Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Two Very Short Reviews

I'm reviewing Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and How to Train Your Dragon together. I'll explain this later. First, the movies.

I liked them both a great deal, and Meatballs has actually become one of my favorite CGI films. Meatballs is an immensely energetic film, filled to bursting with color, life, comedy, and a few points of genuine pathos.

The film managed to keep energy levels at a near-frantic state for the entirety of the film, with small lulls just preventing us from being overloaded. The characters are all a bit two-dimensional, but being simple is not the same thing as simplistic. The character design is actually different from Pixar, which is nice. And by different, I don't mean grossly inferior, like Hoodwinked. The animation is also lively and well-done. The characters all have different personalities based on their animation, and not just how they look.

Flint Lockwood, the manic inventor, is made out of rubber. His father, a down-to-Earth sort of guy is rigid and block-like. Steve the monkey moves in spastic spurts. It's all very well done. While on the subject of that monkey, he is both the default cute side-kick that cartoons need, but he is also integral to the story when the father and son have a closing conversation. Oh, and how fantastic is it that Steve is voiced by Doogie Howser?

Moving on to How to Train Your Dragon, this is a much more traditional story. It's more suited to a slightly older demographic. That's not to say that Meatballs won't entertain people of all ages, only that its energy and color means that even the very young will love it. Dragon might bore the the tiny childers.

The character design, the constructs, the animation, everything is much more rigid, here. This has generally been the rule in Dreamwork's ouvre. Going all the way back to Antz and Shrek, Dreamworks has chosen to use very rigid character models with a minimum of flex. This has presented problems in the past, where character is not communicated in motion, only in design and voice. And when the voice and character design are bland, like in Madagascar and Shark Tale, the film suffers.

Dreamworks animators have made great strides in extracting character from rigid designs, and they do a good job, here. The characters are all decently three-dimensional, even though many of them are only as deep as their position in the script requires.

The script is perfectly paced and moves along with the lean effectiveness that we expect from a 90-minute CGI film. It has some nice themes of understanding that give the story a sense of depth. The action scenes have great energy, the dialog is snappy, and the whole endeavor is very entertaining. It all culminates in an eye-popping final battle that, in the theater, was truly a site to behold.

Now on to why I'm reviewing them together. For some reason, CGI films, moreso than traditioally animated ones, seem to work in thematic waves. Considering the development times required for these films, I'm pretty confident that copying is not happening, but SOMETHING is. It's just too much to be coincidence.

For example, The first CGI film from Dreamworks, Antz, came out six weeks before A Bug's Life. Then Monsters Inc. came out with Shrek. Finding Nemo was followed by Shark Tale a year later. Madagascar, Open Season, and The Wild (and even Flushed Away to a degree). Hoodwinked and Happily N'Ever After. Megamind and Despicable Me. Delgo and Battle For Terra, and a little bit of Planet 51, Wall-E, and 9). All of them have similar themes, if not characters, settings, and stories.

This and Meatballs are the same thing. Both stories are about a misunderstood young man, who has great potential, has problems relating to his father, meets a girl who's his equal but different, screws things up, saves the day in an epic battle with a giant thing, saves everyone and wins the girl. That short synopsis applies identically to both films. WTF? What is it? Some outside variable? Studies about what would do well in today's market? Some script gets passed around and everyone steals it? What?!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Out of the Asshole: Max Fleischer and Inaccuracies in His Wikipedia Page

I'm reading Out of the Inkwell: Max Fleischer and the Animation Revolution. It's a book by Fleischer's son, Richard, an accomplished director himself (Red Sonja!), about nothing more than his memories and what details he was able to dig up from his father's paperwork.

It's a somewhat dry and straightforward book, which is both a plus and a minus. I would have actually liked more texture and detail to the events, but even then, the book gets its point across.

What surprised me were the extreme differences between this book at Max Fleischer's Wikipedia page. The Wiki page claims to list this book as a reference, but I'm not sure what part they referenced. The dustcover?

Most interestingly is that the story of Fleischer gives me new appreciation for Walt Disney. Disney was an asshole. He was actually a bit legendary for it. The differences lie in your interpretation of that behavior. Some people saw this as a man demanding the best, and when you produced the best, you were rewarded. Others saw it as a temperamental child ordering about people of greater skill than himself.

I lean towards the former, less assholey interpretation of Disney, and Fleischer's failure at the hands of Paramount reinforces that. As everyone knows, Hollywood in the early days may as well have been run by the mob. You could fill a book, and people have, with examples of studios' atrocious behavior. They ran a huge racket, as it were. They controlled the movie production and they also controlled all of the theaters. You could only get your movie shown if you made it through them, and they would only give your theater movies if you signed a contract to only ever take movies from them. This was known as the studio system and the reason for the formation of United Artists.

Disney knew that he had to be an asshole to survive. He had to shoot that motherfucker before that motherfucker shot him, and in Hollywood, everyone was armed. I have a feeling that Disney's opinion on this was formed when Universal did exactly what paramount would do to Fleischer to Disney in 1928 with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Basically, Disney was happy with the success of Oswald and asked for an increase in pay and budget. Universal responded by demanding a 20% pay cut and reminded Walt that they owned him. This is world-class shit and it happened all of the time. Around the same time, Paramount was caught off-guard with the runaway success of Fleischer's Talkartoons series and were upset that the contract they had was giving Fleischer an "unfair" cut of the profits. Whereas Disney became hardened, poor Fleischer was too naive; he gave Paramount more money.

From the Oswald Rabbit Wikipedia page-
"In spring 1928, with the series going strong, Disney asked Mintz for an increase in the budget. But Mintz instead demanded that Walt take a 20 percent budget cut, and as leverage, he reminded Disney that Mintz owned the character, and revealed that he had already signed most of Disney's current employees to his new contract: Iwerks and Les Clark were among the few who remained loyal to Walt. Disney refused Mintz's demand, disassociating himself from Oswald after the series first season. While finishing the remaining Oswald cartoons, Disney, Iwerks and Clark created the cartoon hero who would become The Walt Disney Company's lasting symbol: Mickey Mouse, (a slightly altered Oswald the Rabbit to avoid litigation) the most famous of Walt Disney's characters."

Why did this happen? Because the studios were run by suits-and-ties. Men who have NO TALENT WHAT-SO-FUCKING-EVER, and I think that they know it. They HATE people with talent. They surround themselves with yes-men and assume "oh, actual creation is easy. We'll just hire some animators and everything will be fine. The heavy lifting that I DO, now that's difficult work!" Pieces of shit. This isn't just Hollywood, this is all business. This disconnect between people of actual talent and the talentless pieces of shit that run companies runs rampant in industry. Look at the American automotive companies. Rick Wagoner is a moron. Look at the tech industry. Look at what happened to Apple when everyone who actually knew how to do shit left the company in the late 80's. Look at how IBM nearly collapsed under its own red tape.

Look at John Lassater's story about being fired from Disney Corp. DISNEY!!! You'd think that Disney would be more aware of its own corporate history. Ohhhh, right. I forgot. People who run companies don't actually know things.

Disney got hurt very early on. Fleischer didn't get fucked over until decades after his career had started. The Wikipedia page is wrong. If Richard Fleischer's account is to be believed, Fleischer had nothing to do with the failure of his company. It was engineered disaster from Paramount. They sound like they were jealous, they were thieving, they were terrible, horrible, horrendous human beings. We should exhume all of their bodies and burn them in effigy. I'm glad that they were all alive to see the studio system get taken down by the courts.

It's funny. The defining difference between Disney and Fleischer might have been that Disney got screwed early-on, where Fleischer only met mechanical set-backs not associated with backstabbing and other such nasty business. If Fleischer had been screwed similarly early in his career and not Disney, we might be riding giant Betty Boops at Fleischerland.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Animation Documentary

The Thief Archive, the YouTube project to try and keep The Thief and the Cobbler alive, has uploaded a documentary done by the wife of Richard Williams, Imogen Sutton, on pioneering animator Art Babbit (read an interview here). She took full advantage of her access to the production of Thief, and uses it as an introduction into the life and work of one of Williams' lead animators. It's a great overview of animation history as seen through the lens of one guy's life. I especially like the insight into Goofy, which is, both technically and for sheer entertainment value, Disney's best character.

And just for a bonus, here's a behind the scenes for Roger Rabbit that aired in CBS back in the 80's.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Importance of Animation

I'm watching Shrek on Cartoon Network, and aside from the editing of Shrek calling Donkey a jack-ass pissing me off, I was surprised by how poorly the animating has aged. I remember a documentary about the production, where an animator talked about how everything they were using was cutting edge. He chuckled as admitting that it would all be totally out-of-date before the movie even released.

Comparing this to the documentary on Pixar where in the early days of the company, they were desperate to find a real animator to bring life to all of their math. That's how they hooked up with John Lasseter. The amazing way that the animation of Toy Story 2 and A Bug's Life has aged, even as ever-greater advances in technology have rendered (pun not intended) the old technology nearly antediluvian, is hugely impressive. It shows how the fundamentals of animation hold up and remain contemporary regardless of when they're done.

For a direct comparison, look at the animation of Monsters Inc. and Shrek. They both came out in 2001 and likely had similar development cycles. I've posted a clip of Monsters Inc., which won't likely be up for much longer, and the trailer for Shrek. Just look at how much more flexible the Pixar characters are. Look at how much more fluid the movements are. The differences are stark.

By Shrek 2, the Dreakworks guys had either hired better animators or gotten the hang of squeezing character out of their more rigid model designs.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Another Jessica Rabbit Wallpaper

Here's another permutation of my first Jessica Rabbit. It's not really feasible to post everything that I could, so if you have any requests, feel free to comment.

4:3 ratio
From Cartoon Vixens Wallpapers

16:10 ratio
From Cartoon Vixens Wallpapers

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Jessica Rabbit Wallpaper 2

I worked up a logo for Jessica Rabbit based on the Roger Rabbit logo.

4:3 ratio
From Cartoon Vixens Wallpapers

16:10 ratio
From Cartoon Vixens Wallpapers

Betty Boop Film Class 11

This will be a very short class, I'm only posting this because it so perfectly embodies Fleischer's early philosophy of cartoon production. It was something that was both brilliant, and his ultimate downfall.

This cartoon makes NO sense. There's essentially no plot. It's just Betty and company put into an environment, wacky shit takes place, and it's over. No narrative. No script. Basically no dialog. It is cartoon entertainment brought to its most basic. Unfortunately, unlike Disney, Fleischer was never able to leave this paradigm behind and move towards a more refined concept of animation. Now, with hindsight and 100 years of animation development, we can see that both ideas are legitimate. Hell, Fleischer's paradigm is what damn-near all television cartoons follow (Hello, Spongebob). But at the time, Disney is what pushed the evolution of animation while Fleischer stagnated. And in a nascent industry, the company that evolves is the company that dominates.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

High Resolution Jessica Rabbit

Here is the image of Jessica that I made for the wallpapers. This is a very high-res version of her and should be sufficient for whatever you might want to use the image. It's very important to make sure that you download the image from the gallery and not the image link that takes you to the image alone. Click on the "belongs to" link to the right and then select it from the full gallery. It's the only way Picasa allows you to download the full-resolution file.

From Cartoon Vixens Wallpapers

First Jessica Rabbit Wallpaper!

Yay! Jessica is done! And with cold weather ahead of me, I'll have plenty of time inside to work on even more! I've formatted her first as a standard Windows, right-aligned desktop wallpaper. I'll create a few more with this image and I'll also upload a very high-resolution image of her for your own use.

4:3 ratio
From Cartoon Vixens Wallpapers

16:10 ratio
From Cartoon Vixens Wallpapers

Monday, November 1, 2010

Nearing Completion of First Jessica Rabbit

I'm almost done with my first Jessica Rabbit. It's looking really great. It took much longer than I anticipated and the complexity caused me to lose interest on a number of occasions. I'm maybe two days away from finally putting out something that isn't just a silhouette. I'd give you a preview, but I'm so nearly done it would be pointless. I ended up scrapping most of my earlier work in favor of a less-complex layout.