Thursday, December 30, 2010

Redefining Success

I was raised to believe—like the majority of Americans—that success means making a lot of money, living in a fancy house and driving a fancy car. Period. That's it. That's the entire definition of success in the USA. I've actually been criticized by people close to me for "not making money" and for working at "those" kinds of companies (in other words, unprestigious companies.) I suffered during some of the best time of human life—one's twenties and thirties—worried about making money. That's almost TWENTY YEARS of worrying about earning enough coin so I can not eat cat food when I'm no longer "employed."

Wow, there are so many things wrong with this model, I'm not sure where to begin!

First, success is how you define YOURSELF. You're the only person that can define your success. How can someone else possibly tell you if you're successful or not? If you feel successful, then you are. Period.

Second, I refuse to believe that we spiritual beings—having a human experience here on Earth in the Milky Way galaxy—are here for NO OTHER REASON than to spend our few years alive collecting as many as possible pieces of green paper and trinkets until we die. Does anyone actually say on their deathbed, "Hey, look, my pile of paper and trinkets is bigger than yours!!" Once we die, that paper and trinkets gets transferred to SOMEONE ELSE ANYWAY! So the point was…???

Third, if your identity is what you own, then all I can say is I feel sorry for you. No wonder there are so many miserable people in this country.

I've decided to take a new approach. I've decided that I'm successful because I've either completed or have in some form of production approximately 15 films. 15 FILMS! How many people have done 15 of anything that's valuable except collect 15 pairs of shoes or 15 watches. I'm creating. They're consuming.

I'm successful because my rented studio apartment is rodent and roach free, has 6 windows that face east (sunlight is very important to me) and is located in a safe and clean neighborhood.

I'm successful because I have a plan for my future AND because I'm putting effort and action towards my plan, daily. The first part of that sentence is worthless without the second part. First plan, then take MASSIVE action.

Do not let anyone tell you you're not successful because you don't have Bill Gates dollars or Oprah dollars. It's perverse that in the USA the only way to be successful is at the extreme end. We are, indeed, a nation of extremists. There's no middle ground with us, just one end of the spectrum or the other.

Success is simple—you set a goal and meet it. Period. No one else's opinions matter.

Here's what DIY filmmaker MdotStrangE has to say about this topic.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

TRON (1982) v. TRON: Legacy (2010)

In a nutshell: No contest!

The only way the new version wins is, of course, with the quality of the effects. I am not one of those people who watches movie to see cool effects. I expect more than that from my filmwatching experiences. If, however, you don't demand more than cool effects (and they weren't even that great) and cool music, then TRON: Legacy is for you.

First, I saw this movie in IMAX 3D. Throughout the movie I raised my glasses to see the difference and…there WAS no difference! Even Avatar had more 3D in it and I even felt that was paltry. Honestly, I could've paid considerably less than $22 per ticket to see it in 2D and had the SAME EXACT EXPERIENCE!

Second, the story was weak. The son-searching-for-father storyline was not engrossing mainly because the son came off as a spoiled, rich brat. Also, the thread about the programs entering the real world and taking over had about zero menace to it. I felt absolutely no fear whatsoever from the bad guy and his peeps.

Third, the CGI was orgiastic. Let's say it together folks: just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. Just because you can move the camera around 360 degrees doesn't mean you should. Both the disc battle and the light cycle scenes were ruined with crazy camera work that only succeeded in confusing the audience. Also, the jet wall left behind by the light cycles was not presented as being deathly. The odd choice was made to make the jet walls shimmery and water-like thereby undermining the fact that it's a WALL! We all know what happens when you slam a motorcycle into a wall.

The only positives I can give TRON: Legacy is that it's two hour running time didn't seem interminable and the music, by French group Daft Punk, was truly cool.

I was so disappointed by this film that I watched the original 20th anniversary DVD version upon arriving home. Wow, what a difference. Yes, the effects are cruder and the dialogue is just as cheesy as the sequel, but it had a lot more at stake in the storyline which is what, ultimately, kept me interested.

This movie was the last straw for me. I have vowed to see NO movies in the theater for 2011 with maybe the exception of "The Illusionist." My only doubts about that is the realistic rendering of the characters. That stylistic choice has a tendency to put me to sleep so I originally intended to see this one on DVD. We'll see. But aside from that, I've HAD IT! 3D is a scam to get more money out of us while still telling the same crappy stories. I can't take it any more.

Just more incentive for us to create our own work and get it out there. Let's do it!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Decade Under the Influence—Part 1

I think it's important to dissect this documentary and the ideas expressed in it. The mindset of the film industry during that period produced some of the most memorable and iconic movies of the modern era. I think it's fascinating that a period of openness and experimentation evolved into today's mediocrity, fear of failure and lack of imagination.

Part 1 of the documentary is called "Influences and Independents." The studio system had died; the big studio heads—Louis B. Meyer, Darryl Zanuck, Jack Warner, Harry Cohn, et al—had either died, too, or sold their interests to non-filmmakers. These new studio heads were remarkable, in my opinion, because they knew they knew nothing about filmmaking. Instead of imposing their ignorant will onto the filmmakers—as they do today—they turned to the filmmakers and gave them free rein to do their thing. Imagine that, allowing an artist to CREATE without interference!

There was a new audience at this time, an audience experiencing Vietnam, Watergate, the Civil Rights Movement, the Women's Movement and general social confusion. People were questioning what had not been questioned before. Audiences were looking for something more meaningful and related to their own life experiences as opposed to the Rock Hudson/Doris Day glitz of the 50's. Audiences wanted something they recognized. The filmmakers expressed these feelings with their films.

The movies made during this period often thumbed their noses at the audience's values. They attempted to reflect life as it was as opposed to how the authorities wanted it to be.

I found all of this to be fascinating. As a child of the 70's and early 80's, combined with having a mother who was a film buff, I saw a lot of the social commentary movies from that period. To this day, films from that period are among my favorites. When I go to see a bad movie, like TRON: Legacy (to be reviewed in my next post), I'll often pop in a tape or DVD of "The Graduate" or "Network" to remind myself of what is a good movie.

Clint Eastwood summed things up nicely when he said that when making "Dirty Harry," they threw caution to the wind and just went for it, that they were FEARLESS.

I couldn't agree more.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Decade Under the Influence Reviews to Come

I saw the documentary "A Decade Under the Influence" (2003) several years ago and decided to watch it again. Unfortunately, I realized that the one hour tape I had recorded from tv was only one third of the entire story. Netflix to the rescue!

Now I've finally watched the entire story. And it's a GREAT story. The film is about the origins of the wonderful social commentary movies that were released between about 1969 and 1980. Since I grew up during the '70's with a film-loving mother, I saw a few of these films in the theater and many more when I became older, often due to my mother's recommendations. Movies made in this period—Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Godfather, Midnight Cowboy, Coal Miner's Daughter—just would not get made today. They're the opposite of escapism and don't involve glamourous movie stars. It wasn't about looks or money during that period, it was about expressing the cultural upheaval going on at the time (Vietnam War, Watergate, oil crisis, recession, women's rights, civil rights, etc.)

The studio system had just ended and this milestone unleashed some tremendous creativity and, more importantly, FEARLESS FILMMAKING! Which is the POLAR OPPOSITE of what we have now. FEAR OF FAILURE drives the American film industry. I'm guessing that's why actors ask for so much money up front; if the movie tanks, they want to get something out of it. But if the budgets were lower then the risk would be minimized thereby allowing more fearlessness.

Anyway, the documentary is divided into three sections. I'll talk about what I learned in each section in later posts.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Racist" Cartoons

I just watched on YouTube (thank the gods for YouTube!) three Warner Bros. cartoons that have been banned from television: "Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs", "Goldilocks and the Jivin Bears" and "Uncle Tom's Cabaña."

My primary reason for watching them—aside from them having been censored—was that I was curious about how black women were drawn and caricatured at that time. All of the above films were made in the 1940's. This was THE period of exceptional animation art. For that reason, combined with the fact that there's very little caricature of blacks today, I realized that I could learn from these films. Here are my impressions:

1. The dictionary definition of racist involves superiority, hatred and intolerance. I believe we in the United States confuse racist, prejudice and stereotype too often. For example, the "jive-talking" robots in Transformers 2 were NOT racist. They were a stereotype (no less offensive, but I think it's important to get the terminology correct.) I have the same feeling about the banned cartoons. They are not racist because they don't depict white superiority, hatred or intolerance. What they DO show are stereotypes of blacks: lazy, poorly spoken, shooting dice, zoot suits.

I wasn't offended by these depictions because this was the 1940's for Christ's sake! The one thing that confused me more than offended was the depiction of thick lips. It's not the thickness that bothered me because these are caricatures; exaggerating features is part of cartooning. Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids all had thick lips and no one complained. What I DON'T understand is why both the lips and the palms of the hands were shown with such a light color, beige maybe. The contrast of that color against the brown skin of the characters is jarring and just bizarre. Also, the inner-tube design of the lips was weird. I know that was the common way to show black people's lips but it just looks so…odd.

2. Here's what Bob Clampett said in later years regarding Coal Black, taken from Wikipedia:
Bob Clampett himself explained the evolution of "Coal Black" during his public appearances in the 70s and 80s, and during taped interviews: "In 1942, during the height of anti-Japanese sentiment during WWII, I was approached in Hollywood by the cast of an all-black musical off-broadway production called "Jump For Joy" while they were doing some special performances in Low Angeles. They asked me why there weren't any Warner's cartoons with black characters and I didn't have any good answer for that question. So we sat down together and came up with a parody of Disney's "Snow White" and "Coal Black" was the result. They did all the voices for that cartoon, even though Mel Blanc's contract with Warners gave him sole voice credit for all Warners cartoons by then. There was nothing racist or disrespectful toward blacks intended in that film at all, nor in "Tin Pan Alley Cats" which is just a parody of jazz piano great Fats Waller, who was always hamming into the camera during his musical films. Everybody, including blacks had a good time when these cartoons first came out. All the controversy about these two cartoons has developed in later years merely because of changing attitudes toward black civil rights that have happened since then. Hopefully, someday all this overreaction to these innocently-intended cartoons, which we finished in 1943, will settle down and people will be able to see them in their proper historical context."

After reading this, it suddenly occurred to me what the common failing of these films is: they're not depicting the behavior of real people, just show people. In other words, all of the music-playing, dancing around and zoot suits, that's not how the average black person looked, sounded or behaved; that's how the black ENTERTAINERS of the day looked, sounded and behaved. Clampett developed Coal Black with a group of performers. Instead of them infusing the film with genuine behavior, they fell back on the stock performance behavior of blacks during that period.

3. It was surprising that both So White (that's actually the character's name in the film, much to my surprise. Coal Black is just a reference to her hair color.) and Goldie were not caricatured in the stock way. The only reason I can think for this is that despite them being black, they were perceived first as women. And male animators ALWAYS like to draw their women pretty!

So these films were great for my research. The designs for So White and Goldie look like the usual women from that time with some slight exaggeration in the noses and mouths. They're actually quite cute! I made a lot of screenshots of both from which to borrow for my design of Honey.

One last remark about the films: I don't think these, or anything, should be banned. A disclaimer explaining their historical context would be helpful since so many people are ignorant of history. But outright banning ends up burying history. And it's important—especially in a country with so many immigrants—that NONE of America's history be buried. Everyone should know that there was a time that despite their heroic participation in WWII, black GI's were still portrayed as mushmouthed dwarfs.

Out of the three, I thought Coal Black was the weakest. This surprised me since some animation historians think it's one of Clampett's best. Of course the animation is fantastic but the story was all over the place. Maybe combining the Snow White story and GI's simply didn't work. Uncle Tom's Cabaña was better; it had some clever ideas. I could have done without Little Eva's musical number, though (her facial design, too, I intend to borrow from for Honey.) The Jivin Bears was the standout. It was a fun take on the Goldilocks story and held together the best storywise.

I read that some of these banned films will be coming out on DVD soon. I'll be sure to add that to my collection.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rough Animatic—Luthor & His Joint

I'm making significant progress with what I'm calling the "rough animatic." As I mentioned before (I think), although I was spending time making the animatic look presentable, I began to feel that the attention to detail was preventing me from envisioning the film in its entirety. I was so focused on drawing the characters and backgrounds well that the composition and flow of the story was suffering.

Now that I'm doing the animatic roughly—focusing on the cuts and timing instead of the quality of the drawings—I feel that I'm making better progress. Although I will have to spend the time to redraw the animatic so it looks better, at least I'll have the first version of the scenes complete. I'm kind of looking at this animatic as the "first draft" and the next version as the "rewrite." It works for writing, so why not for animated filmmaking?

Here's a little bit of what I've done:


And according to my current shot list (32 shots including opening and closing credits), I'm currently 40% done.

As of today, my goal is to complete the rough animatic by Jan. 1, 2011.

Here we go!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Practice Can't Make Perfect, Just BETTER!

I was so giddy while working on my rough animatic that I had to note something. With the drawing that I try to fit in on my bus commutes to and from work and during lunch time, I am truly seeing an improvement in my drawing!

I was drawing a few hands and even despite the roughness (which is why I can't show them to you…yet) I could feel and see that I was applying more knowledge to my drawing.

Let's keep practicing and learning!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Don't Fall for This!

First, I just realized that almost all of my blog post titles have exclamation points in them, as if I'm always SHOUTING AT YOU. I'll have to keep that to a minimum in the future.

Second, this was brought to my attention and I wanted to use it as an example to make a larger point. Once again, someone doesn't want to pay people for creating illustrations for them (Amid Amidi complains about this A LOT at Cartoon Brew). Why is art considered by non-artist to be "easy" and not worthy of compensation?

I apologize in advance if I've discussed this topic before but it's worth discussing again.

My advice is that NONE of us should work for free. Doctors, lawyers, police officers and elected officials don't work for free, why should we? I made the mistake of doing graphic design work for free and now feel guilty for contributing to the devaluing of the art industry. Never. Again. I do NOTHING for free and that includes "favors" for friends and family. I always ask for some form of compensation. If my request for compensation is declined, then I decline to do the work (I usually use the "I'm working on a project right now with a tight deadline, blah, blah" as the excuse.)

It's simple—everyone's time is worth something. Artistic endeavors take TIME. Therefore, they are deserving of compensation.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Congratulations to Bill Plympton!

The film "The Cow who Wanted to be a Hamburger", made by independent animation genius, Bill Plympton, was among the 33 animated shorts eligible for Academy Award consideration. Now he's cleared a second hurdle by making the cut to the top 10.

I had the pleasure of being the FIRST person to sign up for (and send a check. That's what really counted!) Bill's FIRST animation school class. And every day that I work on my film, I try to keep in mind all of the tidbits he taught in those 14 weeks.

Best of luck, Bill!