25 July 2010

Something to Think About

One thing Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston harped on about animation until they died was seeing a character think. You could call it the big Frank and Ollie catchphrase: "What is he thinking?"

Something about watching the wheels turn in a character's head is fascinating and uniquely human, not just emotion, but levels of comprehension; inner monologue. You could argue that the main thing a character needs to display is feelings. Malarkey! Puppies have feelings!
Even the bastardized, brainless versions of established characters they slap on the front of video boxes have feelings.
See? They all feel happy. God only knows why.

But what makes an enduring character more than a office calendar picture is that whole brain thing. The audience can see what these guys are thinking.
Even in "cheaper" venues, there's opportunity to show character thought processes at work.
Or what they're failing to comprehend.

If they're restraining an impulse

Figuring out something slowly,
Or very, very quickly.
It's a basic point, and others have pontificated about it more eloquently and with more authority and years of experience than I have to offer. But, that the secret to creating real, believable people, rather than just cartoon symbols might lie in displaying their cognitive processes as well as their emotional reactions...
...Is still something to think about.

18 July 2010

TV is a Harsh Mistress

You hear the cold, cruel advice often: "Draw every day. Draw from life. If you can't draw from life, draw from TV".
Drawing from TV, however, blows.

Above are impressions from Steamboat Bill Jr. You can also see me practicing Glen Villipu style torso shapes. Even in silent films, which feature more full shots than modern movies, the figures whip around so fast it's hard to observe them long enough for a good enough gesture. One also winds up with a great deal of cutoff feet due to the ruling dominance of the medium shot.
Here's more of the same, scribbly, formless, no feeling of weight whatsoever, and that's when you can find a flick which actually cuts to a full shot once in a while so you can see what holds those people up. I find the more physical film venues, like ballet, televised sports, or old Hollywood Musicals are usually more rewarding fodder for a hungry sketchbook than, say, sitcoms or action movies, bu-uuut...

I like the stuff that comes from my sessions of actual observation more.

Even the best digital IMAX quality whatevers in the world can't match the whatever-it-is that being there provides. There's simply more to observe than the narrow stream of information from a sequence of preselected camera shots, from attitudes to visual detail to ambient sounds, smells, temperatures and the way your butt hurts from sitting on a goddamned rock in the park for upwards of 40 minutes at a time.
I have a little more time to develop the sketches, even in cases where the figure is moving pretty quickly, like the Sea Lion. I feel like I got a bit more feeling of mass and weight in these than the TV studies.

TV is good for practicing caricature, though.

Like watching the Kenneth Branagh version of "Much Ado About Nothing"
Or "Stephen King's It".

Like most of my sketchbook endeavors, this stuff is more miss than hit (if at all), but there are plenty of closeups to examine heads with, as well as people playing and exhibiting definite personalities to capture, which most (airbrushed) photographs won't give you if you're drawing famous people.

Ideally, I'd be able to hike to the park every day just to spy on people, but this often isn't practical, so I make do for now with the magic glowing slab, almost as tasty as real life, with half the calories.

05 July 2010

By all rights, "Knight and Day" should be a thoroughly crappy movie: it's a string of cliche's. The action/romantic-comedy movie opens up in an airport where our heroes meet by accident and and are chased by spies and assasins who want an increadibly-valuable-but-also-highly-portable-object that one of them carries around.
I think someone had a name for that.

The movie includes car chases, and shootouts in exotic locations and it turns out the mysterious stranger was really telling the truth all along. Oh, and I'd hate to spoil the ending, but those crazy kids wind up together.

Thing is, I had a lot of fun watching it, maybe because it starred these guys.In "Illusion of Life" Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston claimed the building blocks for (their) Disney Pictures were Personalities; that the beginning and the end of a good film was interesting characters, as opposed to plot, pacing, the world the story takes place in, research, context or meaning. Granted, Thomas & Johnston's viewpoint was that largely of actors. Also, if such a philosophy produced these profitable and widely beloved franchises, who am I to argue?
From a traditional screenwriting standpoint, "Bambi", "Pooh" and "the Jungle Book" aren't very coherent screen stories.

In Jungle Book, Mowgli doesn't pursue his desire to stay in the Jungle so much as run into one eccentric personality after another. Winnie-the-Pooh's many adventures have little or no relation to each other and are padded out with the Sherman Brothers' Music... well just because. Bambi has no desire or dramatic need throughout his story, and consequently, no goal to challenge or obstruct, making the entire film a cross between a ballet and a tone poem of beautiful, though tenuously related, animated sequences.

But rather like Diaz and Cruz, the characters in these films are fun, interesting to watch, entertaining, even compelling. From cute/obnoxious Thumper to Tiggers that don't like Honey, these are Stars.

Even "bad movies" have their memorable stars.

So is a collection of good characters enough to make a bona-fide good story as Thomas and Johnston seem to claim, or is it enough to persuade an audience to forgive an otherwise dumb or crappy story?

04 July 2010

A Home for Mr. Easter.

Brooke Allen, one of my classmates from SCAD, has a thoroughly excellent book, of which you can read about and possibly purchase here.

My own great shame is, of course, that I didn't post about this sooner.