Archive | Animation

Reinventing the Classics

Disney is a wonderful brand, that for a lot of children and adults is simply synonymous with happiness and nostalgia. The classic stories that they have brought us over the years have taught us all about love, loss, heroics, courage and togetherness. Their adorable anthropomorphic animals and creatures have smiled, sung and danced their way through hardships and obstacles that captured our imaginations and held onto them for years to come. The characters they’ve created became instant classics, and the ones they reinvented quickly became the standard image of a beautiful princess or prince charming.

The progression of art and culture is all about taking what has come before and reworking and reinventing it in the modern day. Cinderalla, or sleeping beauty were wonderful fairy tales that have been told to children for hundreds of years being passed down through the oral tradition. But in the 20th century the wonderful invention of animation allowed for Disney to bring to life some of the images, and stories that everyone had heard with such joy and passion that these images soon became the standard. The longevity of these images is phenomenal; today it is not uncommon to see a little girl playing in sleeping beauty fancy dress, but the animated classic itself first arrived on our screens in 1959. Even the songs from the film, which most children could sing to you, are actually adaptations of the arrangements from the classic 1890 ballet version of sleeping beauty by Tchaikovsky.

By taking a classic character and reinventing it for a modern audience, Disney has managed to strike a perfect balance and develop characters so iconic that they have a nearly supernatural longevity; working on images, themes and ideas that are already hugely present in the public consciousness.

With this in mind, it seems a shame that Disney seems to be perpetually in legal battles over copyright laws to protect their brand and their characters. It is easy to see why they are fighting so ferociously to hold onto their creative property, the fantastically iconic character Mickey Mouse was created in 1928 and the copyright for the cartoons are constantly being updated so that they can’t be borrowed and distributed without the permission of Disney. It is often said that without the battles that Disney fights, Mickey Mouse would enter into the public domain – meaning anyone could reproduce the character or use him in films without asking, crediting or paying Disney for the use. However, the character is actually trademarked, meaning he belongs to Disney as long as they keep on using him as a company. But the earlier cartoons themselves could fall into the public domain without the extended copyright laws – often called the Mickey Mouse Protection Act by campaigners in large support of the public domain.

The character itself has permeated into the public consciousness in the same way that the characters of fairy tales became part of the oral tradition, it’s part of what makes up our culture. Mickey Mouse is something of the folk hero of the modern age, and perhaps in years to come, the image of the anthropomorphic mouse could be belong to all of the people and lives that he has touched over the course of nearly a century. From this, he could be changed, adapted, reworked and reimagined in order to reach more people and evolve for the future.

The Theory of Art

Art is extremely difficult to define, art is a term which depicts a broad range of human activities; specifically visual arts defines the creation of images or objects in certain artistic fields. Ranging from sculpture to photography art is definitively subjective to initially the artist and then the viewer. Art can define a whole host of artistic outlets but perhaps the most conventional is painting or drawing. Artist attempt to capture a visual image whether existent or non-existent in a style which encompasses their own personality and taste or perhaps the way they perceive the subject at hand and display that idea onto a canvas. The entire process of producing a piece of art, from being inspired, to preliminary ideas, the selection of colour and texture, outline, the intricate painting process and finally the completed piece of artwork is undoubtedly a lengthy procedure. The time and energy poured into each piece of artwork is accurately reflected within each brush stroke.

What is the purpose of art? We are often plagued with this question, often wondering what is the significance of art and how does it place in the grand scheme of things. Throughout the history of art it has served a vast variety of different purposes, pieces of art have many different unique concepts behind their creation. The reasons to why art is created is often unclear, one theory suggests the idea that the artist wishes to experience the ‘mysterious’ many philosophers have theorised about the purposefulness of art in assisting an individual in finding their place in the universe, as such, art to some does not fulfil a specific external purpose. Art is an act that seems simply natural to humans, expressing their individual character or emotions via an alternative outlet, as appose to a physical or emotional interaction with other humans.

Art lovers are often searching for that one piece which resonates with them, there are a vast range of London art dealers which distribute the very best expressions of soul and subjects through a variety of mediums.

The Wonderful World of SFX Make-Up

I know that I claim this to be an animation and graphic design centered blog, but to be honest, I’ve already jumped about on that subject a little bit and I’d like to take one step into my opinions about SFX makeup including latex prosthetics and all manner of incredible accessories that artists use to make the unbelievable into a reality. And make no mistake, these guys are serious artists and the things that they accomplish are nothing short of remarkable. The term make-up artist may have been something that I once scoffed at, but having seen some of the examples that I’ve seen in research for this article leave me in no doubt that the SFX makeup industry has some of the most innately talented and hardworking artists working behind the scenes in movies today.

I half suspect Tom will reveal his mustache is SFX

Undeniably, the rightful godfather of this industry is Tom Savini, even as a casual enthusiast of horror, I’ve known about Tom Savini for some time as the instigator of many of the special techniques used in horror special effects to this day. To me I always knew of him as talented chum of George A Romero and effects artist on films such of Dawn of the Dead and Friday the Thirteenth. If you’ve ever seen somebody get gored, a head explode or a weapon sticking out of somebody’s head, chances are it came from an artist who grew up watching Savini do the same thing. It is often talked about in reference to old movies, but when it came to stunts and effects, without the aid of CGI, they just had to actually do it and part artist part stuntman Savini is the master of ‘just doing it’.

And here is where I perform a bit of gymnastics to bring this back to animation, because with the advent of so many modern digital imaging techniques, the work of the talented special effects make up artist has changed dramatically. It’s still absolutely necessary to have all of the vision, expertise and skill to bring an imaginary creature to shape using computer technology and the talent of those involved shouldn’t be diminished in any capacity. It’s all part of moving forward as we progress to more and more sophisticated special effects technology, but you can’t help but have a fond feeling for the slightly worse looking effects of the old masters. Nobody could claim that the skeletons of Ray Harryhausen look better than Avatar, but there is undeniable something very charming about this old techniques.

However, that was the old, I promise to not make this article be yet another post where I whinge about everybody forgetting about the outdated techniques of yesteryear. Benjamin Button and a whole host of other remarkable effects that require no make up at all are making a lot of progress within the industry, but there will always be the theatre productions and live shows that need to rely on the physical techniques of skilled professionals. So let’s look at something incredible:

I do have to warn you at this point, these make up videos are incredibly addictive, particularly the time lapse ones. It’s hardly surprising to find another time sink on youtube, but I could spend and have spent hours just watching make up artists transform their subjects into anything you can think of.

This is really what inspired me to start taking an active interest in special effects make up. Clearly, the tools and make up used in that video was professional grade and so very expensive, so I hope to look for some cost effective solutions and techniques that don’t look too awful, particularly whilst I’m just learning – I’d hate to splash out on high price foam latex only to discover I have no idea what I’m doing and give up. The key behind this goal is research I think. Luckily there is the internet, and so whatever your new found hobby, there is certain to be a forum and a community out there of people trying to achieve the same thing. At this point I’m happy to say that I’m a total novice, but I’m keen to give it a go and who knows, it could be the start of something very exciting.

The Man Behind the Monty Python Foot

There were a lot of different elements that went into what made Monty Python so staggeringly and timelessly brilliant, from the hyper-intelligent writing and work ethic of John Cleese, the unique voice and comic acting talents of Michael Palin in fact that second one can practically go for all of them. But when it comes to original artistic vision, a great amount of credit needs to be given to Terry Gilliam, a man who practically invented his own style of animation and psychedelic art from his London apartment for use in the now incredibly famous opening sequences of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

This foot became massive

 

There could be no more suiting opening sequence for a sketch troupe that believed in the ethos (and eventual film title) of ‘and now for something completely different’. Not only in the content of the show it seems, but also in the world of animation and art. For a show that is constantly subverting expectation and introducing the unexpected, this sequence captures that essence perfectly in a sequence that is less stream of consciousness and more stream of insanity. And for me personally, (which is a way of saying that I haven’t researched this enough to know if it is true) he marked the started of non-seamless low budget animation. A style of stop motion that didn’t try to look real like Harryhausen effects, its not trying to trick the mind or the eye. The jarring, strange and uncanny nature of the animation itself adds to the charm of the whole sequence. Well, so the same could be said of Jason and the Argonauts to be fair, but in that the animation added to the other-wordly element of the creatures.

–Interesting side note, as animation and effects have improved, have we lost the unnaturalistic movements that stop motion and other predecessors brought us in the genre of horror and the supernatural? May have to follow this up with a separate post at a later date –

However, in the Python sequences that movement doesn’t make us think of another world, but just the whole disjointed nature of the sequence. Additionally the animation style itself i think is representative of the show because it shows a great level of care and time devoted to something that at the end of it all is just silliness. Monty Python is a gloriously and unashamedly silly show.

Look at us being serious
Just kidding, we’re idiots

Perhaps it isn’t right to break down a show as ridiculous as this into its minute parts or to over analyse it. After all, I suspect that if you stopped the opening sequence at any point and asked why they had done something like replace an aristocrat’s body with a chicken body, the answer would probably come back, ‘because it’s stupid’.

Which, it’s relevant to note, is now and will always be the perfect answer. But what I did want to show you was something that inspired me a lot when I was first looking into animation as a serious hobby, goal, creative outlet and that is this fascinating interview I found with Terry Gilliam in which he explains how he created those iconic opening sequences.

                                                                   

What I found particularly interesting about these was the gripping motion that he manages with the hand. Looking at it in motion it is hard to tell that it is only 3 separate photos of hands. Worth particular mention as well (there is plenty in this video) is the way that the sound adds so hugely to the animation itself in the way that it fits perfectly. As another idea for a later post, I will try to write about the use of sound both effective and ineffective in different animations.

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: