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Archive for the ‘Animation’ Category

Developing dynamic and moving performances can be one of the greatest challenges for actors and directors working in collaboration.  Let’s add to the mix another set of creators who generate performances in motion pictures: animators.

Here are some interesting resources that highlight the extensive work of animators in developing compelling and well-defined characters through drawn or CG images.  First, there is an excellent article on the work of Pixar animators for a new movie featuring a beloved character: Woody in Toy Story 4.  Along with Tom Hanks’s exceptional voice work, a team of animators led by director Josh Cooley (at least for this fourth installment of the franchise) worked diligently to capture the wide range of emotions and traits seen in Woody and the rest of the Toy Story gang, and this is explored extensively in this piece by journalist Darryn King.

To investigate the ties between acting and animated film, it is critical to explore the creations of the Japanese master director Hayao Miyazaki.  Here are two articles on Miyazaki: an interview from The Telegraph and an overview of his career and the films of Studio Ghibli.

From “Cumo” by Emily Fabrizi

Speaking of performance through animation, here are two films from students of mine.  Cumo is an exceptionally crafted and delightful piece of animation by high school senior Emily Fabrizi that is highly worthwhile to explore for its reliance on performance — and without dialogue!  Another animated movie that weaves a strong character-driven portrait — and once again without any dialogue — is this award-winning college project by my former student Brendan Kirschbaum: Solo.  Both shorts feature many elements worthy of study for nuances in performance, all crafted by animators.

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In Chapter 3 of Moving Images and a number of mediateacher.net posts (for example, check out Part 2 from this series or the Kevin Goff interview), we have discussed cutting edge moving image creation designed to produce advertising, public service messages, issue-driven content, and a wide array of visual storytelling.  Here is a very interesting current resource: the TBrandStudio Selects for 2017 from the world of animation.  The chosen mediamakers are: Nice and Serious, Block & Tackle, Bhakti Patel, Mighty Oak, and Pete Levin.

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screen-shot-2017-02-25-at-10-08-06-amEach year, mediateacher posts pieces that discuss Oscar nominees or winners — often focusing on those under-the-radar treats: animated, live action, and documentary shorts — and today will emphasize a standout category from this year: animated feature film.  The lineup of movies nominated in animation highlights a strikingly diverse quintet of movies, including two foreign selections, the French-language My Life as a Zucchini and non-dialogue The Red Turtle; along with a new stop-motion treasure from Laika studios, Kubo and the Two Strings; and two thought-provoking, delightfully spirited Disney CG offerings, Zootopia (discussed in this earlier post) and Moana

Interestingly, of the three movies, a majority are animated using (relatively) old-school techniquesdrawn, 2D animation and figure-based stop motion.  Yet again, when it appears that digital advances will steer moviemaking in a particular direction by making things “easier” for craftspeople or “more realistic” for viewers, such as with CG-based animation, filmmakers will return to — and reinvigorate or sometimes reinvent — traditional techniques that help them to communicate the most meaningful and emotionally vibrant expression of their stories.

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Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala for Bear Story

Want to see those Oscar shorts?  Most of them, including the winners of Live Action Short — Stutterer and Animated Short Film — Bear Story — are available here.  In fact, Bear Story marks the first time a Chilean film has ever won an Oscar, which was movingly noted by its creators, Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala.

For the documentaries, it is not possible to go to one single source to watch all of the nominated shorts, but the winner directed by Sharmeen Obaid-ChinoyA Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, will be available to HBO subscribers next week since it was produced by the renowned HBO documentary division.

Related to celebrating things, I will add an expression of joy for Emmanuel Lubezki‘s astounding third win in a row for cinematography (after having shot an incredible series of features with  Alfonso Cuarón, particularly Children of Men, Y Tu Mamá También, and A Little Princess) shooting essentially without lights.  And add to that a resounding cry of triumph for the maestro, Ennio Morricone, for such a well-deserved victory and one of the most touching moments of the night.  It was a genuine pleasure to see him up there receiving his award with such a wonderful address and message to his respected peer, John Williams.  What a composer.  Ennio Morricone has scored hundreds of movies, and there are so, so many that are absolute masterpieces.  Here is one you have probably never heard of: Gli Scassinatori.  Check it out and you will see what I mean.  Il maestro, indeed.

Margaret Sixel and George Miller

Margaret Sixel and George Miller

Among the many victories for Mad Max: Fury Road (also so well deserved all around) was Film Editing for Margaret Sixel.  Yes, it was a woman who was in charge of editing that furious voyage of footage!  And did anyone notice how many women were among the winners on stage, and not just in acting categories?  For the big winner at the end, Spotlight, it was two women who were speaking from among the film’s producersBlye Pagon Faust and Nicole Rocklin.

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"Sanjay's Super Team" by Sanjay Patel

“Sanjay’s Super Team” by Sanjay Patel

Throughout the media, there is lots of heated debate revolving around this year’s Academy Awards.  Here’s an invitation to escape the controversies about the lack of skin-hued diversity among the nominees for a moment and check out the short films nominated in the three categories devoted to shorts: animation, live-action fiction, and documentary.  Visit ShortsHD for info about where you can find the Oscar shorts and lots of other short film info.  And by the way, there’s lots of ethnic diversity represented in many of the shorts nominated for Oscars in these categories.  But evidently, these movies don’t count for anything.  However, they certainly do for us and for anyone who loves inventive, invigorating moviemaking off the beaten path.  So check them out, you will probably find something you like.

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far cryIn discussions of CG and visual effects on various occasions – such as ones at mediateacher.net with visual effects supervisor Greg Butler – one of the topics that regularly arises is the particular challenge of animating people.  This involves the concept of the uncanny valley – that territory whereby the closer one gets to creating an artificial human, the creepier and more repellant that version becomes (recently confirmed through research by Maya Mathur and David Reichling).  It seems to be not such a big issue for gamers (such as with Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, or Far Cry), but in fiction movies, the trend has been towards creating very cartoonish-looking people.  Among the most famous examples of the uncanny valley turning off viewers have been in the performance capture features of Robert Zemeckis, such as in The Polar Express and Beowulf, as well as earlier Pixar efforts such as Tin Toy (with that unintentionally gruesome baby) and Toy Story.  When reviewing the history of CG in animated features, it is interesting to track the development of animating humans as it settled into a distinctly stylized, successfully cartoonish look, such as in Ratatouille, The Incredibles, and Up.  One notable moment in CG features that struck me was with the release of the feature Monster House, in which the setting was animated in a hyper-realistic mode and while the characters were created using performance capture, the design distinctly pursued a claymation look, most visibly noticeable in the hair of the characters.

MogWhen I was watching some British holiday commercials that were highlighted by the blog Media Psychology, I chuckled at one long ad featuring the CG cat Mog (for Sainsbury’s narrated by Emma Thompson).  I wondered, “so when cats watch this, are they creeped out?  Do they experience the uncanny valley too?  And what about dogs?  Do they get a chill down their spine watching CG puppies like when we watch The Polar Express and they yell out, ‘please, just turn on Madagascar again!'”  

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Brothers Quay at work

Brothers Quay at work

Stop Motion is one of the most accessible and productive ways in which young filmmakers can explore visual communication and storytelling.  This is clearly demonstrated in the popularity of Brickfilms (for some particularly inspiring Lego work, check out Fell in Love with a Girl directed by music video maverick and eternal kid-at-heart Michel Gondry for The White Stripes) and the continued success of such studios as Laika and Aardman.  Right now at Film Forum in New York, a surprising partnership has emerged in the realm of stop-motion: Christopher Nolan, director of mega-blockbusters including the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception, has made Quay, a short documentary about the Brothers Quay and their films, and curated a touring program showcasing their groundbreaking, influential, thematically challenging*, and technically astonishing body of work.

Still from Street of Crocodiles by Brothers Quay

Still from Street of Crocodiles by Brothers Quay

Earlier posts on this blog have highlighted the work of PES, Kirsten Lepore (see Stop Motion Restarted), Karel Zeman, Tim Burton, and other stop-motion creators, and another post presents a short documentary by one of my students, Frame-By-Frame, which provides an original, compelling introduction to stop-motion (and 2D animation, by extension).  In addition, for interested educators, The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation by Ken Priebe is an excellent resource for classroom use.

(*Or “extremely creepy,” as many of my students would say — although I have noted that for many kids today, anything in 3D animation that isn’t from the slick world of CG is almost automatically “creepy,” which is even more disturbing, I think.)

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