The live action Ghost in the Shell

I haven't updated in a while, perhaps not since I came to Shanghai attempting to start down a new path. A lot has happened since then, both good and bad, and I have been seriously considering what I am really doing, what I should be doing, and what I want to be doing. One the biggest changes that occurred due to my time here, being busy, out and about in the world, and having new experiences, was that I never had the time to watch movies or TV. In the last couple of days, as things have calmed down, and I had some time on my hands, I sat down and watch The Matrix Trilogy, followed by Ghost in the Shell.

I call this post Thought on Quality because my recent experiences, both online and offline, and the films I viewed recently, made me think a lot about what I am doing. For example, I draw a lot. I have an idea I think it cool and I may draw a picture, a character or some other doodle. This is all well and good, but if my goal is to create independent animation, I should be animating a lot, not just drawing a lot. I haven't really animated much of anything outside of the many tests I did last year.

In all those tests, and in so much of my work, I was always trying to find "my style". This really makes very little sense because in reality your style finds you. What I was really trying to do was find what was easy. I was trying to find they way in which I didn't have to put in the work. Time was, no doubt, a factor, as I didn't want to spend a year on a ten minute short, but acknowledge that I was look for the easy road. It was clear as I posted those tests around which one people truly responded to. Deep down, I knew which one was the right one, but I chose to keep on searching for an easier one.

I recently read a book which said, "Successful people are concerned with pleasant results. Unsuccessful people are concerned with pleasant methods." — Brian Tracy

Morpheus loses everything

So I watched The Matrix. This isn't the first time I watched all three films back to back. Watching it as whole, I think I have come to understand the negativity heaped on the sequels. I have heard it said that it seems as though different writers were involved in the sequels, or maybe the studio reigned them in on the first one. I don't believe that to be the case. I think the problem lies with us as viewers, and how much we both like and respect Morpheus.

You see, Morpheus gives us our view of this world, by explaining it to Neo. We accept this view as being true, because he is a strong and wise character. We assume he must be right about everything on which he speaks. He has some of the greatest quotes of all time in that first film. We believe them because he seems to be speaking to us and it seems to fit our own feelings. Unfortunately, Morpheus is wrong.

In the scene pictured above, Morpheus says, "I have dreamed a dream. And now that dream is gone from me." This is a line from the bible, spoken by Nebuchadnezzar, after whom his ship is named. Here is where they signal us that Morpheus was wrong from the very beginning. Here is where he loses everything. From this point on, Morpheus is weak. He does none of the cool stuff we have come to know him for. He is almost subservient to Niobe for the remainder of the films.

I think a lot of viewers don't want Morpheus to be wrong. Like the character in the film, they simply can't accept that. I think this is why the sequels don't sit well with a lot of people. I do not, however, believe that this wasn't all planned from the very outset.

The mechanical animation in The Matrix is still the best.

If nothing else, never before nor since have mechs been done so well in film or television. I have always said that motion kills most CGI, not the rendering. Things don't make perfectly smooth motions in real life. This is why motion capture always looks jerky. The system exaggerates the minuscule ticks that happen in every real life motion. The artist has a tendency to want to smooth it all out, and then even the motion capture looks floaty, weightless and fake.

Hand keyframes work, especially in films where the actors are real people, is even worse. Too often, especially in the case of machines, the overly smooth keyframes motions, with computer generated interpolation between frames, just doesn't fit. In The Matrix Revolutions, they animated to robots to move more like the stop motion work done in the old Robocop films. It was jerky and mechanical. It felt heavy. It felt real.

They ruined Batou in Ghost in the Shell

I think I have watched Ghost in the Shell 3 times now. Despite its flaws, I seem to keep coming back to it. Some of those flaws, though, are glaring. I never expected it to be a philosophical as the original. I know that wouldn't sell in today's market, but come on. They really dumbed it down. They ruined Batou as a character. He is no longer Batou with the unsleeping eyes, the ranger with abilities comparable to The Major. He is now just typical Hollywood, guy gets blown up and has to have some parts of him replaced. Basically, he wouldn't have done it if not for the accident.

The Major is Unique, the first of her kind.

Should I even get into the Major? This also feels so typical Hollywood. She is unique, the first of her kind. She is super special. No. Aside from being very skilled at her job, which is due to experience, she is not unique. She is not special. Most of Section 9 is just like her. The world is full of people exactly like her. The first film even intimates that someone else can use the exact same body as her. She is not special. Most of what makes her great at her job would still hold true if she were mostly human. She does not have technology that no one else has. This is what leads to the bulk of philosophical considerations in the original manga and films. In Hollywood, they basically made her into Robocop.

There are other things which bother me. Like the garbage men who are simply taken over and mind controlled, and starting shooting up the streets. In the original, the hack done to them (and the camo guy) was truly special, so powerful that they were doing these things of their own "free will". Kuze, in the original, was unnaturally likable. People wanted to hang around him, follow him, and do what he wanted. He never had to force anyone to do anything.

What bothers me most of all, though, is they used some of the best elements of both animated films and both TV series. If they somehow managed to be successful, what were they going to do next? Perhaps make things worse with a totally original story conceived in Hollywood? Well, unfortunately, the movie was a colossal failure, so we will never get to know what they would do next, or how they might have improved it going forward. If nothing else, the film no doubt screamed quality.

The amazing CGI city extensions of Ghost in the Shell

Which brings me to why we are here. We are here because we want to make animation, games, comics or other artistic creations, and it has dawned on me that whatever it is we are to create, it must be of maximum quality. Dare I say it must be competitive. All my efforts to find the easy road, my unwillingness to do the hard yard, are precisely why I am stuck where I am at the moment, and have no advanced. The evidence has been around me all the time, but I chose to believe that I could do things differently and still reach a goal only reached by others who put out maximum quality.

Like Morpheus, whose ship went down in ball of flame, so too must I adjust to a new reality. In this new reality it is exceedingly difficult to get audiences to give up their precious time and attention to watch something, even if it is free. Only by offering the best of the best can one even hope to gain a moment of someone's time. Time is everything. It is through time, and how we use it, that one finds happiness or loses it. In order to get someone's time, your offer must be worth it. I now realize that I must create with this always in mind. Think of it like this. How cool would something have to be to get you to stop what you're doing and watch it?





You know how it is. As life goes on, and things change, opportunities arise and one finds new things on which to focus.

I am back in Shanghai and getting more deeply involved in the work I am doing here in China, and also my family, especially my 3 year old daughter. These occupy the vast majority of my time. Combine that with constantly rising web hosting and domain registration prices, and I feel the time has come to put to rest my web store and video training. What does that mean for you?


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BLAME! features Polygon Pictures' best characters yet!

I recently got into a discussion about anime production budgets and CGI versus 2D hand drawn. Because of the BLAME! animated film, which I wrote about earlier, I had been thinking about digital paperless animation. Here in Asia, be it China, Korea or Japan, many studios still draw on paper. They are feeling the economic crunch that affects everyone these days, and in a bid to save money, many are turning to low budget CGI. It looks absolutely horrible and audiences hate it. (I don't mean BLAME! I am thinking Berserk) I think that only because of the prevalence of video games, younger audiences are getting more and more used to it.

One would think to ask the question, wouldn’t digital paperless be cheaper? On the one hand I DO understand why many don’t do it. Many of the veteran animators, the guys you hire when you really need to get things done, work on paper. That’s where their skill is. Because they work in large teams, they always know there is someone to scan that stuff into the computer, clean it up, color it and work with it from there. The artist doesn’t need to be able to do it himself.

The problem with this line of thinking is that when these guys are gone, 2D goes with them. Their skills aren’t being passed on and younger people are mostly into learning 3D, and going into games, because it pays better.

There is also the expense of equipment. Getting every artist a workstation and a Cintiq can be expensive, and then there’s the downtime that would come with retraining them. Most studios work on such thin margins that they are always a hair away from going out of business. They couldn’t afford the process to switch over.

Most TV animation in Japan is done at around $150,000 per episode. The CGI shows are supposedly coming it at $90,000 to $100,000 per episode. They still look horrible though. Also, in the case of CGI, you can’t just do anything. You can draw anything you can think of, but in CGI, you have to build the 3D models, texture them, put bones in them for animation etc. You are limited in what you can do. This shows in some of these programs, because when they come across something they can't do, it is drawn in 2D. The transition is so jarring it completely ruins the viewing experience and makes the show unwatchable. (To me at least, but I read similar feelings from a lot of people on the internet)

There might be some upfront pain associated with making the switch to digital paperless, but I believe in the long term, good quality shows could be made cheaper than, or in the same price range as, the CGI shows.

I may try to develop some courses along these lines and push this idea to studios around here.

Hopefully, coupled with that, I’ll be able to spend my off time working on some longer form animation projects of my own… And PROVE it!




E3 Kicked off recently and the AAA game companies have been wowing audiences with the latest, greatest trailers for their upcoming titles. Watching the plethora of new videos released over the last few days left me with a interesting question. Did Microsoft go wrong somewhere?

Screen shot from Ashen

Looking at the available trailers, it seems that both the titles, and the graphic quality of said titles, for the Xbox are lagging extremely far behind that of the Playstation 4. I have not been seriously into games for some time now, except for the promise held by game engines to help indie creators realize their dreams, but I always thought the Xbox and the PS4 were in the same league when it comes to processing power and graphics abilities. If the trailers from the most recent E3 are any indication, this is not the case.

Days Gone on the PS4

It certainly appears, at least, that the PS4 is showcasing games pushing a lot more polygons and with much more in depth rendering and shading technology. I would think that a lot of games, these days, would be using Unreal Engine 4, or CryEngine, if they're still in business, both of which can produce stunningly realistic images at high resolutions. What appears in the actual games on Xbox, though, looks nothing like what I have been seeing in demos.




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