ACTING for ANIMATORS
"Pssst....How about Acting for Animators
without the travel costs?"
I have a fresh idea I'd like to discuss with you personally about how your university can include Acting for Animators -- and yours truly -- in the new school year. The idea involves running a one-time, intensely affordable pilot program. It is time for us to work together! If you'd like to cyber-kick the idea around, drop me a line: edHooks@edhooks.com.
(Animation student? Please forward this newsletter to your favorite professor...")
Animated thanks to talented artist
Ayan Bhadra in Bangalore, India,
for this superb caricature!
"I've lost all my money on these films. They are not commercial. But I'm glad to lose it this way. To have for a souvenir of my life pictures like Umberto D. and The Bicycle Thief." -- Vittorio de Sica
Brad Bird's Tomorrowland
I finally watched Brad Bird's live-action Tomorrowland. Watched it three times, in fact, on a China Air flight to Malaysia. There is an upside to watching a movie on an airplane because it is reduced to its basics. You get zero big-screen bells and whistles, no super-Dolby sound (I use Bose noise-cancelling headphones), just the core movie, beginning, middle and end. My takeaway on Tomorrowland is that it misses the target as a film but would make a strong Exhibit "A" in a university-level debate on socio-economic theory. Tomorrowland is also a good example of what can happen when too much money is circulating in a production budget. It is full to the brim with high-end VFX, most of which do not advance the basic story. I read someplace that Disney invested US$200 million into it and has written off US$180 million. Mr. Bird could probably have made four or five really excellent movies for that much money.
Filmmaking, whether animation or live-action, is largely about storytelling within limitations, which is the main reason I so much enjoy the earliest films of some now-famous movie directors. Those freshman efforts are labors of love in which a scripts are finessed, tightened and polished to a lustre. The cast and crew eat burgers and pizza for lunch instead of Wolfgang's Gourmet Fusion, and nobody is watching the clock if a setup goes an hour or two overtime. For Brad Bird, The Iron Giant was like that -- a skeleton crew on a limited budget in the service of a drop-dead wonderful story. The Coen Brothers' first movie was the totally excellent Blood Simple, and for Quentin Tarrentino it was Reservoir Dogs. Martin Scorcese had Mean Streets and Ron Howard had Grand Theft Auto.
Frankly, Disney deserved to lose its hat on Tomorrowland. I wish Brad Bird -- one of our most talented artists -- would just once more tell a story he loves, on a too-tight budget.
Acting for Animators Workshop Schedule
Oct 7-10 BIAF, West Java, Indonesia
Storytelling and Virtual Reality:
Some Random Thoughts
One of the challenges for producers of VR character-driven storytelling is, well, reality. The problem is that VR puts the single person in the audience on stage with the actors and, in the process, plays havoc with the willing suspension of disbelief, which is an essential ingredient for audiences of plays in the legitimate theatre. Let's go back a bit in history, and I will explain.
In ancient Greek and Roman theatre, actors and audience congregated in the same place at the same time for a common purpose, namely to pretend together. Everybody in the audience knew for a fact that Oedipus was not really present in the amphitheatre. The fellow raising his hand when that name was called was an actor wearing a mask, and it wasn't a very realistic mask at that.
That theatrical configuration has remained the same for the past couple of thousand years. We don't see the masks much any longer, but the event still features actors playing roles for the benefit of audience members who then pretend that they don't know the actors are pretending. The reason for all this pretending is so that the people in the audience can empathize with the characters, i.e., relate to them.
Live-action movies started out with static single-camera recordings of actors moving around like on a theatre stage. Until D.W. Griffith got hold of a camera, there was not much editing. Nobody was shooting "reverse" coverage and varying angles of POV. Today, live-action is much more immersive and dreamlike for the audience, but all parties involved still know it is pretend. (Ask yourself why you feel different watching a documentary than when watching a regular, narrative-driven movie. Clue: One involves pretending, and the other one does not.) When you go to a movie to see Tom Cruise hang onto the wing of a passenger jet in flight, you know that he is safely strapped in somehow. He's pretending. Yes, I know some readers are going to say that Mr. Cruise really is hanging on in the air because that is what the marketing campaign verified. Answer: Yes, he was hanging on, but the studio's insurance company made absolutely certain that he would not fall off. It is pretend.
Feature animation came along after live-action. I know all about cave drawings and flip books, but had there not first been live-action there would be no Big Hero 6. Animation requires suspension of disbelief to go on steroids. The characters on screen are not only pretending, they do not in reality even exist at all! Baymax is a computerized thing. When the lights come back up, Baymax goes back into his non-existent box.
Virtual Reality plays tricks on the brain. In that regard, it is not a traditional theatrical experience at all. If you have never toured a VR setup, you are going to be surprised at your reaction. While in a virtual environment, you know for a fact that you are, in reality, someplace else other than the place you are looking at. VR makes your brain argue with itself and, in the end, you generally just relax and go with the flow until the headset comes off and you unequivocally return to earth.
What if the movie Gravity had been done in VR? How might it work aesthetically if the one person in the VR audience is sitting in the spaceship next to Sandra Bullock? The cockpit door is starting to fly open and you have the urge to hand Sandra a wrench so she can tighten it. That is the problem: You are really no longer in the audience. Now you are a member of the cast, but you don't have a script or a wrench. This perspective is guaranteed to make the audience member sweat. A few of the people who see a VR Gravity will probably have heart attacks and have to go to the hospital, and the movie studio is going to get sued for a lot of money.
I am not saying that I have the answer. I'm just saying I can see the problem. And so far, I don't know of any designers or producers who are even close to solving it. Most of them are coming at the problem wrong in the first place. I wish they would call me so we could at least talk about it. VR is good stuff.
Until next month...
Copyright © 2012-2017 Ed Hooks