Excellent mixed-media student short by Johnny Kelly of the Royal College of Art. I was going to post it last weekend, but, well, you know…
David O’Reilly has built a very cool animated walk cycle that takes advantage of the iPhone’s motion sensitivity.
O’Reilly describes the effect on his blog:
“The application works by assuming a constant viewing angle (35-45 degrees), typical for when the device is placed on a tabletop. The 3d scene’s perspective is warped using anamorphosis, the same technique used in Hans Holbein’s painting The Ambassadors. This application does the exact same but updates dynamically.”
There’s been some controversy online about whether O’Reilly’s animation is actually motion-sensitive or if all the animation was completed earlier and he’s simply moving the iPhone to match the onscreen action. Regardless, the reality is that there is amazing potential for interactive cartoons on the iPhone and other motion-sensitive devices. Let’s do a little blue-sky thinking and imagine the possibilities. Instead of simply watching a cartoon, viewers can now interact and control the actions of their favorite characters. A simple tilt of your iPhone could send a character walking in any direction. A quick shake could make your character turn away from another character. Don’t feel like watching an 11-minute cartoon today? Control the pace of short and make it a four-minute cartoon. New technologies will open up new narrative possibilities for animation artists.
The linear cartoon is so 20th century. For a new generation of kids, watching a cartoon with only one ending (i.e. every cartoon today) will test the limits of their patience. It’ll be the equivalent of riding a horse-and-buggy after cars had been invented. Sure, Chuck Jones and Mike Maltese came up with a good ending for One Froggy Evening, but today’s cartoonists can come up with twenty different endings for their shorts, exploring all sorts of what-if scenarios. They can begin to understand their creations from a deeper, more psychologically complex perspective. As a viewer, if you like a particular ending, you can control your character’s actions to always achieve the same result. But every individual viewer can also change the outcome of the cartoons they watch with a simple tilt or turn of their screen. Viewers can become engaged in the universe of their favorite cartoons as never before, and it will become a much richer experience for both creator and viewer. All of this could happen, but it will take the combined efforts of programmers, animators and studios with the vision and desire to push their cartoon characters into the 21st century.
Animators beware! There’s a new collaborative animation project called Mass Animation that is asking animation artists (both pros and amateurs) to come together via a Facebook application to produce a 5-minute CG animated short destined for theatrical release. The project hasn’t launched yet, but the details that are available on the official website and in this Intel press release aren’t encouraging.
The program, which doesn’t compensate any of the animators who work on it, is being sponsored by Intel, Autodesk, Facebook, Aniboom and Reel FX. The film is being directed by former Sony Pictures Digital exec Yair Landau. He says, “Mass Animation combines original computer-generated animated storytelling with social networking in a powerful, new way…we will reach so many talented animators who might not otherwise have access to this community of imagination and artistry. This project is the future of creative collaboration.”
Apparently Landau believes that the future of creative collaboration on the Internet means getting lots and lots of different people to create free work for deep-pocketed corporate sponsors so that they can release your work theatrically. Unlike earlier technologies, the Internet empowers artists so that they can avoid being taken advantage of in this manner. Companies that are trying to facilitate the exploitation of artists via the Internet are truly living in the past. Perhaps this contest started with benevolent intentions, but the press release makes it sound super-exploitative, and the fact that a Hollywood exec is directing the project simply adds to the ick-factor. I’ll make an effort to stay on top of this story and find out how it turns out.
(Thanks to Chris Roman for bringing this to everybody’s attention on the Cartoon Brew Facebook group)
As the line between live-action and animation blurs, there are more and more controversies about what qualifies as animation. Is A Scanner Darkly animation? Is Beowulf animation? It’s all up for debate. Here’s an easy one though. Is Year of the Fish animation? Most definitely not.
Year of the Fish is an indie film that opens next week in New York and San Francisco. I’m perplexed why the filmmakers are billing the film as an “animated feature film” when there is nothing remotely resembling animation in the trailer (watch it here). Movement that is created in real-time and then digitally-enhanced does not fit the definition of animation, which is generally acknowledged to be movement created frame-by-frame through the manipulation of static images. The confusion with films like A Scanner Darkly and Beowulf stems from the fact that there is possibly enough frame-by-frame enhancement and distortion of the recorded live-action footage to constitute animation.
Year of the Fish, on the other hand, appears to have had minimal work done on it by animation artists. Here’s the description of the “animation process” from the film’s website:
Using Synthetik Studio Artist….Kaplan and his small group of part-time assistants were able to work quickly and efficiently, doing with 3 people what would normally employ 40 full-time animators. A single miniDV live-action frame was upconverted to a high-definition painted frame, and that one frame was interpolated into a technique for converting an entire shot. After rendering these shots, Kaplan and his team were able to go back and refine the images frame by frame, add particle effects, and hand-paint details. This entire animation process was achieved on four Macintosh G5 computers and two Wacom tablets, and took only 6 months.
The process described–which is setting a stylistic filter on one frame per scene and rendering out the rest of the scene with that filter setting–is not animation. The filmmaker does say he went back for frame-by-frame manipulation, but it’s evident from the trailer that they were enhancing the filter effects frame-by-frame, not creating or enhancing movement frame-by-frame. The number of digital crew (3) and amount of time it took to do the “animation” (6 months) also makes clear that this is more a case of digital processing than animation.
In recent years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has qualified films like Waking Life and Beowulf for Oscar consideration in the animated feature category. It’s a slippery slope that has now opened the doors wide open for experimental live-action films like Year of the Fish to claim that they are animated.
I saw an unexpectedly great live-action film last night–Tarsem’s The Fall (view the trailer here). The film’s production design is insanely gorgeous, with nearly every shot a lush and breathtaking tableau of color and composition. The landscapes in the movie are so exotic and magical that I automatically assumed they were all computer-generated like every other Hollywood film. Amazingly, though, it was all shot on-location.
Tarsem’s background–directing commercials like the classic Levi’s “Swimmer” and music videos like R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”–means that he knows how to create stylish and imaginative imagery, but in The Fall he backs it up with a sweet and engaging story about a 5-year-old immigrant girl and a Hollywood stuntman who befriend one another while recovering from injuries in a 1910s LA hospital.
The film premiered at festivals in 2006 but didn’t receive a theatrical release in the US until May of this year. The distribution difficulties of the film are reflected in the film’s production history: Tarsem financed the film almost entirely out of his own pocket using the millions of dollars he made as a commercial director. Its production was as unconventional as the final film. For example, Tarsem scouted locations for the fantasy sequences for seventeen years, he shot the film in over twenty countries, and a good deal of the film’s story structure was ad-libbed by the little girl protagonist.
The reason I’m mentioning this film on the Brew is that it also features a brief yet highly effective stop-motion sequence conceived by Christoph and Wolfgang Lauenstein, the brothers who won an Oscar for their 1989 animated short Balance. I haven’t seen a new piece of work by them in a long time and was pleased to see their names pop up in the credits. Their website Lauenstein.TV indicates that they’re busy and still producing plenty of work.
Tarsem’s The Fall is currently playing in only a handful of theaters. I highly recommend checking it out on the bigscreen if you can. It’s final New York screening is tonight at the Cinema Village 3. There’s also an interview with the director at the A.V. Club in which he discusses this film’s production at length.
Pools Stokbrood is an amusing one-minute short directed by Daan based on a text by Russian surrealist and absurdist poet Daniil Kharms. Here is the translation of the film’s poem:
“One time, a man was going to the office and on his way there he met another man who had bought a Polish stick bread and was on his way home. And that’s it, actually.”
Hurtling 3-D objects at viewers is not a substitute for quality filmmaking as last week’s weak opening of the 3-D animated pic Fly Me to the Moon proved. Roger Ebert takes the issue one step further and posits on his blog that 3-D technology not only doesn’t add anything to the viewing experience but that it actually detracts from the filmgoer’s enjoyment of movies. He writes:
Ask yourself this question: Have you ever watched a 2-D movie and wished it were in 3-D? Remember that boulder rolling behind Indiana Jones in “Raiders of the Lost Ark?” Better in 3-D? No, it would have been worse. Would have been a tragedy. The 3-D process is like a zombie, a vampire, or a 17-year cicada: seemingly dead, but crawling out alive after a lapse of years. We need a wooden stake.
[Previously on Cartoon Brew: 3-D Animation: Fad or Future?]
This Saturday, Eric Goldberg will be signing his new book Character Animation Crash Course! at Stuart Ng Books in Torrance, CA. He’ll be there from 2-4pm. For directions to Stuart’s showroom, visit their website.
Beware when visiting Stuart Ng’s though because your wallet will be empty when you leave. His collection of comic, cartoon, animation and illustration books is any animator’s wet dream. Stuart is also one of two exclusive distributors for my magazine Animation Blast, which is currently on a publishing hiatus. The other location is House of Secrets in Burbank. If you need copies of Blast #7, 8 or 9, Stuart has plenty of copies available at his store or through mail order.
As part of the Atlanta Underground Film Festival, ASIFA-Atlanta will be presenting Animation Attack!. The three-screening series takes place this Thursday through Saturday, and includes one locally-produced Flash feature–John’s Arm: Armageddon–along with two programs of animated shorts. The shorts being screened are an eclectic mix of American and foreign indie animation including the Rauch Bros.’ German in the Woods, episodes of Augenblick Studios’s Golden Age series, Mathieu Labaye’s Orgesticulanismus and Blu’s wall animation Muto. For ticket info and full program line-up, visit AnimationAttack.com.
The UK Times got duped into running an article about one company’s claims that their animation has leapt the Uncanny Valley. The video sample accompanying the piece however fits so comfortably into Uncanny Valley territory that it makes one wonder why the Times felt this was worthy of media attention. The best response about the unconvincing human quality of the animated female comes from this MetaFilter discussion in which one user commented, “Yeah, not getting a boner over here. Fail.”
It’s also worth noting that only the face of the character is CG; the hair and body are those of a live-action actor (shown at left in the image above). There’s also an extended, higher-res version of the facial animation on AWNtv. While this piece of animation misses the mark, the reality is that sooner or later somebody’s going to come up with believable photorealistic animation. Time will tell though whether anybody will actually use the technology towards an artistic end or if photorealistic animation will remain the cost-cutting measure for entertainment producers that is driving its current development.
Even for someone like myself who hasn’t seen a new episode of The Simpsons in years, it’s hard not to be impressed by the obsessive fanboyishness of
Dan Cameron Jerry Lerma and Terry Hogan who mapped the entire fictional city of the Simpsons’ Springfield. Here’s a link to the full-sized map.
Michael Eisner has launched a new animation company called Tornante Animation.
And he’s created his own animated series.
And Nickelodeon has picked it up for 20 episodes.
Boy, how’d we ever miss this story?
Eisner’s idea, Glenn Martin DDS, is a stop-motion series about a dentist who wants a change of pace and decides to go on a roadtrip. Sounds like a Gary and Mike for the PoliGrip crowd.
The LA Times article offers an insight into the creative process that Michael Eisner went through to arrive at this idea:
Eisner said he initially wanted to make a show that revolved around a dog like the one owned by his former colleague Tom Staggs, chief financial officer of Disney, “a giant Swiss army dog with a tail that stands straight up,” Eisner said. (According to Disney, the dog is a Swiss mountain dog.) But that idea evolved into the dentist with his family.
Thankfully for Eisner, his show is in good hands. The Times reports that he’s already hired ten writers to work on the series.
Stop-motion legend Ray Harryhausen doesn’t animate much himself nowadays, but he has a new production banner “Ray Harryhausen Presents” designed to promote talented filmmakers. The first short made under this banner, an adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum, was completed a couple years ago and will be released onto DVD this week. The film was directed by stop-motion veteran Marc Lougee, who has also directed episodes of MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch and the BBC/Discovery series Dinosapien.
The DVD release also includes behind-the-scenes video depicting the production of the film, storyboards and concept art gallery, and interviews with director Lougee, writer Matt Taylor, composer Philip Stanger, and animator Mike Weiss.
The DVD will debut this week at the Festival of Fear in Toronto (booth #1216). For more info about the film including how to order the DVD, visit the film’s official website. There’s also a ‘making of’ article at CGSociety.org.
Oops, we forgot to mention that yesterday marked the centennial of animated film. The animated film that started it all: Emile Cohl’s Fantasmagorie, premiered on August 17, 1908. And just to recap, here’s where the art form currently stands after a hundred years of progress.
Perhaps the next hundred years will be kinder to the art form.
(Thanks, Craig Clark, for reminding us about the anniversary)
Co-director Fernando Sarmiento descibes ELA in Love at First Byte to me as, “A weird mix between She Ra, Tron and Flash Gordon.” It also happens to be a fun and graphically appealing piece of computer animation combined with live actors. It was produced by the Argentinian motion graphic studio PepperMelon. Check it out:
Try as he might, illustrator Jake Parker couldn’t make sense of the world that Pixar created for Cars. He writes:
And that leads me to the one thing that didn’t sit well with me: the strange machine/flesh hybrids Pixar came up with to populate this world. It’s as if a mad scientist enamored with automobiles terraformed Mars and furnished it with cyborg vehicles with engines of steel and minds of flesh. You have these cars, but with actual fleshy eyes, with irises, and mouths of teeth and tongues. Where does the machine end and the flesh begin? So, to make everything piece together a little better in my head I drew up what I think the internal structures of Lightning McQueen might look like.
This amusing illo is what he came up with (link to larger image).
There’s no use even attempting to explain this 1979 Russian animated short–A Very Blue Beard (below in two parts). Just enjoy it…or be afraid of it.
Director Michael Sporn has recently been in touch with the son of animation legend Irv Spector. Spector worked as an animator, designer and storyman from the 1930s onwards. He asked the son Paul Spector to share photos, artwork and information related to his father, and Paul has responded with an amazing blog entry about his dad that includes lots of beautiful gag drawings by Sam Cobean. There’s other bits and pieces about Spector online such as this beautiful cartoony one-page comic and photos from his time at the Charles Mintz Studios.(On a sidenote, one of Spector’s commercial designs is printed in my book Cartoon Modern on page 29.)
The French CG student film Oktapodi has been winning all sorts of awards this year including the “Best Animation” prize at the Imagina Awards 2008. It was mentioned on Cartoon Brew a few months back and now the entire short can now be viewed online at the Autodesk website (link to 60mb file) . It’s directed by Julien Bocabeille, FX Chanioux, Olivier Delabarre, Thierry Marchand, Quentin Marmier and Emud Mokhberi.
(Thanks, Matt Morris)
Another recent music video to point out. This one is for the band Late of the Pier and their song “Space and the Woods.” The video is directed by the great Ian Emes, who’s been making animated shorts, films and music videos since the 1970s including Pink Floyd’s concert film “The Dark Side of the Moon.” The high-energy visuals do a fine job of evoking a Seventies early-CG vibe while simultaneously remaining fresh and contemporary.
(Thanks, Chris Padilla)
Music videos are such a great place for experimentation with visual techniques and ideas. Here’s three that have caught my attention recently. One is cross-stitched stop motion, one is puppets, and one is digital collage and live-action.
“Like It or Not”
for Architecture in Helsinki
directed by Josh Logue at Mathematics
for Kanye West
directed by Neon
“Sophisticated Side Ponytail”
for Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head
directed by That Go
United Airlines has unveiled five new animated spots for the Beijing Olympics. The commercial are elegant, visually-driven and beautiful to watch, just like the rest of the animated spots that the airline has produced in recent years. Pretentious to be sure, particularly for a carrier like United, but I still appreciate their attempts at fostering a more positive image by utilizing artistic animation. The ad agency responsible for these spots is the newly formed BDM, though two of its principals, Bob Barrie and Stuart D’Rozari, have been instrumental in United’s animation campaigns from the very beginning.
The real standout piece in this latest batch is “Sea Orchestra” (view hi-res version here) by Shy the Sun, the South African collective who also operates under the name The Blackheart Gang and who produced the short Tale of How. In this commercial, they combined hand-drawn textures and photographs into a brilliant and ornate CG package that is bursting at the seams with creativity. The commercial was produced in cinema resolution and I’m sure the visual effect of this on the bigscreen is overwhelming.
There are four other commericals in the series, including one by Ishu Patel. Click on each title below to watch a hi-res version:
“Two Worlds” – From the United press release: The commercial combines two different and distinctive animation styles created by directors SSSR, a Norwegian and Japanese team, who was responsible for the monochromatic world that was mostly computer-generated with a hand-crafted feel, and Gaelle Denis, a French director, who was responsible for the colorful fantasy world that uses using live action, computer generation and matte paintings, including textures such as Japanese rice paper.
“Heart” – From the press release: Using stop-motion animation and paper puppetry, California-based director Jamie Caliri and his team, place dimensional cardboard puppets in miniature sets that were shot frame by frame. The musical score for “Heart” is a piano duet of Rhapsody in Blue performed by Herbie Hancock and Lang Lang, who recently performed “Rhapsody in Blue” together at the 2007 Grammy Awards.
“Moon Dust” – From the press release: Ishu Patel, an Indian-born and Canadian-based animator, used his world-renowned back-lit technique in which a thin layer of plastic modeling clay is applied to a glass plate that has a 1000-watt light positioned beneath it and an animation camera above it.
“Butterfly” – From the press release: Polish director Aleksandra Korejwo manipulated colored salt using shed condor bird feathers on a black canvas positioned under a downward-facing camera.
One of the newest, and most unexpected, outlets for original animation nowadays appears be newspaper websites. For the past year or so, the NY Times has been commissioning beautiful animated pieces by animators like Jeff Scher and Gary Leib, and now the Chicago Tribune is getting into the act with a new politically-oriented series Animated Chicago by illustrator and animator Joe Fournier. I’m not sure if they’re planning to do more of these, but the first episode can be viewed on the Tribune’s website.
FilmInFocus.com has a series of articles entitled “Adult Animation: A Look at How Cartoons Grew Up.” I wrote a piece for them about the upsurge of adult animated features in the US and abroad. The article covers a lot of ground but one of my goals was to show how animated features are on the verge of entering a renaissance period. From the indie features being made in the US by the likes of Nina Paley, Paul Fierlinger and Bill Plympton, to the mature and intelligent features being produced in all corners of the globe, the animated feature scene today is more vibrant than it’s ever been.
There’s also a piece by Sundance Film Festival programmer Mike Plante about how to create animation on a tight budget and Nick Dawson’s essay on the history of X-rated cartoons. It’s worth pointing out that FilmInFocus is run by Focus Features, the specialty film arm of Universal, that will be releasing two animated features of its own shortly: Coraline by Henry Selick and 9 by Shane Acker.
LA Weekly has two articles this week profiling Amy Winfrey and her animated webseries Making Fiends and Stefan Bucher’s Daily Monster video podcast. What do both of these creators have in common? Their ideas started out as independent self-financed Internet projects that gained a popular fan following and were ultimately given TV deals by major companies. Making Fiends is about to debut as an animated series on Nickelodeon, while Daily Monster was collected into book form this year and will also appear as a segment on PBS’s new Electric Company in 2009.
The paths that both of these properties have taken offer a view into how new TV animation ideas will be discovered in the future. The dysfunctional system of pitching and development in TV animation still exists, but it is on the wane and being dismantled by the Internet. As Winfrey and Bucher have demonstrated, creators are no longer beholden to clueless and sheltered development execs who don’t have the foggiest about what their audiences want to watch. Today an artist can create an uncompromised piece of animation independently, post it online, and attract a significant audience without any assistance from broadcasters. The cherry on top is that if your idea is successful, major companies will be knocking at your door to pay you money to produce more episodes.