ACTING for ANIMATORS
ED'S MONTHLY NEWSLETTER:
SETTING THE SCENE: THE ART &
EVOLUTION OF ANIMATION LAYOUT
Fraser MacLean has written a beautiful book on an essential topic, layout. It would make a terrific gift for every new animator. The illustrations alone are more than worth the price and are, in themselves, an education. Layout is not receiving the same degree of attention as it used to, and Mr. MacLean is the perfect tour guide. His experience goes back to Roger Rabbit and Disney/Burbank, and he would have been right at home in a passionate round table talk with Frank and Ollie. Highly recommended.
BEIJING DETAO MASTERS ACADEMY
Robin King has honored me with an invitation to join him as one of the select DeTao Masters in this exciting new and creative Chinese adventure. Important things are happening in China's animation industry, and I am very pleased to play a part in it. I suggest that you bookmark the website and check back from time to time. It will be a good way to keep your finger on the pulse.
QUOTE OF THE YEAR
"...a truer nomination for our species than Homo sapiens might be Homo narrans, "the storytelling person." What differentiates us from animals is the fact that we can listen to other people's dreams, fears, joys, sorrows, desires and defeats -- and they in turn can listen to ours."
–Henning Mankel, "The Art of Listening," NYTimes,
December 11, 2011, Sunday Review section, p.4
razzmatazz (noun) Noisy and noticeable activity, intended to attract attention.
The Paramount marketing department has what it needs: Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson doing press junkets together, a beloved comic book franchise, the very latest in performance-capture technology, a swell-looking Ubisoft-created game, red carpets everywhere. I want to file all of that under the heading of "razzmatazz" and talk instead about aesthetics, the actual experience of watching Tintin. The movie will make its profits from the razzmatazz and, while it has its charms, it falls far short of being a classic. Mr. Spielberg, a consummate storyteller, made a surprising and fatal misjudgement with the design of his lead character, Tintin the boy reporter.
Tintin's original creator, Georges Prosper Remi - otherwise known as Hergé - purposely designed the boy with total simplicity. He had a circle for a head, a couple of dots for eyes, a button nose, and a pop-up of hair. Actually, the Tintin of comic books is nothing more than a blank slate on which the reader etches humanity. The character enters into grand adventures, and the reader provides the emotion underneath it all.
When it came time to make the movie, Steven Spielberg decided to keep the comic book character design while tweaking it a bit for the big screen. The movie's Tintin, unlike the comic book's Tintin, has facial muscles. Some, but not many, definitely not enough to cause Paul Ekman to take notice. And then he mocapped the character, with the able assistance of Peter Jackson and the Weta team. So, what he wound up with is a character that is neither here nor there. Tintin walks and runs and climbs like a human, not a cartoon, except for a few times when he does not appear to be bound by gravity like regular humans. And Tintin emotes, kinda sorta. But here is the problem: A person who reads the comic book does all of the emotional heavy lifting, projecting feeling onto the page; the movie audience, as part of the implied contract with the storyteller, does not have to do that. In the movie, Tintin is endowed by the animators and mocap actor with an illusion of life. Except that they did not fully deliver their side of the transaction. The on-screen Tintin is too much like the comic book Tintin. He has no obvious emotional inner life and, therefore, the audience will not empathize with him.
In his press interviews, Spielberg mentions Tintin and Raiders of the Lost Ark in the same breath, explaining that they both have great adventure stories. The implication is that, if it worked for Raiders, it should work for Tintin. The flaw in that reasoning is that Harrison Ford is generally believed to be a live actor. When he appears on screen as Indiana Jones, the audience recognizes him as one of their own. During his adventures, he does not display the full range of emotions, but that is okay because he is a real person, and we in the audience know for sure that he has the full range, even if we don't see them. Tintin is digital, and the audience plays along with this pretend character. The point is that he is pretend, not a real flesh-and-blood human, and so the audience relates to him differently than it does to Indiana.
My vote would have been to make this movie live-action, with a lot of effects, like the Pirates of the Carribean flicks. Mocap is not bringing anything particularly useful to the party. If it had to be made as an animated film, I would much prefer that the Disney 2D artists had a go at it. The aesthetics would have worked better.
A lot of press attention has been given to Captain Haddock, Tintin's drunken sidekick, especially because Andy Serkis performed the mocap. That character doesn't work either, but the fault lies more with the screenwriter than Andy Serkis. Haddock is too much of a caricature, a stereotypical drinking-and-cussing ship captain. The only thing missing is a peg leg. Opportunities were missed because we do not get to see him deal directly with the consequences of his alcoholism.
Until next month ...
"Actors and Animators are Shamans!"
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