A Dreamer Walking

Trust the Audience!

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on August 19, 2010

Trust is a big key when it comes to making a film. Not just trust in the crew around you, but trust in the people you are making the film for. I have seen more and more shallow characters and predictable plots because  the film business has lost their trust in the audience that they make films for.

Filmmakers need to have a story worth telling. Part of respecting and trusting the audience is having faith that they can handle something new. We also need to have film with a message worth telling. I think that we often have predictable and shallow story lines because we claim to “not want to be preachy”. Even though I am fully against being “preachy” to my audience I have the responsibility to give them something to think about. “Preaching” is  telling the audience what to think. If you trust your audience you will not tell them what to think, you will give them something to think about.

A good filmmaker thinks just as much about what he is going to not show the audience as he thinks of what he is going to show the audience. It is often said that the audience could imagine far more creative things then what we are able to put on film. Because of the lack of special effects in the 1980’s, Steven Spielberg needed to find a different way to express the alien E. T in E. T the Extra-Terrestrial. All we are allowed to see of the main character E. T for the most of the film is his hands and voice. We the audience are able to create a picture of this character in our head. Even though the actual model of E. T didn’t work very well for Steven, he took away enough to make our mind fill in the wholes and E. T became just as alive in our heads as any human actor.

When studying someone like Clint Eastwood, you see that he does not like to answer every question that is thrown out in his movies. He allows the audience to make judgments for themselves. In  Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood leaves the future of  the main character William Munny up to the audience to decide.  Clint does not make everything that is going on in a characters head obvious, we need to study even the little things the character does to figure out what he or she is thinking. Clint has talked at length about not showing a character in the same light all the time. Clint intentionally lights his characters differently so sometimes the eyes or whole face is shadowed and we are not allowed to pay attention through the way we are used to  and need to figure the character out though studying different things such as the vocal tone or the way the character moves.

Trusting the audience can be a very hard thing. To figure out what is best to leave to the imagination is tough. However, what you leave out is just as crucial as what you put in. As filmmakers we need to figure out the fine line to walk. We need to realize that the audience can sometimes create things we can not. Movies are not about preaching, they are about letting the audience think for themselves. As filmmakers we must never forget that we make films for the audience. As a filmmaker I will give the audience something to think about and I will trust the audience to answer the questions my stories pose.

Film Mediums: CG Animation!

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on July 3, 2010

Computer Graphics (CG) animation is a limitless medium for film making. I think CG animation relies more on teamwork then any other medium of film. There are two very different aspects to CG animation, there is the artistic side of and the mathematical side. Great CG animation is the result of the artistic and mathematical sides working together for the purpose of the story.

With CG animation you have more freedom to use lighting, camera, texture, and effects to enhance the story. The more the technology of CG animation develops the more freedom you have to tell the story you want to tell. John Lasseter (president of Disney and Pixar animation) said it this way when talking about CG animation, “The art challenges technology and the technology inspires the art”. With a good CG animation studio every project is a opportunity to do more sophisticated and detailed animation.

It is usually the simple things that cause the most problems in CG animation. For instance, a character touching another character is very difficult. Trying to render long hair poses problems, making something look transparent often creates many difficulties,  and creating realistic clothing that interacts with the body and the world around it creates many problem that all take many highly trained people working hundreds of hours to fix.

Unlike a 2D animator, a CG animator starts with something on the screen.  The model has been created and the controls set by the time it gets to the animator. Every small detail can be controlled by the animator, you often have hundreds of individual controls for the face of a character alone. Before a animator starts on a character it is like a empty shell, lifeless with  nothing expressing who the character is except for the basic outside look (as you can see on the left with the character Mike from Pixar’s  Monsters Inc).

It is the animator who breaths life into the model. The principles of animating in 2D very much apply in CG animation. You have to have a thorough understanding of anatomy and acting. Pacing, overlapping, and squash and stretch are all principles that are shared between 2D and CG animation.

CG animation can lone itself to subtle action better then traditional 2D animation. You are able to read little things like the movement of the eyes and see how it expresses the characters feelings. With CG animation you have a better ability to create texture so we can tell the difference between something like leather and silk. 2D animation tries to simplify things to their basic shapes, the animator needs to be able to express his or her character through only a few lines and colors. CG animation is not limited like 2D animation, it is allowed to be as detailed as it wants. However, in animated films of all kind you often see that things have been simplified. The artists want you to pay attention to the important parts and they are allowed to throw away the unneeded detail.

It takes many people to finish just one shot in CG animation. You certainly need to have a combination of talent who are able to work well with each other. It all starts with the story and group of artist who create a storyboard showing the key points of the scene. Then there are the people who create the model, the people who create the background, the animator, the lighting artist, the people who are in charge of the cloths on the character, the people who write a program for the elements like water and dust, the shading artist, the editor, and then there is the director who has the vision of the whole film.  The director needs make sure everything blends into and works with each other so it looks like one artist created the whole story.

Click image to see step process

The picture of Carl from Pixar’s Up, is a great example of just a few of the things that go into making one frame of animation come to life. CG animation truly is the combination of math and art creating life on screen. Creating a program that simulates a simple thing like water is a very difficult task that has taken hundreds talented of workers many years to perfect.

There is so much that we can do in CG animation that was considered impossible just a few years ago. If you look at Pixar’s Toy Story franchise you will find that the original Toy Story (1995)  is extremely primitive compared to Toy Story 3 (2010) technology wise. The extent of detail that can go into lighting and movement  is so much greater then 1995 when the first Toy Story movie was made. However, what makes CG animation great is the thing that makes both of the other mediums great. You need to have a story worth telling.

With CG animation you need to have a good story in order to make a good movie. There are stories that very much lends themselves to CG animation. A good example would be Pixar’s UP which was about a old man who chose to go on a grand adventure by tying thousands of balloons to his house and flying away.  In a live action film a audience would most likely not buy into the idea of a house flying away on balloons. With 2D animation you would not be able to create as believable of imagery through texture, lighting, and the ability to move the camera. UP was a story that seemed perfect for CG animation. You were allowed the freedom to let go of what was reality and buy into the feeling of reality. UP created it’s own laws and stayed true to them, we were introduced to characters that registered with us and felt real.

Russell

We see artists trying to walk a fine line between the imagination and reality in CG animation. Most CG animated movies are not created for the purpose of making things look completely realistic, they want to create the feeling of reality. Russell from Pixar’s UP is a very good example of getting away from reality to create a more relatable character. On the left you can see that Russell’s basic shape is a oval. He has very rounded features. The  creators were going for a open and pleasing look. There is almost no neck on Russell, the length of Russell’s legs are completely unrealistic. But again, that is not what they were going for. The filmmakers tried to represent who Russell was on the inside through his outward appearance. Unlike Russell’s friend Carl, Russell is a much more open person who is curious (as you could see based on his shape and all the different things he takes with him) and interested in adventure (based on his expression and the kinds of things he has with him).

With CG animation every detail can be used to enhance the story. The filmmakers need to know the principles of both 2D animation and live action. It takes a animator working hundreds of hours moving thousands of controls to create just a few seconds of life. Anything is possible when it comes to how to use the camera, the director needs to have a thorough understanding on camera placement and what framing and movement creates the best effect. You are allowed to exaggerate shapes like you can do in 2D animation and you are allowed to work with sophisticated cinematography like only live action used to be able to do. The CG medium calls for constant advancement in technology, more things are becoming possible every day.

My ambition for CG animation is to create stories that push the medium forward. But, even more important then that, I want to make films that touch on core human values. Even though Toy Story 3 highlights the extent of how much CG animation has grown from the first two Toy Story’s, it is the story that will make a movie timeless. Technology will always be advancing but we all have our own individual stories to tell. The original Toy Story is still very entertaining to watch 15 years after it was created because the characters and story hit on core values that have stayed with human nature for hundreds of years, such as the value of friendship.

I look forward working with the possibilities CG animation brings us.  Buzz Lightyear, from Pixar’s Toy Story franchise, has a interesting saying that I think applies very well to the medium of CG animation.  With CG animation we can go “To Infinity and beyond”.

(With CG animation the key is still about the feelings the audience has for the characters and story. In the beginning of this clip Doug Sweetland expresses this point excellently)

(Here are the links to the rest of the posts for this series, Film Mediums, 2D Animation, and Live Action)

The Reason Why?

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on April 21, 2010

So I was watching a movie just for fun tonight. I chose one of my favorite superhero movies, Iron Man. My only intention was to veg out and be thoroughly entertained by Robert Downey Jr.’s fantastic portrayal of Iron Man. Watching the film I could not help but think about a film philosophy I am developing.

Even though I am a huge fan of the first Iron Man movie, the most interesting part, what I would call the heart of the film, comes right in the middle of the movie. The heart to me was when Tony Stark decides to fly to the Middle East and destroy his Jericho missile and stop some of the terrorism that his company was supporting behind his back.

When the movie was about helping a greater cause, I thought it was at its strongest point. When the movie turned to Tony’s long time executive co-worker Obadiah Stane as the secret villain, the movie began to lose some momentum.

Do not get me wrong, by fighting the villain Stane, Tony was helping the greater good. It just did not seem to be as relevant as fighting terrorism. The reasons to why Iron Man was fighting was not flashed before our eyes.

In the sequence where Iron Man (Tony Stark) chooses to go and fight the terrorists that had been using his weapons, we see the dilemma right in front of our eyes. Men with guns are holding Innocent civilians hostage. We, the audience, see these Innocent people and immediately feel for them. When Iron Man comes in and takes the terrorists out, we see reason to why he is doing what he is doing and the audience can relate.

Now flash forward to the sequence where Iron Man is fighting Iron Monger (Obadiah Stane), a mechanical monster that is as big as a semi and has a seemingly unlimited amount of ammo to use against Iron Man. We do not have as deep of a reason to why each character is doing what they are doing. To be honest it feels very unrealistic and thus takes away from the audience being able to relate.

It is okay to have unrealistic things in movies. The challenge however, is to make sure they still feel realistic. Everything must be grounded in reality. The strongest reality in Iron Man was terrorism. We as an audience could relate to terrorism and thus it served as a good villain.  However, the main villain was harder, for at least me, to relate to.

In each film you make, you should think of the reasons to why you are doing what you are doing. In the case of Iron Man, I saw that Tony Stark was fighting terrorism because of a conviction that he had something to do with supporting it and thus needed to set things strait. When it came to fighting the Iron Monger, the reason why became much more cliche and shallow. We saw a big monster that was fighting Iron Man, in order to get more power. We saw Iron Man fighting the monster in order to save his girl and “become a hero”. Tony Stark did not seem to have as much of a conviction while fighting Iron Monger, which made him as a character a little less interesting.

“Why” is a big question. The reason is everything. With a good film, you go into depth with your characters and story. The reason why the story goes a curtain way, needs to be thought of to its deepest point. When you find a conviction or a reason why you are making your story, you must find a way to stay with it.