October 5, 2009

Two films competing at the Reanimania festival are relentless in their vision. The Canadian Edison & Leo by N. Burns and the Brazilian Passaros by Filipe Abraches.

You have not seen a film like Edison & Leo before; a stop motion feature that takes extreme liberties with the life story of Thomas Edison. It does so with plenty of dark humor contained in a father-and-son narrative that surpasses Darth Vader and Luke’s in dysfunctionality. Edison is portrayed as a cheating, robbing and selfish husband/inventor/father. After alienating his older son, accidentally killing his wife, he electrically charges his younger son, Leo, and calls him his “greatest invention”. Electric Leo grows up unhappy until the day he decides to challenge his father. Along the way, many instances of John Watersesque drama occur. There’s even an attack by the Pasana tribe on the Edison house.

Passaros is a hand drawn short film that makes powerful use of bird motifs. An elderly woman feeding hundreds of caged birds on her rooftop receives a younger, male guest. As they dine together, authority figures barge inside the kitchen, sack the man and lock him in one of the woman’s cages. After being freed by the woman, the man whose face has come to resemble that of a bird’s, reaches the edge of the building and decides to flee for his life. The close ups of birds, coupled with the mastery of shapes in the animation (watching the woman dicing and preparing the bird dinner is intense) are what give this dialogue-less film its unique eeriness.

Another noteworthy film competing in the short film competition is Desanimé by Anne Leclerq. This puppet animation dealing with loneliness relies on micro-movements such as eye twitches to put the viewers in the emotional space of the protagonist, a young woman. The film also cleverly combines animation with live action. In a couple of exterior shots near the end of the movie, the woman walks amongst crowds of live action. She clearly looks like she does not belong with these people, but that is the point: she’s a secluded person. The combination of both mediums dramatacizes the emotion.

On day 2 began MARANI, Reanimania’s animation market. The company that started it off was Touch Fx, a local animation studio. There are not that many animation studios in the Caucasus region. According to Touch Fx, there aren’t any that specialize in high quality CG feature animation. None besides them: Touch Fx is a commercial effects studio turning to feature production. They have two movies on the way: Kukaracha, a co-produced animation with Russia and The Kam, a mo-capped cowboy movie that is completely theirs. Tests sequences from both movies looked impressive and entertaining. Touch Fx churns out a lot of work with a small staff. A couple of talented directors, one IT and effects guru, one art department lead, one character and setup lead, one senior animator and a handful of modelers, riggers and junior animators. Even the CEO of the company, Vahe Sarkissian, models in his spare time. All of this as they do advertisement spots here and there. The company plans to finish both films in the next two years. I believe Touch Fx will go far but not without presenting themselves better. Their demonstration could have been prepared better: sure the lady with the butterfly wings welcoming the attendees looked cute, but she was not distracting people from the fact that a Q & A session was absent from the showcase.

What you did not want to miss after Touch Fx was the second part of Yoshi Tamura’s workshop entitled “2D Animation: Motions and Emotions”. Mr. Tamura, a feature animator with a credit list that includes The Princess and the Frog, Igor and Tarzan shared many of his secrets with a group of ten inquisitive animators at the Naregatsi art center. What made Tamura’s workshop interesting was his insistence on researching poses and thinking about the filmmaking aspects of a given scene before actually animating. In brief, here is the method Tamura elaborated on during the workshop:

-Understand the movie you’re working on, know its logline and believe in it.

-Get to know the characters you are working on. Even if they are secondary, know what their psychology and motivations are.

-Do thumbnail drawings of the scene you are working on. Mr. Tamura spends half his time doing thumbnails. He calls this the fun and research stage, and believes that you are never wasting your time doing thumbnails: this is how you obtain the best acting and composition for your scene.

-Refer to your own life experience when thumbnailing your poses. This will help the audience refer to their own when watching the movie.

-Discuss you work with your supervisor and move on to the next stage: the pose test.

-The pose test is a rough animation that features only timing and spacing of thumbnail drawings or models if working in 3d. This stage shapes the animation style of the motion.

-After discussing the scene, move on to the first pass of animation which features the main poses (or accents) of the animation. At this stage you will include accel/deceleration and again review your work: your timing can longer change so you might have to get rid of secondary accents from your animation if they are not legible.

-After more feedback, go to the 2nd pass and add details such as facial animation.

The example Tamura used to explain this methodology was a short sequence from Igor in which Pinky is talking to and pointing at Brain.

In this Youtube clip, Yoshi Tamura breaks down a shot he worked on from Flushed Away in which the protagonist is angrily banging his phone against wall. Mr. Tamura does a great job in explaining how the filmmaking aspects of the shot (the camera framing and the audience’s identification with the character) defined the poses he used in the animation of the character. Along the way, he also touches upon a difference between working in 3d and 2d.

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