ACTING for ANIMATORS
Ralph Bakshi's Smart Advice
How did I miss this? Mega-thanks to James Cunliffe at Valve for bringing this clip to my attention. Ralph Bakshi, a pretty legendary animator, was doing a Q&A at Comic-Con San Diego back in 2008, when somebody asked what to do about making a career in animation. Bakshi went on an epic and profane rant that is certifiably classic. Check it out!
Big Hero 6
Big Hero 6 will almost surely be nominated in Oscar's Best Animated Feature category and, when that happens, I will do a scene-by-scene acting analysis of it. For now, I can report that the acting in Big Hero 6 runs hot and cold. The action figure characters exude personality and charm, but most of the movie's scenes have far too much dialogue and noise for my taste. Acting has almost nothing to do with words. It doesn't matter that the characters are usually talking about how they feel at the moment, it is still too much talk. Baymax the inflatable nurse-robot is as cuddly as advertised and will be a big seller this holiday season. The lead human character, Hiro, is already fading in my mind because he is upstaged by the action figures. That's not a good sign, but I imagine the Disney execs don't care because nobody is going to buy Hiro dolls anyway.
"Your old road is rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one
if you can’t lend your hand,
For the times they are a-changin’..."—Bob Dylan
The Whites of the Eyes
are Windows to the Soul!
Do you think much about the whites of your eyes? Me neither. But a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science by Srah Jessen and Max Planck shows that whites-of-eyes are early baby-signals, starting at seven months or so. Interesting stuff if you want to calibrate eye-size to communication between humans. Turns out that the whites of human eyes are more pronounced than in any other mammal, and how much of it is displayed is an unmistakable signal of emotion. Here's a link.
Acting for Animators Workshop Schedule
February 9-13 Animex 2015, Teesside, England
April 10-12 Weekend with Animation Masters, London
(in planning stage)
May 5-8 FMX, Stuttgart Germany
"Sitting at the Kiddie Table ..."
Bonnie Arnold, producer of How to Train Your Dragons 1&2, said at a November Hollywood Reporter Animation Roundtable, “I wish sometimes we weren’t as relegated to the kiddie table, as I feel like we are.” She’s right about her seat assignment, but the Dragons franchise is based upon a series of children's books by Cressida Cowell, and their intended reader is 7-11 years old. Ms. Arnold's employer, Jeffrey Katzenberg (DreamWorks), does not make animation for adults. Neither does John Lasseter, who oversees animation at Disney and Pixar, the other two eight-hundred-pound-gorilla studios. It doesn't take a Martin Scorcese to recognize that these studios are more defined by merchandising than serious filmmaking, and the stuff they sell is exclusively for children. It would be exciting to see Bonnie Arnold, one of the more talented movie producers working in the industry today, assume a leadership position by organizing an adult movie for her next time at bat.
It is not as if opportunities for adult work have not presented themselves. Pixar was poised to make Hollywood's first big-budget adult feature animation with Up, but ruined it with the second-half excursion to Paradise Valley, home of those airplane-flying talking dogs and the Big Bird that eats chocolate. (Do not, BTW, give your parakeet chocolate. It's poison for birds and will kill them.) Pixar execs will tell you that Up appeals to adults as well as children (read this Pixar-generated essay on the subject), but that is a disingenuous assertion because Up is really a hybrid, two movies in one package. The first half, which is all about love, commitment, child-bearing, death and grieving, is for adults. A typical six or seven-year-old kid cannot possibly understand any of it because her brain and world view are not sufficiently developed yet. She might be fascinated by the animation itself, but she can't be expected to understand the adult implications of Ellie's inability to have children. Kids start jumping up and down in their seats when we get to Paradise Valley, which is when the adults in the audience start checking their watches.
It is possible to make an animated feature film that works for children as well as adults, but the accomplishment is rare, extremely difficult, and cannot be created assembly-line style, which is what Pixar, Disney and DreamWorks want to do. Pixar's early movies worked like that -- Toy Story, Monster's Inc., Incredibles, Ratatouille -- but John Lasseter has not been able to do it again ever since Disney bought his studio. For the past eight years, he has been selling toys like a champ. In interviews, Mr. Lasseter likes to say that he has "Disney blood flowing in my veins," but I doubt seriously Uncle Walt would have taken Carl and Russell to Paradise Valley. Or, if he had, he would have set the entire movie in that location. Walt Disney was a genius storyteller who made movies for kids and then charmed adults into seeing them also on the grounds that "there is a kid in all of us." The next time you watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, note how you regress to your childhood self. While doing research for my next book, I screened Snow White dozens of times, and the experience is enlightening. It is practically impossible to watch that movie with an adult's discerning eye. Same situation with John Lasseter's personal favorite Disney movie, Dumbo, as well as Pinocchio. Walt Disney was brilliant when it came to luring adults back to childhood. It is significant that he did not even attempt to do it the other way around, pushing children into adulthood, which is what Up demands.
If you want to know what is really going on in Hollywood animation, check out part one of this three-part box-opening video for the Big Hero 6 toys. Box office for the movie is fading already and probably will not cover the US$165 million production costs, but it won't matter because merchandising is the real payday at Disney. Baymax is on a trajectory that terminates in Disney World, with stops underneath millions of Christmas trees first.
If Walt Disney had been told in 1937 that there would never be much money in feature animation, I believe he would have kept on making his movies anyway because he loved animation and he loved telling stories. Today's situation is typified by Jeffrey Katzenberg who proclaimed at the Milken Conference in Beverly Hills this past April, “The traditional business of making movies …is not a growth business”. Success in the 21st century, he said, "is digital and short-form content and new ways to make, market and distribute" that content. That is probably why he has been trying so hard to sell his studio lately. There is no future in it. For him, animated movies are a business (content) first, art form second. More is the pity.
Until next month...
Copyright © 2012-2017 Ed Hooks