Sunday, July 6, 2008

A Grab Bag of Worthwhile Reading

I've been catching up with various sites since getting back from vacation and have found several articles that are thought provoking.

Peter Emslie has done two very interesting posts about how generic designs often are. In this one, he shows how he redesigned some characters and explains his thought process. In the second part, he zeros in on how ethnicity has been handled in various places and offers an alternative to the Disney Fairies that are now Tinker Bell's sidekicks. I've known Peter for years and I've come to realize that behind his talented draftsmanship is a very perceptive and articulate artist.

I have to admit to not being a fan of John K's work, but I check his blog regularly and do admire his ability to analyze the work of various artists and animation disciplines. As an example, here is an analysis of the work of cartoonist and animation layout artist Owen Fitzgerald and a follow up on Mort Drucker, both of whom illustrated the comic book based on Bob Hope.

(Speaking of Owen Fitzgerald, Cartoon Snap makes an entire Fitzgerald issue of Bob Hope comics available and Thad K reproduces a Fitzgerald Fox and Crow story.)

Lots of people have written about the Warner animation directors and more recently, there's been material about the various Warner animators. Jaime Weinman has written an interesting piece about the various Warner writers and how their stories were suited (or not) to the various directors.

Keith Lango has an entry on timing animation to music illustrated by a clip from Bad Luck Blackie. For this section, director Tex Avery was working on a 9 beat (meaning a beat every 9 frames) and Lango's version of the clip makes it obvious that the animation was pre-timed to work with the music track that wasn't composed until the animation was finished. I've talked about this previously, as has Hans Perk (here, here and here). It's a very powerful tool that used to be standard in animation but has fallen by the wayside except for sequences that are musical numbers. Animators need to understand this approach so they can take advantage of the foundation it provides for timing.

Keith also points to Tim Hodges review of Wall-E, which includes this statement: "The setting was epic and the story was small." That statement is similar to one found in Stephan Rowley's review of Kung Fu Panda. He writes, "animated filmmakers need to learn to get their subject and visuals working in harmony." When two critics who are continents apart make the same observation about current animated features, there's definitely something to it. Rowley uses Kung Fu Panda as a "meditation on the current state of the animation industry" and he has interesting things to say.

Michael Sporn has written about how special effects are severing performers from their surroundings and the lack of reality is having an impact on performances and how audiences perceive films. I have been slow to realize the significance of setting in films but having just spent a week in the American southwest, I'm more convinced than ever of the importance of time, place and culture on a story.

In part 2 of the article, Michael says, "You have to find the book or the film or the charge that’s going to keep you going." That's good advice for anyone working in the animation business. There have been times, and now might be one of them, when animation can be disappointing, failing to provide the excitement the best of it can provide. Artists have to stay focused on what they love or they can fall prey to disenchantment. I remember in 1984, animation was going through a rough patch in Toronto and I returned to school to study computer animation, not because I had any particular love for it, simply because I was looking for a way to stay employed. That summer, I saw Børge Ring's Anna and Bella and had an epiphany: the problem was not the medium, the problem was the industry. I've tried to keep that in mind.

Finally, something about the copyright situation in Canada. The federal government has introduced bill C-61, amending the copyright law. Unfortunately, many perceive it as caving in to American industrial interests. One of the main problems is that breaking digital locks for any reason is a violation of copyright. So if you buy a DVD and rip it to put on your laptop hard drive, even if you don't sell, trade, or show anyone else the movie, you're a criminal. In short, it gives the manufacturer control over how you use products that you pay for. It's the equivalent of saying that you're a criminal if you use a hammer as a doorstop. Anyone interested in more details about this should visit Michael Geist's site.

There is also an interesting article by Brad Fox (sent to me by friends Paul Teolis and Chuck Scott) that argues that this law is even bad for producers. "By restricting what consumers can do with their purchased media, the distributors who control these platforms also limit producers to how they can access these markets....Under this situation distribution channels would essentially be given a monopoly on certain audiences and producers would have no choice but to accept whatever terms these corporations impose."

As I am someone with a pathological dislike of gate-keepers, I have yet another reason to be against C-61. With luck, the current minority government will fall before this bill can be passed.

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