Monday, February 7, 2011

Ask the Audience: How Can You Tell if Animation Is Good?

*This post contains clips (and spoilers) from Toy Story 2, How to Train Your Dragon, and Up

Wow, I haven't made a new post in... 2 weeks, it looks like. I've been crunching a lot on my last few assignments and just couldn't pull myself away from them long enough to write a post. But, I've still been getting comments in all that time, so thanks to all you guys for continuing to read this sparsely-updated blog. And I promise that I'll be making more frequent updates soon :)

Today's post will be short, because it's mostly a set-up and asking of a question. So get your notebooks handy; you'll be quizzed at the end of this.

I want to start by sharing a few clips for you.

First, here's a sequence from Toy Story 2 in which Buzz, Ham, Rex, Potato Head, and Slinky are trying to make it to the top floor of an apartment building. But the toys don't realize that this Buzz is actually a new one from the toy store. So he still has all the mannerisms of something like a cop who takes himself far too seriously. And, I think that the stuff he does in this sequence is some of the best animation ever.

Continued here

The relevant stuff (for now) ends at 2:50.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Oscar Nominations of Feature Animation

I've been crunching an assload this week, so sorry for the lack of posts. So I'll try to keep this one short (although that never works out) and just talk about yesterday's nominee announcements for the 83rd Academy Awards.

First off, I should admit that while I don't have much respect for the Academy Awards, I still get excited when movies I like are nominated or win. It feels more like affirmation that the things I like are liked by other people. However, there's a lot of politics in the Oscars that I just don't like, and sometimes it can feel like the awards are awarded for sentimentality, not for pure quality. But that is neither here nor there and this post is not a criticism of the Oscars. For the sake of brevity, I'll just be mentioning categories where animated films were nominated (starred with an asterisk indicates an animated film)

Best Picture
  • Black Swan
  • The Fighter
  • Inception
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • The King's Speech
  • 127 Hours
  • The Social Network
  • *Toy Story 3
  • True Grit
  • Winter's Bone

So, to start things off, I should mention that Toy Story 3 was nominated for Best Picture! I absolutely think it's deserving of a nomination, but I highly doubt it's ability to win. OK, some small Oscar criticism: There have only been 3 animated movies in the history of the Oscars to get nominated for Best Picture. Beauty and the Beast in 1992, Up last year, and Toy Story 3 this year. I feel like there have been many more movies that should have been nominated that weren't. I definitely think animation still doesn't get taken that seriously as a legitimate art form, but having two years in a row where an animated film is nominated for Best Picture (albeit, the same years where there were 10 nominees instead of 5) looks like a good sign. But Toy Story 3 has some excellent competition. Christopher Nolan is my favorite director, and I'm a big fan of Darren Aronofsky and Danny Boyle, and an even bigger fan of the Coen Brothers. So, personally, I wouldn't mind Inception, Black Swan, 127 Hours, or True Grit winning either. Though, seeing the competition they have, you can't really go wrong this year. But if Toy Story 3 wins, I will poop right in my pants.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Is a Degree in Animation Important?


Oh, I guess I should elaborate on that.

A few weeks ago I made a post about art degrees in a forum I visit. If you're looking to become an artist, I think it's very important that you give this blog post a read. Much of it will be a rehash from the forum post I made, but I want to be as sincere and as frank as possible here, because I hate to see art students make the same pitfalls over and over. I'm making this post specifically about animation degrees, but it applies to pretty much any artist wanting to get into the industry.

So, back to the question. Is an animation degree important? Short answer: No. Long answer: Not at all.

Longer answer:

Like I said, I'm going to be harsh in this post. Let's clear something up right away.

An art degree will not help get you a job in the industry

I see this a lot, and I've been there, too. You find a college art program that looks interesting, and it promises a degree. In the classes, the instructors will keep telling you that getting an art degree will significantly improve your chances of getting a job in the field. What they fail to tell you is that that is a dirty, dirty lie. You aren't hired as an artist because a piece of paper from a college says you can animate. All the degree says is that you were able to complete the course. It says nothing about your skill, which is the most important thing to employers.

So what is important to employers?

Friday, January 21, 2011

ShapeShifter by Charlex Films

Hey, folks! I'm very busy crunching away at my shot, but I wish I could make a longer post.

Until then, I'll leave you with a beautiful, beautiful short film from Charlex Films called ShapeShifter.

ShapeShifter from Charlex on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Why Animate? And the Uncanny Valley

I have a lot of work to do on my shot, and especially after the giant posts I made yesterday, I'll try to keep this one a bit more brief and a bit more lighthearted.

What I want to talk about first is animation and, in my mind, what the philosophy behind it is.

I mentioned in my last post that animation is caricatured motion, and I'd like to delve into that a little bit. The goal of animation is not to show reality, but to distill reality and find what makes something appealing. You hear a lot about how "realistic" good animation is. And it is in some cases (such as when it has to integrate with live action). But in most cases you think of when you think of animation, it is hardly realistic. However, it is believable.

Let's take a look at this scene from The Incredibles

Now, first of all, the character designs are extremely caricatured. Nobody really looks like Huph, Bob's boss. And Bob's proportions are completely unrealistic. What's more, especially the business after 2:30, the animation is not "realistic." But it is believable and that is the word of the day. It's not about realism. It's about what FEELS real. It's about the essence of an action. Caricature, in my mind, is stripping something down to its bare bones, exaggerating that, and then carefully building on top of that. It's about getting rid of what's unnecessary and leaving only what tells a story.

The State of Animation, Part 2

When I last left off I was ranting about Disney wannabes in the '90s that were running 2D animation into the ground. The reasoning was that the Disney model was the only model for making animated movies. The future was bleak as more and more companies started making terrible movies based on the Disney model, and things were about to get worse.

In the late '70s, George Lucas started looking into using computers to achieve his special effects. Lucasfilm created the Lucasfilm Computer Graphics Project. It was made up of Ed Catmull, Ralph Guggenheim, and Alvy Ray Smith. Together, they pretty much invented modern computer graphics. But what they really wanted to do was make movies. So in the early '80s they brought in young, but successful animator, John Lasseter. Together, along with some more hires, they produced The Adventures of Andre and Wally B. It was the first computer-animated short film. Eleven years later, the group - which had now spun off from Lucasfilm and called themselves Pixar - released Toy Story in 1995.

But Toy Story wasn't the Disney model. In fact, it was a contemporary story and wasn't a musical. But it was animated. And it was a huge hit. Well, well, well. It looks like the executives of those startup 2D studios were wrong! Not only did a non-Disney animated film become a hit, it was nothing like the Disney model! The Disney model was not the be-all end-all of animation, right? Right? Right?

Of course not!

Monday, January 17, 2011

The State of Animation, Part 1

This is going to be a very broad post, and I'm assuming it will have a lot of ranting, so bear with me. But it's been on my mind for months and I'd like to write a primer on what I see as the downfalls of mainstream animation.

A week or so ago, I finally saw Disney's Tangled

Now, this won't be a review of Tangled, suffice it to say that I was very impressed by it. And not just the animation; that's a given. I mean, it's Disney and, even in Disney's darkest days, the animation has always been ahead of almost anyone else. Tangled had some of the best animation I've seen in the last few decades, but I digress.

No, what impressed me, though, at the same time it frustrated me, was the story. We've all heard the Rapunzal fairy tale and, if we haven't, we can at least name certain plot points. I'm not going to say Tangled "took the story we know and turned it on its head" like a lot of fairy tale adaptations try to do (and fall flat doing). What I will say is that it was told very well. And that's it. It was aware of what kind of movie it was, and didn't try to be anything else. Which is good. More on this later, but these days, you see animated movies that don't exactly know what they are (candidly, Dreamworks and Blue Sky tend to be examples of studios that make such movies).

Tangled is a musical, and that's kind of to be expected from Disney. Not that that's at all bad. I don't think it's a gimmick. If musicals can be considered legit works of art in general, then animated musicals should be treated with equal respect. But here's where things start to get a little frustrating for me.