With The Iron Giant, Ratatouille, and The Incredibles under his belt, Brad Bird is one of the most respected and accomplished animated filmmakers out there. For this video, Kees van Dijkhuizen Jr. pieced together a number of interviews and commentary tracks of Bird talking about how he approaches animation. Among the topics he discusses are the pleasures of sneaking around, the advantages of slowing down, and an appreciation of keeping the lights low.
At one point, Bird talks about how some makers of animated movies create scenarios that are too fantastic and then are, later on in their films, unable to interject a true sense of danger into the plot.
The mistake that people often make with animated films is that they love the gravity-defying aspect of it. But, if you defy gravity and then later on need to feel danger, you have a really hard time convincing the audience.
Contemporary superhero movies, even the good ones, often have this problem, and I wonder if it’s because they are essentially made like animated films with too much of the gravity-defying aspect. With CG and flawless green screens, you can essentially make anything happen on the screen, which somewhat counterintuitively lowers the stakes of what you’re watching.
I thought Westworld was going to have the same problem. The first few episodes were boring because they were set in a world where no one could get injured or killed. Park visitors could roll up to a Western town with a few guns and kill all of the inhabitants without much effort and at no personal risk. There were no stakes and it totally broke the fourth wall. But from the way the last few episodes have gone, it’s apparent the danger will come (from elsewhere) and that having the audience (both of the HBO show and the park’s paying patrons) consider the fourth wall is part of the point.
From the official Chuck Jones Tumblr, an early sketch of the Road Runner and Coyote by Jones.
Also by Jones, how to draw Bugs Bunny:
During the 1930s, animators at Walt Disney Studios developed a list of 12 basic principles of animation through which to achieve character and personality through movement. These principles were laid out in The Illusion of Life by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. #6 is “slow-out and slow-in”:
As action starts, we have more drawings near the starting pose, one or two in the middle, and more drawings near the next pose. Fewer drawings make the action faster and more drawings make the action slower. Slow-ins and slow-outs soften the action, making it more life-like. For a gag action, we may omit some slow-out or slow-ins for shock appeal or the surprise element. This will give more snap to the scene.
Animator Vincenzo Lodigiani recently visualized the principles using a simple cube shape. You can see them individually here or all together in this video:
In a nod to the increasing prevalence of animation in app design, Khoi Vinh notes:
It’s a good reminder that as the overlap between interface design and animation grows wider, designers would do well to take note of the many decades of insight and knowledge that animators have accrued.
A wonderful little animation by Tomas Nilsson of my favorite fairytale, the one with wolves and woodsmen. This one’s all zippy infographics and diagrams.
The music gets to be a little much.
A Matter of Loaf and Death, the Wallace and Gromit short formerly known as Trouble At’ Mill, will be shown on the Beeb in the UK at the end of December.
In this new masterpiece viewers will catch up with Wallace and Gromit who have opened a new bakery — Top Bun — and business is booming, not least because a deadly Cereal Killer is targeting all the bakers in town so competition is drying up. Gromit is worried that they may be the next victims but Wallace couldn’t care — he’s fallen head over heels in love with Piella Bakewell, former star of the Bake-O-Lite bread commercials. So Gromit is left to run things on his own when he’d much rather be getting better acquainted with Piella’s lovely pet poodle Fluffles.
Rumor is that a US showing will soon follow.
Now that Luxo Jr. is 22 years old, he’s interested in more than just chasing beach balls around. NSFW if videos of animated masturbating household furnishings aren’t safe to view in your workplace. There are a bunch of other Pixar spoof videos featuring variations on the Pixar lamp…from “state of the art” in 1986 to “anyone with some 3-D animation software can upload to YouTube” in 2008.
An (animated (and condensed (and brief (and truncated)))) history of evil. Almost as interesting for the comments as for the video itself.
Nick Park and Aardman Animations are doing a new Wallace & Gromit film called Trouble At’ Mill (pronounced Trouble At The Mill). Unlike Chicken Run or Were-Rabbit, it’ll be a 30-minute film made for TV, like A Close Shave or The Wrong Trousers.
Wallace and Gromit have a brand new business. The conversion of 62 West Wallaby Street is complete and impressive, the whole house is now a granary with ovens and robotic kneading arms. Huge mixing bowls are all over the place and everything is covered with a layer of flour. On the roof is a ‘Wallace patent-pending’ old-fashioned windmill.
With its latest film, Pixar manages to achieve something that few other big Hollywood films do these days: a convincing reality. The body language & emotions of the characters, the machinations of the kitchen, the sights and sounds of Paris, and the dice of the celery, Ratatouille gets it all right, down to the seemingly insignificant details. As we walked out of the movie, my wife, who has spent time cooking in restaurants (with Daniel Boulud, even), couldn’t stop talking about how well the movie captured the workings of the kitchen. To be sure, a G-rated kitchen but a true kitchen nonetheless.
I’m not quite sure how this is possible, but the people in Ratatouille acted more like real people than the actors in many recent live action movies (especially the rats), like they had realistic histories and motivations that governed their actions instead of feeling scripted and fake. The world of the movie felt as though it had existed before the opening credits and would continue after the curtain fell. Systems that have arisen through years, decades, centuries, millennia of careful evolution and interplay with one another were represented accurately and with care. In The Timeless Way of Building, Christopher Alexander writes of the quality without a name:
There is a central quality which is the root criterion of life and spirit in a man, a town, a building, or a wilderness. This quality is objective and precise, but it cannot be named. The search which we make for this quality, in our own lives, is the central search of a person, and the crux of any individual person’s story. It is the search for those moments and situations when we are most alive.
Pixar’s search for this quality in the making of Ratatouille is impressive. And in a way, necessary. In order to draw the audience into the film and make them forget that they’re watching animated characters in an animated world, the filmmakers need to get everything right. Motions too exaggerated, motivations glossed over, plot too uncoordinated, and the whole thing loses its sense of authenticity. People need to act like people, omelettes need to sag off of spatulas like omelettes, and the only woman chef in a haute cuisine French kitchen needs to behave accordingly.
This is an interesting state of affairs. In comparison, the live action movies have become the cartoons. Not all of them, but certainly many Hollywood movies have. Spidey 3, Transformers (I’m guessing), Die Hard 4 (guessing again), anything Eddie Murphy has made since the mid-80s, Wild Hogs, Blades of Glory, RV, etc. etc. I could go on and on. So what are we to make of a cartoon that seems more real than most live action movies? How about we stop thinking of them as cartoons or kids movies or animated films and start considering them as just plain movies? I’d put Pixar’s five best films — Toy Story 2, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, and let’s throw Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant in for good measure — among the best big budget films made in the last 10 years, no caveats required.
Oh, and I don’t want to give away the ending, but I will say that Ratatouille also has something to say about critics and criticism, a topic that’s currently under debate in foodie circles and has been discussed many times in different areas of the blogosphere. It almost seems as though the film’s message is aimed partially at bloggers, and for those that care to listen, that message is both encouraging and enlightening.
Animated movies have an animal problem and aren’t working as well as they used to at the box office. “There are all these people saying we are going to be the next Pixar. We say, ‘Who is your John Lasseter?’” The box office performance of the Wallace and Gromit movie is unfortunate…I’ve caught it a couple of times on cable and it’s really quite good.
Fine interview with Pixar/Disney’s John Lasseter, who is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. “I believe in the nobility of entertaining people, and I take great, great pride that people are willing to give me two or three hours out of their busy lives.”
Ironic Sans has an ongoing series of posts about animated Manhattan; that is, depictions of Manhattan in animated films and shows. So far he’s covered The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Tom & Jerry.
Quick interview with Nick Park about Wallace and Gromit. I’m testing an experimental Salon feature where if you click through to an article from kottke.org, you don’t have to apply for a Day Pass to read it…let’s see if it works.
Update: Didn’t quite work for me…clicking the link took me to Salon’s front page, not to the article. I clicked the back button and tried again and it worked the second time. Anyone else have a problem with it?
Update #2: Other people are having the same problem and Salon is looking into it.
MoMA is running a Pixar exhibition from December 14 to February 6, 2006. “Featuring over 500 works of original art on loan for the first time from Pixar Animation Studios, the show includes paintings, concept art, sculptures, and an array of digital installations.”