ACTING for ANIMATORS
ED'S MONTHLY NEWSLETTER:
Whenever I return home from teaching in China, I feel energized, creatively stimulated. Animation is only beginning to get airborne there, and it is exciting to be a small part of the ground crew. For my recent class in Beijing, I want to extend personal thanks to Wang Lei, Ph.D, Associate Professor, School of Animation and Digital Arts, Communications University of China. Dr. Wang graciously volunteered to interpret for me in the CUC classes, and his eloquence made all the difference.
Thanks also to Professor Robin King, Mr. Jared Man and the entire support team at DeTao Masters Academy, where I am honored to be one of the masters. I am looking forward to 2014 already!
POLYGON.COM: A VERY COOL GAMES SITE
This site has been on line for less than a year and is pretty impressive. The stated mission of its founders is "to cover not only games but the artists who make them and the fans that love them", and I'd like to raise a toast to them. Looks good, guys!
I first met Reiner at FMX in Stuttgart where he is the resident photo-chronicler. This man is an awesome photographer, especially of musical events. He has a knack of blending directly into the main action while still being unobtrusive. Super empathetic, Reiner photographs thoughts, impulses, transitional moments, a true artist. My subscribers in Germany can visit a new exhibition of Reiner's work in Ulm, running through October 11th. If you want to communicate directly with Reiner Pfisterer, maybe regarding a copy of a photograph or a catalog, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
YET ANOTHER(!) ESSENTIAL
APP WE WILL ALL HAVE TO HAVE...
Disney has released "Disney Animated," a pricey (US$14) new app for your iPad. It is pretty cool, an interactive behind-the-scenes tour of all 53 animated feature films the studio has made to date, Snow White to Wreck-It-Ralph. Check it out.
"If you know your character's thoughts, the proper vocal and bodily expressions will naturally follow."
ACTING FOR ANIMATORS WORKSHOP SCHEDULE
November 15-17, Los Angeles, Creative Talent Network eXpo
The Croods has been strong enough at the box office to push DreamWorks Animation SKG up about 7 percent. It is also, in my opinion, an uncommonly weak movie artistically. Bad movie, strong box office? What's going on? It makes sense when you take into account that most of the box office action is in non-US ("foreign") markets. This is increasingly the way feature film marketing – both animation and live-action – is going today, particularly for the high-stakes, mega-budget Hollywood studios. They can't depend on DVD revenues any longer, and stereoscopic 3-D has not made a lot of difference yet, so box office success in foreign markets has become essential. For those of us who love movies offering a good and worthwhile story well told, this emphasis toward foreign markets is not good news because, to assure international box office success, good and worthwhile films must be artistically neutered, emphasizing physical action.
In general, these are the foreign market guidelines followed by Hollywood studios:
1. The script must have minimal dialogue and be simply written. Avoid all but the most basic metaphors and go easy on references that presuppose familiarity with the western culture.
2. Remember that the English language does not translate smoothly into Mandarin, and China is a massive market.
3. Brainy comedy doesn't sell, especially overseas. Think Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler, not Woody Allen. Broad physical comedy works best.
4. Movie stars are a marketable asset. They don't necessarily have to do any acting, but they will be worth what you pay them when it comes time for press junkets and advertising.
5. Avoid fancy plots and themes. Stick with basic, universal stuff – good guys/bad guys, boy meets girl, love conquers all, humans vs. aliens, there's no place like home, etc. White hats and black hats only, definitely no anti-heroes.
6. Consider dialing the sound track up to 100+ dB.
Looking back over the past fifteen years or so, we can see the quality of Hollywood character animation steadily improving. Pixar's Toy Story raised the performance bar considerably, and the high-water mark was arguably reached with the Carl and Ellie sequence in Pixar's Up. DreamWorks and Disney have consistently been in the race, but never in the lead. Pixar's Brave and Cars 2, both of which took in more from foreign markets than the U.S., were definitely not up to Carl and Ellie performance standard. During the same 15 years that animation quality has been improving, international economics have experienced a seismic shift, resulting in. a dominant China, a chagrined U.S, a surging South America, and a schizophrenic European Union that is, for the moment at least, dancing a German waltz. A rising east and slipping west have tilted marketing strategies toward Beijing and away from Dallas. And that is what is wrong with The Croods.
There is so little acting in this movie – at least not the structured acting that Stanislavsky would recognize – that I am going to skip in-depth scene analysis for the moment. Instead, I suggest that you read the production notes for The Croods. They cover the entire development process and are more revealing than I imagine the PR department intended. There is one thing, though, that I really have to mention, namely the odd prehistoric animals that somebody on The Croods created. Like the Pirananakeet, the mating of a piranha fish and a parakeet; the Mousephant, combination of a mouse and an elephant; Crocopup, crocodile mixed with a puppy, and so on. Co-producer Jane Hartwell explains the creatures this way: "While we broke some rules of nature in creating these beasts, we always tried to retain their believability in the context of this environment. We had to imagine that if you came across a given creature, no matter how ridiculous, it had to look like it could really co-exist with the Croods." A BearOwl? No, really, a BearOwl.
When DreamWorks does the sequel, I have a suggestion that will save them a lot of creature-invention development hours. There is an app for that! Switch Zoo is a fun, educational computer game designed for 3rd and 4th graders. It does the same thing this highly paid creative team did, only better and more educationally.
Going Forward . . .
There is a silver lining to all of this. Intelligent, discerning children and adults are being under-served by the major studios. You do not have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to make an animated feature film. Despicable Me 2 reportedly cost around US$70 million and is a box office success. Miyazaki's Spirited Away cost the equivalent of US$30 million just a few years ago. New avenues for financing, distribution and exhibition are popping up like crab grass in a cow pasture. The new generation of animators has far more career options than their predecessors. This is perhaps the most exciting time in history to be an animator, a real storyteller.
Until next month...
Copyright © 2012-2016 Ed Hooks