Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Three Things

This morning, I read these three poems by Czeslaw Milosz. Pondering on an age old theme.
Faith is in you whenever you look
At a dewdrop or a floating leaf
And know that they are because they have to be.
Even if you close your eyes and dream up things
The world will remain as it has always been
And the leaf will be carried by the waters of the river.

You have faith also when you hurt your foot
Against a sharp rock and you know
That rocks are here to hurt our feet.
See the long shadow that is cast by the tree?
We and the flowers throw shadows on the earth.
What has no shadow has no strength to live.

Hope is with you when you believe
The earth is not a dream but living flesh,
That sight, touch, and hearing do not lie,
That all things you have ever seen here
Are like a garden looked at from a gate.

You cannot enter. But you're sure it's there.
Could we but look more clearly and wisely
We might discover somewhere in the garden
A strange new flower and an unnamed star.

Some people say we should not trust our eyes,
That there is nothing, just a seeming,
These are the ones who have no hope.
They think that the moment we turn away,
The world, behind our backs, ceases to exist,
As if snatched up by the hands of thieves.

Love means to learn to look at yourself
The way one looks at distant things
For you are only one thing among many.
And whoever sees that way heals his heart,
Without knowing it, from various ills-
A bird and a tree say to him: Friend.

Then he wants to use himself and things
So that they stand in the glow of ripeness.
It doesn't matter whether he knows what he serves:
Who serves best doesn't always understand.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

FAST Conference Talk: Animation in the Media

This past weekend I presented a short talk titled Using Animation to Address Difficult and Complex Subject Matter at the Fulbright Academy of Science and Technology's annual conference. The theme this year was sustainability and the particular panel I was on dealt with using media as a collaborative tool for promoting and communicating the science, technology and business sides of sustainability. Below is a slightly expanded version of the talk with links to the films I highlighted. Many of the films below grapple with social justice issues very effectively. And the same principles translate very well into environmental issues as well.

Anyone who has sat down in front of the TV, movie theater or internet recently cannot fail to notice the prevalence of animation. Animation is coming into its own; there is hardly a TV commercial that doesn’t incorporate some sort of animation. Digital technology had made animation easier and inexpensive to create – anyone with a digital camera and a basic move making program on their computer cans move things around and take some pictures (or frames as we call them) and string them together into animation.

Because of this, filmmakers and especially documentary filmmakers are realizing just how important it is to include the visual feast that is animation into their productions, or create entire productions with animation. This goes beyond the typical scientific and informational visualization (animated graphs, medical and chemical illustrations, textbook images that move) with which we are all familiar and are very straightforward in their presentation of information. Below are several animated films that use the technique to drive home a theme or message that would be very difficult to do with live action.

Creating an emotional atmosphere

His Mother’s Voice
by Dennis Tupicoff

This film uses a radio interview of a mother recounting the loss of her son and animates two very haunting takes. The first is high contrast, bold, colorful images and a reenactment as the mother tells the story. The second take, set to the same soundtrack, does not reenact the story but simple moves throughout the house, the yard – wholly in the present. The animation is rendered with light pencil lines very little color. The sense of drama in the first take juxtaposed with the quiet grief of the second fully encompasses the many facets of this death.

Illustrating an emotional or mental state
by Chris Landreth

An interview with Ryan Larkin, a promising young animator who destroyed his career through alcohol and drug abuse To visualize the effect of heroin eating away at a creative mind, Landreth creates a character whose face is disintegrating as he speaks, and yet there are sparks of brilliance still hanging by a thread. If you were to look at Ryan in live action, he would seem a sloppy, drug addict who can barely put together a sentence. But in visualizing him this way, the dignity of who is was in the past comes through the shell of the man he is now.

Using Humor to capture an audiece
The Meatrix

Leo, Chickity and Moopheous discover the true reality behind what we eat. Free range studios and Grace Studios ride the wave of the popular Matrix films to convey the unethical and unhealthy aspect f the commercial meat industry. A clever spoof, a well written script and a highly accessible web distribution plan created a buzz around this film reaching an audience far more extensive than the typical festival goers.

Animating the past
by Marjane Satrapi

An autobiographical coming-of-age story of a precocious and outspoken young Iranian girl that begins during the Islamic Revolution. The memory of the past is brought to life with character and humor and the comic book graphics not only provide a visual feast, but are able to put us in the experience of the child as she becomes a woman.

Dealing with graphic subject matter

Waltz with Bashir
by Ari Folman

After a conversation with an old friend, Ari Folman realizes that he can’t remember his experiences on an Israeli Army mission in the first Lebanon War of the early eighties. As Ari delves deeper and deeper into the mystery, his memory begins to creep up in surreal images …

Again, dealing with memory, but trying to present the graphic horror of war without turning the audience away. Graphic images are more palatable (and more emotional) when they are drawn rather than live action. At the end of the film there is about 3 minutes of newsreel footage that shows the carnage of the Lebanon massacre and honestly it turns your stomach. It brings the audience into reality right at the end for an overwhelming impact.

Dealing with shy subjects and overcoming audience stereotypes
by Sheila Sofian

With powerfully understated empathy, Sofian combines voice-over interviews with battered women, and a counselor who works with "recovering" male batterers, with elegant animation to explore the experience of domestic violence from all sides.

Many of the women in this film did not want to be videotaped because they feared for their safety. However, they were willing to have their voice recorded. Unless you are a trained actor, it is impossible to ignore a camera in you face, but a microphone and a conversation can bypass that shyness and subjects are more likely to open up quickly. Additionally, having only the voice as information about a person allows the audience to put themselves in the subject’s place. When we are looking at video of another person, immediately we are judging them on their appearance. With no image to feed our stereotypes, we are forces to listen to the word spoken.

These are just a few examples of animation used in documentary and memoir. Animation is quickly developing into a distinct visual dialect and filmmakers will do well to verse themselves gain some level of fluency in this powerful medium.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Promoting Good Animation: Bored to Death Intro

A particularly creative intro for a tv series directed by Tom Barham of Curious Pictures. I highly recommend watching it in HD (click here), as the type and expressions of the characters don't show up very well on smaller YouTube. Here's a link to a short interview with Tom Barham.

What makes a good title sequence? In addition to presenting the relevant information (i.e. above the line credits) it should visually tell the story of the film/show it is introducing (without giving too much away, of course!) I haven't seen Bored to Death, but from what I've read of the series and the way Barham approached this intro, it seems he was spot on!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Patricia Zohn on Walt Disney Animators Culture: vanityfair.com

The women behind the magic. This is a great article on the ink and paint girls at the fledgling Walt Disney studios. $16 a week, sometimes working weekends and overtime to finish the job. At an average of 8 to 10 cels an hour, 100 girls could only, in theory, turn out less than one minute of screen time by the end of the day. Where would Snow White be without them?

Patricia Zohn on Walt Disney Animators Culture: vanityfair.com


a poem I read this morning by DENISE LEVERTOV. This is from the anthology A Book of Luminous Things by Czeslaw Milosz

Sometimes the mountain
is hidden from me in veils
of cloud, sometimes
I am hidden from the mountain
in veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue,
when I forget or refuse to go
down to the shore or a few yards
up the road, on a clear day,
to reconfirm
that witnessing presence.