Archive | May, 2012

9 Frames a Second

Always a keen platform for new innovations across a wide variety of industries, the Iphone and Ipad will soon feature the very first animated graphic novel, ‘Bottom of the Ninth’ a unique comic book experience by Ryan Woodward. The novel will feature moving panels on each page which from what I can tell are being used for the big actions, sweeping landscapes and also for little movements and character traits. I think it gives them a great opportunity to do some interesting things with characters actually and it is something that I am keen to see about it. There is one character in particular that appears to be a fan and his movement seems to be a small dance with his shoulders. You can see it if you head over to the website and look at the right hand side; I think that his small movement gives a much greater depth to the character than you could achieve with just his expression.

Imagine this but it’s moving

 

Woodward has taken an interesting idea and really run with it, with what looks to be some serious production values behind it. He certainly has the credentials within the industry having animated for the 96′ film Space Jam and storyboarded recently for the smash blockbuster ‘The Avengers’. The story is a baseball story set in the metropolis Tao City in 2172 and the novel’s heroine, champion pitcher Candy Cunningham struggles with the career she has inherited from her from her worldclass father. You can tell Woodward is extremely talented right from the start, I really enjoy the hugely varied character design.

You can see a certain Space Jam-esque quality I think

 

Having spoken of the benefits, I’ll now put on my cynical cap and talk briefly about some of the things that I anticipate might not work about it. The first thing about it is whether it is simply spectacle. Admittedly, there is no way to tell whether this type of graphic novel could have any future or longevity, but it seems like it could be somewhat unnecessary. The illustration of graphic novels has been honed to give the illusion of movement anyway; take the picture at the top of this post for example, even though it is a still image, is your enjoyment of it in any way diminished? And arguably, the shot that they have taken is the perfect and most interesting shot of the whole action. Would it be improved if we saw some of the unnecessary frames in between?

Additionally, reading and looking at still images is equally leisurely in terms of pace, but if this bridges the gap between that and animation, are we already spoiled by the fast-paced spoon feeding of TV cartoons where we’re not expected to read? Not to mention, reading from the Ipad is reportedly terrible when compared to the Kindle or other ‘electronic ink’ technology.

 

My final point is about spoiling anticipation, which is a problem I have when I’m reading graphic novels in general and is helped by a well-designed layout. Anyway, the point is, I find, that when I’m reading a graphic novel, if it gets particularly tense or a big action happens, my eyes drift towards the end of the page so that I can see what happens without taking the time to read. This problem will surely get much worse if that big image was now moving and so made all the more eye catching. Having said that, I went looking for an example and I’m prepared to admit when I am totally wrong; I think that perhaps the best thing about the animation of the novel is that it can delay this big action until the appropriate time. The image on the right is a good example of this as you can’t possibly watch him strike out until you’ve already seen her throw the ball and the page by page Ipad will prevent those tricky double page action sequences.

It seems to be a very interesting idea at least and I’d be very interested to open it up and look at all the small details. That is one thing that I think could make it very enjoyable; in the same way that you can spend minutes at a time staring at one particularly captivating image froma graphic novel, you can take a careful look at all of the little touches the animation adds. You can find a very good anticipatory write up of the novel here but here’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for, a trailer (that’s right a trailer) of the graphic novel itself. Enjoy:

Let there be Light

The importance of lighting and shading is often underestimated, but it is crucial to the development of any animated film. I found this out mainly by taking a look at the pixar website and this feature that shows all of the steps it takes for them to make a feature film. An alternative title for this post was going to just be ‘Pixar do something cool’, but with their entire catalogue of films, ‘renderman’ and the way that they run their offices, I could probably end up titling every post under that heading. In that link, take particular notice of steps 11 and 12 when the image is transformed entirely with some shading and lighting. It is tempting to read, “simply” some shading and lighting, but in truth this one step is a detailed, difficult and sometimes arduous task that makes all the difference in the finished product.

This makes me think about lighting in general and how badly it is neglected in a lot of films or animations. This is particularly true in the work of students in either medium. Light seems to me to be the greatest forgotten element but it enhances the finished product immensely. For example, here is an image of two characters standing by a tree

 

 

That’s another still from Disney’s Tangled and considering I didn’t really rate it as a film, I’ve used the images from it in this blog as great examples of doing everything right surprisingly often; so their characters are certainly pretty, now they just need to be likable and involved in an interesting plot.  Well now that I’ve shown Tangled again, I’ll balance it out by showing some lighting effects and one of my favourite shots from cinema, which is the image I have put to the right, from Casablanca. Maybe I’ll start a new policy, every time I use a still from something awful, I’ll post about Casablanca as well.

It is important in the world of stop motion animation where shooting for even very short films can take days and the changing natural light will cause you to lose continuity and create a very off-putting flickering effect between each shot. i can remember spending hours making a small animation out of clay sat in my bedroom only to be disappointed when my lack of proper lighting made it look shoddy. Here’s a good example I found; it clearly shows careful thought of a cool idea, dedication and a lot of hard work that is let down by the use of changing natural light:

Okay, so to be fair nothing I made ever looked this good. But imagine it shoddier…

So what can we learn? Well, it is all about trying to think about where the light would be coming from in a scene so that you can try and make your artificial light looking like the sun both in stop-motion and traditional hand-made animation. This gives you an important decision about visible or invisible light. Think about whether you want to use your light to create an interesting effect or whether you want to just create a natural effect because sadly if you are going for a natural effect, the goal of all of your careful lighting efforts should be that nobody even notices or thinks about the lighting at all.

The Tradition of Animation: Hand-drawn vs CGI

Hand-drawn animation is something that really has a split down the middle in terms of the reception that it receives from audiences. Most people that are keen about animation will marvel simply at the commitment to large hand-drawn projects, but to the layman all of that work and effort could almost go wasted when similar effects could be created using CGI.

A CGI hand, oh the irony!

 

Most people who weigh in on this debate will fall on the side of hand-drawn animation with credit given to only a few notable examples from the CG world. Pixar in particular always seems to get a free pass whenever anyone is discussing the quality of CGI; one of the first feature film to use it was Toy Story which really got it right in my opinion. The reason for this is because they seamlessly blended the style into the story. When you’re using a technique that has been criticised for being glossy, stiff and robotic, what better subject to render than a group of toys that are given life?

In recent years a few steps have been made towards trying to reach a happier medium between the two styles. Disney’s feature ‘Tangled’ deserves a mention for its efforts to take stiff CG animation and try a combination of techniques to give the film some of the fluidity and depth that the style can lose; the ambition of Glen Keane, who wanted the characters and their environment to mimic the impression of a watercolour. One feature film that I am looking forward to, from Dreamworks of all places, is called ‘Me and My Shadow’ which is going to feature a real world environment and a ‘shadow world’ rendered in CG and hand drawn respectively. You can read more about it over here

Now comes the part of this post that I was really looking forward to, which is particularly notable examples of incredible hand-drawn animation. Pre-dating modern CGI these sequences were carefully and extremely patiently drawn by hand just by way of necessity, but the detail and the final effect is nothing short of remarkable. First of all, there is for me, one of the greatest chase sequences filmed, particularly in animation at least, which is in the film pinocchio when he is being chased by the whale. When it comes to hand-drawn skill take a particularly close look at the waves and the splashes in the ocean; the fluidity of which is a real credit to the slow ‘piece by piece’ reality of hand-drawn animation.

Another important film to mention here is ‘The Thief and the Cobbler’, the unfinished masterpiece of animation giant Richard Williams. The detail of each shot and the complexity of the style itself took Williams and his team 25 years to create, as well as the fact that Williams was an absolute perfectionist and would repeatedly scrap long sections of work because he wasn’t happy with them. The story itself deserves a much longer write-up, but in the end a lot of the set pieces, character and plot was ‘borrowed’ for use in Disney’s Alladin, much to the chagrin of the animation world who feel very loyal to the efforts of the now little-known Williams against the animation powerhouse. Here is a fan edited trailer for the film itself, made out of the unfinished elements that were left when the project was finally shelved:

Can You See Me at the Back? A Post About Backgrounds

The inspiration for this particular post came to me just the other day when I was out walking with a friend. We came to a long twist of road in front of us leading into the woods and I was suddenly struck with deja vu and I asked what about that image was so familiar. My friend, much to their credit, instantly recognised that the setting before us looked almost identical to the image of the terrifying woods from beauty and the beast and that was what had stuck in my mind for all of these years.

Not exactly the shot I encountered, but the right setting

 

As well as the instantly recognisable characters, the very background itself went into making up so much of the atmosphere of that film scene by scene. I went and did some research into it and came across a lot of artists who had a similar passion for the background art of animation. If you want to test your eye for noticing the unnoticed then allow me to play the following game. Here are several very famous backgrounds in a variety of classic styles, see if you can tell what they are from without any of the characters, if you mouse over, I’ll put the answers in the alt-text, but if you need a big clue you can read my descriptions:

Winne The Pooh

This is a very recognisable image for me and it is wonderfully enjoyable to spend some time picking apart all of the little adornments that make this image as rich as it is. All of the small toys and games in the foreground and the background make a really nice path for the characters to walk down as all around them is the idea of innocent play and adventure. The tree at the top and the branch coming down are particularly iconic for this cartoon, but it is strange because before today, if anyone had asked me what one of the most memorable elements of this cartoon was, I would never have realised it could easily be the style of the trees.

Hercules

This was not the most obvious image I could have chosen for this animation, but I thought it said more about the style than some of the more stereotypical shots. These are simply meant to be bushes and trees, but the swirling pattern gives and effect of “greekness”, no doubt inspired by art and patterns used from genuine ancient art. It is fascinating to me that this sticks into the mind and creates a really believable world for the characters to live in, rather than just sticking in a bunch of statues, the landscape itself follows the same rules of the style.

Alice in Wonderland

This is one of many images that I could have chosen from this film that comes with that psychedelic quality given to everyday objects. The relevant points here are to do with the sizing of the objects within the image, that large towering chair stretches right out of shot, in fact it is enjoyable to see the character that is missing from this image, his relative size to the chair adds a certain charm. I also love the uneven floor that swoops upwards, adding brilliantly to the dream-like image.

Peter Pan

Some very interesting things are done with lighting in this image; the large open window as the door into a new world of possibility and the dingy play-room. I won’t say much more about it, but as a film with so many varied set pieces (hint:piarates), something about the play-room always stuck in my mind as a child – I think it has something to do with that carpet, it seems almost rich enough to feel.

The Lion King

This is something that struck me as very striking for an iconic image in this film. As I looked at it I suddenly thought about the artists that designed it, tasked with drawing barren rocks, they managed to create a style for the setting that is incredibly unique (I’m not suggesting that’s all the creative direction they were given, but I don’t know maybe it was).

I found this particularly dive into the world of backgrounds incredibly interesting and it really can teach us a lot about the importance of some well designed settings in animation or cartooning as a whole. All to often it seems artists will spend years and years honing their style until they have the perfect face and character that they want, then the background itself will be a single line, or some basic set-pieces.

For many many many more of these brilliant backgrounds, head over to this blog (where I borrowed these images from) http://animationbackgrounds.blogspot.co.uk/ by Rob Richards. It has sadly stopped updating, but it has an archive of beautiful backgrounds from almost any major animated feature you care to mention, all with the characters themselves skilfully removed with digital rendering.

Guillermo Del Toro to Make Stopmotion Pinocchio

Exciting news for keen lovers of stop motion animation and exciting news for everyone as Guillermo Del Toro has been announced to come on board as the director for a stopmotion remake to the classic film about the puppet. Some other exciting announcements and great names for the picture is Mark Gustafson, famed for the brilliant stop-motion for Fantastic Mr fox, as animating director of the upcoming film.

The screenplay is being written by Matthew Robbins, Nick Cave is reportedly in charge of music and Donald Sutherland and Tom Waits are both being considered for voice acting roles. So it looks like it could be set to be something of an all star cast, particularly with the excitement the Guillermo will give to the release.The company that is representing the film is ‘The Jim Henson company’, the same studio who made the muppets, and Labyrinth.

Del Toro is basing his tale on the classic Carlo Callodi and of course his illustrator Gris Grimley This has affected the design of the characters and the set pieces. Mr Grimley unveiled the starting point for Pinnochio character last year and peaked our interest. Here is a twitter pic that Grmiley took  of the puppet last year. The puppet itself may have changed a bit since  it was displayed last year.