A Dreamer Walking

The Sympathy Factor!

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on November 28, 2010

I watched the movie The Shawshank Redemption last night and was amazed how much sympathy the film was able to create for the main character Andy Dufresne .

Sympathy is one of the greatest leverages a filmmaker has. I do not think it is a good idea to create a completely sympathetic main character right from the start of your movie. The key in The Shawshank Redemption, was how cold and sort of shallow Andy seemed at the beginning of the film. There is nothing audiences like more then a redemption story.

We first meet Andy and immediately think of him as being a lifeless banker who has just killed his wife. However, from that point on we start to understand Andy better and get pulled onto his side.  Our views on Andy do not change quickly, in fact the whole movie is about the redemption of Andy Dufresne.  That is why you do not want to be completely sympathetic towards your main character from the very get-go, it is a process that usually takes the length of the movie to see to completion.  At the end of The Shawshank Redemption we find ourselves completely on Andy’s side, rooting for him to get out of the prison and find the dream home by the beach that he has always wanted.

It is not crucial to make your character out to be completely innocent at the end of the film. Showing that our characters have imperfections and flaws is a good thing, it gives us a way to relate to them. However, sympathy usually comes from the arc that the character goes through from the beginning to the end of the film. With Andy we saw true growth. Andy was a sort of cold character at the beginning of the film but through out the story he was able to find life and change himself  from the inside out. The unfair things that happen to Andy only built onto the empathy we already had for him.

The Sympathy factor in film is crucial. Just make sure your character’s earn the audience’s sympathy. Our sympathy must be built from the love for who the character is on the inside. The unfair stuff is just icing on the cake.

Tree Stump

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on November 24, 2010

It is hard to think of a good name for this picture, that is why you kind of get the basic Tree Stump title. The tree stump is the main focus of the picture. I only wanted warm colors in the picture and didn’t want the eye to concentrate on the trees in the far background. For the main tree and stump I wanted to see color on whatever the light seemed to touch. Color separation can sometimes have a nice effect, I think separated color well in this picture and it allows you to concentrate on some of the beauty of the picture that you might not have seen otherwise.

Walt Disney: The Inspiration for Great Animation

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies by Jacob on November 23, 2010

Here is a LINK to a letter that Walt Disney wrote to Don Graham, a art teacher from Chounaird Art Institute. Don was given the daunting task of leading art classes for Disney Animators. Walt was dedicated to perfecting the art of animation. He knew the better artists he had the better films he would produce. This letter shows you some of the things he wanted Don to teach his artists. Walt and his wife would often personally give artists rides to these classes since it was in the middle of the depression and few people had transportation of their own back then.

Many people have a hard time with Walt because they say he was not really a good artist. Walt was not very talented at painting or drawing. He stopped animating entirely in the late 1920’s. Walt did not create any of the beautiful drawings you see in so many of the “art of Disney” books. He didn’t even bring a pencil to his storyboard meetings.

However, this letter makes you realize that Walt knew his art form. Walt basically lays out the foundations of animation in this letter. He was not good at drawing, but he did know the animation medium. Walt knew how to direct his animators. He knew how to inspire them. With Walt you got more then the basic drawing that might inspire a way to animate a character or go about creating a scene. With Walt you had someone who could inspire whole films. His imagination produced literally millions of drawings and tons of classical films. Yes, his artists were the ones who did the drawings and without them the movies couldn’t be made. However, Walt was the person who drove everyone forward. He literally had hundreds of artists who woke up wanting to go to work each day because of his imagination and love for their medium.

Some of the greatest animated movies ever made were inspired by Walt Disney. Walt is a perfect example of not needing to be able to draw or paint in order to be a great artist. I think you will find his letter very insightful and inspiring. It was written in 1935. It is pretty cool when you realize Walt is laying out what became the philosophy behind the great animation you see in Snow White, Pinocchio, Bambi, and all the other Disney films that have come out since.

Juno- Extra Features Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on November 22, 2010

Juno:

Blu-Ray Review:

Way Beyond “our” Maturity Level: Juno-Leah-Bleeker: 7 out of 10: A well made documentary that lasts about 8 minutes. The feature is about the three kids staring in the film. The actors all talk about their characters and how they were able to embody them. It is all about getting into character and how the kids of Juno were so successful doing so.

Diablo Coby is Totally Boss: 8 out 10: This Feature gives us a 8 minute look at the screenwriter Diablo Cody. We see how unique Diablo’s screenplay is and what makes it stand out. They give us a brief explanation on how Diablo’s screenplay got noticed and what she put into it from her personal life. Jason the Director also talks about what the screenplay means to him and how he really felt like it was Diablo’s movie more then his.

Jason Reitman for Schizz: 9 out of 10: Loved this 8 minute documentary on Director Jason Reitman. It is all about his philosophy on directing this film. Jason talked a lot about the tone of the film and how he tried to be honest to the characters and story. There was a bit of talk between the line Jason needed to walk, from letting us understand the humor but not going over the top with it. We also get good insight from many of Jason’s film team about how good he is in collaborating with others. This short documentary lets you really see what movie making is about for Jason.

Honest to Blog: Creating Juno: 7.5 out of 10: This is a good short documentary on the over all film. The documentary concentrates on the three main stars of the film more then anything, that being writer Diablo Cody, Director Jason Reitman, and main actress Ellen Page. We see how these three stars and the rest of the crew came together to create such a good movie.

Commentary: Director Jason Reitman, Screenwriter Diablo Cody: 6 out of 10: I really didn’t get drawn into this commentary. both seemed more interested in talking about personal stories that happened on set then their process with writing or directing the film. You get pretty much nothing from Diablo. Jason does go into detail about his directing process in a few areas. He also talks a little about what the actors brought to the table. I  think the commentary would actually of been better without Diablo being there distracting Jason.

Over all I think the film was of higher quality then the extra features. You do get some good insight though. I would suggest that you skip the commentary. There is very little information you get on the commentary that you hadn’t gotten on the extra features. Each of the main contributors to the movie were very unique in their own ways, I especially found Diablo and her story to be interesting. Juno was a great movie and the extra features did a fair enough job showing us why.

Leaf and Contrast

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on November 18, 2010

This is the last picture from my Fall Leaf series. I really pushed the contrast up with this photo. This picture is particularly interesting to me because of the balance. The color of the leaf is balanced through the color of the background. We are dealing with warm yellows, greens, and a sort of aqua blue. I don’t think any of the colors take away from the main subject, the blue gives a curtain contrast that I think is needed. Anyway, would love to hear your thoughts. Enjoy the picture!

Toy Story 3- Extra Features Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on November 16, 2010

Review on most of the Toy Story 3 Extra Features I have watched so far. I give them a grade between 1 and 10. The grade is based on how well the videos, podcasts, and documentaries present their information, and what I think of the information they present. I will bold curtain words that I think represent what the videos are about. This is not supposed to be extremely organized, but I do hope you find it useful and have at least an idea of what kind of stuff you are getting into when you purchase these movies or look at these links. if you have any questions or critiques please comment below.

Toy Story 3:

Two Disc Blu-Ray Review:

Cinama Explore/ Commentary: Lee Unkrich and Darla Anderson: 7.5 out of 10: I can tell that Lee was very passionate when making the film and that the movie came from his true vision. I also found some good info on particular scenes and to whether they were easy or hard to do. One of the problems is that Lee tries to pack everything into the commentary, so he does not give enough time (in my opinion) on any given subject. I would have liked to have more insight into his directing process and hear why he did what he did when it came to writing, story boarding, animating, lighting, and more importantly editing (sense that was his upbringing in film) a shot. However, that said the commentary is very informational. Darla talks very little but you also get the feeling she was deep into the passion that made Toy Story 3 what it is. I think the highlights is a more overall idea on the animation process, leaning toward story if anything.

A Western Opening: Story Process: 8 out of 10: This was a 7 minute documentary on how the very opening of Toy Story 3 became what it is in the film. It deals entirely on how they developed the story through out the years. It was surprising how different it started out being, from the end product. You also get some great insight into how they made it a core part of the story as a whole.

Bonnie’s Playtime: Story Roundtable: 9 out of 10: This is a great 6 minute conversation with Lee Unkrich, Jason Katz (story artist), Adrian Molina (story artist), Erik Benson (story artist), and Matt Luhn (story artist), on how they went about figuring out Bonnie as a character and how they figured out how to introduce her to the audience so we immediately love her without knowing the toys are going to be donated to her. This is completely about story and character development. I love some of the conversation that goes on. You get some real insight to how many people it took to crack the character of Bonnie. We get many people’s different points of view, all of them seem to have been interested in one thing and that is making a character as strong as Andy. They go into detail about how they tried to connect Bonnie’s room too Andy’s room, while still making both characters unique. You also get a good look at why they chose the toys they chose for Bonnie. Some GREAT stuff.

Beginnings: Setting The Story in Motion: 10 out of 10: This is PRICELESS!!! A 8 minute clinic on starting a screenplay. It is narrated by Michael Arndt, and gives us a fantastic look at fundamental things to look for if you are having a hard time working a story out. He explains how if you are having a hard time writing a story, the problem almost always has its roots in the beginning of the story. Michael goes through 3 Pixar movies, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles, and tells us how exactly they are set up to allow the 2nd and 3rd act to really flow. This is a fundamental documentary for anyone interested in screenwriting. The great thing is that Michael even says that the rules he explains are NOT  law, they are just good things to look at if you are having problems.

Life of a Shot: 8 out of 10: A 7 minute look at what went into the huge western opening in Toy Story 3. We saw a little of everything, character animation, effects animation, camera positioning, storyboarding, prop design, color scripting, lighting, and music. For a brief introductory look at what goes into making animation work, watch this feature.

Paths To Pixar: Editorial: 9 out of 10: This is more about advice then how these editors made it to Pixar. It is only 4 minutes and 40 seconds, but has a lot of different views on what goes into good film editing. They explain some of the difference between live action editing and animation editing. I like how they really captured several peoples views on the subject and it seemed to keep on driving forward. You clearly see a beginning middle and end to this documentary.

Toy Story 3: The Gang’s All Here: 8 out of 10: This is a interesting 8 minute look at all the voice actors for the film. ALL these Toy Story 3 extra features are so very well made. It is just fun to hear some of Tom Hank’s ideas on what Toy Story means to him. It is cool to see how so many voice actors are excited about Pixar and how they feel they are becoming imortal when they contribute their voices to one of their films. Also a little insight on Lee Unkrich, and his thoughts on directing the third movie.

Goodbye Andy: 9 out of 10: I dare someone to watch this short documentary and say that the film was not “driven” by Lee Unkrich. Lee, I think, is the most personal in this documentary, explaining what he put into the ending of the film and how important it was to him to complete the Toy Story trilogy. We get some great insight on how the ending of the film was developed from the very first retreat John Lasseter and his core filmmakers had when they started the Toy Story 3 project. They talk a lot about what they needed to do to make the story just right. Lee explains what he thought his job was as the Director.

Commentary: Bobby Podesta, Jason Katz, Mike Venturini, Bob Pauley, and Guido Quaron: 8 out of 10: A good commentary. We get to hear about some of the passion that went into making the film. We also hear about many of the obstacles. They talk about the daunting task of working on characters that are considered legends in the animation world. We also see why Pixar is the best animation studio at the moment. It is all about detail and these guys are addicted to making sure every last detail is covered, so that could create the best film imaginable. They all put 110% into all they do. I do think they were a little too interested in talking about fellow artists contributions,  that their own personal journey became a side note on the commentary. I really wanted to hear a little more from Jason Katz, the story supervisor of the film. But a good overall commentary and there was some of that detail and insight given just not as much as I thought they could have given. The main concentration of the commentary is on story and animation. But, there is also a fair amount of talk about how color schemes and set designs pushed the story forward. Pixar is extremely oriented to story, so everything rounded back to that with the commentators.

Overall a very well made Blu ray pack, full of extra features that give you great insight towards story development and the Pixar process. Even though some of their extra feature documentaries are short, they are PACKED with useful information. They get strait to the point in each oneof their documentaries and I like that.

Internet Toy Story 3 material:

The Sound of America: Lee Unkrich Interview: 7 out of 10: A good 30 minute interview talking about many of the themes of the Toy Story trilogy and how and why they appeal to us as an audience.

Creative Screenwriting Magazin Podcast: Michael Arndt Toy Story 3: 9.5 out of 10: Another Priceless interview of screenwriter Michael Arndt. This is Michael talking for an 1 hour and 15 minutes about how he got started as a screenwriter and what he thinks it takes to be a screenwriter. He talks about his philosophy on screenwriting and what he learned going to Pixar. He goes into detail about curtain elements of writing Toy Story 3 and how it is a tremendously collaborative process. He talks about the roots of Pixar philosophy for filmmaking. He explains some the contributions that people like Brad Bird, John Lasseter, and Andrew Stanton, brought to Toy Story 3. I loved all of it. I especially liked when Michael was talking about getting started and what he thinks screenwriting is all about.

Michael Arndt on Creative Screenwriting Podcast!!!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on November 13, 2010

I love listening to the many of the interviews on the Creative Screenwriting Podcast. They give you a lot of great tips on how to go about writing a screenplay and just some good insight on film making in general. I really think you should check out THIS podcast of Michael Arndt speaking about his past Toy Story 3 experience. He seems like a very passionate artist who is devoted to creating great stories. The personal story Michael shares on this podcast episode about how he went about becoming a screenwriter is very insightful. Some of his advice I feel is priceless and it is great to see how he learned through out the story making process for Toy Story 3.  I think he has some good things to say about the Pixar studio. It is encouraging to see at least one person in the film industry who thinks there is a studio out there that is driven by the director’s vision. Enjoy the link!

UPDATE: At the moment it seems that the podcast has been taken off line. I will keep the link up just in case it comes back on line some time. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Joe Ranft: Part 3: A Friend and Mentor

Posted in Animation, Film and Filmaker Studies by Jacob on November 10, 2010

This third and final part of my Joe Ranft series is to explain why Joe is one of the greatest influences in the history of animation. As I have explained in my last two blogs about Joe (here is Part 1 and Part 2), he went through many struggles and was able to push through them to become a very good artist. His special touch is seen through all the films he has worked on. However, what inspires me the most about Joe is not all the struggles he was able to overcome. Nor was it the magnificent art he was able to produce. Joe’s true gift was in his ability to affect those around him. His influence on film was limited to his own skill with a pencil or even the time he had on this earth. Joe had a quality that lasts even through death. Joe Ranft was a friend and a mentor to all those he worked with and because of this he will never be forgotten and he will never stop influencing the world through the people who were influenced by him.

Joe was moved by the teachers he had in CalArts. He was not only influenced to create great art from them, but also to spread the ability to do art to others. The goel was always to find the best idea possible and to do that Joe would involve everyone around him. He was far from being a solo man like his idol Bill Pete. He liked working as a team and was always open to new ideas no matter who the idea came from. Joe thought if diverse artists could work together without killing each other they could accomplish great things.

In 1987 Joe returned to CalArts to teach storyboarding. Two students Joe influenced the most was Brenda Chapman and Pete Docter. Pete Docter is now a director at Pixar and was the visionary behind both Pixar’s Monsters Inc. and Up. Brenda is now known as one of the great storyboard artists of her generation and she helped co-direct Dreamworks The Prince of Egypt. In John Canemaker’s book Two Guys Named Joe, Brenda said, “I would not be who I am, what I am, if it were not for Joe,” (page. 50).

Joe seemed to be a natural teacher. He made his students study Chaplin and Keaton films, and really concentrated on how to communicate ideas and story points through body language and the physical expression of emotions. The “meaning of the pose” was always important to Joe so he taught his students how to stage their drawings and think deeply about the pose being created so they could communicate as much as they could with their drawings. Here are a few of Joe’s rules on storyboarding from the book Two Guys Named Joe (Page 50):

  • Show rather then tell.
  • Communicate one idea at a time.
  • Stage it so the audience can see it clearly.
  • Clarity In the shot composition.
  • Clarity in staging the acting or pantomime
  • The Story drawing’s idea is to communicate: an idea feeling/emotion, mood, an action
  • Imply animation in your drawings (through caricature, use of animation principles, I.e., stretch and squash exaggeration, etc.)
  • Imagine ourselves in our character’s shoes/place.
  • Leave an impression, an impact (Visual and emotional) That effects the viewer.

These were all rules Joe pounded into his students. He wanted each one of his students to be the best storyboard artist they could be. The students always had someone to talk to in Joe. He was always there to talk about an idea or way to go about telling their story. He was known for being able to deal with anyone. Unlike so many teachers today, Joe did not force his way of thinking onto his students. Rather, he helped them develop their own way of telling a story.

When Joe went to Pixar and became head of story for Toy Story and A Bugs Life he became a leader everyone looked up to, including the directors of the films he was working on. He was the first man to show up and the last person to leave. After A Bugs Life Joe took a step down from the leadership position to become more of a mentor to the Pixar studio. In their most desperate hours Joe was able to help guide first time directors like Pete Docter on Monster’s Inc and Andrew Stanton for Finding Nemo. Joe was able to crack the sequence at the end of Monsters Inc. where the main protagonist Sully is leaving his dear friend Boo for what he thinks will be the last time. Andrew Stanton, the director and screenwriter for both Finding Nemo and Wall-E said, “Everything I learned about storyboarding a film and rewriting scripts was with Joe Ranft on Toy Story” (Two Guys Named Joe, page 73).

The artist’s Joe took under his wing and helped mentor are now some of the most sought after people in the animation industry. Joe had a gift, a powerful gift. He was able to make others believe in themselves. Joe had a joy for life and his art form that could not help but rub off on others. However, this heart for helping others did not just stop in the field of animation.

Being successful while others suffered in the world was not comforting to Joe. He joined community outreach programs helping at prisons and in tough neighborhoods. He even helped convince Steve Jobs to donate computers to the Watts organization. Staying involved in the community was important to Joe and he stayed involved up to the day he died. He was killed in a traffic accident on his way to a retreat in Mendocino, California.

Andrew Stanton said this about Joe;

He was just a great listener. Probably the best. And he had a real sixth sense for when people needed it, even if you weren’t looking for it. And that I’ll miss more then anything else, is the random knock at the doorway and just going, ‘Ah. It’s Joe.’

Joe Ranft was a friend and mentor. He was there for others when they most needed him. Through the talent and the fame, it was Joe’s friendship everyone valued. And this is why Joe Ranft will never be forgotten. Friendship is his contribution that will never die.

 

(Here is a tribute to Joe Ranft, made by one of Joe’s good friends John Musker)

Framed Leaf

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on November 7, 2010

Framing a picture is easier said then done sometimes. Thankfully the fence gave me a perfect way to frame this leaf. Framing can often help draw the audiences eye to the main focus of the shot. Immediately you know what you are supposed to be looking at in this picture. I also tried to use a high exposure as a way to draw your eye. The only think that isn’t extremely lit is the leaf.

Fall Leaf

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on November 4, 2010

Yet another picture I was able to take that only Fall weather could produce. I  love looking at leaves lit by the sun. You usually get such a great color from them bouncing off each other. Hope you enjoy!