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.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Futurism and Modern Architecture

You know, I had a whole post planned just to talk about these types of architectural forms, but I think for now I'll just leave this here as eye candy and write something about them later. Futurist buildings are awesome and should be looked at as often as possible.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Great Piggy Bank Robbery

Lately I've been thinking a lot about Warner Brothers cartoons… specifically me trying to pick out what exactly I like about the cartoons that inspire me. I've seen a bunch of other writings and blogs on the internet with people talking about their favorite cartoons of all time, and well, I guess I should put my two cents into it as well.

First off, let's get this out of the way. I hate Chuck Jones' Warner Brothers cartoons. Hate. HATE. With a passion.

Okay, yeah, once you've been revived with smelling salts after fainting from that statement, let me elucidate. I know the majority of animation people love and worship this man, and most fo the blogs and articles I've seen concerning this topic ALWAYS have to mention him and praise his name, but I just... I don't agree with any of them. And I guess hate is a very strong word. It kind of comes off as if, when I see a Chuck Jones cartoon, I'd rather slather my eyeballs with hot oil rather than continue watching it. Seriously, though. That's not necessarily the case. It really isn't. His way of designing the Warner Brothers characters is by now iconic, not to mention the fact that he was able to pioneer a lot of terrific devices in animation. But, seriously? Even if he is the guy who made What's Opera, Doc? and introduced Wile E. Coyote on his never-ending futile quest to catch the Roadrunner? He's no Bob Clampett.

Bob Clampett is my hero forever and always.

This is the portrait of a hero who created some of the greatest animated cartoons ever. You can not escape the charm of his gorgeous smile.

To make a point about who is the best in more superficial terms, who are the two hottest animation directors in this picture? One is on the left, but first prize goes to the handsome stud in the front.

I never met the guy, I can't say if he was a big jerk who took credit for things he didn't do (like some people claimed, coughcoughChuckJonescough) or if he truly was a sweet, awesome badass who made painfully amazing cartoons, but I love him. I love his stuff. Put me in front of a TV playing Beany and Cecil episodes and old 30s and 40s WB cartoons and I will drool with happiness all day.

And the characters he brought to life, man. They were so fun! I love Bob Clampett's Bugs Bunny. God, Bugs is such a jerk in his cartoons. He doesn't always have to be a wise ass or the Hero of the Day. And Daffy! Daffy is always filled to the brim with hysteria and craziness and such lovable puerility. I get so jumpy when I watch a Clampett cartoon and I feel like I'm going to start bouncing off of the walls myself (it's like when I watch a Tex Avery cartoon and I feel like running around on the walls or something). But Bob is so much more crazy than Tex and Chuck. He's got surrealism down to a tee.

I don't have a favorite Bugs cartoon because I really don't like Bugs as a character that much (I mean, I like him, but it's not like I have a huge affinity towards the guy). Daffy's my favorite. Daffy is amazing. Even in Chuck Jones' version of the character, he's so vindictive and spiteful and mean and just a huge pain in the neck for everyone to deal with. I always have a soft spot for villainous characters and he fits the bill (no pun intended). He's jealous and greedy and flawed… but not as daffy as he should be. That's why I love Clampett's Daffy. He can be a total jerk, too, but he's a lot more fun-loving about it, the kind of guy who would blow you up with dynamite but french you afterwards. He's so much more like a kid, too. He's got a sense of wonderment around him and a crazy energy of immaturity that makes me love him so much.

So of course, the source of most of my cartoon inspiration has been The Great Piggy Bank Robbery, which you can watch in all of it's glory here.

Why do I even need to explain why this is so great? It's such a super fun amalgamation of childlike imagination and said childlike imagination gone horribly, incredibly wrong. I had to write a paper a long while ago for an animation history class about Bob and touched upon the short as one of his greatest.

"The Great Piggy Bank Robbery, made in 1946, may be Clampett’s most defining short, and is an outstanding example of both his signature brand of dark humor and fast-paced chaos and the characterization of Daffy Duck in his cartoons. Unlike his earlier short, Porky in Wackyland (1937), the tone of this piece is much darker and the action more aggressive than silly. In the cartoon, Daffy Duck, after receiving his latest Dick Tracy comic, giddily fantasizes that he is Duck Twacy, a famous detective who must catch an elusive piggy bank thief. Near the end of the short, Duck Twacy encounters some of his greatest foes: deformed, dark, looming thugs with names like Hammer Head, Neon Noodle, and Jukebox Jaw. From then on his so far silly yet innocent fantasy escalades into an apocalyptic nightmare, as his enemies begin to attack and chase him through their hideout, which has subtly morphed into a large, warped, abstract landscape. Things being to become increasingly abstract as the chase continues, and at one point, Daffy’s body actually breaks apart, and the separate body parts slither back into his full form. Daffy then proceeds to whip out a machine gun from thin air and begins showering bullets onto his enemies as they fall from a doorway one by one. This change in tone may be what makes the end of the short so unsettling, and in a way relatable, to the viewer, since it is almost as if Clampett has reached into the mind of the audience and made them relive one of their own nightmares. Through watching Daffy’s imaginary ordeal, the audience is able to relate to their own emotional fantasies, however idealistic or chaotic they made be."
Seriously, I don't know how anyone couldn't like this cartoon. It's everything, at least in my opinion, that a great cartoony animation should be: fast-paced, exciting, engaging, surreal, and just plain fun. Clampett always makes full use of the medium of animation, something you honestly don't get to see nowadays.

Also, for more Clampett fun and dissection, check these John K. posts out and this post by Kristin Thompson.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Hannibal Dinner Scene Part 1

Hannibal Lecter is one of my all-time favorite movie/book characters, so naturally Hannibal is one of my favorite films. Of course, there are small bits here and there that I dislike (namely Clarice not being Jodie Foster and that the ending of the film got dramatically changed) but that's alright. It's still a pretty great film. And one of the greatest scenes in said film is the penultimate dinner party between Hannibal, Paul Krendler, and Agent Starling.

Oh, also, obvious spoilers ahead in this simple scene composition dissection (haha, you see what I did there?). And if you have a very weak stomach... proceed with caution. It gets a little gory.

"Oh, hello, Clarice. I was just making some delicious snacks with my good buddy, Paul! Come and nosh with us, dear!"

During the beginning of the scene there're a lot of jittery, swoopy camera moves following Clarice (no doubt because she's just been knocked out with a generous dosage of morphine and is just starting to get out of her drug-induced stupor). We, along with Clarice, don't exactly know what's going on with Paul and Hannibal eating dinner together, so as the camera gets less loopy, we start getting a little bit more grounded, trying to regain a clear sense of thought as we begin to scrutinize the scene displayed before us.

Hannibal is on the far left, towering over Paul who is in the far right bottom corner. What does this communicate to us? Hannibal's obviously got the upper hand here and is lording his power over Paul, now childlike and helpless in his extremely drugged-up state.

Framing! Clarice and Paul are equally set up in each of these cuts through the use of candles, the lamp (in Paul's case) and the edge of the doorway (in Clarice's case). It's a lot easier to focus on the two of them during the scene with a sort of imaginary box surrounding their bodies. Plus, with each cut, and if we laid the two pictures over each other, they're facing each other as in a conversation: Paul on the left, Clarice on the right.

There's a diamond pattern going on here in this scene, between Paul and Clarice who are both pretty much helpless against Hannibal at the moment, whose head is at the top of the diamond, and right now he's the one who is in charge of this scene. At the bottom point of the diamond is the snowglobe, Clarice's weapon of choice when she first tried to defend herself against Hannibal. Of course, that didn't work out as planned, so this is, in a sense, visually telling us that weapons aren't going to be much use at the moment. Clarice is stuck for now, and we're trapped as well, about to witness what horrible, unimaginable thing Hannibal has done now.

...hahaha, I just love Paul's face here.

More of Hannibal asserting himself as the dominant villain here...
...and ta da! The moment of truth! I can only imagine what's going on in Clarice's mind at that moment, and of course... well, this whole time we've been projecting ourselves onto Clarice. We don't need to completely see what's going on on her face to realize that she's horrified. I mean, we're horrified! As Hannibal frames Clarice's/our face as he lifts off the top portion of Paul's skull...

...things get dark. VERY dark. Our entire attention is focused on that delicious looking brain of Krendler's. Hannibal is still towering over him, his face light and illuminated (albeit somewhat shadowy under his brow), but look at Paul: his face is pretty dark and the light is just being reflected on where the top of his brain is and makes it the center of attention even more so.

And finally, we get to see Clarice's reaction. Her skin is SUPER pale now, shadowy and low lit, nothing behind her. Empty. And of course, I'm sure she feels completely empty inside, too. No matter how much of a jerk Paul was, she doesn't believe for a moment he deserves it (and depending on your feelings, you may feel the same exact way towards his character). But, again, the shot reinforces the emotion.

I'll stop here for now, and hopefully I can get through the rest of the scene later. I'll leave you pining for some scrumptious Paul-brains until next time.