher Plummer as Tulip’s devoted owner. Featuring Isabella Rosselini and the late Lynn Redgrave."

Film program images and text descriptions are quoted from the DIA/DFT website, are copyright their original owners, and are used here for promotional purposes only.