Friday, August 24, 2007

For Your Consideration

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promotional poster for No Time for Nuts © Blue Sky

Damn this is good, but is it the pinnacle of animation? Oh boy, here I go again, stirring up trouble on the subject of animated shorts from big, successful studios. At least I am back to talking about poses and how they can be pushed.

Well? Really! I must say! I post my thoughts about a double pose found in a still from an animated short from Blur and I get three times as many replies... and that's if you don't count the personal emails, online chat, and phone conversations. What is it with my readers? Apparently, you people only like controversy. ;) Ok, so I posted a critique of A Gentleman's Duel that wasn't written from the vantage point of a geeky, devoted, 'fan-boy' in that it was actually... um.... critical. Oh my. Just consider the source and get over it!

Still image from No Time for Nuts © Blue Sky (click to enlarge)

Ok, everybody likes a little drama now and then. That's a lot of what is behind good stories... drama. Or comedy, for that matter. In fact, in traditional Greek theater comedy meant a happy outcome and tragedy meant a sad outcome. By that standard, No Time For Nuts would be a tragedy. I'm going to go out on a limb here and call this animated short a comedy. A superbly crafted, entertaining, and beautifully executed comedy. If you have watched the original Ice Age movie, then you know the motivations of the main character of No Time For Nuts. Based on prior history watching Scrat struggle through the challenges of an 'Ice Age' planet you can identify with him in a big way.

That is a valuable starting point for any story teller. Scrat is a memorable character outside of any particular story that focuses on him.

On a similar note, Chuck Jones was responsible for creating many memorable characters during his career. We enjoy the many, many animated shorts he directed because we know who the various characters are over the history of these Warner Brothers animated shorts. The reality of Jones' characters: Pepe le Pew, Road Runner & Wile E. Coyote, Tasmanian Devil not to mention how other pre-existing characters such as Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fud, and Daffy Duck all found an individual voice, unique to each, under the direction of Chuck Jones. Audience expectations play a critical part in how these Warner Brothers characters entertain and how the stories created with them have a life outside of any particular animated short.

From a marketing stand point, they are a highly valuable properties outside of any particular animated production. The same is true for Scrat. We know his motivations and state of mind and he exists as a character in spite of any particular production or story. This is meaty stuff for any good writer and the creators of No Time for Nuts take full advantage of the story potential provided by Scrat. Watching the short you see a masterful use of tempo as the main character is rapidly zapped from one reality to another, each setting up a gag of positioning Scrat at the pinnacle of impending doom. In each case, his only way out is the same way he got there in the first place... by randomly hitting buttons on the time machine found in 20,000 B.C.

The gags work on many levels making each more enjoyable than the last. Not only is Scrat whipped through a series of dangerous scenarios, each more deadly than the last, but the first half dozen or so are references to other films including one blatant plug for the original Ice Age film. You can get the inside jokes or not, either way its funny. Which brings me to the next image...

Still image from No Time for Nuts © Blue Sky (click to *ehem*, enlarge)

Its a pretty funny gag, particularly when you see it as originally edited in sequence. The transportation of Scrat through time and location reaches a furious pace pausing only at this moment seen above in the Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence Italy [thanks to Kate for the correction]. The exasperated Scrat exhales emphasizing the hilarity of the double entendre. You can get the joke... or not. The joke is not critical to the story, nor does the joke distract from the story. The creative people who crafted this juxtaposition can claim that they are only showing the main character in a location that is easy to identify historically. Any baser meanings perceived by viewers are simply in their own dirty, little heads. (*wink wink*)

This is the kind of adult entertainment found in movies prior to the toppling of the Production Code in 1967, and that is sorely lacking just about everywhere else today.

So, is this high art deserving of the highest honors? Apparently the Academy thinks not, instead giving Torill Kove top honors in 2006 for The Danish Poet. Extremely well written, directed, and produced, No Time for Nuts did receive a 2006 Annie Award for "best animated short subject." Directed by Chris Renaud and Michael Thurmeier, No Time for Nuts may not be the pinnacle of animation today, but it is up there, honoring the Termite Terrace shorts from which it draws so much inspiration.

Here is a link to the official site for No Time For Nuts at Blue Sky.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

Crack Spiders and Such

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Warning: At the risk spoilage, there is some colorful use of "street language" towards the end, so don't watch if easily offended. Brought to you courtesy of Tonymation.

I'm sorry but this was/is just too funny not to post. I love the hammock and the restraining order... especially the restraining order.

I promise to get back on topic soon.


Friday, August 17, 2007

I/O Brush redux

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Well, my last post was a little off topic so I thought bring it back to character animation gradually. So, lets first lest get things back on the ground by revisiting the I/O Brush. My prior post on this was kindly provided by a friend Marx Myth. This time I don't know who to thank for this link... other than the creators of this concept.

This kind of crazy ''technology-meets-wouldn't-it-be-cool-if' thinking is what I have come expect from The Media Lab at MIT. Its nice to find out a little regarding who is behind the project. Trust me when I say that not every Media Lab project gets off the ground, but this one could have legs if they can figure out what the killer app for it will be.

As always, enjoy.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Visual Effects

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Ok, more than just a little off-topic from character animation but I have to say, this just looks too good to be true. Supposedly video taped in Haiti on August 6, 2007 this clip popped up on You Tube and has gotten a lot of attention.

Approaching this as a creative project there is some nice work with color correction, lighting, and things going out of focus and then back in again. I like the design of the craft, very atypical for this kind of thing. The original camera work provides a good foundation. Camera shake is a great way to sell this kind of effect because with proper tracking it locks elements together in the frame while making the footage seem gritty and real. Trace this back to You Tube and you will find a lot of mediocre to poor attempts at faking unidentified flying objects. This clip and the one embedded below stand out from the bunch.

Not only is the image quality great but the sound is almost perfect. And that's just it. This is the key element that makes me suspicious as to the authenticity of this video is (well, ok other than the subject, but really) the sound. What every film maker should know is that sound can absolutely sell the reality/believability of animation and film. The fly-over has a wonderfully subtle Doppler effect. The sound of a woman gasping in the beginning creates a lot of value towards its authenticity. But where is the rattle and scuffle of that comes from a microphone that is embedded in or connected to the camera. There is a little of this but it just seems too clean to me.

Or, is someone going to tell me that the image and sound quality is about right for consumer hand-held digital video equipment?

Whoever is responsible for this did a nice job with the concept. For instance, I like the orchestrated pattern of craft at the very end... as if the flight pattern and arrangement is some kind of visual message to us earthlings. It reminds me of the pattern in a swimming pool waves make after they bounce off the sides and meet in the middle. Creatively, its a very nice touch.

It would seem that someone in the neighboring country of the Dominican Republic had the same equipment for capturing this kind of event, apparently on the same date, at the same time of day, on the same kind of shore-line, and facing the same compass direction as the first example. Here is the same craft as "seen" with others, supposedly on the same date in a different location.

Strange coincidence, ay? Beautiful visual effects.

Then again, you never know.


Friday, August 10, 2007

Dry Erase Power

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The pen is mightier that what? Oh.


I'm just having too much fun watching this playful stream of consciousness go to work. Thought others might too.

Thanks goes out to David Walden for having this You Tube link hanging around on his blog.

I like to find out about the people who create things that I enjoy, so I found it a little frustrating when trying track down the source of this work. The artwork was created by someone who's other cool works are to be found at the vaguely identified blog of ljudbilden & piloten. I guess thats first initial followed by last name. Who knows? No profile is available as far as I can tell. Don't ask me why some artists want to stay semi-anonymous by positioning themselves behind handles, cryptic ids, and/or pseudonyms.


The animation was created as a music video for minilogue. That would be Sebastian Mullaert and Marcus Henriksson.

Follow the links for ljudbilden & piloten if you like the visuals. Follow the links to minilogue if you like the sounds. Enjoy.


Sunday, August 5, 2007

Poses Pushed A Little Too Far

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A Gentlemen's Duel image © Blur (click to enlarge)

(Warning: a sexually suggestive image is at the bottom of this post)

NOTE: August 21, 2007... Compared to other items found on this blog, there has been a lot of reaction to this post. Some I care to speak of... some I don't. Everything in this post is intended to be thoughts and opinions expressed for constructive purposes. As with any opinion expressed publicly, not everyone agrees. All I can offer before anyone gets bent out of shape is to consider the source. I have made a few minor adjustments to the original post because of source files no longer being available, and to fix two little typos. The gist of this article is essentially the same as originally posted.

When teaching animation I tell my students to observe the work of others and learn. I show them stills from various animations, great and small, and I point out all the tools being used by skilled artists who know how to create inspiring, appealing, and life-like performances on screen. As with all things that I teach, I tell my students to do what I do as well. Which brings me to the images you see in this post... and the name of this blog.

Poses are fundamentally important to how I understand character animation. The performance is in the pose. No amount of fancy pants spline tweaking, blur frames, or what-have-you can make up for poses that fail to communicate who a character is and what that character is driven to do internally by intentions, attitudes, and emotions. We understand the inside of the character by what we can read on the outside... the pose. To push a pose (as I understand the phrase) is to find the essence of a character performance by exaggerating those qualities of the pose that communicate what the performance is all about. Getting at the essence of what I understand about animation is partly why I came up with the name for this blog.

A Gentlemen's Duel image © Blur

As with anything in art, you can take something too far.

The expertly staged, nicely composed, and beautifully lit stills you see in this post are from A Gentlemen's Duel which was recently created by Blur. Blur Studio is very unique production house with some fantastic work to their credits. Like Pixar, Blur is one of the few CG shops that consistently puts out animated shorts. As is to be expected, A Gentlemen’s Duel is a beautiful production that is very well animated.

NOTE: August 21, 2007... the YouTube link originally found here was pulled (as it probably should have been.) You will not find it on Dailymotion either. To see the entire short check out Stash 32. Below is a still that matches the original YouTube rip. Click image to see Blur's trailer.

A Gentlemen's Duel image © Blur
(click to jump to Blur's website)

Yesterday, I surfed over to Angie Jones' blog Thinking Animation and I noticed that one of her recent posts was both applauding and criticizing A Gentlemen's Duel. The negatives she summed it up as reasons for dissatisfaction and feeling insulted were probably a by-product of her not having a Y chromosome.

Well, I have that particular chromosome and I wasn't entirely thrilled with this latest Blur short either. To sum it up, I am not a fan of humor that requires the audience to turn off empathy towards a character. In general, I don't like jokes that are "funny" because a male character keeps getting nailed in the nuts... and I don't like jokes playing off a lack of concern for a female character's well being, so much so tha
t she is beaten, punched, smacked, knocked over, and hit on the head with a broken stone planter. I also don't find a story funny just because ample bosoms giggle on female character who is generously endowed.

While well endowed women are a wonderful site to behold, and the way certain areas of their anatomies giggle can be a delightful experience for many of us humans - for me, it would help if a female character in a story where, oh... I don't know... in possession of a brain, some wit, and her own agenda that may happen to be separate from that of men. Some of us Y chromosome people find such qualities in women attractive, and dare I say it... appealing.

Good grief, the toy poodle has more personality than the female character around which so much of the plot revolves.

Angie Jone's post regarding this short reminded me of a rendered still of the production I found online in November of 2006. With this image I made a few discoveries that, atypical for me, I haven't bothered sharing with my students.

A Gentlemen's Duel image © Blur (click to enlarge)

One thing I try, desperately, to get across to my animation students is how all elements in the frame are connected. Which leads me to the still you see directly above this paragraph. If two characters are on the screen at the
same time they have a relationship, and that relationship is communicated with all the tools great animators developed oh-so-many-decades in the past... staging, silhouette, line-of-action, contrast, asymmetry, eye-line, competing angles, flow-lines... flow-lines are big. Ask any of my students; I never shut up about flow-lines. With that in mind, what is with the male character's arms and hands in this image? He isn't just gesturing, and he isn't just positioning the chair for the female character to sit in... what is he doing with his hands?

His hands are all wrong. The flow is wrong. They have been pushed too far. But first lets look at his eyes and his crotch. Oh goodie.

Ok, so in part the joke behind this animated short is two "gentlemen" (who are nothing of the kind) are competing for the attention of the female character. The attitude and intension of this particular male character is pretty well summed up in how his eyes are positioned towards the female character's backside and how his crotch is protruding forward unnaturally. I'm no prude, I get the joke and I can find this kind of humor enjoyable if it is done well. What stood out to me when I first found this image in November was that all kinds of elements of his pose where pushed too far. Probably on purpose. But why?

When analyzing this image I noticed that the silhouettes of the two characters create an outline that is almost in the shape of a heart. Ok, kind of clever, but why? The male is only one of two rivals for the female character's affections. Her eye-line seems to match his and keeps the viewer moving back to the male character. But her arm, although natural, had a strange correspondence with the male characters left hand.

Then I noticed the strange posture of the male character's right hand seemed to have a strange correspondence with her neck, right shoulder, and breast. So, I pulled out my old image manipulation and compositing skills and did a little Photoshop work to test the theory that was developing. And sure enough...

(click to enlarge)

What the heck?! A subliminal suggestion? That is somewhat pornographic in nature? Again... why?

For the record, all I did in Photoshop was slide one character closer to the other and layer the male character's fingers appropriately. The "relationship" on screen between these two characters is no accident.
I would not be surprised to find more cleverly disguised messages in the staging. In my opinion this type of artwork, and the ideas behind it, derives from the preoccupations of adolescent boys. I'm not so prudish as to be offended, but I am mature enough to wonder why Blur, a great creative production studio, would stoop down to this kind of juvenile silliness.

Maybe someone else can help me understand why this animated short is so contorted around sexual innuendo as if we haven't had that kind of thing before. Farce, sexual or otherwise, can be a wonderfully entertaining experience for the audience but only if it has been created by masters of the genre.

Sorry folks at Blur, in this particular case, I'm not seeing the brilliance of your previous animated short productions. There is brilliance in the lighting, character designs, models, the technical accomplishments for sure, and yes... the layout. But the brilliance on full display in all these areas isn't finding it's way into a story.


Wednesday, August 1, 2007


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image "borrowed" from this photo log created by someone named Jeff.

It's only been since Friday that I posted most recently and yet I feel as though I have neglected this blog. Strange.

I've been spending way too much time hanging out on other people's blogs, making a complete and utter nuisance of myself... opinionatedness all over the place. Soon there will be installment two of Beautiful Silhouettes and I have several other posts in the works.

In the meantime for you fellow history lovers check out:

Beautiful Silhouettes, part 1 regarding the early work of Lotte Reiniger.

Or check out the small but fascinating online archive of Ken Harris' work.

Or take a trip in the way-back-machine to watch a cool sample of Buster Keaton's work and read some thoughts on learning from this master of movement and performance.

For those of you curious about my work:

We have glacial movement in my acting performance work.

Some performance improvement through a good critique that forces the issue of timing and spacing.

Some animation tests geared towards what I teach.

And completion of my second animation test for the same.

Or just some life drawing examples from this spring.

And definitely check out this awesome "video" tutorial on the meaning of COPYRIGHT and fair use put together by Eric Faden.

All of my commenting on other peoples blogs seems to be driving more people to this location. I'm getting hits from places like Brazil, England, Germany, France, India, Romania, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and Japan just to name a few. Thank you to everyone who bothers to stop by and check out this spot. Very flattering to think in what distant locations my musing are traveling. Stay tuned. I have plenty more to come including more samples of my own work current and past.