Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Disney Quitting 2D Animation Rant

Want to hear some fun news I heard recently? Apparently Disney aren't making any 2D films anymore as far as any of their staff are aware.

And what is the reason for this that's been given? Money apparently. It seems that Disney's last two 2D films, Winnie the Pooh in 2011 and Princess and the Frog in 2009, didn't quite make enough box office returns as they'd've liked. Winnie the Pooh for instance, made a mere £128m when it was released, which obviously means that it's a dying art form and losing public interest apparently.

I have an alternate theory why 2D films don't make as much money nowadays. Maybe it's because in the past three years, two 2D films were released for cinema that I know of, 'Winnie the Pooh' from Disney and 'Arrietty' from Studio Ghibly, and I didn't go to see either of them because I never saw them advertised until long after it had been released, and my local cinema stopped showing them, if they ever showed them at all. But I can remember things like Bolt being advertised like crazy.

In fact, I looked up how much Arrietty made in the UK box office out of interest and apparently it made a mere £76,000 because it was only shown in 61 cinemas across the country. And I can see a problem straight away, of the two 2D animated films released in the cinemas in the past few years, one of them was shown in less than 8% of the UK's cinemas, it's therefore no wonder that companies like Disney think that nobody wants to see 2D animation anymore. Winnie the Pooh was even established to have been a moderate box office success completely in spite of the fact that it was released in close proximity to the last Harry Potter film and several superhero films.

So let's look a little bit deeper here, what they claimed was money, that's probably still true. 2D animation is very time consuming and expensive and much more difficult than 3D animation, so what studios are doing is pushing for something that's artistically relevant, but also easy and cheap to make, so naturally 2D would take second place every time, despite being equally artistically valid as 3D. That's not to say that I think 3D is cheap and easy though, half of Pixar's resume are my favourite animated films ever made, and having done 3D animation myself, I can say that it's difficult, but still easier than 2D animation.

The sad part of this is that 2D animated films probably will fade into obscurity because of lazy companies. Because it's long been established that the only film company out there who care consistently about art and story are Pixar, and they make 3D films because they started out as a software company who just happened to have better writers than the average film studio. Studio Ghibli is all we have to rely on, just as soon as they bother to distribute the bloody things.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Felidae + Previous Blog

Before Reading:

Just a small disclaimer before I do the actual review. The rest of this post is actually taken from another blog of mine that I did a while back, it was a College project that I was mandated to do as part of the coursework, and I was set to write about art that interested me as well as the coursework.

I ended up abandoning that blog after it stopped being necessary for the coursework because they were demanding that I post about the works and topics that didn't interest me, and didn't seem particularly interested in hearing about the things I was interested in. So I moved back to this blog because I'm more at ease to post things in my own time and of my own interest here.

The main review, written the 9th September 2012

In my continuing quest to find interesting animated films to watch, a stumbled onto a German production called Felidae, I could cheat and sum it up in maybe two sentences, but I won't do that, I'd like to think I have more to say about it than that. So I'll just jump right in.

Francis and his unseen owner see their new abode.


Plot-wise, the film is essentially an animated film  noir throwback. But instead of a private eye with a growling voice deeper than the devil's wine celler (Stop stealing jokes from Zero Punctuation Kris) it instead stars an ordinary housecat. In itself an interesting xenofiction (Fiction written from the point perspective of a none-human character) premise in the style of 'The Secret of NIHM' and 'Watership Down'.

The Cat, named Francis, is exploring his new home he and his owner recently moved into, when he spots the corpse of another cat. A third cat, named Bluebeard, informs him the corpse is the most recent in a string of housecat murders. But since they're cats, they don't have the intelligence nor manpower to solve 'The Case'. Except for Francis, who uncovers a sinister plot that threatens to tear apart the very…...well that part's kind of stupid plot-wise so I won't say anymore.

As I was getting to, the film is a Mature Cartoon Animal film, I.E, a film that start cute animated animals in grim, tortuous, and dare I say, realistic environments. In Watership Down, it was the rabbits evading their predators, in NIHM, it was the Mice trying to avoid environmental disasters, and in Felidae, it's some cats..solving a murder. It's not quite xenofiction, but it's still  interesting.

Unlike the mentioned films, the writers decided to ramp up the violence levels by several magnitudes, so many people will probably be put of if I mention there are countless realistic Cat 
corpses in this film. And I mean, you see them decapitated, disembowelled, electrocuted, hung. It's not a pretty site, and no amount of "Oh, it's just a cartoon." will convince many people otherwise. Trust me, it's not suitable for kids, I'm 18 and I'm not quite sure it was suitable for me.

Favorite  Moments

My favourite two pieces of the film  are both centred around something repulsive happening in an animated and impossible, but realistic manner, both of which I'll describe.

The first is a scene in which Francis has a nightmare about the unseen puppet master of the events of the film, he hangs a large group of cats by their limbs and controls them like marionettes. If the hills turning red with the blood of a hundred rabbits in Watership Down wasn't gruesome enough, then this should be fine. Art wise, the scene is very artistic and expressive, and very unlike the clean-cut style of the rest of the film, the rest of the film's animation falling short of Disney's standards in the Lion King or Aristocats, but this one scene blows those films out of the water for two gruesome and magnificently realised minutes of the film. That scene's on Youtube here (Do not click unless you're overage or really desensetised against Animal cruelty, however fake it is.).

My other favourite scene, to jump in bluntly, is essentially Francis and a random Egyptian cat mating in full view of the camera in another few worryingly detailed moments. What I like is, which I'll elaborate on later, is that they both move in the manner that mating cats would, Francis bites the scruff of the female cat's neck, gets behind her and then they bob up and down for half a minute, but the look on their faces are the expressions of humans, it just makes the scene for me. The whole scene's right here.

Call me a weirdo for being artistically invested in an animation of two cats doing it, but it truly has to be seen to be believed. I guarantee there is no scene like this in any other film.

Here's Francis and Bluebeard having a bath to wash that image from your brain.

Art and Animation

Art wise, the rest of the film is actually rather bland, there are an awful lot of dark backgrounds against dark characters, which WOULD fit with a film noir style if anything was distinctive (See Batman: The animated series for a good example of film noir in animation form.) the only distinctive elements of the film besides the aforementioned sequences would be some of the characters designs, but if the character doesn't have a speaking role, expect them to be the same roughed up looking, brownish cat with a mildly angry look on their face. 

Back to the animation though, the animation on this film, like I said, is a league below the likes of Disney's standards. While they do an excellent job of  mimicking Disney's way of making the movement of the characters exclusively animalistic, E.G. they perform animal-like gestures, have animal-like gaits etc. This film copies some of those aspects, and in some cases goes beyond, such as a scene in which Francis brutally murders a rat of questionable sentience in a very realistic manner. Or indeed the prior mentioned sequence of the mating cats.


Felidae was a truly bizarre film to watch, both for the sheer gall of the story and the more violent sequences. I would probably watch it again regardless, and I would definitely encourage this sort of film if I had a position of power in the industry, though that would probably rob this film and all similar films of the uniqueness they share.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Wreck-It Ralph

I wasn't really sure what to expect of Disney's Wreck-It Ralph, from the trailers, it had elements of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Toy Story and the Nightmare Before Christmas, all good, unique films and therefore sounded unoriginal and uninspired, the glimpse of the plot didn't give me hope either. So it's a character given a villainous role in their life yearning for more out of their world of colourful characters, and desire to be free from being treated differently by the populace, it sounded as if Tim Burton himself wrote it.

Then however, I took the time to actually watch the film at the recommendation of several warm reviews and found to be unexpectedly good, whilst still containing obvious signs of studio mandated genericness. Quick summary of the plot, Wreck-It Ralph is a video game character trapped in the never ending monotony of being ostracised from his society for forever playing the role of the villain and being defeated by the hero of the game, Fix-It Felix. Longing for a different role in life he seeks to become the hero of another story by entering other games and earning a medal of valour of some kind. Now that SOUNDS like a pretty generic story, in fact that's literally just the plot of Nightmare Before Christmas with added 'Generic Disney Princess Personality' to the character of Ralph, but it somehow makes it work.

One of the first things I'd like to say about this film is that the creators have Pixar's gift for greatly diversifying their original characters in terms of both personality and appearance, they all have a greatly unique feel about them, the kind I haven't seen since I watched Pixar's Wall-E, and it was just hugely enjoyable to see what they'd come up with next, despite a relatively generic starting point.

I think my favorite instance of design matching character has to be Jane Lynch's character of Sergeant Calhoun, the 'Samus Aran crossed with female Commander Shepard' kind of looking character who lives in a rail shooter game about space marines, it was the kind of occasion when the designers and animators seem to base the character entirely on the voice actor's appearance and physical manner of reading the lines, and as a result I had a lot of fun watching these characters. It was definitely clear to me that the artists working on this film hugely enjoyed what they were doing, I mean, there were jokes hidden within the very animation itself, I think that sentence alone should be evidence enough that not all of Disney are emotionless vampires.

Having said that though, there are a few small complaints I could make about the film, for instance I hate to say it but Ralph himself is relatively boring, he's easily the least interesting character in his own film which is a problem whenever I have to care about him and his easily fixed conflict. His story doesn't really consist of character growth on Ralph's part, it's just the fact that the civilians in his game hate him for no specific reason beyond that vague 'Nondenominational fictional racism' that too many films use. His interactions with the other characters strongly remind me of Megamind and Sully from Monsters Inc, and as I mentioned earlier his initial character arc is strongly reminiscent of Jack Skellington's virtually identical character arc in Nightmare Before Christmas in which he longs for a different purpose in life than the one he was given. 

Back to the good parts of the film though, like the humour for instance. The good thing about the jokes in this film, is that they doesn't take the usual route of really dumb video game puns like those old Saturday Morning cartoons like the Super Mario Bros Super Show used to have, the jokes are all relevant to gaming concepts of the modern age and don't make any reference to outdated gaming systems like 'lives' or 'scores' or 'levels'. There are several jokes made at the expense of darker, more modern games for example and seem to glorify the older fashioned retro games of the 80's, Sergeant Calhoun in particular being a kind of Pastiche of modern gaming heroes who wear armoured suits, stick to violent methods and have unthinkably tragic backstories to justify such action, though since this is still a PG film, it doesn't go all the way with that joke.

So if you can get past the genericness of the core plot and the suffocatingly Disney-like atmosphere of the film, the characters are hugely enjoyable to watch even if they're not really on that big a journey, the art is excellent and had me wondering what on Earth they'd show me next, and the story, whilst occasionally childish and indulgent and often lacking in a concrete direction, isn't necessarily too kiddy for older audiences either, I mean I'm 19 and I went to see this film with my Dad and we both enjoyed it.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

The Art of 'Redline'

I had quite a lot of optimism about Redline, it's a film about racecar drivers on another planet made by the animation Studio Madhouse. They're the creator of Death Note and Highschool of the Dead, two of my favorite Anime series, and the film appeared to have the random hyperactive story of Gurren Lagann, another one of my favorite Anime series. This would mean that this story has a happy ending in which I declared it my new favorite Animated film of all time for the next month or so before I changed my mind.

This is not what happened though. I originally wanted to watch this film on the strength of its line art being incredibly sharp and the animation being rather smooth. But on closer examination, it happened that it was ruined by the fact that the colouring gave me a headache, its basically the brightest colours you've heard of, against pitch black, and it's always pitch black no matter what the light levels would theoretically be.

This particular review/blog post is not like a typical blog post in which a viewer discusses a film, instead it's me critiquing a specific aspect of the art style of the first 20 minutes because I couldn't watch further than that without feeling ill. It was kind of like a Jackson Pollock painting, everything's the same colours blended together so it seems like there's no focal point to the composition, there probably IS composition in the frames but the fact that the foreground and background are the same colours and just blend together into a blur make it a downright pain to watch. It looks like a crowd of people of varying sizes rather than giving any sense of depth, not a good look for a film about racecars, because it means everything moves around a lot and it's nigh on impossible to understand what's going on.

As mentioned earlier, I like the Anime Gurren Lagann quite a lot, and the opening to Redline was similar to one of the fight scenes from Gurren Lagann, it's random, hyperactive and has strange internal logic. But what Studio Gainax, the animators for Gurren Lagann understand, is that if your story involves randomness, then your presentation of that randomness needs to be absolutely as crystal clear as possible, otherwise it just feels childish and devoid of tact, and Gurren Lagann showed a lot of tact, and this is the Anime where there's a solar system sized pink tank with breasts fighting a creature the size of a galaxy that I'm talking about here. THAT has more tact because it is always clear what's going on in those scenes because everything is clear and distinct.

Now, if this were a professional article that I'd get payed for, I'd be obligated to qualify my opinions on the art and show it to you, but I'm not going to that because if you were to look at the art as screenshots, you would wonder what was so headache inducing about them. It's been said about Redline that every frame could be a wallpaper and that's exactly right, you'd definitely frame them and put them on your wall because they are well drawn, but in motion you get to see them for a split second and that's it, it's a  hard film to critique in screenshots.

Shame really, I like Madhouse, I like their adaptations of Death Note and Highschool of the Dead, they showed much more restraint with their colour palettes there. Death Note for example, used a lot of very subtle tones on account of the plot being very intricate and well crafted, and in Highschool of the Dead they used saturated yet fairly realistic tones despite the fact that the story's about the main characters losing their moral shackles and murdering a load of zombies to stay alive. It's clearly atypical of Madhouse to use this style, which makes me wonder what on Earth happened to them during this film. Must've been watching Yellow Submarine or Dead Leaves, both of which are equally headache inducing to watch.

Whatever, long story short, I can talk an awful lot about colour palettes apparently.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

The Premise
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is an animated film spun off from Batman: The Animated Series, and in risk of letting you assume that there's not a lot to what I'm saying, I won't disguise my opinion of this film for longer than the next sentence. I really like Batman: Mask of the Phantasm too, it's a pretty good animated film, and as a Batman film, second only to The Dark Knight.

The reason for this comparison is because while The Dark Knight has very interesting themes, characters and stories, I never really felt any concern or empathy for any of them. In that film, Batman is attacked several times, has a good friend die and another turn away from the side of good, and generally has a load of bad stuff happen. but I was never really bothered, I was disconnected from the characters and just looked at the events rather than the characters causing them, with the exception of the Joker (Who admittedly is my favourite Joker.), because as Batman says in 'Begins, "It's not who I am underneath, but what I do that refines me." which apparently extends to include Christopher Nolan's views on screenwriting.

But in Mask of the Phantasm, I was sad every time Batman was, and Batman's melancholy in this film, everything that happens to him as a character I felt too. It even makes me think back to the "Cat and the Claw." episode of Batman: The Animated Series in which Batman falls in love with Catwoman's alter ego, discovers her identity and then realises he has to arrest her anyway, knowing he can't let his emotions get in the way of his duties as The Bat.

The reason this episode comes to mind is because the story, besides being an origin story for the Animated Batman, is also a love story between a pre-Batman Bruce Wayne, and a character called Andrea Beaumont. The story is about Bruce's struggle between wanting a normal life with Andrea, and wanting to begin his war on crime as Batman, he doesn't initially want to make the choice, but later has the choice made for him. The rest of the film is about Batman tracking down the killings of a new vigilante in Gotham City called 'The Phantasm', whilst Andrea returns to Gotham City. The whole plot is a very character driven story for Batman in particular.

The Art
Moving on from the magnificently told story, my opinion on the art, animation and character design is less warm. Oh, it's all still as good as the series this film's based on, but I expected the film, being a theatrical release in the Cinemas, would have smoother animation, sharper art and less grainy colour cels. But it looks exactly the same as the main series, and the main series isn't bad, the animation is always good, just hindered by the frame-rate being around 12 FPS, and the actual art is always really interesting to look at, just hindered by the fact that the people who capture the frames on camera are notorious for having lots of low quality shots and lots of dust motes on camera that apparently they didn't notice when editing the film, due in no small part to the Animators being in the more unique position of drawing the backgrounds onto black paper to ensure the series is visually very dark.
The above problem tends to fluctuate though, some shots are much better quality, and the animation on the opening credits is the best iteration of Gotham City I've seen in a good long while.

In summation of the animation, it's at the level of a well animated TV series, I can excuse the framerate because lots of Disney features are the same speed, but the overall quality of the captures of the frames kind of drag the film down and make it look much older than it actually is.

Overall though, despite my 'meh' opinion on the art side of things, I would definitely consider Mask of the Phantasm to be a film to watch, whether you're a Batman fan, an animated film fan, or even a fan of Drama-ish dramas, it's one of the few films that can claim to have had an impact on me.

So if you haven't seen this film but want to challenge your opinion of The Dark Knight, watch this film, see if you agree with me.