A Dreamer Walking

Brad Bird – An Observation – Character Animation

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on September 1, 2011

Brad BirdAll the Pixar films have moments of brilliant animation. However, I am always blown away by the animation I see in Brad Bird’s films. Bird’s films have an appeal and timing that gives the old silent greats, such as Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, a run for their money. Because of his animation background Brad tries to create scenes for his films he would like to animate himself. The legendary Disney animator Milt Kahl mentored Brad Bird. Bird was also lucky enough to work at Disney when Ollie Johnson and Frank Thomas were there. These great animators helped develop Bird’s eye for quality animation. I believe Bird is the best animator out of all the Pixar directors, and because of this most animators love to work for him. Bird pushes his animators to think outside the box and he knows the techniques of animation so well he is able to give his animators the kind of criticism that allows for them to create their best possible work.

Bird’s first project for Pixar was his original story The Incredibles. The Incredibles was a risky story to tell for multiple reasons. The movie required the Pixar artists to dive into an extremely challenging type of animation, human animation. Humans have always been some of the hardest things to animate. We observe how humans move constantly in everyday life so if the animator makes a mistake with animating a human character the audience will know. Yet, Bird felt the Pixar artists were up to the task and he gave them colorful characters to enhance their animation.

The Incredibles is about an over the hill superhero in Mr. Incredible who wants to relive the glory days. There are five Incredibles total and the whole family has superpowers. Bird’s genius was making the superpower for each Incredible directly reflect who the characters were on the inside. Mr. Incredible is the man of the and feels he has the responsibility to provide for the family, so Bird gave him super strength. Mrs. Incredible main purpose is to keep the peace and she feels stretched through trying to satisfy all the members of the family, so she is given the ability to be super flexible. The Incredibles oldest child Violet represents the “unconfident teen” who does not want to be noticed and creates barriers so she won’t get hurt by what someone says or does, so she has the ability to disappear and create force fields. Dash, the Incredibles middle child, is a ball of energy who is set on being the best in whatever he competes in, so what better superpower to represent him then super speed. And finally we have the baby Jack. Jack is a big “?”, he is too young for us to know what he will end up being. His powers reflect who he is by being miscellaneous. He can turn into metal, burst into fire, or transform into a demon, all depending on his mood at the time.

The next film Brad Bird directed and wrote for Pixar happens to be one of my favorite animated films of all time, Ratatouille. The animation in Ratatouille is phenomenal. The whole premise of the movie relied on getting the audience to believe a rat could cook. This was no easy task yet Bird executed the idea perfectly. Here is a great example of Bird’s brilliant direction in the movie:

Understand first the animation is all being driven by the personalities of the characters. This is actually the main reason the scene is so wonderful to watch. We have the human character Linquini who does not have a clue what is going on. You can see it through his facial expressions when Colette is reading off the ingredients and even more so when she leaves frame to set the dish up. We are also given a shot of Remy thinking about the ingredients Colette is reading off. These are very subtle pieces of animation but they are setting up the cooking scene. When the cooking starts Remy takes charge and the music begins. Notice how well the music blends with the animation. Each movement seems to hit curtain beats – Linquini reaching for the first spices, Remy bending Linquini to smell the sauce, Linquini going to get more ingredients. The more involved Linquini and Remy get with cooking the more expressive the music gets. There is a delicate balance between us realizing Remy is the one making Linquini cook and Linquini trying to maintain some kind of control. The humor actually comes from the battle for this balance. All the efforts Linquini makes – saying “thank you” to the cooks, telling them he needs some of their material, and trying to explain himself to Colette – make the scene all the more entertaining. Follow Linquini’s facial expressions while he is controlled by Remy. The animation is all about action and reaction on Linquini’s end. Also, notice how Bird and his animators do not hesitate in getting Linquini physically involved with the things around him. One of the hardest things to do in computer animation is have characters interact with other objects or people. Yet, Linquini is grabbing and moving objects around and he is reaching through a cooks arm to grab some things behind him. Linquini also hits some brilliant extreme poses in the scene. Animation is all about extreme poses and exaggerating movements not possible to do with live action acting. The animators need to make sure Linquini moves like a human, but they also have the responsibility to exaggerate his poses so they are easy for us to read. Linquini reaching for the spices, lifting his leg to start his walk around the kitchen, and reaching his arm out to stop Collete, are all examples of great poses where the animators are pushing their animation to the limit in order to communicate to the highest potential the action and essence of the character.

Brad Bird has never shied away from risky storytelling. He believes in the characters he creates and the animators who bring them to life enough to push the storytelling to the limit. It was no easy task to make a film about rats cooking. Before Bird came onto the project the artists shortened the rats’ tails and made them walk and act far more like humans. The Pixar artists did this because they were afraid an audience would be too appalled with more realistic rats. However Bird believed the idea of rats cooking would only be believable if the rats looked realistic. So he made the artist lengthen the tails, study the anatomy and the rats’ movements so they looked and acted in a more realistic way. Realize Bird did not make them look completely realistic, they do have a much softer design and more colorful look then real rats, but they were changed enough for the audience to buy into the illusion. The result was a movie that on paper looked like it could never work (I mean who in their right mind would like to see a rat in the kitchen, let alone cooking?) yet through brilliant character animation and subtle design changes we not only become okay with Remy the rat cooking, we ended up rooting for him to succeed.

Bird’s films make me realize how phenomenal the medium of animation really is. The characters Bird creates could not possibly be expressed in as complete a way in any other medium. How the animation reflects the character within is what is most important. Bird’s animation sticks out because the animators are on top of their game when working with him. Bird is a very enthusiastic and dedicated man. One of his sayings is, “Film is forever; Pain is temporary”. Bird is not the easiest director to work with. He will ask for a lot. But I believe most of his artists see the results are well worth it. I believe the artists working with Bird know he has conviction in the characters he creates. They are real to him and he will not stop pushing his artists until he sees the heart and souls of his characters come alive on screen.

 

The Hollywood Reporter: Roundtables

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on February 12, 2011

I was lucky enough to run across a few hours of interviews on some great filmmakers. These are interviews from The Hollywood Reporter on some of the contenders for directing, acting, and writing, in this years Oscar races. I am going to watch all of them. I have watched the Directors Roundtable and found it very insightful. I am a huge fan of Peter Weir and am liking Tom Hooper and Darren Aronofsky the more I look into them. These Directors touch up on some of the problems of the Hollywood business. They go into detail on how much they need to fight with Hollywood to make their movies. Most of these guys are independent filmmakers. So, even though they are talented, they don’t get much money and are not recognized as much as they should be. They talk a lot about their own personal feelings on film and what they are shooting for when making their movies. I also found it interesting what they had to say about the United States rating system. All these directors, writers, and actors/actresses are some of the top filmmakers in the world. Hope you enjoy listening to them.

The Directors Roundtable

The Actors Roundtable

The Actress Roundtable

For the Writers Roundtable click on THIS LINK.

Taxi Driver-Extra Features Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on January 27, 2011

Taxi Driver:

Collectors Edition 2-disc DVD Review:

Martin Scorsese On Taxi Driver: 8.5 out of 10: This is a very good 16 minute interview with Martin Scorsese. He explains his feelings on the project as best as possible. Martin talks about why he wanted to direct Taxi Driver and what he got out of it. He also goes into detail on what influenced him. Martin names several directors, from Francesco Ross all the way to Alfred Hitchcock, as being strong influences for Taxi Driver. This feature is not about how Martin approached each shot or how he got the film accomplished. The feature does have a tremendous amount of information of what Taxi Driver meant to Scorsese. I think it is good that this interview is taped many years after the making of the film. He seems to have had time to think about the reasons to why he did Taxi Driver and why it was a success.

Producing Taxi Driver: 7.5 out of 10: A good 10 minute look at how the Taxi Driver film was started. You hear mostly from producer Michael Phillips on what the movie meant to him. We are told that the movie was very controversial but sadly do not hear of much detail to why. We also see why some of the filmmakers were attracted to the film. There is a nice little look at the new generation of filmmakers that were coming up from the 1960’s and 70’s.

God’s Lonely Man: 9.5 out of 10: This is a great 25 minute documentary on the origins of the Taxi Driver film. We go into the life of the screenwriter Paul Schrader and see how the film was created from his own personal experiences. He talks about the foundations of the main character Travis why he was appealing to him. Paul gives us a lot of insight to what the philosophy is behind the screenplay. He talks in detail about what he thinks the job of a screenwriter is and what it is not. This documentary is a must for anyone studying screenwriting. The documentary helps us understand Taxi Driver in a much deeper way.

Influence and Appreciation: Martin Scorsese Tribute: 8 out of 10: This is a great 18 minute documentary on Martin Scorsese. It talks a little about how he got associated with Taxi Driver. They talk about him as being a student of film who always had a independence and exhilarating energy for filmmaking. We hear a lot about the kind of influence Martin was on the rest of the Taxi Driver crew. It is a documentary about why Martin is such a good director, only concentrating on the making of Taxi Driver and before. I wish they used the Taxi Driver as an example more often. I wish they went into more specific examples of how Martin’s shooting was revolutionary for his time. All in all a very good documentary. It was very well told and I liked hearing about the revolution in the 70’s for Hollywood filmmaking.

Taxi Driver Stories: 7 out of 10: A interesting look at a few New York taxi drivers. They talk about what taxi driving is all about for them. We hear how the business has changed from the 70’s to the present times. They explain what drew them to the job and some of them explain why they chose to leave the profession. It is a 20 minute documentary on some unique peoples lives as taxi drivers. Does not really have anything to do with the making of the actual film Taxi Driver.

Making Taxi Driver: 8 out of 10: This is a well made 1 hour and 10 minute documentary on all the stages of making Taxi Driver. All the way through the documentary we hear about the philosophy behind the film and how it resonated with the cast and crew. Many people talk about their role in the film and specifically how Paul Schrader, Martin Scorsese, and Robert De Niro pushed the film to be the classic it is today. Jodie Foster has some good things to say about her role as a 12 year old prostitute. She talks about what both Martin and Robert did to take her acting to a whole new level. Paul brings us a lot of insight into the meaning behind the movie. I would have liked to hear from Martin a little bit more. They never really get into much detail about the conflict that came with the film. I did enjoy hearing about Robert De Niro’s contribution to the film and what his attitude was as an actor back then. A good all a round look at the film making process.

Travis: New York: 5 out of 10: This was a okay look at New York in the 1970’s and how it has changed to present times. The documentary was very short however and not nearly enough of an explanation was given on how Now York has changed. We are told by some high up officials that the City has changed from back then to now. But, we don’t hear how it has changed or much of why. We are told that the City is Rich, but never are given a explanation. We also are not told why New York City is the place of opportunity, even though there are some interviews who say it is.

Story-Boards by Martin Scorsese: 8.5 out of 10: This is a fantastic 4 minute explanation by Martin about the beauty of storyboards. I really enjoyed it and think he explains well the general benefit of self made storyboards. We are given good explanation to how the storyboards help both him and his cinematographer understand how to go about shooting the film.

Commentary: By Professor Robert Kolker: 8.5 out of 10: Professor Kolker seems to have done his research on Martin Scorsese and Taxi Driver in this commentary. He makes us understand to a much higher degree why Taxi Driver is considered by many to be a great piece of Cinema. He goes into detail on how Martin uses the camera to push the story and it’s meaning forward. He talks about Travis and explains his view on many of his scenes for us. Sometimes it feels like he is trying to put meaning into things that never had any. But, for the most part we dissect the Taxi Driver movie and see a lot of the fine details that make the film great.

Commentary: By Screenwriter Paul Schrader: 7.5 out of 10: I have some mixed feelings about this commentary. First off, Paul does a good job giving us his unique and valuable perspective on the film. He mostly sticks to his thoughts on the script. One of the frustrating things was the long gaps without him saying a word. It really felt like he was only talking half the time or less. There were several scenes I very badly wanted him to talk about that he just skipped over. He does a good job when he does talk. Paul is very honest. He tells us what he thinks a screenwriters job is and what he thinks is not a screenwriters job. He has experience with both directing and writing, so his comments on what the directors job is and what the screenwriters job is, are very valuable. Overall I did get some valuable information from him, but wish he talked and discussed much more then he did.

From these extra features I think we get a very good view on the making and importance of the Taxi Driver. We hear a fair amount from all the major people who took part in the making of Taxi Driver. For me it was a great introduction to Martin Scorsese. I was able to see some of his passion for film. I was also able to see what got him started in the film business and how his philosophy started to change the rest of Hollywood. Paul Schrader and Robert De Niro were also interesting people to look into. Paul Schrader’s screenplay really was something else. This is just as much Paul’s movie as anyone else’s. I respected the trust that Paul seemed to have with Martin, it is a good look at how a screenwriter and director should work together. These extra features explain very well the reasons to why Taxi Driver is considered one of the greatest films ever made. It also inspires the independent artist to make his own film, no matter how gutsy the story is.

What Makes a Great Film?

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on January 14, 2011

What makes a great film?

Is it cutting? The music? Many people say that it is the actor. Or maybe, maybe it is the idea that makes for a great film. Of course the idea can’t be expressed very well if you don’t have a good director. So is it the director?

Actually, you sort of need all of them.

I am trying to tackle a pretty untouchable subject here. There have been people who have devoted their entire lives to discovering what makes a great film. How possibly can a twenty one year old explain it?

Actually the question arises after researching a broad range of directors. Through out the last few months I have devoted my studies to understanding filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, David Fincher, Frank Capra, and Marin Scorsese. All these guys are considered good. In fact, by many they are considered masters at the craft of filmmaking. However, the more research I put into these guys, the more I realize that they have completely different styles of filmmaking. So I guess the question is; if all these guys are great filmmakers but have completely different ways of going about making films, then what is the magic formula? What makes for great films?

I will tell you one thing, I certainly like certain directors movies more then others. Frank Capra’s movies speak volumes more to me then Hitchcock’s. David Fincher, has curtain movies that speak to me more then others. Scorsese’ style is completely unique and stimulating, but the heart can sometimes hardly be seen. I can see the true talent in all these directors, but why do they not impact me in the same way or to the same extent.

Of course every movie you see should not impact you in the same way. The beauty of movies is that they all give you at least some kind of different way of thinking of things. However, realizing that all movies are different and make you think in different ways, makes the question, “what makes a great film?”, all the more complex and hard to answer.

All I can give you in this personal blog is my opinion on what makes a great film. A great film is not necessarily created through epic actions scenes, a happy ending, or a complex story line. A great film is a film that has stayed true to the heart of the director. With all the directors I have researched, one thing is consistent; They all have a visions that they will not allow to be altered.

A great director makes a film that is personal to him or her. The reason why the films are unique is because each one of the directors are unique. All of the great directors I have studied have a rich education. They learned to perfect the way they deal with camera, acting, music, and editing. But that is not what makes them great. They have learned how to separate themselves from other filmmakers and movies. They takes risks and create stories that the producers and even themselves are not completely sure about.

Some of the greatest movies ever made are the ones were said to never be able to make it. Whether it is Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, or Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, the directors pushed through and made their movie no matter how many doubters they faced.

What I look for more then anything when I am studying directors is the origin of their passion. I want to see the vision behind the movie’s they made. What made them push the envelope? What made them convinced something completely unfamiliar was going to work? If you want to know what makes for a great film, you need to figure out what makes for a great artist.

A great artist consists of individuality more then anything else. As a Christian I believe God gave us all a unique vision. The great filmmakers fallow that vision whether they know the author or not. We as filmmakers need to be able to figure out the technique. We need to know how to deal with the camera, acting, music, and editing. But all this is worth very little if you do not have a vision. The vision dictates all the other things. And, following the vision is indeed what makes for a great film.

Johnny Depp

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies by Jacob on April 27, 2010

Johnny Depp is a very interesting fellow. But, I think that one goes without saying.

When I started to research Johnny, I found out that he has always been drawn to characters that had flaws, that were considered by many “losers”. However, in the beginning of Johnny’s acting career, he only took roles to support his first love, music. Because Johnny did not take acting seriously or as something he was wanting to go places with, Johnny excepted roles that did not necessarily draw him in. The first big hit Johnny got as an actor was playing one of the lead roles in the hit TV show 21 Jump Street. By taking this role Johnny became a Teen Idol. He became a product of Hollywood, something that he was extremely uncomfortable with.

After getting out of the TV show 21 Jump Street, Johnny began to take acting seriously and he made a promise to himself, that he would stay true to his path and not steer away no matter the outcome. During the next decade Johnny picked some very unique roles all were different from each other. One thing did stay the same, all the characters would be considered outcast by most of our society.

Johnny got a lot of recondition for his talent when he played the character Edward Scissorhands in the Tim Burton 1990 movie Edward Scissorhands.  It was a pretty big deal for a young actor like Johnny to be cast in the main role of popular Directors film, like Tim Burton’s. Tim Burton took a liking to Johnny and cast him as a main character, in many more movies in the future. We see Johnny go from being the cowardly Ichabob Crane in Tim Burton’s 1999 film  Sleepy Hollow to the evil monster Sweeney Todd in Tim Burton’s 2007 musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Johnny talked about having a different language with Tim Burton, where both of them finish each others sentences and knew what each other wanted without needing to verbally pick at each others brains.

Johnny said that Tim Burton is able to give you suggestion and plant seeds, but still allows you to be free with your acting. Freedom is what Johnny wants the most with his acting. In every character he has played, Johnny seems to take the character places that most Directors would be uncomfortable with. Johnny talked about the “first impression” you get while reading a script or listening to a story, being a gift. Johnny is big on letting his first impression guide what he does. He takes characters in mostly unique places so you never know exactly what is going to happen or how the character will turn out. Most executives and even directors are scared when they do not know the results, it means they are not in complete control. With Johnny’s acting, you do not know what the result will be, the executives and directors need to rely on the talent of the actor.

Johnny has shown much talent through out his career. His dedication to stay true to himself has allowed him to go down paths that very few Hollywood stars can walk. Johnny has made it a priority to know the story the Director wants to tell, so that his performances can help push the directors vision forward. This balance of taking the role in his own direction but also staying true to the directors Vision, is what I think makes Johnny such a good actor.

In every movie Johnny has done, he has put the Character he is portraying first. He said that he strives to be a character actor. Johnny is not huge on the prince charming who does all the great action but does not have any depth as a person. As I said before, Johnny took a liking to the outcast. Most of the films that Johnny did at the beginning of his career were not considered the “happily ever after” kind of stories. In fact, many of the stories he did showed a pretty accurate but negative  look at the world.

Johnny’s seemingly negative look at life did not interest me. I do not understand why you make a film just to show how bad things are. I listened to Johnny talk a few times in his young career and he seemed to be a very sad man. Johnny was hurt by Hollywood and by how aggressive the paparazzi were toward him and his family. Johnny said that he never had many friends during his childhood, everyone considered him a bit odd. Something however happened during the second half of Johnny’s career. He still was picking characters that were very unique, but I began to see a life in these characters, that I did not see in the past.

Johnny began to act in movies such as Chocolate, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Finding Neverland, where there was a life the characters he played. I was especially touched in the movie Finding Neverland, where Johnny played the main Character James Barrier. James Barrier was the creator the the stage play Peter Pan and Johnny played the role magnificently. In this movie Johnny played a character who was about living life through the power of the imagination. In this role I finally saw Johnny play a man who stood for life no matter how hard it got.

In 1999 I saw an interview of Johnny Depp. They asked him what the most important thing to him was, and Johnny replied, “Family is Everything”. Johnny then talked at length about his daughter just being born and how she meant everything to him. Johnny said that his daughter being born was like breathing for the first time. He seemed to finally find a reason to live and a reason to create the stories that stood for life. Johnny talked about roles like Captain Jack Sparrow being for his children.

This “hope” that Johnny seems to have found is what I like the most about him. I think that Johnny Depp is a extremely talented actor, and occasionally he puts that talent to good use when he creates characters and works on movies that have life at the center.