Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are- Some Further Thoughts

I was sick over the weekend, and couldn't see it then, as I wanted to.

But I played hooky from school this afternoon, and got to see it. For me, it really delivered. I loved its particular pace, its distinctive and unusual pacing, and how determined the film was to keep the drama down at "kid level". Essentially, much of the drama that unfolds is schoolyard in nature. There are relationships established, then broken, then mended. There are alliances and factions that struggle and pull apart... then collide together again.

When I was a kid, in the course of one school day I would go from being mortal enemies with certain classmates at morning recess, to being on the same team in a game of football at lunch, to happily recounting an episode of Airwolf from the night before during afternoon recess, then back to enemies by home time. Then the same drama, the NEXT day (only different).

This films builds its drama from this perspective. Its the story of kids (albeit most of them monsters), playing and living with each other, and learning (to certain degrees) about themselves and the world, through this interaction.

The drama never goes epic in a typical Hollywood sense, and I found that so refreshing. There's no alien menace. No 80 foot tall hamster... no overt, mindless spectacle. The drama is all about emotional states of being, and feelings.

There's no wise-cracking, no catch phrases. No one gets hit in the crotch, and there's no fart jokes. There's no Cuba Gooding Jr., either. It's a terribly honest, earnest, heartfelt film, thank God.

The complexity to the characters and their relationships is another facet of the film that deeply impressed me.

For example the main monster, Carol, doesn't fit any simple mould. He's not the "tough guy". He's not "the wimpy but smart guy". He's not the "bad guy." He ranges from being an equal of Max (the main character) in terms of intellect, to being a loyal subject of Max a few minutes later. In time, he reveals father-figure aspects, particularly in a wonderful scene when he reveals to Max his "hobby", a miniature world of tiny sticks and mud (shades of any Dad's basement train set).

Carol is also father-like in his physical size and strength, and temper. And so within this one character, we find facet after facet that continues to build his complexity throughout the story.

We later find outright rage and jealousy in Carol, stemming from a refusal to accept that things in life change. Carol behaves like a frustrated child (bringing back to the forefront his childlike nature that we first found him exhibiting), but now it carries with it a truly frightening potential for harm from powerful teeth and claws.

Carol is manic: he is a crying child, he is a raging adult, he is truly a "wild thing"... and he is utterly fascinating as a result.

This character complexity is carried onward to each of the monsters, and it was with deep pleasure that I found myself getting to know them (for better and for worse) over the course of the film.

There's much more I could say about what I loved (since I loved everything). But a few other thoughts, in particular:

- the GUTS this film has, to be so honest, and straightforward, and to NOT pander (to studio expectation and the expectation of a dumbed- down multiplex audience) for SPECTACLE. for BOMBAST. for EXPLOSIONS, AND WISECRACKS AND FLIPPPANT, TOSSAWAY CONTENT (all the caps are very much meant to be obnoxious. blame Hollywood).

-the character design, fabrication, and blending of physical effects and cg. It's hands down the best I've ever seen. It's shocking, terrifying, and wonderful, all at the same time. There's a play with scale in terms of facial features that makes you feel like what a baby must see adults as- all eyes and noses and teeth.

- the character animation. More effective, in terms of drawing an emotional response from the audience, than any similar efforts I've witnessed. I fell in love with each character, and stayed in love, for every scene.

- the devotion to bringing Sendak's world to feature-film richness, as opposed to a "Jonze and Eggers" world. The production did its homework, in terms of knowing larger themes, imagery, and concepts that run throughout Sendak's work (not just WTWTA), concepts such as playful scale, and oral obsessions (eating, being eaten). I bet the Lindbergh baby's even in there somewhere (I'll find it eventually). Would Terry Gilliam have been so respectful? Robert Rodriguez? Or would they have taken the slim original story and inflated it with their own personal imagery/obsessions.

I'm not truly satisfied at the movies very often. Hardly at all, in fact. By "satisfied" I mean that when I hope and hope and hope that a new release will GET me, will really move me, deeply, it almost never delivers.

For me, this film proves that it's OK to still have a little hope that movies still matter.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

More on Wild Things

Wow, I hadn't read this before posting what I just posted. It's also from aintitcoolnews.com, and it's actually very funny. It largely points out what this film is NOT (meaning, how Hollywood's slime-dripping machine has been kept at bay). It nails things wonderfully.

Anyway, there's a theme running in what people are saying: the film transports them back to childhood... and that the film is remarkable.

Where The Wild Things Are- Opening This Weekend

I've written before about my excitement for this film. You can find it under the label "Movies".

But now it's coming up on opening weekend, and I'm getting nervous. I want it to be everything I hope it will be, but mainstream movies so rarely deliver perfection (or near perfection). So maybe it won't live up. I'll write a review and/or insights after I see it, which I hope will be this weekend.

I plan to see it alone, so I can simply experience the film for myself.

There's tonnes of stuff in print and online about the production, there's a nice little behind-the-scenes thing as well, through Apple trailers. Then there's the trailer itself.

That trailer is why I am hoping so highly. Every time I watch it (and I've watched it approximately four times now), I choke up. And I don't know why. It's too beautiful, too powerful, too much emotion to NOT choke up, I guess. It has something to do with how confidently and honestly the trailer seems tapped in to childhood experience.

As a new Dad, I often see my son (who is 17 months) looking up at my while I'm doing dishes or making a meal, and think to myself "Wow. I can remember seeing my Mom from that same angle. And I can remember how wonderful and safe that felt." So as a new Dad I'm constantly reminded of childhood, but it's just incredibly rare for a work of art to hit it so strongly.

I suppose it's a bit like when a beautiful piece of music moves you to tears. You could try to break the music down into its component parts to figure out why its effect you that way. But all that really matters is that something you've come across has had the power to move you deeply and profoundly.

When I watch the trailer, I feel like I'm a kid again. It's as simple as that. And I don't mean in a Robert Rodriguez sort of way- "Cool explosions! Monsters! Fun! Better than math homework!" Those films are made by well- intentioned adults to make simple entertainment for kids.

I mean this trailer feels, sounds, and for all I know, smells like childhood. I'm transported, and it touches me so much. The trailer makes me want to scream and laugh and cry and hide and throw things all at the same time. It scares me, and it enthralls me and it amazes me, all at once.

It's not just me. Read this. It's a review from aintitcoolnews.com

I need to stress, I think this website is far from critical when it comes to films. It likes everything, it seems. But this review is written from such a personal, touching place. I think this movie is doing that to people. It's making adults see and live like kids again (if only for a few hours of screen time).

So I'm going to keep hoping, and see it as soon as I can.

If I can't hope, why keep making or watching movies?

Update to follow...

Friday, October 9, 2009

TFS-GreenScreen Part1

Boy am I glad I video taped a lot of stuff back in the spring when I was in production. Now, I can just upload videos, and still feel like I'm keeping my blog alive (when I don't have much time to actually write postings).

Anyway, about this video- green screening (or bluescreening) are pretty common practice in stop motion. You use it for all sorts of reasons. In this example, I am using green screen because the final shot would be too complex to shoot all in front of the camera at one time. The shot entails 4 characters, separately entering the frame, spinning down down down into a vortex of insanity... then, a flood of rabies cells grows from the centre of the vortex, and eventually swarm the whole frame. Try THAT all at once, in front of the camera. And have fun in HELL.

So instead I shot the vortex as a cycle of animation. It was just a card painted to look like a vortex, that I did about 20 frames of animation on, until I had a nice cycle. That would be the background element.

Working towards the camera from the background, the next layer of elements is 4 different puppets. I shot them all on their own, on a green background. I had them posed and animated imagining that later, they would be digitally brought into the frame in the extreme FG, and rotated and scaled down (as if falling away into a vortex).

The final element was a whole bunch of clay rabies cells, each animated this time on bluescreen. They would all be composited together and scaled accordingly, to create the swarm effect.

They were shot on BLUE instead of green, simply because the rabies cells were green themselves. If they were shot on a green background, it would be nearly impossible to crop them out from the background. So that is often why green is used, or blue is used- if the characters have a colour that's the same as the bg, trouble will ensue in post.

I guess an important thing to realize is- sometimes camera/lighting people lose themselves in setting up a green or blue screen. They get really picky, and overly insane about the light on the screen. There are some important things, covered in the video, but it can also be VERY simple and easy. Compositing software makes the cropping process very easy. In the past I've had very impressive results with just some iMovie plugins, a table lamp, and a piece of blue construction paper!

That being said- working smart at the production stage is what makes it "easy" in post. So hopefully this video will help in that sense.

I'll post a "Part 2" another time...

Friday, October 2, 2009

Balance- Completely Humbling

This film just blows me away. It's so insightful, and so character-based.

And its central concepts are so perfect, and clean, and simple. Remarkable.

TFS- Camera,Lighting and Puppets Video

Here's a little behind the scenes video from my film, dealing with cameras, camera moves, lighting, and puppets.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Teaching Is Tuff

It's been a very busy to start to the school year.

I've got a great combination of things I'm doing this semester: lectures on story and layout for 1st year students (all 120 of them), a 3rd year stop motion class (all 120 of them), and the mentoring of a great group of 4th year students as they work on their graduation film projects (4 of which are stop mo, and the other 7 are traditionally animated).

The flip side being, I don't have much time for flogging the ol' blog, what with a family to tend to!

As soon as I can breath a bit, I will be back with updates as regularly as I can. I hope you keep checking back, I'm really looking forward to getting back in action, blog wise.