Cartoon Brew TV #1: Doxology by Michael Langan

We’re pleased to bring you our first episode, Michael Langan’s Doxology, a graduation film produced at Rhode Island School of Design. Since its debut in 2007, the film has won over ten festival awards including Best Undergraduate Animation at the Ottawa International Animation Festival and Best Experimental Short at the Slamdance Film Festival.

Langan offers this description of the film:

Before reaching spiritual enlightenment, one sweater-vested young man must face a dancing Oldsmobile, endure a boozy encounter with God on a frozen tundra, and brush his teeth, comb his hair, floss, Q-Tip, lather and shave simultaneously. “Doxology” combines groundbreaking stop-motion animation techniques and unusual storytelling with the time-honored quest for spiritual awakening.

Below is an interview with Langan about the film. He’ll also be participating in the comments section of this post so if you have any questions for him, feel free to ask.

Interview with Michael Langan, creator of Doxology, by Sung-Joo Kim, head programmer for Seoul International Animation Festival

Sung-Joo Kim: What would you like to tell to audiences through “Doxology?”

Michael Langan: Learn to adapt to and find contentment in your surroundings.

SJK: What was your motivation for making the film?

ML: I set out to create a film, having no idea what the end product would be. The only rule I gave myself was to trust my intuition completely. I began by creating tons of animated “sketches,” very quickly-executed ideas, which accumulated into a bank of loosely-associated short films. I rushed the entire process, not allowing myself to censor or judge each idea before it had been executed. Eventually the pieces began to speak to one another, and I started drawing lines between them and shaping them into a film. The overarching theme that developed is an account and commentary on the relationship between Heaven and Earth, incidentally connected by tennis balls (which I like to think of as prayers.)

SJK: Could you explain your proprietary techniques used to make this film?

ML: I used a combination of stop-motion and pixilation in “Doxology,” with a little altered live action thrown in for good measure. There is one scene featuring 3D-animated snow, but nearly everything else in the film is photographed from life. I developed a number of original techniques for the film. The recurring image of the earth from space is in fact a time-lapse panorama of the sky from below, which I flipped upside-down and warped to simulate the curvature of the earth. The climactic scene at the conclusion of the film involves a combination of visual techniques which alter the original footage into a new interpretation of space and time. First, I shot image sequences out of plane windows with a digital still camera every time I flew in a commercial jet over the course of a year. Then I stabilized these shaky sequences on a focal point, like a church steeple, so it appears as if the viewer is rotating around this central point. Next I simulated a narrow depth of field by blurring the background and foreground, thereby miniaturizing the subject to call attention to the relativity of scale. Finally, I duplicated the footage several times and wove these sequences into themselves, creating an animated Shepard’s Scale in which time and distance appear to pass, but are in fact perpetually rooted to the same moment and place.

SJK: What was the most difficult point in the production of “Doxology?”

ML: The most difficult scene to animate in “Doxology” was the bathroom sequence, in which I appear to be brushing and flossing my teeth, combing my hair, cleaning my ears, lathering, and shaving all at the same time. This scene was shot using pixilation–that’s stop motion animation with actual people and places–one frame at a time, for two hours. Like some other effects that appear in “Doxology,” I had to first take out all drifting motion before I could connect the elements. Compare it to trying to assemble a puzzle on a boat in rough seas; you need everything still before you can put it together. After stabilizing each arm and the corresponding section of my face, I carefully pieced together every action so that they could all take place at once without interfering with one another. The last step was to re-introduce the motion I removed in order to assemble the puzzle. Shifting the head with the combing motion and including sideways bumps from toothbrushing and shaving makes the illusion seem more natural. The finished composite involved hundreds of layers and over three months of editing to reach completion.

SJK: Any notable memories?

ML: Perhaps my favorite part of filmmaking is designing the sound and music for a film. “Doxology” involved extensive original recording, for which I enlisted the help of a choir, two organists, a box of corn starch, and a mariachi band. The song which plays over the climax of the film is called “The Doxology,” which is an English hymn sung at the close of many church services. To achieve the full sound of an enormous church congregation, I had to multiply the sound of a single choir many times over. This required animating a sing-along video of sorts, from which the choir and organist could take their cues and sync up when joined by editing. I recorded the Higher Keys of Brown University in a large dance hall, asking them to sing the song ten times, changing their voices and positions after each take to add as much variety as possible to the recording. They sang like grandparents, children, opera singers, bored teenagers, and hopelessly tone-deaf churchgoers. On a separate day in another hall I recorded the organist playing the hymn with no choir. I then layered all of these sounds on top of each other, creating the illusion that the audience is listening to a single, gigantic congregation being led by an organist.

A little trivia: The music playing during the credits sequence is an old German klezmer tune, “My Hat, It Has Three Corners,” which is the theme to Jan Svankmajer’s film “Etcetera.” I adapted the song for a Mexican mariachi band and recorded it as an homage to one of my favorite filmmakers.

SJK: What is your purpose in creating animations? For commercial success or indie animation or what?

ML: My ultimate goal is simply to continue exercising my artistic license to the fullest extent possible. That said, I’m definitely not limited to independent filmmaking. So far I’ve been very content creating bizarre, commercial short films for a clothing label in San Francisco called Upper Playground. You can see these shorts at youtube.com/walrustv.


  • http://www.rauchbrothers.com Tim Rauch

    Thanks for choosing Doxology! I had been wondering what all the “hype” was about: no hype at all, that’s a really fun film. My only question for Michael is: what are you doing/working on now?

  • http://www.frankpanucci.com FP

    The car dancing killed

    Never head of this, so it was a nice surprise

  • http://crowsmack.blogspot.com/ Gibbs Rainock

    Very cool indeed. Love the pacing. The song that’s sung at the climax is one we sing in our church also. Also liked the part where the young man is walking through the snow. Reminds me somewhat of the works of Jan Svankmajer.

  • iluvhatemail

    Awesome work! I was very impressed with the conclusion part with the still photos.

  • red pill junkie

    Really impressive & entertaining too!

    Congratulations to Cartoon Brew on this new development. Maybe 10 years from now the Brew Masters will have their own TV channel :-)

  • Looney Lover

    Cool film for CARTOON Brew TV to show.

    Looking forward to seeing whats next.

  • http://willmikewalters.blogspot.com Mike Walters

    I’m glad to hear that you’re doing work for Upper Playground, a great platform for talented artists. I appreciate your approach and “goals” as well, what more could you ask for.
    Cheers-

  • http://fieldofcandidates.blogspot.com/ Bill Field

    It was really inspirational, and reminded me of a cross between Kubric and Lynch, and I really liken it to that early 70′s pixelation short by Chuck Menville- the name of which I have forgotten.

  • Jubal Kessler

    Great first film! Could you enable an option on the player to display at full-screen if the user so chooses? I don’t see such an option.

    (I could download it using the ‘Download’ option via the menu, but then it appears in a new browser window as a Quicktime-displayed movie rather than allowing me to save the movie as a file — and since I don’t have QuickTime Pro licensed on this Windows XP machine, the movie still displays at the same size. I like watching online movies full-screen, and just hoping CB can get me most of the way there with minimal fuss.)

  • http://[email protected] Ryan McCulloch

    Very different, really enjoyed it. Congrats!

  • Saturnome

    A bit too random for my tastes, but pixilation always proved to be fun. Favorite part: the dancing car!

  • http://justforspite.blogspot.com Gene Hole

    i am very impressed, and the car dance made me laugh out loud, attracting the attention of others in the room who when i replayed it also laughed heartily. great work!

  • http://headofhadrian.blogspot.com adrian

    this makes cartoon brew an even cooler place to be. Hey teens, wanna know where all the hub bub is? check it out here, you see it first on cbtv

  • Chris Knox

    Lovely work!
    Great to see some brand new techniques being used in the age-old art of pixilation; beautifully accomplished.
    The Good Game post-credits coda made me laugh out loud – memories of many Saturday mornings watching our son’s football team.

    And wonderful to have this resource with such brilliantly resolved images. A welcome pleasure after 4th gen Youtube travesties. Fantastic!!

  • http://www.fubiz.net Fubiz

    Impressive work !

  • http://doxologyfilm.com Michael Langan

    Thanks Tim! (et al)… right now I’m starting work on a $99 Special film that will screen at Slamdance in January. Recently completed a PSA and two Adidas spots which can be viewed here: mlangan.org/commercials.html

    Michael

  • http://www.grillomation.blogspot.com Oscar Gillo

    Wonderful!….(I saw it silent and it works a treat)

  • amid

    Thanks for the feedback everybody! Glad to hear people are enjoying Mike’s excellent film.

    To those who asked about the full-screen option, I’m going to look into that. I should say though that even if it’s full-screen, it will only be a blown-up image because I believe we’re maxing out vids at 640×480. The quality will still look better than YouTube’s full-screen option, that’s for sure.

  • Steffen Vala

    All props to Langan for this intriguing film and wonderful use of technique and process, which I haven’t seen much. I dug the aerial shots that were stabilized and sequenced to give an endless feel of rotation, without moving! trippy!

    But to the brewmasters, I gotta say I’m confused and a bit dissappointed that you lead off your new BrewTV with this piece. For all the flack that was spun about the Cartoon Network for going into Live Action-esque stuff, isn’t there any cartoony stuff you guys could have featured that would’ve been just as interesting and exciting to share here, on the Cartoon Brew TV? Still, I’m excited to check in and see what happens with the new channel!

  • amid

    Steffen: I think it’s clear to most viewers that there’s a huge difference between shooting film (live-action) and creating an image frame-by-frame (animation). Cartoon Network airs Saved by the Bell. Let’s not get silly and draw false comparisons between live-action filmmaking like that to Doxology.

    As we stated in the intro post about Brew TV, we’re embracing animation in all its many forms and techniques. Sure, we could have launched with something familiar and safe, but there’s plenty of other sites that already do that. We thought Doxology was an exciting piece of animation that we really wanted to share with audiences. That’s why it’s here. There’ll be plenty of hand-drawn “cartoony” stuff in the future as well.

  • WTF

    Lame. Like most ‘student films’ I’ve seen over the past 20 years.
    The car bit was the best segment, but could have been longer and better.

  • http://philrynda.blogspot.com Uncle Phil

    I understand where Steffen is coming from on this. I think I enjoyed the film just as much as Steffen, and agree with a few of the comments about the best scene being the dancing car. I also thought that the car scene was the best example in the film of what I think of when it comes to Pixelation.

    To me, this film is more an exercise in editing and trick camera work. It feels more along the lines of Michel Gondry, than the classic NFB shorts of Norm McLaren.

    That’s not to say that McLaren’s use of Pixelation is the only way it should be done. I recall an Italian (I think) film from a few years back, with some crazy “witch like” characters flying through the city that I really enjoyed, and I would definitely call that film animation.

    So to get back to Steffen’s point; this was a disappointment as the first film on CBTV. It was the equivalent of opening an Orson Welles film festival with Transformers: The Animated Movie… sure, he did do a voice in it.

    So anyway… I look forward to what CBTV has to offer. And I have to correct one of your statements Amid, “Cartoon Network airs Saved by the Bell”. CN does, in fact, not air Saved by the Bell. Though they have in the past, and I wasn’t too excited about that either.

  • http://threemeninatub.blogspot.com/ Ted Dawson

    Brilliant! Fun. Funny. Thought- provoking. Confusing. Silly. Stylish. Rythmic . Refreshing. Weird. Not bad!

  • http://doxologyfilm.com Michael Langan

    Re: “WTF”… I don’t really understand some peoples’ bias against student work. Sure there are hallmark indications that a film wasn’t produced on a big budget (using non-actors, self, etc.), but I think it’s often a label that people read first and allow to influence their opinion of the work too strongly. Similarly, from my short experience on the festival circuit, I’ve learned that you have a slimmer chance getting into a fest in your own city than one halfway around the world– people assume that because a filmmaker is local, they must be inferior. I’ve run into this problem several times… never write a cover letter explaining the personal relationship you have with the town in which the fest is held. And have somebody else send it if you’re applying to one in your own city.

    Uncle Phil: This film is, among other things, an attempt to bridge the gap between conceptual experimental work that asks too much of an audience, and contemporary commercial work that is designed to hold your attention and feed you tasty images. Every scene in the film is intentional, if only that it happens at the right moment and necessitates the following scene. Some people have decoded it completely on the first viewing, and some have no idea what it’s about and still love it. My favorite review from a festival-goer in Alabama (my home state) said he wanted to “slit his wrists” while watching “art for art’s sake.”

    The scene in which God offers the protagonist a sip of his daiquiri is the crux of the film. Here’s a guy freezing his butt off in the tundra, miserable and very out of place. He comes across God, lounging in his wifebeater and shorts, perfectly content despite the freezing snow. “Have a sip of my divine daiquiri. Take a load off. Find contentment in this situation.” But he doesn’t get it– not yet. This scene has two meanings, the first is more general and the second is specific to cinema:

    - Find contentment in your surroundings and situation. There are a couple ways of dealing with tragedy and hardship: one is to dwell and wallow in self pity, another is to deny reality and bury your emotion, and I’d bet the “healthiest” way is to take stock of the situation, acknowledge the scope of it, feel it hurt… let it hurt, and move on.

    - The other meaning stands in defense of experimental film: if you, as an audience member, go into an “experimental film” (anything that intentionally pushes boundaries beyond familiarity) with a bad attitude, you close it off immediately and you’re bound to hate it. Watching unusual films requires an open mind and patience. If you don’t follow it, that’s okay: perhaps the filmmaker designed it to wash over you as a whole and plant an unconscious meaning that might make you go “Aha!” at some point in the future. I’ll admit there’s some bad stuff out there, which is usually just an imitation of other “experimental film,” but you stand to miss some good stuff if you turn off immediately because there’s no traditional material to hang on to.

    So that’s why I made Dox pretty– to reel in the audience and keep them watching through an untraditional narrative. I do love playing with technique, but it’s not without meaning.

    -Michael

  • Dan

    wow that was quite a fun film! very refreshing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qW_ZBw_aRtY lol i did something similar in my short even though i hadn’t seen this till now… Nice work Cartoon Brew with the TV.

  • http://jdw-art.com jdw

    Amid, Cartoon Network, more directly, Adult Swim aired Saved By The Bell as a joke for week .. let’s not get carried away by that…

  • http://doxologyfilm.com Michael Langan

    Dan– great short… I love the hand coming in to cover his yawn at the beginning. The hands in Dox are all his own: he’s called the “Shaving Shieva.”

    -Michael

  • http://venadoinstantaneo.blogspot.com Diego

    great, you’re good people.

  • WTF

    Michael, I’m sure you’ll get plenty of work from this, but if you have to ‘explain’ your movie and it’s meanings, then it has problems story-wise.

  • http://doxologyfilm.com Michael Langan

    WTF: I wouldn’t confuse bizarre narrative and tangents with poor storytelling. Yes, it is very different from the conventional films that most audiences are used to. It is clearly not trying to spoon-feed the audience plot points. The idea is to eat the thing like a meal and savor the flavor combinations, then at the end you have this cohesive experience to think about and process. I think that explaining my personal thoughts on the film does not make it any less valid. I would rather not “get” an entire film (or any art) in the first viewing… it’s much more enjoyable for me to return to something more than once and let the brain and heart work through their own ideas that are evoked by the work. I’m still totally awed and touched by any given sculptor’s work, whether or not I know that it was inspired by such and such event on some date. But if I read the placard, I can go back to the work with new perspective, and this experience and my first hang out together to create new ideas altogether.

  • http://www.attackazoids.com Brian Lonano

    Hey Michael. I finally saw your short film after trying to track it down on the festival circuit. It was really great. We actually played together at the Maryland Film Festival. Mine was a short film called “ATTACKAZOIDS!” and it played in the On The Edge program. Anyway I was unable to see your short opening night but finally saw it on the Ann Arbor DVD. I look forward to more of your work and if you have a moment please check out the trailer for “ATTACKAZOIDS!” on my website. We are working a sequel.

    Best,
    Brian

  • http://gigabombapylon.deviantart.com/ Ken Gossette

    I loved this film. It was a resounding breath of fresh air and one of the best animated shorts that I’ve seen in quite a long time.

    This film compelled me to create a piece of artwork that can be seen at this link:
    http://gigabombapylon.deviantart.com/art/Enlightenment-Thru-Hygiene-101385124