Monday, November 8, 2010

ARGs and Me: An Awfully Written Intro

I've realized that, if I were to ever get into the gaming industry, that story would be the thing I would most be interested in crafting rather than the actual mechanics. This is why I've recently been researching ARGs: alternate reality games, where one of the most important factors of the game is to make it seem as realistic as possible... mostly without the aid of a console or a computer. This means MUCH less time spent on mechanics and a whole lot more time spent on creating an interesting narrative.

I'm sure if you're a regular user of the Internet, you've stumbled upon one of these before. I've been somewhat involved in two past games (for Cloverfield and Portal 2) and have come across remnants of others, my favorites so far being the Aperture Science website for Portal (seriously, the employee application is one of the funniest things I've read, and if you want to read it as well, go to the website and type in "login", username: cjohnson, password: tier3, then enter "ls", then "apply") and the seven deadly sins packages/websites for Dante's Inferno (which were less narrative based but definitely raised some general questions about morality). Most recently, I've signed up to finish the end of the Tron Legacy ARG, Flynn Lives, and have started participating in some of the more recent events.

And so far, from what I've seen, ARGs have been closely tied with advertisements for products. Off the top of my head, lonelygirl15 is a sort-of ARG— not a game because this was only comprised of videos —that was able to successfully trick an audience into thinking it was real while at the same time being incredibly engaging. What I really want to do is see how an ARG that isn't based off of some pre-existing product/story could be engaging, fun, and most importantly successful. I don't know if there are already some out there, but I bet that if there aren't, it could be done somehow.

All of that said, here's the first stepping stone in my quest to either search for or make an original ARG from

Three Movies and Many Caps

I didn't really want to make a huge post about all of these films, so here're a couple of screencaps I've taken from some recent films I've watched with some interesting compositional stuff that's probably not actually super interesting but hey I think they're interesting and look at that I'm making a run-on sentence so without further ado, I'll just get my creepy nerdiness out of the way and start with these:

Pokémon is one of those shows that… well, you either hate it because you feel that it's all a huge marketing ploy or you love it immensely because of the escapist story of being able to go off into the world to capture crazy animals and have amazing adventures. I've fallen into the trap of loving them for the animation and the stories, specifically for the third Pokémon movie, Kesshou Tou no Teiou Entei, which I think translates into something like "The Badass Lion Pokémon Entei and his Magic Adventures". The movies are honestly a lot better than the TV show just for overall quality (except the best thing about the whole series, Team Rocket, hardly ever makes an appearance in the films, but that's something to discuss another day). Anyway, in the movie, this little girl Molly loses her parents, finds a whole bunch of magical Pokémon called the Unown, and uses them to create her own scary dream world and conjures up her "Papa", the legendary Pokémon Entei. Through a series of events that would take a while to explain, Entei kidnaps Ash's mother because Molly wants to pretend that she's her real mother... so Ash and friends must go and infiltrate the girl's dream world to get his mom back.

Every time I watch Pokémon nowadays I always think of the three kids as the band of wandering, adventurous detectives. I think it stems from Harry Potter being enhanced for me by Brad Neely's Wizard People, Dear Reader where he kept calling the trio of friends "junior Sherlock Holmes'." So yeah. Here are the four detectives, Misty, Brock, the rat, and Ash. And this is just a really nice cap of all four of them together in a lovely meadow before Brock has to kick the crap out of Molly in a Pokémon battle.

...I guess I won't explain every scene cap, but this next one makes more sense with at least a sentence of explanation below it...

Here Molly finds out that her dad has just disappeared while on an expedition. Small Molly, spaced far away from everyone else, meaning Molly feels small, and she feels like she's so far away from anyone's help. Very obvious composition, yes, but I don't know. I liked it for some reason.

This one is just so awkward and hilarious, and Ash looks like a big dork as always. "YEAH TOTODILE LET'S DO OUR VICTORY JUMP." I want to know how someone can jump that high. I don't want to try it for myself, though. It looks too dangerous. I'll leave that kind of move to the real Pokémon trainers.

I didn't really take too many good screencaps, because when I was watching this movie the other day I only got through half of it. The second half is a whole lot cooler and has so many better opportunities for caps (note to self: do a scene study of this movie!), but... I took this one because it was just so awkward. I don't know if it's just because things are chopped off in this version of the movie (is this not as wide as the original?) but Molly's just placed strangely in the frame. Maybe it's just me. Either way, sometimes you just gotta look at the frames you hate, too.

PIKACHU. WEARING A HAT. I AM LAUGHING LIKE A LUNATIC. The framing here is obvious and excellent. Also, that cake in the back looks delicious. I really want some.

Anyway, next movie. Wristcutters. It's a good film with Gogol Bordello music about where you go when you commit suicide. Again, not many caps (just this one), but I did watch through the whole movie, and what I really liked about it wasn't the compositions (which were good) but the color. Everything is so washed out and depressing, because... well, Suicide World is a depressing place where you can't smile and bad things happen to you all of the time. But it was gorgeous and never distracting.

Now Kabei: Our Mother. Also a really good film that almost made me cry. And I say almost because I thought the ending was so incredibly corny. Otherwise, yes, it was a really nice film, and interesting to see both WWII from a Japanese perspective and see the universality of family and loss. And to see Tadanobu Asano. Oh yes. That man is amazing.

But I really liked all of the scenes that happened inside of houses, which was more or less half of the movie. On one hand is was voyeuristic, and on the other... it made you feel like you were also a part of the family. Which made each loss and gain within the household a lot more emotional.

This is obviously the truest cap in the entire film. And the last one from this set.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Great Scott! Babbling About BTTF

For some reason I feel as if I've been writing these blog posts as if they've been assignments for school. A few of them seem really dry and stale to me, and I'm sure that I could explain myself better if I just kind of... well, relax. I shouldn't be focusing on whether or not the writing's good. I mean, this blog is supposed to be for myself (but then again I'm my own worst critic).

That said, I just found out that Telltale is making a new Back To The Future video game, and I must let out my emotions in my own special way:



As if you couldn't tell, Back To The Future is one of my all-time favorite movies. It completely encapsulates the feelings I get when I think about my childhood, particularly the scene in the first movie where Marty and Doc first test out the time travel DeLorean at Twin Pines/Lone Pine Mall (minus the whole Doc getting chased and gunned down by terrorists bit). Although, and I don't know if I'm the only one who thinks this way, out of all three of the BTTF movies, my favorite is the second. I love seeing how the future and the past are changed throughout the first film (and how, every time I see the movie, I find a tiny detail about these changes that I missed the first time around) but the second one is just filled with so many more. And I'm kicking myself now because I completely forgot to bring the movie with me to Chicago (but I have the first and third ones, what's up with that?!) and I wanted to make some screencaps and list some of the things that I absolutely love about the film.

Luckily, this is the Internet. And on the Internet, you can get anything.

Well, the first thing that I can say is that... oh Lord, I actually used to hate this movie with a passion. I hated it just as much as I did the third movie. But the thing was, I had never seen it in it's entirety: I had just seen the first half hour or so when Doc, Marty, and Jennifer go into the future. After seeing the film entirely, the segment is still pretty corny what with all of it's wild assumptions about what 2015 will be like (example: I cried pained tears when the 3D Jaws tried to eat Marty and he flipped out... how could that look real to anyone with working vision?) and Michael J. Fox playing fifty billion copies of himself (one in drag, even, pahahaha) but it has to be there because 1) it was already set up at the end of the first movie, and 2) it sets up the rest of the awesome, awesome plot...


"Bikers everywhere, Strickland has a gun, and I don't have a room anymore?! AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!"

Personally, I would think that ruining the possibility of my existence would be less scary than actually having to exist in a horrifying world where my mother is married to Biff Tannen. Even worse would be finding out that Biff murdered my dad and that my best friend was committed to a mental institution and that I had just left my sleeping girlfriend on some stranger's porch in a dangerous neighborhood (but I always find it hilarious that this is actually one of the least of Marty's worries... oh that McFly). When Marty gets hit with the realization that his future is all screwed up (not knowing how it could have happened), it's the darkest part of the entire trilogy and leads up to one of my favorite scenes.

Everything's bleak, everything's dreary... from what I remember, it's raining outside, and Doc and Marty (and Einstein if he can even comprehend what's going on) are the only two people in this specific timeline— the entire world —to realize that things are not going as they should be. The worst part is that they don't even know why it's happening. Well, Marty doesn't understand why, at least. It's a hopeless situation where your throat just plummets into your stomach and any way to resolve what has happened is just thrown out the window. This isn't a matter of getting your parents back together by having them kiss at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance... this is a matter of having to go back through the entire fabric of time and figure out just what the hell happened.

But luckily, Doc is not only a scientist, but a master detective, and is gonna learn ol' Marty a thing or two.

Doc explains everything that's going on to Marty... summarized, Marty messed everything up and has to fix it. Future Biff took Marty's sports almanac, stole the DeLorean, gave it to his younger self in the past, and used it to win millions, which led to everyone Marty loves in 1985 suddenly leading terrible existences and/or being dead. Marty's got to go have a showdown with Biff and find out if he still has it so he and Doc can go back AGAIN in time and stop Biff from giving Biff's almanac to Biff.

It makes total sense.

So our hero confronts the villain cowboy-style (both a symbol of his perceived advantage over Biff and foreshadowing to what will happen in BTTF III see this is why this trilogy is great so much foreshadowing and clues hey I'm starting to nerd out here ehehehehehe) . Marty is obviously pretty cocky on arrival, but of course, once he's alone with Biff in his office...


Oh, how the tables have turned! Marty's bigger-than-the-entire-frame stance is now substituted for a now tiny, tiny presence. McFly obviously does not know how he's going to get out of this one.

Eventually Biff flips out, having revealed the secret of his riches, and tries to kill Marty the same way he killed Crispi— I mean, George. There's a short chase up to the rooftop where they finally have a short altercation before Marty fakes Biff out and jumps off of his stepdad's casino...

...only to appear a short time later on the DeLorean, once again looming triumphant above Biff. He smashes Biff's face in with the DeLorean door for good measure, and proceeds to zip off with Doc to 1955.

After that, it's fun and laughs in the 50s, revisiting the dance and snagging the almanac back from Biff. But, honestly, it should have ended right then and there. What's so good about the second movie is that, instead of constructing an entirely new setting/time period for Doc and Marty to travel to, as an audience we get to relive our favorite parts from the first movie and revisit all of the characters. In the third movie, we have all sorts of new characters thrown at us and, while they are descendants of Marty and Biff... honestly, why should we as an audience care about them? There's already a pre-constructed universe that our heroes live in, and if you've already spent the second movie building upon the first, why would you just ditch that and go into a completely alien world with people that the audience doesn't relate to (example: Doc was never described/hinted to being lonely or wanting to fall in love, nor do I think anyone cared to explore that, so what in the world was the purpose of Clara?)? I'm not completely knocking the film, because there are some really good parts (a time-traveling train isn't nearly as cool as a DeLorean, but it still works out fine) but BTTF II, as a sequel, worked a whole lot better.

And after typing ALL of that out and nerding out to the point where now I'm kind of embarrassed to post this, I can say that... this is exactly why I'm so excited about the video game. Hopefully it isn't exactly like the third movie where new worlds are completely created that we can't become familiar with. If the entire plot is expertly wound together where everything can be linked together in a way where a player can actually feel the character's fear/excitement/despair/whatever... it should definitely be successful. And I'll be so super stoked.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Staging and Poses - A Real World Example

I was doing a couple of animations this weekend, and one became a great example of how not to do staging/poses and how to do them right. In this one scene that I'm working on, I have my baby raptor, Roscoe Jr., running away and trying to hide from his ultimate enemy. Of course, he runs towards a ridiculous hiding spot: a huge, looming tree. In the beginning of the scene he slides in, does an anticipation, and then... GASP! Roscoe sees the tree in his path and is simultaneously in awe and panic.

First offense: he's off-model. Of course you don't know what the model sheets are, but I do, and Roscoe looks emaciated and... well, just plain ugly. Legs are spread too far apart, his tail is a bit too wide, crazy arm and eyebrow things going on: he looks like a mess. Second: both the tree and Roscoe are leaning in the same direction. It's a little more harmonic than I would have liked in a scene that's supposed to be really stressful. Roscoe should be staring up at the tree, not cowering before it. Here he looks like he'd be apologizing to the tree, not realizing that the tree is something that is pretty dang tall AND something that is not good to be faced with in his particular situation.

MUCH better! Roscoe's cute little body is on-model, and he's now looking up at the tree. Before this, Roscoe skids to a stop in front of the tree, and this pose is more like what would result from him bending forward and then bouncing back to a stop. His head is bent further up, creating a clear line from the top of his head up to the top of the tree. Beautiful! Glorious! This pose is a keeper. Applause all around!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Clerks: The Animated Series - Design and Style

I really wish that Clerks: The Animated Series had run a lot longer. Seriously, it had so much awesome potential, and I would have loved to see the expanded universe of Leonardo, New Jersey. Plus, well... Clerks is an amazing movie to begin with that had relatable and interesting characters. And I would have loved to have watched more Randal snarkiness. Heh.

But wait, this post isn't supposed to be about me pining for more episodes of a great TV show. I found two really great videos about character design and style that are pretty interesting on their own. I think it's so interesting that they had the hardest time trying to design Jay's character. It seems that a character that's so culturally recognizable and ready to be caricatured alongside his "hetero life mate" would have been easy to design, but apparently that wasn't the case according to these videos.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Mary and Max (2009)

Adam Elliot is one of my favorite animators, and I think every semester I've taken a class in animation I've had to watch his short film, Brother. I love how, even with very limited animation, he can create a sense of character and have an audience be able to empathize with them within minutes. And the same is true for Mary and Max. Even though it's a much longer film than Brother and there's a whole lot more puppet animated movement, the emotions that you feel for the characters are automatically felt through their character descriptions. There isn't too much plot in the story: if you strung together all of the actual storytelling parts it'd be an extremely short movie. But the fun of it comes from how interesting Mary and Max's lives and idiosyncrasies are.

And the look of the film is superb! There isn't much color used at all, mostly monochromatic colors and the occasional red when Elliot wants to make a point out of something rather important and/or sentimental (such as the pom pom that Mary makes for Max that he wears on his yarmulke and the portrait that she draws for him).

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Harvey (1950)

See, there are so many great films that I'm just starting to get my hands on and watch (thank you, Netflix, you are grand and wonderful) and for some reason that I just can't fathom, I had never seen Harvey until very recently. I had seen the ending, but I think that that was it. But it's a hilarious film. I mean, duh, of course it is, it's only a classic movie and all. But throughout the film I was trying to envision it in the context of the 50s. There was all sorts of talk about psychiatry and alcoholism and sex: all of these topics that I would have thought to have been too taboo for the time, no matter how briefly they were mentioned. That said, during this time period psychology and psychologists had been pushed into the forefront of public attention. Freud's development of psychoanalysis has only been around for at least 100 years and having a story surrounding a (perceived) mentally insane person being committed into (what may have been a public perception of) a sanitarium was probably a pretty fresh spin on a comedy of errors tale. And what's even more interesting is that the insane person, the person that everyone thinks is absolutely off his rocker and the most likely candidate for Freud himself to study, is perhaps the most sane character in the entire story.
"Years ago, my mother used to say to me, she'd say: 'In this world, Elwood,' she always used to call me Elwood. 'In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.' Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. And you can quote me."
What also kind of stuck out in the film was when Elwood talks in private with Dr. Chumley about how his friend Harvey can stop time and transport people to any place that they wish to be for as long as they want. I was looking up the genre categories for the film on a couple of websites and only saw that it had been categorized as a comedy, drama, and fantasy. Which is pretty interesting, because this film had all of the makings and possibilities of becoming a pretty great science-fiction dramatic comedy. And... well, in a sense, I guess it already is, even if it isn't "officially" so.

I grabbed a couple of frames that I thought were pretty good examples of framing and composition. Anything that stuck out to me, I snapped a quick shot of for reference.