A Dreamer Walking

Real Life

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on June 27, 2011

Well I got back from my vacation a few days ago. Sadly I have not written anything until now out of laziness and trying to get over a sickness. The vacation part was fun but the traveling part was not. I began to get sick about a week ago and the sickness was in full throttle while driving 1800 miles back to Montana from Kalamazoo Michigan. However, even though I felt sick through part of the vacation I could not help but feel inspired by most of the traveling and interaction with family members.

The vacation we went on was to our Grandparents living in Kalamazoo Michigan. We went for a anniversary involving my Grandma’s side of the family. The anniversary ended up being the most mediocre part of the trip. However, hanging out with my uncles, aunts, and grandparents was fantastic. The vacation actually reminded me of the most important lesson I have learned as a storyteller. The foundations of any storytellers stories must come from real life. It does not matter if the story is located in a far away land with dragons, fairies, and witches or in a futuristic land with aliens, monsters, and robots, what the story needs the most is something unique and personal. It is important to remember even though there have been stories about cowboys, fairies, and monsters before, there has not been anyone who has lived the life you have lived. When you take from your own personal life to create the foundations of your stories, you make any kind of story unique.

I have stories I am developing that are about  far away lands where the main characters are goblins, cavemen, and flowers. However, all of these characters are directly linked to my family and people who have influenced me in my personal life. Even the situations and themes of my stories are inspired by struggles and lessons I have learned in real life.

The life I live will be the key to unlocking the heart of the characters and stories I create. My greatest mission should be observation and a dedication to understanding. In the last two weeks I have been able to hang out with the people I care about more then anyone else in this world. I observe both their strengths and faults, and try to learn from them. In the end I realize they are the ones creating the characters in my head and making me want to tell stories for a living.

 

On Vacation!!!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on June 17, 2011

Hey sorry about the lack of posts. I am on vacation and will not be back to actually writing or doing photography for a week or so. I am thankful for all the viewers who come to this blog. I hope the information is helpful, it sure is helpful for me to write it. See you in a week!

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Andreas Deja- Deja View Site

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on June 12, 2011

I wanted to show you a new site that has just come up. It is called Deja View and is written by Andreas Deja, a animator who has worked at Disney for thirty years. Andreas was the lead animator for characters such as Jafar from Aladdin (1992), Scar from The Lion King (1994), and Lilo from Lilo and Stitch (2002). He has also spent his whole professional career collecting old animation, particularly from the legendary Nine Old Men.

The Nine Old Men are nine animators who were responsible for bringing many of the Disney characters, from the late 1930’s to the beginning of the 1980’s, to life. The Nine Old Men are some of the greatest influences for the medium of animation and are responsible for creating many of the foundations most animators these days stand on. All the Nine Old Men have passed away, the last being Ollie Johnson in 2008. Luckily many of the Nine Old Men were mentors to Andreas. I know he stayed friends with Ollie Johnson, Frank Thomas, and Eric Larson to the end of their lives. So far his blog seems to be devoted to talking about these great animators.

I recommended the blog to anyone looking to go into animation. Unlike historians who talk about these great men from mostly an outsiders perspective, Deja has personal experience with many of these people and the ability to express who these animators were from a animators perspective. Deja is a animation legend himself. He was a key figure in the rise of Disney animation in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Deja is also a huge advocate for keeping 2D animation alive, rather then having all studios converting completely to CG animation. Deja was known for his ability to animate the villain. He was the lead in bringing to life characters like Gaston, Scar, and Jafar. Yet he showed himself a good lead animator for the hero as well with characters such as Lilo,  Mama Odie from Princess and the Frog, and just recently Tigger in the new Winnie the Pooh movie coming out this July.

If you want to hear from Andreas I would recommend you listen to these podcasts from The Animation Podcast: part 1, part 2, and part 3. I am sure you will find Andreas’ story on how he became an animator inspiring and he gives great insight on the medium of animation at Disney in 2005, when this interview was taken.

Without any further to do I give you the Link to Andreas site Deja View:

Click on picture to go to the site.

Invisible Ink- Finding the Reflections

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on June 8, 2011

The book Invisible Ink, by Brian McDonald, calls this section The Use of Clones. “Clones”, as Brain McDonald explains, are “characters in your story that represent what could, should, or might happen to the protagonist if he or she takes a particular path”. In essence clones are characters that represent a truth or a possible truth about your protagonist. I rather use the word reflection then clone. A clone means a genetically identical organism. However, the way McDonald uses the word he does not mean identical as much as he means “similar” or “reflecting of”.  One of the examples McDonald uses in his book is Gollum, in Lord of the Rings, being a clone of the main character Frodo. Gollum is not identical to Frodo but he represents what might happen to him if he chooses a curtain path. In the end, as McDonald points out in his book, we measure the success of Frodo by the failure of Gollum.

I am going to use this section in Brian’s book as a jumping off point, like I usually do with his topics. However, even though Brian is writing mainly for writers, I am writing for both writers and directors of film. Because of this I will try to take his points about clones and apply them to filmmaking in general.

In any given story it is our job as storytellers to make sure everything is there to inhance the point we are trying to make. We need to concentrate on what the foundation or theme of the story is and build everything around the foundation. If something in our story does not contribute to our theme, it has no use being in our story. We do not create characters, environments, or events just to “flesh out our world”. We create for a purpose. As I stated earlier a reflection’s purpose is to express a truth or possible truth about our main character(‘s). Reflections are all around in filmmaking. They might present themselves in other characters, through situations, or even through the world the characters inhabit.

Imagine yourself going through a house of mirrors where you see yourself reflected in all kinds of ways. Some reflections are not realistic, they distort you to make you look stronger, fatter, or smaller then you really are. In film reflections are not replicas of your main character, they are supposed to show a truth about your character through a curtain lens. In the end, this lens can be extremely miss leading or extremely helpful to the change your main character goes through. It all depends on how you choose to use the reflection tool in your storytelling process.

Reflections are sometimes used to help the main character of the story understand something. They are sometimes just used to help the audience understand something.  A simple example would be Luke Skywalker and Darth Vador. Not only does the audience relize what Luke can become through the reflection we see in Vador, so does Luke. It is made clear to Luke he can fall into the darkside just like his father and in the end this revelation guides the path Luke chooses to take. In The Lion King there is a scene towards the end of the film where the main characters Simba looks into a pond and sees his father in his reflection. It is explained that Simba’s father lives inside of him. This helps give Simba confidence to step up and become king.

A movie I believe does a remarkable job expressing reflections is Peter Pan (2003). Most of the reflections in this movie are purely for the audiences sake. Peter Pan is a fairytale and like most good fairytales it does not make any efforts to stick to the realities of this world. Instead we are introduced to an environment that completely reflects who the main character is. Even the villain of the piece we find out is a reflection of Peter Pan. To help establish my point I would like you to watch this scene from the Peter Pan (2003) movie (you can start at 1:30 and only need to go up to 8:00).

Notice how abstract the environment and lighting is. As soon as Hook says, “She was leaving you Pan”, the environment begins to change. There is even a time when Peter is lit by a cold blue light while Hook is lit through a warm red light, even though they are outside in the same environment only feet away from each other. There was no effort by director Paul Hogan to create a realistic scene. Paul wanted to show us what Pan was feeling. The more Hook upsets Pan the more gloomy the environment gets. Neverland is a direct reflection of who Peter Pan is. When the kiss comes everything changes again, the stars are even changing to reflect the emotions he is going through. He shoots out a burst of energy blowing away the pirates and he flies up basking in the moonlight.

Notice through out the scene how eerily similar Hook is to Peter, to the point he begins to fly just like Pan. At the beginning of the scene Hook is a very accurate reflection of who Peter is. This is what McDonald’s main point was in his The Use of Clones section. You often see the villain of a movie reflect a dark side of the main protagonist. The reflection is clear between characters like Batman and the Joker, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, and here between Hook and Peter Pan. Hook even says, “You’ll die alone and unloved… just like me“. The point is to express the danger the protagonist faces. We begin to understand the small things which differentiate good from evil. When we see how easy it is to choose the dark side, we begin to appreciate the hero’s choice to rise above.

I could literally talk hours about how reflections are used in film. The point comes back to what I talked about in my previous post, show don’t tell. We as filmmakers must find ways to express the inner battle going on in our characters soul, visually. We do not need to be as blunt as Peter Pan, but we must find a way. There may also be times in your stories where the main characters needs to face a reflection in order further his journey, such as Simba seeing his father in his reflection, Woody, from Toy Story 2, seeing what his future might be through the toy Jesse,  and Edward Norton’s character seeing who he he could be (or is) through Tyler Burdon in the movie Fight Club.  You can even create a change in your character through showing a reflection of the world without him or her in it, as we see in the classic It’s a Wonderful Life.

Reflections are a wonderful tool used throughout filmmaking. You do not necessarily need to have a reflection shown through every character you create. There are times where reflections never go farther then expressing a truth about the protagonist to the audience. The reason why reflections (or clones) are refereed to as Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald, is because they are not supposed to be obvious. They are around to bring us farther into the story, not take us out of it. We must use reflections wisely and with care so they are never too obvious to the audience. However, reflections are everywhere in film. Whether it is through the way a scene is lit, sound is expressed, set is dressed, or camera is handled, our job as filmmakers is to reflect something about the world and characters we are portraying, to our audience and maybe even to the characters in our film.

Ridley Scott- Fox Searchlab Lecture

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on June 5, 2011

One of the directors I have just started to look into is Ridley Scott. This is a fantastic interview he did for Fox Searchlight. I wrote down several pages of notes from this interview.  He gives us a overview on how he got into the film business and talks about many of the things he has learned through the years, all the way from how he deals with actors to how he goes about editing his films. I think the interview is a must watch for any upcoming filmmaker. Hope you enjoy!

I also want to give you the link to Fox Searchlight Interviews, where you can find more interviews similar to this one with some great filmmakers such as Bryan Singer, Danny Boyle, and Darren Aronofsky.

X-Men: First Class-Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on June 3, 2011

 X-Men: First Class starts exactly where the original X-Men (2000) movie started, in a 1944 German concentration camp, where we see a young Jewish boy being forcefully taken away from his father and mother. After being taken away the boy reaches out and begins to miraculously bend the fence blocking him from his parents. After a bit of a struggle the kid ends up getting knocked out by one of the guards. The scene is basically shot by shot the way the original X-Men director Bryan Singer shot it, with different characters portraying the roles. However, the re-shoot seemed void of the tension and emotion that made the original Bryan Singer scene so great. The wight of the piece seemed absent. The sounds and visuals did not put me in the middle of a concentration camp, but rather on a set where people were trying to act. I thought maybe the new X-Men director Matthew Vaughn had a few bad days of shooting. I was fine as long as he got better the farther along we went. However, this was not the case. The new X-Men movie ended up being a mediocre superhero film. It was a film full of thought provoking ideas and interesting characters, but all of which were executed with a middling flair. The film, like so many superhero movies these days, was built on action scene after actions scene all of which seemed more interested in showing off effects then trying to express the true essence of the characters.

To be fair we were given a few scenes with character development, but almost all of it felt forced and passed far too quickly. I did not feel like we had enough time with the main characters Charles Xaiver (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), let alone the team they recruit. The movie did not really give us much more of an origin story, on how both Charles and Erik were raised and built their ideals, then the first film. We had one scene with Charles as a kid in his luxurious home being kind to a mutant he meets for the first time called Raven. This scene does not tell us anything about how Charles built his ideals on being kind to those around him. We are just shown he is a kind rich kid for some reason. We also had one extra scene with Erik as a child where an evil man, working for the Nazi’s, Sabastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) tells Erik to use his mutant power to move a metal coin or he will kill his mother. Erik can not move the coin, Sabastian kills Erik’s mother, and then Erik pulls a Darth Vador and destroys the room around him out of anger. None of this caught me emotionally. The acting by Kevin was easily forgettable and the boy did not seem to show any more physical emotions then screaming loudly and getting really tense. The music didn’t take a hold of me and the surroundings felt disconcertingly fake.

What happened to the mud and darkness in the first film? For this film everything was too clean. Most of the sets felt too obviously like sets, not locations where the characters really lived. I felt like the expensive budget allowed the film crew to be too free with their set pieces and special effects. Peter Weir once talked about shooting film as though you were always on location and could not remove the walls or scenery. Shooting in a cramped environment often allows for a more realistic scene where the sets feel lived in and the cameras have limits. There were huge shots in the Arctic and during the big ship fight scene at the end of the film that felt too extreme and showy, taking us out of the movie.

The costumes were always perfect, no dirt and no stains. There was a lot of fighting and a lot of killing but we were not allowed to see the consequences to most of the action. We were not allowed to see the blood and the brutality of it all. The only injury they concentrated on was Charles Xavier’s at the end of the film, where he is hit in the back by a reflecting bullet from Erik. Yet, in this scene the acting did not impact me. These characters were supposed to be best friends at this time. The fact that Erik was the cause of Charles injury was supposed to be shocking and deeply emotional to us. I however, through out most of the film and even at the end, did not feel the chemistry between the actors James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. There were tears but little connection.

Everything relied on us connecting to the X-Men characters. We needed to feel the pain of Erik if we wanted to understand his need for revenge. We needed to understand the belief Charles had in the best of mankind if we were going to care about his convictions not to make war on the human race. The X-Men recruits and the villains of the movie felt completely one dimensional. We are introduced to Emma Frost (January Jones) and see her follow Sabastian Shaw with no explanation to what connects her to this evil man. Shaw just treats Emma like dirt and apparently she is okay with it for some reason. There were glimpses of hope with characters like Hank McCoy (Nicholas Holt) and Raven (Jennifer Lawerance), two of the first X-Men recruits, but there characters were not explored very effectively. We knew Hank hated his ape like feet and Raven was uncomfortable with showing here true form, but there were few examples of how society abused these characters so much they began to hate part of themselves. The closest we get are a few stupid jokes a few of the other X-Men recruits make on Hank.

Superhero movies can have such a powerful impact on our society. Superhero’s like The X-Men, Spiderman, and Superman are the Greek and Roman gods of the 21st century. They also represent part of who we are. They are full of flaws and insecurities. A great superhero is not someone who is all powerful and perfect. A great superhero is a character who has the power to make a difference and fails again and again, but somehow finds the strength to get back up. We must know the flaws and insecurities of these characters before we start rooting for them to get up and fight. The emotional connection created between the audience and superhero is far more important then the scale of their task.

First connect me to the characters and world they live in before embarking on a mission for them to save the world. All the powers of cinema need to be directed toward bringing these superheros down to earth so we can relate to them as human beings. X-Men: First Class is not a bad movie. However it falls victim to a lot of mediocrity because the filmmakers vision could not go much farther then a visual feast of visual effects and action sequences.

Fire Hydrant- Rich Contrast

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on June 2, 2011

First Let me apologize for not getting any blogs out recently. I hope to get another Invisible Ink post out soon.

I have been fascinated with fire hydrants lately. I did a series of pictures on one a while back. Here is another fire hydrant that caught my eye. For this picture I wanted to see how rich I could make the colors. I am also in love with contrast and found my painting program created a very rich color with a great contrast for this picture. If you zoom up on this picture you will see how stylized it really is. However, I do not mind stylizing a picture as long as I enhance what I believe to be the main focus of the picture. The main focus in this case is the water hydrant and I feel the contrast helps bring out the hydrant from the surroundings. Using the painting program allows me to simplify the picture much like turning it black and white would. I am not interested in the small details but rather the overall picture and how it all works together. I like the yellow fence to the right of the picture, it compliments the yellow in the hydrant. I also like the balance between dark and light. I hope you enjoy!

(You will have to click on the picture to see it in complete focus)