Saturday, September 26, 2009

The evolution of anime

The Golden Age.

The Stone Age.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

A quick word on Optimus Prime

Okay, seriously. Tell me something.

We're talking giant robots with guns.

Does this look cool to you?

Even if you don't like transformers, you're probably going to begrudgingly say 'yes'.

How about this?

This is a travesty of design. It's fucking painful.

Whoever drew this, and whoever liked the pitch, deserve to have their balls walloped with an autographed baseball bat. One with a big fucking crack down the side of it.

As much as I loathe Michael Bay and his insipid movies, at least his design team knows a thing or two about cool robot design.

They may have trodden on sacred, hallowed ground - sure to upset a few pagan Transformers fanboys - but at least they haven't dug up the rotting corpse of Optimus Prime and raped it savagely, as they have in the new Transformers animated series.

This is some clever cockhead's attempt to push perspective and play with forms gone horribly, horribly wrong.

It's the fad nowadays, you see it everywhere. Apparently the new 'heroic' pose is a fucking S-shape.

Here, have a few!

Please, people. Tone it down. Heroes (or villains) do not look cooler if they look malformed and boneless. There's nothing quite like a heavy, solid design in a pose. These aren't poses, they are angry stickmen who are in the process of pratfalling.

And for the love of god, don't reverse-taper limbs on a giant robot. It just looks retarded.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Tinker Bell Movie

I elected this one myself, actually.
As it happens, my housemate Arch and I got into a bit of a debate the other night about the Tinker Bell movie. Specifically, it was his understanding that the sequel to this film was going to be theatrically released, and therefore that must have made the direct-to-DVD original a movie that sold reasonably well, at the very least, to justify such an occurence.
Well, I did some research and came up with some interesting results.

First I will talk about the movie. Then I will talk about the facts and figures.

(That's me on the left. Cailen is on the right.)

Firstly, I suffered a pretty severe dose of scheissenbedauern watching this movie.
For those of you who don't know what this word means, it is German for "shit regret". It's the disappointment you feel when something isn't actually as bad as you thought it was going to be.
The thing about Tinkerbell is basically that it's just... generic.
Really, realy, really generic.

Case in point, check out these characters. These four are supposed to be Tinker Bell's friends and I can't shake the feeling that they were all just reclothed and re-haired versions of the same model. And yes, I know that's pretty common in 3D films nowadays, they did it in the Incredibles, bu the difference here is that they actually look like clones of each other.
The picture even has Tinkerbell pulling much the same pose and expression as the girl next to her.

The characters who are not carbon copies of Tinker Bell, we have all seen somewhere before. John K would call them "Cal Arts" faces. He would also call them "bland".
While I consider the faces cute, personally, it gets very tiresome seeing them on fourteen different characters, including males. There are probably three unique faces in the film out of a very large cast. I thought at first this must have something to do with the budget of the film, but as I will point out later this was clearly not the case.
At any rate, at least Tinker is easy on the eyes.

Unfortunately, she's not as forgiving on the ears.
One thing I genuinely liked about this movie - insofar as it existed - was the celtic feel they brought to it.
Considering the origins of the Faery legend, I found it fitting that the score was largely of an Irish celtic flavour, and all the other "tinkers" (who are essentially the mechanics of the fairy hollow) have strong regional accents. I think the entire film may have been more palatable if the entire cast was consistent with this feel, but no. Tinker Bell is thorough yank. First we are led to believe that Tinkerbell doesn't talk, but once the Tinker Bell movie comes out she's firing out American dialogue left right and centre.
Actually, she and her friends (not the male ones, with the regional accents) pretty much sound like Casey at the mall. Bratz with fucking fly wings.

This leads me to a very, VERY interesting theme in this movie, which is that heavy industry (American industry?) beats primitive agriculture.
You probably think I'm fucking with you. I'm not.

The MESSAGE of the film - the moral that is shoved down the kids' throats - is that you should be proud of who and what you are, and that you should embrace your talents. The thing is, Tinker Bell wants to be a nature fairy but instead is delegated the roll of a 'tinker', someone who makes pots and pans, someone who puts together carts and buckets that other fairies can use.
Essentially what happens is that Tinker Bell finds out slowly that she cannot do anything, except build.
Not only can she build, she's a motherfucking engineer.


Tinker Bell fucks everything up and ruins the big event where the fairies change the season to Spring. She has completely ruined months of work and the season is going to be postponed worldwide (never mind the two separate hemispheres of Earth, but okay, I'll buy that).
Of course, she eventually figures out that she can use pieces of human machinery that has washed up on shore of the fairy island to engineer and build contraptions that will hasten the agricultural process to the point where they get Spring ready in a few days.

I'm sorry, but that is fucked.

What the hell is that supposed to teach kids?!

Okay, whatever, that's not important. Let's hope one day the engineers build robots to do everything for us so we can kick back our heels for eleven months of the year. Clearly, industry is what makes the world go round, including the four seasons and the forces of nature. Anyway.

A quick word on plot, because there really isn't much of it.
There seems to be a lot of effort put in here to make the story rich and engaging, but this has apparently been done by the most derivative writers in existence, with just a dash of ineptitude.
The story works - barely.
They admittedly did make an effort to keep it interesting and move it along in a reasonably dynamic fashion, without resorting to a flat, episodic 'this happens, then this happens, then this happens' routine.
The main thing I take issue with is that all these characters appear and aren't properly utilised.
The villain gets a pretty limp-wristed come-uppance, even when she was caught completely red handed in masterminding the ruin of the spring change.
The love interest is introduced in the final third of the movie, and is pretty much left dangling (a very subtle look in the direction of the three or four sequels they currently have planned).
I was frankly expecting a hell of a lot more from Bell's regional Tinker friends, but they seem to have plenty of presence in the movie without actually doing much in it. Indeed, there are large gaps in the movie where they seem to have been forgotten.
All this story needed was to be tightened, but I can imagine Lasseter was in a pretty understandable rush to either axe it or get it out of the door.

The animation was occasionally floaty but more often jerky, but it wasn't bad at all for a direct-to-DVD release. I'd be cocking my eyebrow if it got into the cinema, but the characters themselves were well constructed. Just not handled by the best animators. If the movements and expressions weren't poor, they were suspiciously familiar.

I'll tell you what I really liked about this movie. The backgrounds.

Being a nature-centric film, there are actually some really beautiful environments in this piece. You can tell this is where most of the work (and money) went.

All in all, I wouldn't say this film was a travesty at all. But I swear to god I've seen this narrative ground been tread through ten billion times before.
Many of you will be thinking, "well this was a direct to DVD, mate, what did you expect?"

I'll tell you what I expected. Either the worst movie ever made, or the best.

This film had gone through about twenty revisions of the script by the time Disney bought Pixar. It was the pet project of a woman called Sharon Morrill, who was in charge of the Disney direct-to-DVD department (so clearly she was the spawn of Satan himself).
When it became very obvious that Pixar was more than capable of kicking ass and taking names without the help of Disney - and even more obvious that Disney sucked at making 3D movies (Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons) - Pixar made it very, very clear that if they were going to be bought out by Disney, they were going to do it on Pixar's terms.
So when the infamous (but probably inevitable) buyout of Pixar occured, John Lasseter found himself on the board of directors.
This is probably the first time someone vaguely creative has had any kind of control over Disney operations since they told Roy Disney his interests were not in line with that of Disney Corporation. Which kind of shows the "Disney to Corporation ratio" that was present at the time.

Clearly, despite making Pixar's most cuddley films, John Lasseter is not a man who fucks around. He took a stroll through the direct-to-DVD department and axed a veritable shit-tonne of films which were not up to his standards of storytelling. Upon seeing "Tinker Bell" in the state it was, he famously described it as "nearly unwatchable" and moved our dear Sharon to another department (i.e. fired her and gave her another job where she could do less damage).

Somehow - to my utter shock - this film was released. It exceeded estimated sales by about 20%, which is a bloody good thing for the company because if it had met the estimated sales they would have lost money.

After the dozen or so iterations of the movie that were made and remade, the final film landed on a roids-ridden budget of fifty million dollars. For a direct-to-DVD movie, that's just fuckin' stupid.
It made about fifty two million back.

Close shave, guys. Cloooose shave.

Let's hope that with Lasseter around, the sequels will do better than skimming dangerously to breaking even with the budget, eh?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Rock and Rule review

Recently, I asked a few of my friends to throw out some bad animated movies at me to review for my blog.
One of the more tentative requests came from my friend Meoshira from deviantArt, who seemed to think that the movie was weird rather than just plain bad.

After viewing it, I would be inclined to agree. Rock and Rule is not a bad movie, nor is it a fantastically good one, but certainly worth looking into if you have an interest in what has very broadly come to be known as "adult animation".

The film was released in 1983, and revolves around pop music.
This is already the most apt description of the movie that can be conveyed in one sentence. The very nature of pop music is such that if you base a work around it, that work will date very fast. And Rock and Rule is pretty dated.
If you're like me and have a fetish for retro - everything old-school and so past its use-by date it's turned from wine to vinegar - then you're in for a real treat. Otherwise you're going to find this movie very hard to sit through.
This applies to the whole movie, not just the music, though the music is by far the most dated feature of the film. Most of it seems to be by Cheap Trick, and while I have nothing against Cheap Trick they did always strike me as a twenty-years-too-late ripoff of The Beatles, which kind of double-dates it.
One thing I will tip my hat to them for with regards to the use of music is that, despite my fears, all music by pop-bands made for this movie were made specifically for the film, which is a breath of fresh air in this department. Comparatively speaking, Yellow Submarine used songs that The Beatles had described as songs they didn't really care about, because they didn't want to waste the good ones on what they predicted would be a bad film. The fact that these Canadian guys actually managed to get Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and a bunch of others to come into the studio and write songs for the movie is quite impressive.
That said, every one of them shrieks "the eighties, here and now". It's challenging, to say the least.
As I said, though, there are other parts of this movie that have not aged well.

First of all, this is one of the many creative works (comics suffered from this problem particularly badly) that came from the awkward period of time that no one knew what a furry was, but they were appearing anyway.
Nowadays, if you want to create a work full of anthros, you can be excused for going all-out. Back in the eighties, it wasn't very established, and so you had a lot of concern from directors over how "human" the characters should look. The problem here is that the characters in Rock and Rule don't look like anything.

(Can you spot Shaggy?)

The introduction of the movie states in plain English that after what is alluded to being World War Three, the only survivors of Earth were cats, rats and dogs, who all evolved into humanoid mutants. It doesn't hint that any other species survived.
The reason I take issue with this (the fact that one character looks like a pig notwithstanding) is that upon hearing this, I imagined three 'looks' for characters that would suggest cats, dogs and rats, respectively. Instead, it seems that in a display of utterly erroneous convergent evolution, these three species have somehow merged into a race of humans who have pointy ears and coloured bits on their noses.
I am frankly okay with this when it comes to characters like Stretch and Dizzy, who do kind of look like rats, but then you get characters like Angel and Omar, the leads, who just look like freaks. They are humans through and through - no tails or anything - and the only things distinguishing them as animals are that Omar has this ugly and very asthetically unpleasing snout jutting from where his nose should be (it looks like an adhesive) and Angel has these giant, slanted eyes that make her look like a grey alien. I'm still not sure whether either of them are meant to be cats, rats or dogs.

The coolest character design in the movie is that of Mok, who look suspiciously like Mick Jagger. He is cast perfectly by Don Francks and has the coolest and strongest personality of the film, and thus it is a crying shame that he suffers badly from that most evil of animation-killers: plot.
Mok basically wants to summon a demon. This is no secret, it's repeated throughout the film, on the back of the DVD cover, everything. The whole point of the movie is that he needs Angel's voice to summon it.
Unfortunately, it is NEVER revealed why.
He has this amazing setup for his personality - a decrepit rock star who is, in his own eyes, fading into obscurity (when this really means his last show had two empty seats). He is a paranoid, delusional magician with a dangerously fragile ego. And yet I don't know whether he's trying to summon this thing for revenge, fame, power...?
I hate it when writers ruin good characters with unclear motivations. It's like giving a chef the finest sirloin you can afford and he throws it into a pot of boiling water.

While we're on the subject of characters, I'd like to point out a good thing and a bad thing about the two main characters. The good thing is that Angel is a strong, capable character, not some damsel in distress (which STILL persist in animation to this day). She actually ends up being the hero of the movie, not Omar.
Which brings me to the bad thing. Omar is a dick. Like, he's a real dick. I hate him.

(Seriously. What a wanker.)

It has long been known that you can have a dick as the main character and the story can still be appealing. The one thing you will consistently notice, however, in the stories that work is that said character goes through some kind of moral and emotional development. They realise they have been a complete dick and make an effort to change. I'm thinking Woody from Toy Story.
With this in mind, I watched the film optomistically hoping that Omar would develop as a character, and he doesn't. When the credits rolled I still wanted to punch him.

As for the animation, it's brilliant. There were probably two instances where Omar's ugly snout thing rolled around his head the wrong way, and frankly I was expecting from the beginning for this to happen a lot more. That seems to happen a lot (I've even seen it in comics, so animation is a deathtrap here) when you take a character so human that they may well have been rotoscoped and slap on 'bits and pieces' that aren't there naturally. All it takes is one assistant animator who isn't paying attention and you'll get a horrible 'sliding face' glitch, but the movie is surprisingly devoid of this.
In all aspects, I found the animation of the characters to be quite good. There are obvious 'ping-pong' moments when some of the characters dance in the night club (Frames one-to-ten then back down to one again, rince and repeat), but that aside there are consistently beautifully fluid movements throughout the movie. It's actually a real treat to see a non-Disney movie this old that looks this good, because it's a damn rare find.

The special effects that the movie utilises are similarly very ahead of their time. This movie was made around the same time as Tron, and the CGI that it does contain (small in quantity though it may be) is actually better. Mostly, however, they relied on basic photographic special effects, and this has resulted in some stunning sequences.
I can't get enough of the multiplane in this movie, which has been used exquisitely. The shot of the car travelling from a God's Eye View through Ohmtown and our first view of the filthy Nuke York spring to mind immediately as visual treats.
One of the best looking moments of the film is the Lou Reed-composed song, "My Name Is Mok", which, while very eighties-looking, is executed very well.

(I admit it. Nuke York gave me chills, however lame the name was.)

All in all, I would call this a flawed masterpiece. There are some great things about this film, but not enough to save it from mediocrity, unfortunately. It was sad that this film nearly bankrupt the company that made it (worse animations have done better at the box office), but it wasn't without error and to me, to put on my script-writer's hat for a moment, it felt more like a first draft brought to completion. They did a fantastic job of realising a story that wasn't yet all the way there.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Reviews coming

Sorry, guys.
I know it's bad etiquette to post in a blog saying nothing more than "I will post something soon", but it's even worse to leave your followers dangling, so I will just say this.

Shit's been intense. Like, not emotionally, but in terms of workload. As soon as I plough through the eight or so tasks I have set for this week, I intend to begin reviewing a whole bunch of animations in succession.

At any time, feel free to interject if there is something about the industry or the art of animation that you would specifically like my thoughts on.

Peace out!