Guest Post: Most Memorable Animated Characters

Today’s post is by guest, Stephen Gerard.  Stephen graduated from Salve Regina University in 2012 with a Bachelors degree in English/Communications.  Animation sparked his interest ever since he saw the movie Surfs Up.

With the exciting progressions in animation moving so rapidly, I thought it would be fun to stop and take a look back at the characters that were most memorable to me, specifically on the big screen. These characters are in no particular order, so feel free to arrange them sparingly in your mind and follow me on my journey as I retrace some of the most memorable animated characters of the last 20 years.

One of my favorite animated characters and a true legend to the animation world is Toy Story’s very own Cowboy. Created in 1995 by Pixar productions, Woody is one of the most genuine animations to this date. Seeing as Toy Story was the first fully computer animated feature film, history was indeed made. Woody being the most complex character to create, his name on this list was properly earned. Created by Pixar’s RenderMan, Woody has flown far and above his buddy Buzz Light-year this time.

The next character could come as a surprise to many of you due to his recent rookie status on the big screen. Produced in 2010 by Dreamworks Animation, How to Train Your Dragon’s Toothless is quite the dynamic character, as he spends most of his time hovering in the air.  Categorized as a Night Fury, Toothless is the rarest of all dragons. Though at first he was quite reluctant to use his strengths, by the conclusion of the movie his heroic acts land him safely on this list.

A memorable list of animated characters would not be proper without one that scared the fun out of you.  King Kong is the star of his movie, for good reason. Created in 2005, the movie features one of the meanest animated characters to this date. Wrecking everything in his path, Kong was no easy character to create.  With the program of Maya, the crew was able to achieve massive results, literally.  Seeing this one in theatre definitely had you jumping out of your seat.

Transition from King Kong, its important to note that not all over sized animated characters can be scary. Fighting off neighborhood crime and violence, Mr Incredible of The Incredible’s is a special father to say the least. Though he struggled to bottle in his super power strengths, he proved to be the hero that everyone needed. Produced in 2004, The Incredible’s proved to be one of Pixar’s most challenging projects.  The crew faced some difficulties when animating the cast of humans for CGI, but ended up creating an ‘incredible’ securing a 100 per cent success rate for the studio.

Last and not least we must mention one of the most beloved animated characters of our time. A big green monster of sorts, Shrek alongside his close friend Donkey, has helped animation lovers all over the world embark on a journey.  First created in 2001, who would have thought a big green Ogre would see so much success.  PDI/DreamWorks with the help of Autodesk’s Maya made a big contribution to the films various animation aspects.  From the looks of it now, Shrek’s infamy lives on as the most lovable monster out there.

So there it is; my list complete full of Ogre’s, superhero fathers, flying dinosaurs and monstrous primates. As animation practices continue to progress, we look forward to new and exciting characters in the future. With that so, don’t forget the classics!

Holograms: Party With the Ninja Turtles, Snuggle with Elvis

Today’s post is a guest post by Michelle Patterson. Michelle is a writer/editor living in the San Francisco area with expertise in video and online gaming. She and her boyfriend, Oscar, have three flat-screen TVs in their living room where they rule the MMOG world.

Imagine a world where Marilyn Monroe sings “Happy Birthday to You,” or you can watch Elvis perform atop the Colosseum. Picture one of Michael Bay and his beloved Transformers descending upon your dinner table, now that’s dinner and a show! The bridge between fantasy and reality is thickening, with many new technologies on the verge of crossing. At the forefront of this digital evolution forges holographic technology. While most are familiar with the famous Princess Leia hologram sequence in the original Star Wars, those fantastical images could quickly become a reality. The Apple Incorporation and production studios are racing to bring that fantasy to your fingertips, raising eyebrows and dropping jaws.

An Ethical Dilemma Arising?

The tech world is waiting with bated breath to see where this technology will take us. Tech nerds and hip-hop fans alike jumped with fascinated joy when Tupac Shakur was resurrected on stage at this year’s Coachella. Gasps shook the audience as the long-dead star rose into the limelight in holographic form. He danced, he rapped, and his sculpted abs rippled as only a resurrected icon’s could. Studios are scrambling to bring beloved celebrities back to life, sparking debates about the morality of utilizing posthumous holograms. Marilyn Monroe’s estate has already sued a digital hologram studio for planning on using her likeness, and Elvis Presley impersonators are collaborating with another to re-craft the King in all his former glory. Some think it’s a fantastic way to pay homage to beloved icons, while others feel it’s a disrespectful ruse driven solely by profit.

The Innovative iTitan

Now, Apple has been scurrying to slap a patent on a three-dimensional display system that would create a holographic effect without any equipment or glasses. Apple is renown for their ability to innovate and dominate the technological world. But Apple has taken a step back from the TV tech world the past few years, sitting, poised and ready to pounce on the ultimate game changing technology. The holographic patents work by recognizing human faces and eye movement, then beaming light from different angles to accommodate the visual field of each viewer. This could be the answer to the lagging sales in 3-D movies and television, as there is no need for awkward goggles and eye strain, and many of the re-imaging demands would be reduced.

Let the Coolness Factor Win

Unlike current image-popping 3-D technology, Apple’s new patents would bestow images upon us that are completely realistic. The theoretical holographic tablet being designed would be able to identify observers uniquely by their height, shoulder width, and other defining traits. The digital projectors would then have the ability to adjust different aspects depending on the viewer. In other words, this technology would be a dream come true for Michael Bay. It would allow you and the friends to run around the city alongside Michael Bay and the Ninja Turtles, fighting crime one katana at a time, except it could allow each one of you to play up close and personal with your favorite turtle; Donatello could theoretically join you at the dinner table for a delicious round of pizza. You could finally see what your living room looks like transformed into a sewer, without having to worry about clean up! This technology also promises much in the world of business transactions- letting colleagues meet in person from across the world- making Skype look like a Gutenberg press.

With this technology, Apple could help single handedly in a whole new era in virtual reality. While it might be wrought with lawsuits and hiccups, it seems like the wheels have already been set in motion.

Guest Post – Rebutting The Guardian’s Attack on Stop-Motion

There has been some negativity lately about stop motion animation, specifically this year when so many features have turned out in the medium. Among the criticism an article appeared in the Guardian and I can’t help but voice my opinion on the matter.  I’ll try to keep the opinionated ranting to a minimum and stick to facts, but so much of film (be it stop motion, CG, live action or any combination thereof) ties in to your emotion, your gut reaction, that I cannot possibly leave it out altogether.

First, a bit of background.  Hi, I’m Jessie. I graduated in 2008 with a degree in Computer Animation from Ringling College of Art and Design and have been floating around LA ever since.  I’m currently employed as a technical director (aka 3D / compositing / post production generalist) for television animation.  Though my education was dedicated to CGI, which is currently paying my rent, I’ve always had a soft spot for stop motion.  I suppose it started when James and the Giant Peach blew my mind in 1996.  True, I had seen Nightmare Before Chistmas three years prior, but that I appreciated for its music.  It was James that won me over not only for its stylistic choices but for how it blurred the line between live action and animation, making the models as real as the actors they stood opposite despite their cartoonish representations.  In 2000 “The Periwig-Maker” brought me back to the medium, and for years to come I’d seek out stop motion.  An original Clash of the Titans poster graces my living room while the film itself sits in a row with Coraline and Corpse Bride.  Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts nestles comfortably between The Iron Giant and Jurassic Park.  A Henry Selick signed copy of Nightmare is wedged in tightly somewhere in the back so my dog can’t get to it.  Basically what I’m trying to say is I’m a huge nerd, so bear with me.

Anyway, on to the rebuttals.  Let’s start with finances, since that’s the most tangible:

Computer-reliant Shrek 2 has taken $900m globally, and Toy Story 3$1bn. However, the most successful stop-mo film of all time, Chicken Run, has pulled in only $220m. Coraline, the genre’s darling of recent years, has garnered a mere $120m. The public seem less impressed by stop-mo’s products than the cineastic upper crust. Not that this bothers some of the latter: they’re convinced their preference is aesthetically superior.”

Frankenweenie may take a lot less at the box office than Hotel Transylvania. But it was made for a mere $39m. Hotel Transylvania’s budget was well over twice that. This is pretty much par for the course: stop-mo films tend to cost around half as much as their major CGI counterparts. Their upside may be smaller, but they pose less of a risk.

So take that, stop-mo snobs. Yours is the low-rent option.

Why are we judging films based on how much money they make?  This is something that has always bugged me.  The highest grossing film of all time (ignoring inflation) is Avatar, and I have lots of negative things to say about THAT but that’s an article for another time.  I’m not saying that all stop motion is phenomenal or that all CG is horrible, but if money was what determined quality or worth of a film we’d all be studying Madagascar 3 in our history of animation class instead of Gertie and Achmed (which, for the record, was a form of stop motion!).  Dollars can’t be disregarded though, so let’s stop for a moment and consider that, to my knowledge, stop motion is the only animation format that has not yet been outsourced.  By all means prove me wrong and I’ll happily say I’ve learned something new, but from what I can tell all stop mo produced here in the USA is actually done in the good ol’ US of A.  I try my damndest to stay out of politics but if we’re talking about money let’s talk about jobs.  At my studio my job is to make work done in Korea look pretty; hardly good for the unemployed animators of California and hardly good for my soul but hey, even Disney classics like The Little Mermaid outsourced their bubbles.

The last lines of each of those paragraphs are what I feel discredits the article entirely – if someone can explain how the opinions of the ‘cineastic upper crust’ should be effected by how much money a movie brings in then I’ll go ahead and believe that they’re the cineastic upper crust.  I assure you, us stop motion lovers aren’t the only potential snobs in the business.  If you believe the ‘low-rent option,’ said with such disdain, is really something to be frowned upon, then I question who the real snob is here.

The ParaNorman team actually cheated, weaving elaborate CGI confections around their clumpy models.

This is straight up misrepresentation.  The closest I can come to finding a reference to elaborate CGI confections in the cinemablend article are the following lines:

SF: […] We have CG set extensions and there used to just be a camera and a matte painting, but now you can actually have the camera moving up, so you can have a big world.

and

CB: We’re not militant purists about it. You could approach it like, “If we can’t do this practically, we shouldn’t do it” and we never think that. We always think, “We know what imagery we want to capture and then we use the best method to get it.” Our starting point is always going to be practical, it’s always going to be handmade, because that’s the studio we are. But we would never say no to something because you can’t realize it practically. If we need CG to fix this…

SF: You need crowds, so you get CGI characters in there. But the CGI characters were generated from the puppet department, so they were informed by puppet makers.

CB: And when we did visual effects for clouds in the sky, that was informed by the art department. They actually built models of this storm. So it’s totally integrated. It’s all generated from the same visual code.

This all hails CGI as a tool, a valuable tool, rather than a medium for animation.  Utilizing CG as a means to an end is hardly cheating, especially when all CG elements were designed by the puppet crew.  Live action features have been doing it for decades, as well as traditionally animated features, so why not stop motion?  But alright, let’s say it is cheating.  Let’s say you’re a stop motion purist who looks down their nose at any use of post production fixes (or pre production development for that matter, I suppose).  That, in its own way, gives the method of stop motion a completely different and completely unique new appeal.

Not everyone can make a computer generated film on their own.  Software and computers cost thousands of dollars, rendering takes exorbitant amounts of time, and there’s all that pesky technical crap you have to learn.  Anyone – anyone – can do stop motion.  Even if you don’t have a camera you can perform it in the simplest forms of puppetry.  To see a paper doll’s silhouette walk across a backlit screen or to see a perfect clay armature perform flips without the aid of wires, from one end of the spectrum to the other the average person has the materials he or she needs to assemble the most basic of stop motion productions in their own home and connect it in some way to what they’re seeing on the big screen.  And that, my dear readers, is why we need stop motion.  As soon as we relegate animation to only CG we eliminate the potential for the vast majority of the audience to engage and try on their own.  We’re killing the next generation of creatives by saying their lowly medium is useless, that what they have isn’t good enough.  Animation becomes elitist in its own way, regulated to those privileged enough to get the hardware, to learn the software, to troubleshoot thousands of technical glitches one at a time.  Playing with your Barbies and GI Joes is stop motion in its purest form, and yes, CGI can give us broad vistas and perfect bouncy hair and broad splashing oceans, but stop motion can give us a closeness and a relatability that CG could never hope to achieve.

Asking why use stop motion when you can use CG is like asking a painter why he chooses realism when we have cameras.  It’s not just a matter of money, it’s a matter of personality and creative style. I’ll end with a quick commentary on a short film I saw just yesterday called “The Maker,” (http://www.themakerfilm.com/) an uneartly beautiful stop motion piece on the nature of life and creation.  To some degree it is the story of an animator whose work might survive on even after their own time is up.  He assembles the supplies that are close at hand to create what he can, struggling to somehow bring it to life.  But the heartbreakingest part of this short isn’t the content, no I’m afraid what tugged at my heartstrings the most was the awful use of CG particle effects at the end.  Yes, true, throwing a bunch of sand in front of a greenscreen with a fan blowing would not have garnered the same magical rainbow of pixie dust, but damn was it ever incongruous!  Far be it from me to criticize an award winning short but on the subject of CG and stop motion, this is one scenario which would’ve been better off without the “cheat.”  Maybe it’s because I’ve been trained to recognize such things but the use of CG took me out of the story immediately.  Suddenly I was back at my desk, watching a short on my computer, no longer eavesdropping on a cunning, alluringly macabre fabric creature.  He was no longer a character.  He was a prop.

CGI may do a “better” job… but better isn’t always best.

ps.
I will agree with one point wholeheartedly.  STOP ADMIRING FRANKENWEENIE!  Not because it’s stop motion but because it encourages remakes of perfectly good originals, and discredits the value of student or short form work. Have you seen the original short?  It’s great on its own!

Pixar Draws Loyal Viewers and Employees

This is a guest post by Lauren Michaels, After studying film at UCLA, Lauren found that her second love, writing, allowed her to be both critic and harbinger of infortmation. She now freelances for a variety of entertainment publications and is a regular at her local theater.

Moviegoers adore Disney’s digital animation giant, Pixar, with nearly 11.5 million users “liking” its official fan page on Facebook. Although Pixar specializes in making children’s movies, it is the kind of company that permanently brands adults — as well as their kids — as lifelong fans.

Marketing guru Peter Fisk of The Genius Works website says that successful brands have “bigger ambitions” than selling products. “They give business purpose, shared with customers,” Fisk adds. The bottom line, Fisk says, is that Pixar makes life better by inspiring people. More than a mere animation studio, Pixar is a career-making company that helps build enrollment in the animation programs of many an art school, including the venerable California Institute of Arts where Pixar executive John Lasseter honed his creativity.

Workplace Humanity and Continuing Education
Art school students are drawn to the humanistic branding of Pixar’s products, as well as the company’s workplace culture, which nurtures creativity and teamwork. Pixar’s campus in Emeryville, California, is about as far from cubicle culture as a creative type can imagine.

Fisk notes that as Jobs restructured the company, he allowed designers to construct and decorate their individual workspaces and provided airy atriums containing cafes and a wood-fired pizza oven. An on-the-job training program called Pixar University fosters creativity through encouraging workers to become well-rounded. The program offers classes ranging from dance to astrophysics and conservation.

Pixar also gives its employees the time to “do things right” and get their work “pixel perfect,” according to Copyblogger. In short, Pixar prefers delays to doing things poorly. Other businesses could learn a lot from this philosophy and the loyalty it ensures.

New and Old Values
BusinessWeek reports that Pixar’s recent release, Brave, continues “an unbroken record of first-place openings.” Despite its emphasis on the importance of self-actualization, the movie also contains an indelible element of Pixar branding that permeates both its movies and work culture: an old-fashioned concern for interconnectedness. Classics such as Toy Story and Finding Nemo are all about the importance of family and community, and going to great lengths to love one another. In Brave, Merida discovers that by running away to find adventure, she has endangered her family and kingdom. It is up to her to be courageous and save those she loves.

Guest Post: A Review of A Monster in Paris

I’m very excited to present this special review by talented Irish animator Nichola Kehoe of A Monster in Paris, which she recently saw in Ireland.

It’s 1910 and unlikely duo Emile and Raoul accidentally cause the creation of a giant flea monster in a lab outside Paris. The monster escapes the lab and it is up to our two heroes to find the monster and stop it from terrorising the city. Meanwhile, the beautiful singer Lucille befriends this misunderstood creature, who she names Franceour.

Franceour is passionate about music and a gifted guitarist who soon, performing in a disguise, impresses the patrons of Lucille’s club with his talent. Lucille tries to convince Emile and Raoul of Franceour’s gentle nature so they can all work together to protect him from the cruel politician, Victor, who wants to use Franceour’s capture as a publicity stunt to make himself look like a hero for saving the city.

For a children’s film the story, A Monster in Paris is quite complex. It starts off with Emile as the main hero but that quickly changes to Raoul, then Franceour, then back again. The story starts off charming and funny, with great little one-liners, but loses some of its charm in the confusion of characters. The end of the film is a little bit of a mess from a story point of view.

That said, it is a visually stunning film. The character design, the backgrounds, the lighting and the animation are all a pleasure to behold. The design of the city of Paris is unique and interesting, with lots of colour on ground level and very little colour in the higher parts. There is so much variety in the colour palettes and lighting that the film is never ever boring to look at. The music is fun and entertaining.

While there may have been too many main characters, each character did have their own clear personality which was really enjoyable. Emile is shy but brave, whereas Raoul is seemingly over-confident and vain. Even little things like Lucille constantly changing her outfit, add to the visual charm of the film. The character animation is stunning, and really on a level with any major studio. There is a great mix of fun animation and sombre moments. When the script started to falter, it was the animation that kept the movie captivating.

Overall A Monster In Paris is charming, fun and entertaining. It is definitely worth a trip to the big screen.

 

 

Four Live-Action Actors Who Successfully Jumped Into To Voice-Acting

Today, I’m pleased to feature a guest post by Sarah Stockton. Sarah is an Outreach Coordinator for Voices.com, a site connects businesses with professional voice talents where she enjoys helping potential voice talent find their start in the voice industry.

It’s pretty common these days for movie and television stars to voice characters in animated films. Movie studios even make this part of their promotions, and for good reason. Many people are more likely to want to see a film if one of their favorite stars like Tom Hanks or Angelina Jolie is performing a voice in it. You may also hear celebrities performing voice-overs in television and radio commercials, which is usually side work they take on because, to be frank, it requires little work and they get paid well to do it.

But some actors have moved from regular acting into voice acting on a regular basis. Sometimes an actor whose career in front of the camera may be waning can still find good work as a voice actor. In some cases, though, actors just find they have a knack for voice acting, and they enjoy it. Here are four actors whose characters and voices you may recognize, who got their start in front of the camera.

Julie Kavner

You may know Julie Kavner as the voice of Marge Simpson on The Simpsons. But because that show is completing its 23rd season in 2012, you may not know that Kavner had a thriving acting career before The Simpsons ever aired. After a few bit parts on television shows in the mid ’70s, Kavner landed the role of Brenda Morgenstern, sister to title character Rhoda, one of three spinoffs of The Mary Tyler Moore Show (Phyllis and Lou Grant being the other two). Kavner played Brenda through the entire run of the series, after which she went on to appear as a guest star in a handful of other shows.

She also landed roles in two Woody Allen films, Hannah and Her Sisters, and Radio Days. In 1987, she joined the cast of the sketch comedy vehicle, The Tracey Ullman Show. That show included quirky short cartoons about a yellow-skinned, bug-eyed family, for which Kavner voiced the mother. When Ullman’s show was canceled, the cartoons were developed into The Simpsons. The rest is history.

Cree Summer

After starting her career as a voice actor, Cree Summer gained recognition as a traditional actor with a role in the highly successful and popular A Different World in the late ’80s. The show had success built in, being a spin-off of The Cosby Show, and starring Lisa Bonet. Even after Bonet left the show, after just the first season, A Different World continued for five more seasons, making many of the actors household names, including Summer.

After that show ended, she took on a few other acting roles in shows such as Living Single and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. But then in 1994, she returned to voice acting, and hasn’t looked back since. Summer’s pliable voice has allowed her to win parts in dozens of cartoon series such as Tiny Toon Adventures, The Wild Thornberrys, Rugrats, and Batman Beyond. She remains an active and sought after voice actor.

Bill Fagerbakke

This isn’t a name that’s easy to forget, if you ever knew it in the first place. Before embarking on his voice acting career, Bill Fagerbakke took on roles in a couple of made-for-TV movies, a few TV shows, and had a small part in the Michael J. Fox hit movie The Secret of My Success. He hit the big time when he landed a regular role on the popular sitcom Coach, playing dumb but lovable Dauber Dybinski.

When the show finally went off the air after nine successful seasons, Fagerbakke began alternating between traditional acting roles on TV and in movies, and some cartoon voice-overs, including the role he’s become best known for, dumb but lovable Patrick Star on the hit show Spongebob Squarepants. Fagerbakke has now played Patrick for ten seasons, and the show is still going strong. He’s continued to take traditional acting roles here and there, but made a memorable return to television in 2005 as Marshall’s dad on the popular sitcom, How I Met Your Mother. Sadly, his character was killed off on that show, but you can still enjoy his acting talents as Spongebob’s sidekick.

Mark Hamill

Yes, that Mark Hamill. Before he was, is, and forever will be Luke Skywalker, Mark Hamill dipped his toe into voice acting with a couple of stints on Scooby Doo and Flintstones cartoons, all while taking on traditional acting roles. Then came the Star Wars explosion, but as popular as those movies were, Hamill’s acting career never quite took off the way Harrison Ford’s did. He continued to act steadily, both in traditional and animated voice roles. He even did a voice for a video game. Then another. Then a few more, until now when he is a much sought after video game voice actor.

But he didn’t stop there. Hamill has also created a niche for himself in superhero cartoons. He’s done voices in Spider-Man and Superman cartoons, but the one voice for which he’s best known in comic book circles is that of the Joker in the animated series Batman, Batman Beyond, Superman, Justice League, and a few other spinoffs and specials. In fact, he’s such a fantastic Joker he’s gone on to play the role in several Batman and other superhero video games, bringing both his voice acting pursuits together in one endeavor. If you’ve never heard Mark Hamill’s Joker, you’re not only missing out, but will be astounded that the guy who played hero Jedi Luke Skywalker can sound so convincingly maniacal.

These are just four of the many celebrities and traditional actors who have either abandoned their lives in front of the camera for lives in front of a microphone, or have successfully combined both to create lucrative and high profile careers. Next time you watch a cartoon with your kids—or without—listen closely to the voices. You may be surprised by whom you recognize.

Follow-up: 80s British Cartoons That Americans Missed (Or Not)

Chris Sobiniek was kind enough to write in to fill in some background information on my recent post about 80s British cartoons that I thought never made it across the Pond. Lo and behold, some of them actually did! Below is what was sent over detailing where and when they made it on the air.

Thanks Chris!

In the US, many of these shows aired first on cable TV. There wasn’t much of a chance for any of ‘em on regular TV much during that time, and the new cable TV market proved to be a great ‘dumping ground’ for foreign toons on channels like Nickelodeon (further picking up the interest of those of us who were tired on the domestic Saturday morning junk). Cable/satellite TV in those days wasn’t quite as proliferated as it was in the 90?s, so there was plenty of room for experimenting and trying different things than what was seen before from “The Big Three”.

Danger Mouse premiered as early as 1983 over here and lasted up to probably 1988 or ’89, but also made a faint appearance in the early 90’s I think too.

Count Duckula would premiere also on Nick in 1988 and lasted for a good number of years as I recall.

Bananaman on the other hand, aired on Nick in the 80’s as well, though I can recall it mostly coming on right after Dangermouse as I think they had 5 or so minutes to kill and just stuck it there anyway, in later years it showed up on a program called “Total Panic” as one of the cartoons shown Sunday mornings.

While Nickelodeon back then was part of the “basic tier” of cable channels one could get, The Disney Channel use to be a premium channel on the same platform as HBO or Showtime, and thus you had to beg your parents to get that so you could watch SuperTed they played too (I think it use to be on around 1984-86). Home Video releases of the SuperTed series also were made available from Walt Disney Home Video (which came in handy for those that didn’t get the channel).

Not sure if we ever got Postman Pat back then, though I do recall videos of it being released here anyway (home video often was the scapegoat for things that may see little or no airings on TV in those days). I’m certainly the later Postman Pat stuff when they got the puppets mouths moving probably did air here anyway.

I don’t remember The Raggy Dolls or The Family Ness showing up here (let alone “The Trap Door” for that matter, and that one surely could’ve hit it over big here too), I do recall this show popping up on Nick featuring Spike Milligan’s wit and narration…

Thomas The Tank Engine had a rather interesting history over here, as we didn’t get quite the same type of program you guys had. Instead, and probably as a means of testing the waters for this guy here, Britt Allcroft co-created a program as a springboard for Thomas that aired on PBS stations beginning in 1989 called “The Shining Time Station”. Thomas’ adventures were told from a little character the kids could see named “Mr. Conductor” (who was either played by Ringo Starr in the first season and George Carlin for the remainder of the show’s run).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shining_Time_Station

Pretty much the way I view that show today is really just that, we had to get up to speed on this Thomas thing like the Brits and then go from there (such as with that movie)!

So yeah, we Americans weren’t too far behind, but we certainly did miss out on a few stuff now and then.

Guest Post: Kung Fu Panda 2

Today’s post is a guest review of Kung Fu Panda 2 by Emmett Goodman. Emmett is a graduate from the Pratt Institute in New York and is a notable member of ASIFA-East. His personal review blog is here and his sketch tumblelog is here.

Via: All Movie Photo

A terrific movie, and a job well done. Kung Fu Panda 2 is both entertaining and artistically sophisticated. It has some of the same flaws as the first film, but what it excels in mostly make up for those flaws.

Dreamworks Animation is (at least in my eyes) improving more and more as their movies progress. KFP 1 had some of the usual Dreamworks traits I dislike (such as over-abundance of celebrity voices, emphasis on the actors, sub-par dialog), but it abandoned pop-culture references in favor of a solid story, and took the time to give the movie a unique and distinct look. I could never truly appreciate movies like Shrek, Shrek 2, Shark Tale, or Madagascar, because their stories were too transparent and there was too much emphasis on who was voicing the characters than the characters existing on their own. Also, you could tell the stories were no good as they were overflowing with pop-culture references (which only contributes more to the transparency). Starting with Over the Hedge, the studio started stripping some of these flaws, but they were stripped even more with KFP 1. It seems to have improved with further movies, and KFP 2 cements that fact even more for me.

I can’t praise the artistry of this movie enough. The opening of the movie (along with a personalized version of the Dreamworks Animation logo) is animated in a style suggesting metal puppets. I can’t speak for how clear the influence of authentic Chinese art is, but there is definitely something different in the look of the film than the previous. Something very tactile in the design. Poe’s memories are animated in 2D, and are so beautifully realized, that I wish there was a whole movie in that style.

The story this time is just as solid as the first film, but with more operatic tones. After the end of the first movie, Poe (Jack Black, panda) is now a respected member of Master Ishu’s (Dustin Hoffman, red panda) Kung Fu clan, and is tasked with protecting their village. However, a powerful dynasty has come under attack by its exiled prince Shen (Gary Oldman, peacock), who seeks to not only take over China, but his primary weapons threaten to destroy Kung-Fu tradition. Now the way I say it here, it probably sounds cliché, but in the movie the story is taken very seriously. Poe recognizes a symbol on Shen’s minions (wolves), which unleashes a forgotten nightmare. The story takes an emotional turn for the main characters (which for an animated film/show, is music to my ears). Poe and the Furious Five are dispatched to confront Shen and stop his bloody revolution. In the course of the story, we really get to see the inner workings of Poe’s relationship with his friends/comrades, his adoptive father, and how what made him an outcast in the first film now makes him a unique warrior.

My few criticisms? Poe’s flashback of self-realization, with all the clips from the previous films seemed a little out of place, but it was at least long enough to get the point across. I think they should have used fewer previous scenes, and maybe drawn some out a little longer instead. Also, I was a little uncertain about the acting in the scene where Poe confronts Shen about his own demons. Too preachy.

I must also speak about the directing of the movie. Jennifer Yuh Nelson is not the first woman to be involved in directing an animated feature from a major studio, but she is the first Asian-born female director to receive sole-credit in directing one. And I have to say she does a fantastic job. It is true that there are few female directors or creators in the animation industry, which is very sad to me, because I know several super-talented female artists, and many who are successful in independent animation. Hopefully, many more will be able to follow Jennifer Yuh Nelson. And some day, the lines will be blurred even more.

I am also thankful that no references to Grandmaster Flash have been made in these movies, due to the name “Furious Five.” As much as I like references to contemporary music, they wouldn’t fit into these movies.

Movies like this give me something to appreciate about commercial animated features. With all the criticisms I’m surrounded by these days, its nice to see something that impresses me.