Blog Post #8 – Shane Acker’s 9 : Better at 11 or 79?

While looking for a more ‘adult’ animation to watch, I decided to rent Shane Acker’s 9.  This post apocalyptic story is really not for children.  It does have a PG 13 rating …. only one of four computer-animated films to receive this rating.  The others were:  Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001), Kaena: La prophet, (2003) and Beowulf (2007).

Even though I thought that the artistic animation was beautiful, I found that the storyline ended up being just another end ‘of the world/fight the machines’ story that we have seen many times before.  As I watched all I could think of was Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines!


Watching the Special Features section of the DVD, I found that Acker had first made 9 as a short film in 2005 when he was still a student at UCLA.   After watching the original animated short of Shane Acker’s 9 my question was: Did the expanded story of 9 at 79 minutes give us more artistically than his 11 minute short film?  I don’t really think so.

The  animated short was based on visual story telling and pantomime — the story was brilliantly told without dialog.  The CGI animation used a narrow color pallet with earth tones and a painterly saturation.  This is different than most CGI animation that is usually more photorealistic and uses a broad spectrum of colors.  It took Acker four years to bring his vision of a primitive culture evolving from scavengers to life.  It was nominated for an Oscar in 2006 in the Best Animated Short Film category.

Shane Acker himself tells us that the biggest challenge in expanding the animated short into a full length feature was the storyline.  He had to conceptualize a larger story that he could easily incorporate the shorter story into.  He did not want to redo what he and already done.  His focus on 9 helped him do this.  The expansion of the story did answer some questions regarding how the world ended up the way it did but other than that the introduction of more monsters and chase scenes were the core of the expanded time.  Acker did start the film with an absence of dialog for the first 10 minutes…giving it some of the feel of the original animation.

The animated short gave us the story in a visually perfect nutshell.  The search for others, the confusion of the unknown, discovery of scavenged tools, fight and flight with a monster and the spiritual release at the end of life were all shown to us in 11 minutes.

References:

9, DVD, Focus Features Spotlight Series with Special Features.

IMDB

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Blog Post # 7 – The Beat Generation and UPA Style

At the end of class last week when we watched Ernest Pintoff’s The Critic all I could think about was the Beat Generation of the 1950’s and the subsequent counterculture of the 1960’s.  The newly emerging UPA style of animation could be seen as a mirror for the Beat Generation’s continuous challenge of free expression.  The ‘Beatnik’ era culture of the late 1950’s – pre Hippie 1960’s encompassed not only literature but music and dance.  Poetry, jazz and modern dance were all influenced.

Before Ernest Pintoff won the Oscar for the Best Animated Short for The Critic  he directed another animated short in 1961 entitled The Interview. This animation is an interview with a beatnik character named Shorty Petterstein, a jazz musician, that was created by Henry Jacobs.  Jacobs was a sound engineer/artist who worked in radio and hosted one of the first ‘world music’ radio programs.  The Interview showcases simplistic UPA style – bright color, textured background, partial movement animation, characters with large noses and angled shapes.

I also found a more recent animation, Beatless Nick,  that is also in the 1950’s UPA style telling the story of a beatnik with no sense of rhythm.

Dan Meth also capture’s the feeling of the Beat Generation with his contemporary animation of the same name.

References:

Wikipedia: Ernest Pintoff

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Blog Post #6 – The Sword in the Stone

Disney’s 1963 animation of The Sword in the Stone was the last full length animated feature that was released while Walt Disney was alive.  The film is based on the 1938 novel by T.H. White of the same name.  This animation was a part of the ‘English Cycle’ of Disney films that included Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, 101 Dalmatians, The Jungle Book, Robin Hood and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.  Even though Disney followed the general plot of T. H. White’s original book, much of the substance of the storyline was changed.  Both T. H. White and Walt Disney made changes to the original  White manuscript storyline of the Arthurian Legend of The Sword in the Stone.

The original 1938 novel chronicles early life of a boy named Wart who is befriended by Merlin the magician.  Merlin tutors Wart to prepare him for the time when he would become the king of England.  The setting is medieval England and White includes in the story his vast knowledge of medieval culture, especially in hunting, falconry and jousting. Many of Merlin’s lessons for Wart consisted of  being turned magically into animals. Wart also had human adventures, including meeting the outlaw Robin Wood (Robin Hood).

T.H. White substantially revised the original 1938 stand alone novel when he published The Sword in the Stone as the first part of a 1958 four part series, The Once and Future King.   The new version included several new story lines, one of which included a strong pacifist message.  In this story Arthur is turned into a wild goose that files so high that he cannot determine national boundaries.  The new version also leaves out some of the passages that were in the original and were used for the Disney film, such as the battle between Merlin and Madam Mim.

Both Walt Disney and T. H. White used The Sword and the Stone to portray their unhappiness with the political and professional problems they were encountering.  Walt Disney identified himself with the Merlin character and it has been suggested that he felt that Merlin’s battle with Mim portrayed his personal battles with critics.  T. H. White’s revision of his original story reflected the more somber mood after World War II and his dissatisfaction with the wartime censorship and delay in the publication of his 1941 The Book of Merlyn.

References:

The Sword in the Stone DVD, 45th Anniversary Edition with Bonus Features

Wikipedia:  The Sword and the Stone (Book), The Sword and the Stone (Film), The Book of Merlyn

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Spring Break Blog Post — Where have I seen this before?

Earlier this semester as I sat watching the mega million dollar, cutting edge technology film Avatar there was something about the storyline that rang a bell.  The monster machine cutting down trees, floating luminescent pod beings, the life essence drawn from the tree of knowledge/life — and then it hit — FernGully!  As I looked further into the making of FernGully I found that it was also cutting edge in animation for the time period in which it was made.


FernGully: The Last Rainforest was released by Fox in 1992.  The storyline takes place in an Australian rainforest inhabited by a race of fairies that have never seen humans and believe that they only exist in the stories that have been handed down to them from their ancestors.  The story line is ecological but predictable with the meeting of Crysta the fairy and Zak the human falling in love with each other, confronting the dangerous Hexxus and finally saving the forest.  The secondary storyline characters include Pips, a fairy who competes for Crysta’s affections and a bat that has escaped a scientific testing facility named Batty.

Time reduction for the animators of FernGully was done by using several different computer techniques that were experimental.  One of these techniques was digital ink and paint.  This required no cells or paint.  Drawings were scanned into the computer and colored with a paint program that filled in the colors between the lines.  The one drawback to this procedure was that the computer generated lines were not as crisp as those that were hand drawn.  The tended to be fat grey lines.  FernGully was on the forefront of digital ink and paint —  no one was using this in animation at that time!  Now most animation is done this way.

A second technique that helped the animator was by building a character, such as Batty, in three-dimensional form on the computer then animating his movements.  You could animate a five second scene almost immediately that would encompass 80 to 100 drawings  This would free the animator from having to figure out the size, perspective and flight cycle for the character in any given scene.

This also allowed the animator to use technology and still maintain the quality of and drawn animation.  The computer would print the generate images on peg hole paper at the rate of 60 drawings an hour.  These drawings would be hand inked, painted and then combined with the hand drawn pictures of the animators.

Using these computer generated images on non human figures and machines such as the Leveler saved the animators time and talent for the skilled drawing work on the main characters.  Since more than 20 animators worked on these characters, model sheets were created showing the animator the physical body proportions and looks of each character.

FernGully’s blend of hand drawn and computer generated animation was at the beginning of the technology that has ended up on today’s cinema screens as we watch Avatar!


As I was looking for my last piece of artwork for this blog, I found that I was not the only one who thought about the Avatar/FernGully storyline comparison!

References:

IMDB

Fern Gully: The Last Rain Forest, Family Fun Edition, Disk One and Two

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#5 Lotte Reiniger’s Scissors

After watching Prince Achmed by Lotte Reiniger last week in class I was eager to learn more about this fascinating film.  Luckily I found that the British Film Institute had released it in DVD as a part of their Milestone Collection.  The work of Lotte Reinger was also highlighted in a bonus documentary.  The final film that was so work intensive to make shows an amazing delicacy in the movement of its characters.


Lotte Reiniger saw herself as an entertainer instead of an artist.  Her addiction to silhouette making was something that started at an early age.  By the age of 14 she  had her first shadow puppet theater.  Her creativity lead to the creation of the first full length animated movie Prince Achmed which was done with silhouette figures on color backgrounds.

This endeavor kept Lotte at her light board for three years.  The camera work was done with a multi-plane camera that captured 300,000 separate frames.  Since the height of the attic workroom was not very high, most of the frames were set up at floor level.  After filming the movements were synchronized to the score that was written by Wolfgang Zeller.  The film opened to mixed reviews.  Audiences were not accustomed to serious animation.  Financially it was a disaster — it took 50 years for it to show a profit.

My fascination in watching the film for a second and third time was the movement of the characters’ hands.  Of course the hands of the sorcerer and witch were undeniably powerful and wicked as they set about casting their spells.  But, I was amazed at the emotion Reiniger showed in the control and placement of the hands of her characters in non-violent action .  The following  screen capture shows the expressive hand gesture of my favorite scene when Prince Achmed closes his hand in a defiant fist as the sorcerer struggles with his sister Dinarsade.

Later in the film the picture of Aladdin as he reaches to hold Dinarsade’s hand conveys such a tender moment with its fluid movement.

I was able to find pictures on the web that were taken during the creation of some of Reiniger’s silhouette films … they help us understand the painstaking work it took to bring this first animation into being.


There there are always those who like to add their spin to a work of art.  I found this on a chinese website!

References:

The Adventures of Prince Achmed, Lotte Reiniger, DVD, Milestone Collection, British Film Institute

Documentary: Lotte Reiniger: Homage to the Inventor of the Silhouette Film, DVD, Milestone Collection, British Film Institute.

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#4 Betty Boop – Evolution and Censorship

During the 1930’s the Fleischer Studios had a collection of characters that were considered competition for Disney.  These included Popeye, Superman and Betty Boop. When sound was introduced Fleischer studio created the Talkertoon series.  Betty Boop became one of the audience’s favorite characters.  The evolution of Betty Boop’s adorable but sexy personality put her in the middle of the 1930’s censorship  controversy.


Betty Boop started out as the girlfriend of the character Bimbo in Dizzie Dish’s.  She was originally drawn by Grimm Natwick to portraying a little dog character with feminine legs and spit curls.  By 1932 she had acquired her name and in the episode Any Rags she became human.

Betty Boop’s cartoons as they evolved were considered risque by many.

During the 1930’s the film industry was going through a censorship period that would last well into the 1960’s.  Hollywood adopted a movie code in their quest to keep Hollywood films free of age restrictions and open to world wide markets.  The Motion Picture Produces and Distributors of America (MPPDA) , known as the Hays Office after it’s  president William H. Hays, analyzed every script, story line, and film that was produced.  This censorship system attempted to prevent moral and politically  questionable material from reaching the movie screen.

All of the major Hollywood studios fought against the censorship of they Hays Office, since it kept them from making realistic films.  After the mid-1930’s most films were altered to make them more inline with the conservative outlook of censors.  During this time Paramount requested that the Fleischer’s tone down Betty Boop’s sexual characteristics.  This was a big change for Betty — her character lost much of her personality as her skirt was lengthened.  The addition of the Grampy character did give the cartoon storyline some venue for social statements as the audiences laughed at his wacky inventions.

References:

The Great Animation Studios:  The Fleischer Studios, DVD

Hollywood Censored by Gregor D. Black, Publisher: Cambridge (1996)

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#3 – 1960’s Space – The Jetsons

In the early 1960’s the world became enamored with a new vision.  President Kennedy countered the Soviet Union’s space exploration program with the challenge  “this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning hine safely to the earth.”  Kennedy’s address to Congress on May 21, 1961 started our fascination with space.

Even though the general population was intrigued by the American and Soviet space programs and astronauts . .  the entertainment industry was slow to embrace the “astro-obsession”, but quickly caught up in the mid to late 1960’s. One of the first prime time shows to jump on the space craze bandwagon was the animated show The Jetsons which debuted in the Fall of 1962.

The Jetsons was produced by Hanna Barbera, one of the first animation studios to produce cartoons for televison.  Their success with The Flintstones on ABC was an original concept when television cartoons were usually reruns of cartoons shown in theaters.

The original Jetsons program ran from September 1963 to March 1964 with 24 episodes.  As you can see from the following ABC promotional credit clip that the adventures of The Jetsons predicted what our lives would be like in 2062.

The science of the space age, of course, has brought about some of the gadgets and inventions that we see in many of the early space television shows such as The Jetsons and Star Trek (1966-1969).  I think some of the apprehension’s people had  in the 1960’s regarding where science might lead us can be seen in the way robotics were portrayed in The Jetsons.  Rosie the robot maid was portrayed as slow and not very bright.  In the episode The Coming of Astro, an animated guard dog was show as overly competent and having no loyal attributes.

A second season was added to The Jetsons series in 1985.  With the beginnings of computer technology for personal use, this new season of 30 episodes, added a few new characers, including George’s work computer R.U.D.I.  This was aother link to the space science that started in the 1960’s.

We still have a way to go before we have the ‘pop-up bed’ or the ‘flying car’ that George had, but we can find the traveling walkways at many of our airports and a 3-D television is in its experimental stage!

If you would like to see some model sheets and/or concept art for The Jetsons series you may want to take a look at this blog dedicated to Irving Spector, Animator.

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