Sunday, August 5, 2007
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 that 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.