29 August 2010

So, What Do You Want Out of Your Stories?

Why does an audience watch, read or listen to these things? Why do we pay money directly, or
sift through invasive advertisements to get to a story?

Is it solely for entertainment: emotional stimulation?


Maybe us, the audience, want something a bit more intellectual.
Like a Puzzle?
...or some perspectives on the really BIG questions?

Maybe an audience's ideological and political viewpoints factor in?

Like an agenda to spread, to persuade others to their point of view?

Or beliefs they wish to see re-affirmed?

Maybe we need more from a story than what we consciously purchase or sign on to experience? Check out J.J. Abrams at 9:55, where he takes his "mystery box" approach to storytelling and applies it to secondary subject matter, subtext and metaphor in popular explode-y type hollywood movies.

Certainly, most long-term successful fiction to carry secondary meanings and subject matter not apparent at the surface.

...Like the meditations on obsession and revenge that lie under the plot of
"high seas adventure" of Moby Dick...
...Or how James Cameron claims Space Marines killedby
Freud-Monsters is really about the Vietnam War...
...Or the epilogue of Peter Pan, when Wendy Darling, now much too old to fly, sees Peter spirit away her own daughter, emphasizing the brevity of childhood, rather than the whimsy, fun and games with which the tale is associated.

I don't know if subtext and meaning and themes and stuff are inherent to the anatomy of story or even required for "great storytelling 101". What an people needs to learn or experience, as opposed to want to, seems more like a philosophical question than a technical one.

Comics, prose, live theater, animated and live action film are all storytelling media. But story itself, the arrangement of events into a continuous sequence, is a medium; a medium that can communicate emotions, experiences and ideas.

So, what do you want out of this medium? What do you think should be communicated through it?

26 August 2010

The Future, hmm

Maybe it's some sort of natural law, that every convenient gadget , invention or technology, no matter how fantastic or outright made-up that appears in fiction will eventually become a reality.
Two Way portable police communication
Vital Signs Monitors on Hospital Beds
Talking to your TV, and it talks back
Space Travel
Though it contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate...
And we've got ones that chirp too!

Granted the point's been made before how life imitates art, but maybe there should be more stories featuring jetpacks, consumer-use superpowers and flying surfboards so the world of science and modern industry will hurry up and invent them (and sell them to us) sooner.

19 August 2010

Sell-Outs Abroad: Part II

So Japan's Anime industry is threatened due to outsourcing production to cheaper countries like South Korea and Vietnam, which threatens quality on a massive level.

Which prompts me to put on my personal opinion-hat with fancy bells and say:

Sounds familiar...

In a nutshell, U.S. TV animation went through much the same process, going from completely "in-house" production, everything from initial sketch to placing painted cels under the camera to final sound mix, of the 1950s to the state of cartoons today, where little more is done on this continent than writing the scripts and recording the voices,. A lot of times you get gems like the video above, but sometimes, the results are very good.
Animation is expensive, and in the U.S. , utilizing the global economy to bring in quality production at a feasible cost has proven to be an effective strategy. This seems to be pretty good for everybody...

...Well, everybody except the layout people, animators, assistant animators, cleanup, digital ink+paint, background painters and even storyboard artists whose jobs have been moved overseas, in many cases, to Japan.

Heck, if the Economy here worsens any more, maybe I can get a job in cleanup for "Naruto" .

Sell-Outs Abroad: Part I

So Albert Urderzo and the shareholders of Asterix have been catching criticism about the featuring one of France's foremost pop culture icons in an ad for McDonald's, one of America's foremost icons of... well generally whatever bad things you care to name about the United States.

So I guess I'll offer my two cents here.

I like to think of Asterix as the French Superman, an embodiment of some of a country's ideals and values. Whereas Clark Kent is a naturalized immigrant from another planet, Asterix the Gaul defends his home turf from the Romans and other corrupting forces of the ancient world. His entire purpose is to keep Gaul's heritage and prevent his home village from being absorbed into the Roman Empire. And now his entire village is shilling Big Macs.
But then, Asterix has a major merchandising force for a number of years. Whether it's movies, toys, food a freaking theme park, the little Gaul is pretty much a continental Mickey Mouse (well known pretty much everywhere except America, oddly enough). But then again, it's French toys, movies food and a freaking theme park that the brand is selling. Also, "McAsterix" has Albert Urderzo's approval, though his own handling of the characters he's co-created been facing fire as well. (Rene Goscinny, the original writer, passed away in 1977)

I didn't grow up with Asterix, nor am I French. Heck, in the U.S. a cartoon character making it into McDonald's Ads and toys is pretty much a symbol of pride(maybe it has something to do with the whole capitalism thing, I dunno). But I get plenty mad whenever George Lucas decides that he still hasn't added enough CGI to the original Star Wars trilogy and when the Disney Company decides Tinkerbell should speak.

16 August 2010

10,000 Drawings

There's an old art saw that goes "Everybody's got 10,000 bad drawings in them", so it's best to exorcise those bad ones as soon as possible, and your tools for doing so are as follows:

This week I finished not one but two sketchbooks(brief celebration); a large "work big" sketchbook for when you need to sit in the middle of something that reads "I am holding a sketchbook. I am drawing you and it looks nothing like you so please don't ask me what I'm drawing!"

In theory, these images should fly by showing meteoric improvement in draftsmanship, much like a convenient zero-to-hero Movie Training Montage .

(For those of you interested in continuity, this elephant is indeed from the damn zoo.)

Then, I have the smaller one, the portable back-pocketed SECRET sketchbook for waiting rooms...

street corners... ...and anywhere else where it's just too damn awkward to hold the large paraphernalia you need a bag for.

I don't know how close I'm to finishing off those 10,000 drawings (obviously they're not posted here, otherwise this blog would surely choke even the most steadfast of browsers), maybe I'll post photos of the stacks of sketchbooks I've filled sometime. If that doesn't show desired Improvement, I'll start drawing with rocks strapped to my legs.

13 August 2010

It's more about public relations...

Hey! Chris Sanders has a deviantart account!
Do you know what I do when I'm looking at someone's devart account? I browse their favorites (possibly not safe for work if you're signed into deviantart).

For those of you without a devart ID, it seems that the director of Lilo and Stitch likes breasts a fair bit.

Okay, so who cares? I also happen to like breasts. The guy's a grown-up, makes more money than I do, draws a better than I do, and like Freddy Moore famously did, does his fair share of cheesecake. Since this is the internet, you've probably seen more shocking material in banner ads. Frankly, Chris Sanders' tastes in deviantart aren't any of my business.

To a 20 years + veteran of the animation industry and a commercially viable feature film director like Sanders, a collected page of lightweight girlie pictures won't scratch his reputation nor prevent him from getting more work.

But I'm still trying to break in. So the devart "favorites" can conceivably be just as big an obstacle to employment in the animation industry as "Drunk Facebook Party Photos" are likely to get you fired from an office gig, especially if happen to deal with employers of sensitive tastes(remember, we're still in the day and age where Janet Jackson flashing the audience of the Super-Bowl is considered a controversy).

But when I'm fortunate enough to get an interview with somebody from "Adorable Stuffed Toy Children's Family Fun Cartoons Limited" and they look me up on the web, I don't want their first impression to be "Wow, this guy really likes breasts."

07 August 2010

Top Secret Drawing Reference

Previously, I yammered on on how it's hard to draw from TV.

But that was before I found these neat reference videos designed solely for gesture studies.

The models are shot in long-shot or full-shot at nearly all times, so the artist can see how the entire figure reacts to a movement, and distributes weight around.
Like action analysis classes, the models move fast, forcing the artist to cut unnecessary details, and they repeat each action several times, providing opportunity to focus on the movement and revisit a pose in action, rather than at rest.
These videos are affordable. At a thrift store, you can find an hour of useful sketch fodder on VHS for 50 cents. That's less than a pack of chewing gum. Since they're cleverly disguised as "exercise" merchandise, you could conceivably have some in your house or place of dwelling right now!

There are some drawbacks. The models tend to be more "pose" than "personality", which, in my case, makes for kinetic drawings, but with a certain sterility of character. Also, the poses are dynamic but unnatural, which helps me break away from the standard "S-curve of standing man" formula, but seem to lack applicability toward character-based narrative. ...And the noise Richard Simmons makes at 0:25 is deeply disturbing.

02 August 2010

Heads up

Michael Sporn is posting some pretty awesome Mary Blair artwork here . This post is on Cinderella, which looks like it could have been a much more interesting film at some point.

01 August 2010

Some Peter Arno

I don't know if Peter Arno gets enough love nowadays, his work is fascinating to study.
R.C. Harvey credited him with inventing (or rediscovering, for you Rodolphe Töpffer fans) the modern print cartoon, a form where the gag or story point is carried through text/picture interdependence. "Well, back to the old drawing board" contains no humorous content in of itself, but combined with the above image makes for a classic and oft-sited gag.
For some reason, Arno drew a hell of a lot of boob jokes. I could do a whole series of post about Peter Arno and boob jokes. I love this one because the entire situation is based on a subtle change of eye-line (aided by the gentleman's very arrow-like nose pointing to what he's admiring).
Forget punchlines, this gag is just pure character. Even in a style with a strict economy of detail, Arno expresses a wealth of character information with carefully chosen costume bits, a choice piece of buisness and a helluva gesture and facial expression.
Look at this Major! Even when he's harassing this guy's wife, he's standing ramrod straight. This could have been a passionate dip-kiss, but it's certainly more unique and true to character the way this soldier's kissing the woman so...militantly.
He can't be using more than 5 values in any of these examples, but boy does he make them work! I love this vertical rhythm set up with the whites of the uniforms.

Even if the gag itself isn't that funny, Arno's cartoons are just fun to look at. Design-wise, they're a treat. His characters, though simple, are expressive as hell, look at how the pair above are interacting, you know exactly what going on in both their heads. His sense of character, staging and dynamic rendering style really make for appealing drawing.
Arno's sense of composition is pretty damned awesome, particularly using the left to right reading convention as an aid to communicating the gag, either working with it to enhance movement, working against it for specific effect (look how put upon that little kid looks with the right-to-left man lecturing him) or keeping the "punchline" element of the composition to the right so it will be "read" last, like below.
I think most of the great New Yorker cartoonists were deeply disturbed people, and I love 'em for it.