The Most Underrated Man in Hollywood

Let’s not spoil the surprise just yet, but see if you can guess who the most underrated man in Hollywood is before the reveal.

His Achievements

This person’s list of achievements is long over the course of his career. He has received numerous Academy Awards and has risen to a prominent place within a large animation studio.

He has been instrumental in the development of technology that has played such a significant role in the history of animation that without it, things would be quite, nay, substantially different than what we know it as today.

In addition to these achievements, he is also known as a man with a clear vision of the future. He was quite literally decades ahead of his time and his vision for animated entertainment was proven exactly as he envisioned. Naturally, he was astute enough to place himself in roles that would serve this purpose and his arrival at certain companies at particular times was quite fortuitous for both parties.

Today, his technological achievements continue to find widespread use throughout the world, and the films that he helped create rank among the highest grossing animated films of all time.

Although well known within the animation community and afforded some recognition outside of it, this relatively quiet intellectual does not enjoy the same celebrity status that some of his contemporaries do. As such, while his achievements, creations and the films that they have enabled have become synonymous among the public with quality entertainment, this man remains somewhat of a mystery to many of ordinary folks who enjoy his films.

Can you guess who it is?

Yes, it is of course, Ed Catmull.

Via:  Ieee.org
Via: Ieee.org

You probably know who he is, and you definitely know the studio he helped found (Pixar), but his 34 credits on IMDB enormously belie his contributions to contemporary animated films and even to the wider movie industry itself.

Why He Deserves the Title

His Influence is Felt Everywhere

As one of many people behind Pixar, Catmull could be construed as being one of the backroom boys, but this is far from the case. While John Lasseter and others were forging ahead on the creative side, Catmull was heading up the technical side that was making the films possible.

That alone would make him noteworthy if it were not for the fact that he was instrumental in seeing how the technology he was developing could be applied to entertainment. That action puts him right up alongside Walt Disney in his forward thinking. Heck, he was mulling CG animated films in the 1970s, but had to wait until technology advanced enough to make it economical and until he found someone willing to give him the resources necessary to experiment. That person was George Lucas, who was apparently (thankfully) blind to the fact that a rogue computer animator was running around at Industrial Light and Magic.

Although initially Catmull’s software was only suitable for purely animated films, it has since found its way into special FX and today, CG FX often form so much of a film’s on-screen visuals, that they are considered fully animated.

Today, CGI animated films are prevalent. They dominate the American box office and have proliferated into TV shows too. At one point, they were considered to be the sole future for animation with result being that Disney shut down the traditional animation department that made them famous.

His Foresight Rivals His Patience

Although Catmull knew where CG technology would eventually go and what it could potentially achieve, he showed enormous patience as he wound his way through various universities and ILM before Pixar was spun off in 1985. Even then, his goals were not within arms reach. It took a few more years before Tin Toy debuted and showed that computers could make high quality animation.

Catmull’s goal ramained a few years away though. Finally, Toy Story was put into production and became the world’s first entirely CGI-animated film. This was Catmull’s ultimate goal and he only had to wait, what, nearly 20 years for it to reach fruition? That’s a heck of a lot of patience that most people in entertainment could stand to learn from.

His Passion For The Animated Technique, Not Just the Technology

It may be surprising to learn that Ed Catmull has a passion for all animation, not just the CGI stuff he helped develop, but also the traditional stuff too. In fact, when installed as the president of Walt Disney Feature Animation, in conjunction with John Lasseter, he was instrumental in getting traditional features going again at a time when many thought the technique was a dead as silent films.

Why He’s Underrated

As mentioned way up at the top, Catmull resides much more out of the limelight compared to his more publicity-friendly compadres like John Lasseter, Pete Doctor, Andrew Stanton, etc. Many people acknowledge his contribution to what Pixar became, but few seem to acknowledge the wider contributions to animated films and animation in general. Yes, he was not alone in this work, but he is the single link between otherwise disparate people and studios.

Ed Catmull’s grand contribution to modern film should not be overlooked, and that’s why he’s the most underrated man in Hollywood.

Is CGI Really Animation, or is it Puppetry?

Via: MattTrailer

CGI and puppetry. They aren’t as mutually as exclusive as you might think. One would think  that CGI is animation first and foremost, right? It certainly shares a lot of history with our favourite technique, but its continued development and technological improvements seem to be pushing more towards the realm of puppetry.

A great analysis by Lei Adeline over at Smart When Shouting takes hard look at the similarities and the distinctions between the two camps with a conclusion that the reliance on puppetry (especially with motion-capture films like Ted) will spur audiences to better connect with them than films leaning more towards traditional animation.

I agree with Lei insofar as their is a distinction between animation and puppetry that does require audiences to relate in different ways. Animation is inherently “imaginary” whereas CGI (particularly live-action hybrid films) are inherently attempting to make things “real”, as a puppet is.

So is this advancement of CGI to be considered a potential pitfall? I would say not yet anyway. Pixar has become successful by focusing on distinctly non-human characters with which there is much more room for traditional, ‘cartoony’ animation (look at Presto as an example). Heck, even in the Incredibles, Elastigirl was anything but a puppet. However, with other studios and even Pixar itself focusing more on human characters, it is inevitable that they will move towards using puppetry as a base for their characters.

This is sad in many ways, not least because the wonder of animation is in making characters move in a life-like fashion while creating the movement one frame at a time. In exchange for this weakness in the production process, we get some wonderful walking cycles (and in the case of the Nine Old Men, some eccentric ones too).

The worry is that characters will have a propensity to move in more predictable ways, like real actors rather than animated characters. Although it should be noted that Flint Lockwood in Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs was animated with the Muppets in mind, he was the exception, even in that film.

I still cringe whenever I see Flash animation where the characters move on hinge points unnecessarily. A nod of the head sets off a motion that somehow ropes in the rest of the characters body. It drives me daft that such antics are what we are potentially heading towards.

Traditional animation is freedom from such “rules” in that the animator has complete control to do as they pleased (relatively speaking of course). That freedom is seen in every movement (even the bad ones or the screwed-up ones) and adds an extra dimension that puppet-CGI eliminates.

It remains to be seen how things will eventually turn out. Maybe we’ll see CGI animation technology advance to the point where it too acts in a more traditional manner. But until then, CGI is still on the fence.

Electroshock: An Amusing Character Analysis

By way of Broadsheet.ie, Electroshock is a short film in French directed by Hugo Jackson, Pascal Chandelier, Velentin Michel, Bastein Mortelecque and Elliot Maren, all working out of the Ecole Supérieure des Métiers Artistiques (ESMA, or School of Artistic Trades for those of use who prefer Anglais).

Besides being a slick CGI effort and an original take on the superhero tale, Electroshock is also interesting from a character perspective. Have a watch before we start the Electroshock character analysis:

What did you think? Pretty funny no? A nice bit of slapstick mixed with some drama of sorts always makes for a fun film.

Anyway, what did you think of the characters?

Electroshock movie characters

They’re an interesting bunch: the tough-guy sheriff putting on his best sales pitch for the object of his desires, the beautiful and sensitive Mady who has also managed to draw the attention of Buck, the lowly electrician.

Buck is the protagonist, he’s clumsy, he’s clearly got some low self-esteem and he’s very much on the low end of the totem pole when it comes to the ladies. The electric shock he receives from falling from the ladder opens a new facet of his character to us though. He’s also vengeful, cheerfully going about taking the sheriff down a peg or two as soon as he gets the chance.

Beyond that though, he puts forward his best effort. He attempts to do the right thing, we can see that he at least has some heart, but it is all for one reason: Mady. This is even more so the case after he sees her out jogging (in slow-motion of course). Are Buck’s actions selfless or selfish? Ultimately they’re selfish, but his selfless act of throwing himself in front of the truck to save little Niky is what eventually wins Mady over.

However, the sting is in the ending. A year later, and the photographs in the panning shot all but tell the story. Buck is really a [redacted]. He’s clearly a slob, Mady gives him the fourth degree for all his failings(they’re quite a litany), and what does he do? He slows down time to shut her up! Far from winning our sympathy, he’s earned our disgust instead. The six minutes it took him to earn it are completely wiped out in under 10 seconds as we instantly begin to see how Mady was royally duped (the closing shot says it all really).

From a character perspective, Electroshock is unusual in that it has us (the audience) turn against the hero. We’re led down the garden path only to be brought to the outhouse. Yet the short works, we get a laugh and for that we are guilted into pitying the girl. Clearly, you could never get away with this in a feature, but for a short, such a twist works quite well.

By the way, the Electroshock facebook page has a good dose of the concept and original art and is well worth having a look around.

Can “The Chase” By Philippe Gamer Be Considered ‘True’ Animation?

I caught this video over on Cartoon Brew the other day and disregarding the plot and characters for a minute, can it be considered a truly animated video?

Obviously a lot of skill and talent went into creating it, but I felt suitably cheated once the video actually started. You see, the screenshot on the Vimeo emebed below suggests a certain kind of CGI animation, but once you start watching (and this isn’t a spoiler), you realise that the characters are vastly different to the rest of the environment.

Photo-realism is the rule for backgrounds, cars and roads. Even the FX shots appear to ape their live-action counterparts.

Bear in mind this isn’t a rant against this kind of filmmaking, it’s just that if a film like this appears to be so realistic, can it be considered animation, or is it simply an extended FX shot?

Animation encompasses a wide, wide range of styles and simulating reality has been the goal ever since Snow White. Of course anything that simulates motion is animated, but I’m wondering, is it time to draw a line in the sand?  Should animation that aims for photo-realism be given its own category?

What do you think?

 

Mighty Antlers: A Short Film

Tip of the hat to Broadsheet.ie for this one.

Mighty Antlers tells a bit of an abstract story of what happens when a driver sees a deer in the road and decides to gun it. What happens next is not what he expects.

Slightly scary with a few pints of blood thrown around, it’s still quite the accomplished piece. There’s also a production blog and a ‘making of’.

Sabrina The Teenage Witch Gets An Anime CGI Makeover

Whenever some mentions Sabrina the Teenage Witch to me, I immediately think of the live-action version starring Melissa Joan Hart of Clarissa Explains It All fame. Why not the comic I hear you say? Well, I don’t ever remember even hearing of Archie comics in Ireland so you’ll forgive my apparent ignorance.

Anyway, yesterday (Thursday) the news came through the wires (I guess I can still say that and know that people know what I mean) that the much-loved teenage witch was getting a new TV show for the 21st century. Some of you may remember the previous animated incarnation but as a refresher, here’s Sabrina in comic form and the recent animated version for comparison:

Via: TV tropes

Via: MovieWallpaper.net

Pretty similar eh? It’s all quite sugary and cute. So, it would therefore be appropriate for her to get a quote/unquote update:

Via: Comics Alliance

Now this is just concept art so there’s not much point in putting too much emphasis on it at this point. However, such “updates” have been done dozens of times in the past, I thought we’d seen the last of it as every character know to man got the CGI treatment.

It’s somewhat unfortunate that such an “update” is deemed necessary for Sabrina. I mean, as a character, she’s not supposed to embue any particularly strong niches. She’s not a goth, or a hippie or a straigh-A student but rather just an average teenager, right?

Well someone has decided otherwise and has reckoned that either Sabrina is ripe for a change or has simply decided to cash in on the erstwhile goth/vampie trend.

I must point out though, that I was unaware that Archie comics themselves have run a “manga” version of the comic for a while know, so this news isn’t quite a shock to me as it was when I read it first.

All the same, I’m concerned how this “new” Sabrina will be portrayed, whatever about the large eyes and spikey hair, it just seems so out of character for her to sport a “tattoo” (in quotation marks because its true nature is up for debate). Is she now a rebel or a deviant (no offence to any tattooed folks out there)?

We’ll have to wait and see but this doesn’t really strike me as an attempt at an earnest and promising version of the character so much as an attempt to catch up with the latest trends.

Did I forget to mention she now has a cape now too?

Link: Hong Kong Phooey film: let sleeping dogs lie

Via: The Guardian

Stuart Heritage over at The Guardian has a blog post on the announced Hong Kong Phooey live-action movie starring Eddie Murphy as the titular hero.

It’s well worth taking the few seconds to read it (and his suggestions at the end) but here is the standout quote:

The sheen of irony and misplaced nostalgia might have buoyed its reputation in recent years, but the fact is that Hong Kong Phooey was never anything more than a footnote in the story of Hanna-Barbera.

 

Food for Thought: Female CGI Character Designs

Via: DevilCatz.wordpress.com

You would think that over the last 15 years or so, there would be plenty of exciting human character designs put out by the Hollywood studios, what with CGI being a new and exciting field and all. When the idea popped into my head yesterday, I realised that we haven’t seen all that many over the years. Granted, making CGI humans has only really been possible over the last 5 years or so, but even then, the examples have been few and far between.

Take a look at this small sampling:

Ginormica:

Via: Discover Magazine

Sam Sparks

Via: MattTrailer

Colette

Via: DevilCatz.wordpress.com

and Roxanne

Via:megamindmovietrailer.blogspot.com

Elastigirl from The Incredibles doesn’t really count because I don’t consider her as a “normal” human character in the same sense as those above.

Compare those charcters to this one, by Andrew Hickinbottom

Woah! Big difference, eh? You can tell this one has real character, and she looks even more French than Colette!

OK, yeah, they’re all female but I can justify it on the grounds that female characters in general have much more intricate designs and distinguishing features and as a result more often than not represent the best designs in a film. I’m not being biased, just my personal opinion.

If you look back over the years at all the cartoons ever made, good character design can do wonders for your film. I can say with certainty, that when I was young, my mother pretty much hit the nail on the head when she opined that no-Disney animated films really did lack the polished design that Disney’s had. Was that the only thing that hurt their chances, probably not, but I bet it didn’t help them either.

Like I said, it’s still early days so I am hopeful that we’ll start to see more and more explorations of the capabilities that CGI can offer in terms of character design and the level of detail the technology can provide.

Preliminary Thoughts On Disney’s Tangled

Poster from the Internet Movie Poster Awards Gallery

By now you should be aware of Disney’s upcoming film based currently titled Tangled. Those of us who have been following the film for a while know that it was originally supposed to be called Rapunzel and featured the heroine much more prominently than the hero.

Why the change, well Disney felt it had too many upcoming films with female leads and that it would basically be painting itself into a corner it couldn’t afford.

Perhaps this is true, but perhaps boys just aren’t attracted to “girly” films rather than films with females as the protagonists. There is a difference between the two. Plenty of Disney films in times past have featured female leads: Pochahontas, The Little Mermaid, The Aristocats (animals count!), Lady & the Tramp and of course, Snow White. As far as I know, plenty of boys liked those (even if they would never admit it publicly).

Disney’s argument is that boys don’t contribute enough to the gross of such films. Poppycock I say! They do, just not in ways that Disney expects them to, in other words, in giggling groups at the cinema on a Friday night. So what if they don’t contribute at the box office, that isn’t where most films make their money anyway. But that’s the subject of a post for another day.

A balance is of course necessary between male and female leads, which is why Pixar will is finally getting around to correcting their off-kilter slate of films. However, I think it is foolish to dramatically change a film when it is well through the stages of production. That’s a waste of resources and amounts to changing the destination when you’re halfway there. It would make more sense to change your next destination and plan accordingly.

The film will do well regardless, I just wish studios would be a bit braver and not pander to demographics and their supposed tastes in the chase for a quick buck. Better to make a good film that will stand the test of time than to one that will date quickly with people regardless of gender.