Monday, June 1, 2009

Class 410

June 1st, one month since my last post. The two person dialogue is in refining stage (one step after blocking). Time is fast becoming a rare commodity and in a couple of weeks will be the end of the semester. Nicole's Q&A sessions is something I look forward to because she fills it with useful and informative lessons. The time I enjoy the most is the "torture time" as she refers to it. That is when she'd randomly cam a student and gives him/er a line describing the start of a scene then the student builds the story from there. She then would cam the next student who must keep the continuity of the story and so on. This is an invaluable practice to exercise the imagination and story telling techniques in preparation for the next class.

Other happenings; watched the Battle for Terra, a CG animated feature that my Class 3 mentor, Kevin Koch and AM student Harry Porudominsky worked on. The movie was good but by no means a blockbuster. It is, however, a major accomplishment for the independent film house Snoot (toons spelled backwards). I think the story lacked a way to relate to the alien characters. A humorous situation or some drama that could bring the alien world to terms that we can understand could have helped establish an emotional link with the characters. The animation, as good as it was, felt restrained (a director's choice), to the chagrin of the animators who were working on it I'm sure. I find it strange, in this golden age of CG animated features, that story (or great story for that matter) can still be overlooked by some producers. An entire section has been dedicated to story in the animation bible The Illusion of Life. So how could an animation producer miss this fundamental part of movie making? PIXAR built its foundation on story and they make no secret of it. They are enjoying the same success that Disney enjoyed in their hayday. Just watched UP last weekend in theater and it is proving to be yet another hit. "A good story cannot be ruined by poor animation, but neither can a poor story be saved by the very best animation"; (The Illusion of Life, chapter 14, p. 367) It is that simple premise that makes memorable animated features. I can only hope that future production houses keep that as the minimum standard to adhere to, especially in today's society of jaded movie goers and skyrocketting production costs.


Robert said...

An entire section has been dedicated to story in the animation bible The Illusion of Life. So how could an animation producer miss this fundamental part of movie making?

My theory... story is REALLY hard. He didn't miss it so much as he didn't get it well done.

Story is an Art. Some people have an "eye" for it, like the story people at Pixar. The rest of us sort of try to follow their tracks, we make a checklist of required elements based on what we saw them do, but never get it together on the same level.

I didn't catch BFT specifically, but that's my take on story in animation.

Or maybe the guy just didn't read "Illusion of Life". ;-)

On the other hand, watch "Robin Hood" or "The Aristocats" and you'll conclude they had no business lecturing anyone about story.

Dhar said...

Thanks Robert; I always appreciate your intellectual insight and constructive criticisms.

I agree with you that story is an "art", but it really doesn't have to be hard. There are many books and seminars out there that have deconstructed the elements of great stories and codefied it in a way that makes it possible for anyone with a smidgen of imagination to tell great stories. The problem with BFT, I think, is that it missed a fundamental part of character build up; relativity. I simply could not relate to the aliens, their concerns, their feelings etc. which I found to be a surprising element to miss. Take, for example, Planet 51, the part where the hamburgers catch on fire as the aliens are frozen speechless at the sight of the visiting human. Granted that the two genres are different (drama vs comedy), but a simple little detail that the viewer can relate to is all that is needed to establish an emotional connection.

Robin Hood and the Aristocats marked the desperate times in Walt Disney Studios history, but that does negate their astute observation on the importance of story which was Walt's strongest trait.

I can only hope that Snoot has learned a valuable lesson from their first major picture and I wish them only success in their next venture. PIXAR does not have a monopoly on successful story telling techniques, they're just relentless!

skarab said...

Hi Dhar- Whoever said "A good story cannot be ruined by poor animation" never saw Ralph Bakshi's 1970's attempt at "The Lord of the Rings"!

By the way, "Battle for Terra" was mentioned in an article in Tuesday's NY Times ( on smaller animation studios making inroads in the feature film market.

Someone mentioned that $70 million is not a "small" effort, but it will be interesting to see if there's a trend developing in this direction.

Robert said...

Well, I'm reading story expert books now, including Robert McKee's "Story". He's supposed to be the Hollywood god of story.

We'll see if a brilliant screenplay pops out of me after I finish these.