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The journal of an aspiring animation filmmaker. Inspiration, Film Analysis, Animation Art, Student Work, Book Notes, Book Store, Composing Pictures, and much more!

Jun 30, 2008

More Wall E

Even better the second time. Pixar's movies have so much in there, it's mandatory to watch them over and over. And then if you're just an animation geek, you can basically play it back to back for a week.

Don't miss the making of Wall E here. My buddy John and his Calarts classmates were treated to a an interview with Andrew Stanton, which you can find here.

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Jun 28, 2008

Wall E

I'm going to need a day or so to process this. I'm just amazed. Andrew Stanton = Pure heart.

Presto was insane. I cannot remember when I last laughed that long, and hard.

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Jun 26, 2008

Siggraph: Sharon Calahan Comes to Vancouver

Last night Siggraph hosted another local chapter event entitled, "Teasing the Senses," featuring Sharon Calahan, the Director of Photography on Ratatouille at Pixar. This was perfect timing. I had only just read The Art of Ratatouille, and Sharon's work was fresh in my mind for this presentation. It's was also just days before Wall E will be released, and I'm sure I'll be buzzing after I see that. I can't wait!

Sharon, despite her admitted nervousness, did a fantastic presentation. She showed us her process, and the way she tackles every new project, trying to make it different every time. A painter at heart, she's on a four month leave of absense from Pixar in which she just paints every day. This reminds me of the Lou Ramano episode of Toon In, in which he talks about taking regular leaves of absense to explore his artistic education more. Pixar sounds like such a wonderful place to work. The more I hear, the better it sounds.

Sharon went through her research process, showing us pictures from her trip to Paris with Production Designer, Harley Jessup, who's work is also heavily featured in the aforementioned Art of book. The two walked everywhere to get a feel of the city for the movie, and brought back a lot of really nice photos.

She went on to describe how they wanted the movie to look from a lighting standpoint from the very beginning. She said she's a pure spot lighter, a self professed, "control freak," and she doesn't like using global illumination at all. Adding that the lighting of the film was geared towards making the food look good first, and everything else was taken down a notch here and there respectively.

A list of her, "Lighting Army," flashed on the screen for a few minutes. Long enough for me to pick out Jeremy Birn from the list of forty or so lighting artists. Jerermy is the author of, "Digital Lighting and Rendering." I remember reading through this book when it first came out about ten years ago. This was when I was first getting into computers, and thought that becoming an animator meant learning software. Sigh...Anyway, I had no idea that he was at Pixar now, but I'm not surprised. This memory, along with the presentation as a whole, made me realize that I really need to brush up on my knowledge of Cinematography. Sharon listed off so many films she used for inspriation because of the cinematography, and I was pretty impressed. I really need to start mentally cataloguing these things for my own film ideas.

The presentation went on for about an hour, after which was a book signing, and a screening of Ratatouille. I didn't stay for the screening, but I did manage to get my book signed, and shared a few words with Sharon. I asked her a question I've always wondered, but never been able to find the answer to. I've read, and heard much of the directorial switch on Ratatouille 18 months into production. And in the Art of Book, Brad Bird says he felt uncomfortable about taking over the project at first. So I asked Sharon, "Why was there a directorial switch?" Call me intrusive, I could only assume it came don't to story complications, but I just had to know for sure. After a brief conversation about the brilliance of Pinkava, she bascially answered, "Brad's a heavyweight." Pixar does whatever it takes to make a good movie, even if it means basically doing it twice (Toy Story, Ratatouille).

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Jun 20, 2008

Quarter Life Crisis

25 today, though I don't feel it. I think I'll take a day off.


Jun 18, 2008

Jim Hull Fanatic

Ever since Seward Street shut down a while back there's been a gaping whole in the animation blogsphere. Many artists have joined in, and created blogs, attempting to fill that void. Some almost have, but it's just not the same without his words of wisdom. I just liked reading what the man had to say.

Well Jim Hull is back, and has a new blog he's been...blogging, entitled, "Story Fanatic". Hello! This is right up my alley. The posts have been fantastic thus far, as is expected from a blogger of his caliber. But it's posts like his latest that make me realize what I've been missing on my lunch breaks, when I check my blogroll.
Do not miss this post on Character Arcs. It's a beauty. Jim analyzes Sony's, Surfs Up, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and hasn't gotten the credit it deserves among the animation community. Check out Jim's post here.

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Disney's Music for Kids

Science World is hosting an exhibit entitled, "Disney: Music Behind the Magic" right now here in Vancouver. If you're an animation fan, then give this one a miss. It's not worth the admission price. It is totally tailored to kids, and I was pretty disappointed.

The only thing of interest was a few story sketches from Pinnochio and an early Mickey Mouse short, and the original sheet music from Aladdin. This is by far the smallest exhibit I've seen at Science World. Body Works is still the best one I've seen there.
The accompanying 23-minute documentary was the best part, but can be found on one of the Disney Treasures DVDs, though I can't remember which one. Nonetheless, it's about Disney music, obviously...Point being, you can see the best part elsewhere.

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Jun 15, 2008

Will Eisner's The Spirit

The first trailer for Frank Miller's adaptation of the Will Eisner's The Spirit is now online over at Apple. Check it out in High Def if you can. I'm super excited about this film as I've been getting into Eisner's work recently, though I've been a fan for years. I just never set aside the time to read through them. I'm starting with The Contract with God Trilogy, and I'm slowly acquiring his entire library through Ebay.

Something tells me I should have started with The Spirit, but I honestly don't know where to start with this one. I've searched on Ebay, but I don't know where it starts. It would be nice if there was a complete Spirit somewhere, and not just random comics. After seeing the trailer, and watching the video below, it sounds like I definitely should have started my exposure to Eisner there. Oh well. Hopefully I can get into some Spirit before I see the film.

I've been studying Bridgman a lot lately. I'm actually taking a break from that right now. It didn't take me long to notice the similarities in Bridgman and Eisner's style, so I wasn't surprised when I found out Eisner studied under Bridgman. What better endorsement for his guide to life drawing do you need? (I'll be posting some of my Bridgman studies later)

Back to the film. The cast for this one looks interesting. Samuel L. Jackson has done some real garbage films lately, and you never really know what he'll come out with next. One thing that is certain, however, is that he is capable of extraordinary character acting. I can't wait to see him in an Eisner character, story, and world. I think he'll be good.

As for the style of the film, I'm worried it looks a little too much like Sin City. I would have loved to see a new graphic style to set Eisner's work on the screen apart from everyone else's. Much like Miller did with his own Sin City, and 300. But maybe it's too soon to speak, I haven't seen enough visuals yet. I would also have loved to see Eisner animated, but I'm a little biased on that one.

Check out the video below for an interview with the filmmakers:

For more on Will Eisner, click here.


Jun 14, 2008

Pure Awesomeness

If you read any animation blogs, you're probably already aware of the Kung Fu Panda dream sequence that is now available for viewing (over and over) on MSN's website. The whole community seems to be geeking out about this film as Dreamwork's savior. I might as well join in.

I've seen nothing but excellence from James Baxter Animation, and seriously, who would expect anything different. Anyway, this piece is simply amazing, check it out if you haven't already. But beware, you might go blind from overexposure to pure awesomeness.

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Jun 11, 2008


Last night I went downtown to the Art Gallery to see the new exhibit, "KRAZY! The Delirious World of Anime, Comics, Video Games, and Art."

I'm not into Anime, or most comics. And frankly I think playing video games is just a big waste of time. I went because they had one room for, "Animated Cartoons." I'd heard they have original animation drawings from Dumbo. That alone was worth the price of admission. As I expected, I was only interested in the one room. I quickly walked through the entire exhibit, but came right back to the animation room. Some of the graphic novel stuff was pretty cool though.

What can I say? If you live in the Vancouver area, and are into animation, don't miss this opportunity. I won't ruin it for you, but here's some of what you'll see if you go.
  • Original animation drawings from Gertie the Dinosaur
  • Original puppets from Lotte Reiniger's, "The Adventures of Prince Achmed"
  • Original storyboard drawings, concept paintings, and animation drawings from Dumbo
  • Original conceptual work and character studies from Toy Story
  • Nick Park's story sheets and gag idea sheets from The Wrong Trousers
  • Original artwork and cells from UPA's Gerald McBoing Boing
A lot of the Dumbo stuff was listed as "unattributed" but I swear it looked like the hand of Bill Peet. I was a little unsure if Peet was involved in Dumbo, but this Michael Sporn post confirmed it. Anyway, I didn't bring my camera along to take pictures as I thought it wouldn't be aloud in the Gallery. Sure enough there were tourists there snapping away. If I find the time, I'll go back and get pictures and post them up for all to see.

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Jun 9, 2008

Kung Fu Panda

Very cool. I agree with most that Dreamworks finally upped the ante on this one. After Over the Hedge, I was getting worried. This was probably the first Dreamworks movie to have really good art direction. The character designs and color in this film were great. I'm officially a Nicolas Marlet fan. I also enjoyed the way it was "filmed" like live action.

Click here for more on Marlet.

I must admit, I'm a bit of a nerd, as I stayed for the credit roll to see my buddies name in lights. Congratulations to Ben Willis, and all the other animators and artists that worked on this film. I really hope this caliber of CG animation from Dreamworks doesn't end here.


Jun 7, 2008

Not How I Remembered It: The Failure of Oliver and Company

Last week I watched Oliver and Company for the first time in over ten years. I've had the film in my DVD collection for some time now, but only recently had time to watch it. I was pretty excited to see it again seeing as I had fond memories of this film as a kid. If I remember correctly I saw it in the theater which would have put me at about five years old. I remember bugging my mom forever incessantly asking her when it was coming out on video so I could watch it again. I never did watch it again, but it was forever hyped in my mind as the ultimate in Disney entertainment. The songs were so entertaining, and that dog, what was his name? I loved him!

Ten years later, I'm not so easily impressed. I would have to say that this is one of the worst animated features I've ever seen. I just hated it, from start to finish. I was actually inspired to analyze why I think it didn't work and post it here. I've seen many film and animation students break down great movies before in an attempt to learn better film making. I've also heard Mark Andrews say you can learn just as much if not more from bad movies as you can from good ones. And since I immediately followed Oliver and Company with the Disney masterpiece that is Beauty and the Beast, the contrasts between a good and bad film became incredibly clear. So I thought it was a good place for me to start breaking movies down and trying to understand why this film just doesn't work for me.

Now I'm aware that this film is based on Oliver Twist, which is a classic, and to bash the story would be a little over my head. That's not what I'm trying to do here. I'm trying to pin point through screen grabs, what made this film so boring to me the second time around. Why couldn't I get engaged? Why didn't I care? Here goes:

The movie starts off with what looks more like conceptual art or storyboard panels than a finished background. The opening sequences contains some of the ugliest feature animation I've seen.

Look at these people, they look like zombies. I can't believe this is Disney!

So our main character has been established. The unchosen one, a little orange kitten. He never gets picked by one of the zombies above, and we move onto him fending for himself. We don't know anything about him, who was selling him, or why. We've just been dumped in the middle of this situation with him. This is where I think the film is sorely lacking. Watching it for the second time, I found myself waiting for some kind of indication of exactly what the heck is going on. Some narration would be really helpful here.

Sure it's more than obvious what is basically going on through the visuals alone, but this scene and the following could have been thoroughly enriched with character instead of just letting us watch everything like it's wild life footage. I get that were supposed to be experiencing what the character is experiencing, but after 7 minutes of nothing but street noises, I lose interest without some indication of character, or even dialog.

Okay, so once we finally meet Dodger, the dialogue starts, and we have a goal in site: Food. It's simple, but hey it's something to interest the audience at least temporarily.

Dodger and Oliver get the food, but Dodger tricks Oliver out of it, and we proceed with the infamous musical sequence riding on cars and balancing on pianos that I was so fond of as a kid.

These dogs look familiar? How many times can Disney re-use them?

So far we have a series of events. There's no goal, no insurmountable odds. No point to any of it. It's just a series of happenings with nothing interesting behind them. Maybe if I had some empathy for our main character, I would care about his circumstances, but I don't.

Next we meet Dodger's crew or streetwise dogs:

The problem with this ensemble is that throughout the entire movie they prove more and more why this type of posse couldn't exist. The chihuahua fits the mold, but the bulldog is too refined, the girl dog is way too independent, and the big gray dog is too dumb. A group like this simply wouldn't exist. This was a bad effort at slapping together a diverse group of dogs with lots of personality.

Next we meet our human character. He seems to be the leader of this group of dogs, and we find out quickly that he's in debt to a rather evil businessman.

This plot point is really weak because why would this guy ever lend a bum that live with dogs under a dock any money in the first place?

Furthermore this evil business man character is supposed to be our antagonist, but he doesn't work either because he never backs up his threats with any examples. Why should be feel threatened for characters we don't know and therefore don't care about, especially when they're being threatened by under-developed villains we aren't afraid of?

Great films with great villains get the respect they deserve as evil bastards because they make an example out of someone for everyone to see. This proves they mean business. But this evil businessman never actually does anything throughout the entire film that gives us any reason to fear him.

At this point our main character Oliver still has no goal, or task at hand. Were still just watching a series of events strung together, and were thirty minutes into this nightmare. So after another musical number in the streets the dogs hatch a plan involving a limousine. Are they going to steal it? And if they do, what then?

It never really get explained because it's obvious it's just a bridge scene to introduce Jenny. Once again connecting a bunch of events rather than telling a character driven story. Oliver still doesn't know what the heck he's doing, or what he wants. He's an empty character. But he ends up going home with Jenny, where she adopts him. This is where were introduced to probably the most interesting character in the film, Georgette:

Now Georgette is actually interesting because she has a place in the world. She confirms her identity with a big song and dance number appropriately voiced by Bette Midler. This establishes her character (Much like Dodger did earlier). But Georgette actually develops a little over the course of the film. She also has a goal, that being getting rid of Jenny's new pet, Oliver. This further reveals her character, and makes her interesting. Finally something is going on in this movie!

So now we have a little bit going on. The unorthodox dog posse is set on springing Oliver free of his new "captor". Georgette has a similar goal in mind, getting rid of Oliver from her home. But now Oliver finally wants something. He likes his new home with Jenny. I wouldn't say it's a goal, but its the start of something for Oliver, who is after all, THE MAIN CHARACTER. We are now 40 minutes in.

The dog posse springs Oliver free. So now what?

Oh right, back to the human character and his debt. Somehow the gang has to find a way to get mister unconvincing bad guy his money, or our human character will get it. At least that's what were led to believe. You see how were going back and forth between different characters goals, characters we really don't care about? This is not only confusing, but not entertaining either. It always feels empty.

Back to the bad guy problem. The scariest part about this guys is his two Doberman "hench dogs" and even they get thwarted by a blanket in the end. So where's the fear? Where's the drama?

Let's get through the rest of this quickly. After a ridiculous chase sequence over some train tracks, the bad guy is blown to pieces, and everyone has a party at Jenny's.

This is the end of the movie. But there's just one problem. NOTHING COHERENT ACTUALLY HAPPENED. What did I just watch? There's a reason why I didn't remember anything from this movie but the musical portions involving a dog wearing Ray Bans. That's all there was worth remembering.

There was no character development. No struggle. No evil to overcome in order to reach a goal. Oliver didn't mature. He didn't end up any different. He's still just a naive little kitten that doesn't have any real depth beyond being a cute little kitten. Dodger didn't develop much. None of the characters changed, or learned anything. Except maybe Georgette, who learned to love the Chihuahua, and accept Oliver. But this movie isn't about her, she's a secondary character. The three main characters, Penny, Dodger, and Oliver gave the audience nothing to identify with. So there's nothing to remember about them.

On top of a bad set of characters, this movie looked like crap too. The great thing about good Disney films is that they all have their own distinct looks. Sleeping Beauty wreaks of Eyvind Earle. Alice in Wonderland is Mary Blair's masterpiece. 101 Dalmatians, thanks to Ken Anderson, is so graphically pleasing. Bambi is about as beautiful as an animated film can get. Even Aladdin has the Hirschfeld influence.

Oliver and Company has no style. It's clearly and early experimenter of computer graphics, making everything look flat, geometrical, and boring. Theres no color design, or art direction. It just looks bleached out, and bland, like a bad Saturday morning cartoon. There's a reason I remember more about the Jungle Book, and 101 Dalmatians. I remember specific scenes, and plot points to those films. Those movies are purely character driven. If I remember the character, I remember their circumstances, and consequently, I understand and empathize with them. I also watched Robin Hood recently, and I was surprised at how bad the story was in that too. I don't remember it being that bad, but it doesn't matter. I remember the characters. It's all about character. That's where story starts.

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