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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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Aspiring Filmmakers, Ava DuVernay Thinks You Should Lose the Desperation and Just Make Something!
"I rarely meet people who tell me what they're doing. I often meet people who ask, "Can you help me?" or "How do I do this?" or "Do you want to have coffee?" "Can I take you to coffee?" "Can we grab a coffee?" "I'd love to take you to coffee and pick your brain a little bit." "Can I send you a script?" "Can you read my script?" "I have a script that I'd love for you to just check out if you can." "Can you be my mentor?" "I need a mentor." "I would love if you could mentor me." "Is it possible for us to talk?" All of that energy, all of that focus to extract from other people is distracting you from what you're doing. All of that is desperation.
When I figured that out, things started to change for me. When I'm meeting people and they're in that moment, I want to say something to them. "Knock it off, because it's never going to work for you." That feeling of "I need help. I need all of these things to proceed." And when I got that, a revolution happened for me."
This is definitely worth a watch.
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Two years ago, today, Marvel got the rights back to some of their popular characters. In this case, Blade, Punisher and Ghost Rider. They were in no particular hurry to make new movies with these characters, however, largely because of the lackluster success of the previous outings involving them. Why were these previous films so lackluster? Everything Marvel puts their hand to is gold, most proven by their $1.5 billion grossing Avengers. The problem is that they didn’t put their hand to those previous films,
Before Marvel Studios existed, beginning with the creation of their first truly independent film Iron Man, they license their popular characters out to the major Hollywood studios in the hopes to bring them to the big screen. Aside from the three characters mentioned above, this also includes The X-Men and Spider-Man. Those studios didn’t always do things the way Marvel would like. The fans weren’t always happy either. Now that Marvel has a single unified world for all their film properties to exist in, the absence of their character for which they have not recovered the rights is very noticeable.
As you create your own indie properties, and success begins to find you as they take off, there is a temptation that will come to you. Larger outfits, possibly even a major Hollywood studio, will come calling wanting to make use of your characters or stories in their films. There is almost no version of this where you win, keeping control of the product and getting the financial return you deserve should they become a huge success. In fact, more often than not, you lose completely, and they take your stuff. This story has happened over and over to creator after creator.
As your own indie creations grow, fight off the temptations. Do what Marvel is doing now. Do it all yourself!
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According to The Hollywood Reporter, Warner Bros. and DC are having a bit of trouble creating a unified universe for their superheroes like Marvel has done. While Marvel has producer Keven Feige to oversee all projects and make sure everything fits together, including their TV series outings, the DC cinematic universe seems to be largely leaderless. Not only do they not have anyone to take the reigns of the entire operation, the policies for how individual projects are handled are, to some, questionable.
It’s been said that the minds behind the Wonder Woman feature film are trying an interesting strategy to get a script. They hired multiple writers, not to work together, but to compete to create the script that will end up in the final film. The writers themselves are apparently running into the problems because, without a concrete universe, the rules apparently change right out form under them as they write, and their work can easily become useless. One industry insider said that this is, "throwing shit against the wall to see what stuck”. This is not the way to get projects moving forward.
THE FOREVER MOVIE
Now Warner Bros. and Channing Tatum are in the mix to get the project made. Tatum’s studio, however, is lined with Sony, and they are in the mix as eel, hoping to snag this project. This battle may very well keep the film from happening yet again. According to Deadline, as of yesterday, Warner Bros. outbid Sony and should be in business with a new franchise. Franchise is what this is all about as they see the possibility of multiple movies, merchandize and the whole nine.
THE INDIE WAY
The indie creator doesn’t need 25 years, millions of dollars or major studio backing to get their project done. Sun Creature Studios, the creators of the popular short film The Reward are proving that over and over again. After having raised well over $100,000 USD for the Tales of Alethrion project, which expanded the world of their short film into a complete universe, they are returning to Kickstarter a second time to raise fund for a full animated series, and their fans are responding.
While Warner Bros. and big Hollywood studios get tangled up for years on projects that cost over $200 million USD, these indie creators are going a simple route. They are letting backers on their Kickstarter project vote on the direction things go by what level of backing they provide. Imagine that. The fans having a say in what they want to see! The indie doesn’t need the red tape and bloated production budgets that stifle creativity at the majors. Innovation can get the indie a lot further a lot faster.
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WHat does it really cost to make a good animated film these days? Light Chaser Animation in Beijing, China is answering that question with their upcoming CGI animated feature Door Guardians. While in the past, it could be said that Chinese animation, though very cheap to produce, was lagging far behind western standards of visual quality, Light Chaser Animation is seeking to change all of that. In the trailer for their new project, we see cloth simulation, realistic water effects, skin shaders and other technological advancements we would expect from high quality western CGI. The gap has closed.
I have been living in China for five years now. One of the reasons I was first invited here is because of my western animation experience, which was valuable to both schools and studios playing their part in improving the domestic animation scene. The government, at the time, was putting a lot of money into creating an animation industry that would rival the world’s best. Over the years I witnessed the slow growth of an industry as studios acquired new technologies and skills. It seemed, for a while, that it might be ages of playing catch up.
This raises some serous questions. In an age where Dreamwork’s Jeffrey Katzenberg had his salary cut by more than half, and the studio laid off 500 employees, studios in China are aggressively hiring, even foreign talent. Chinese studios have been pumping out hours of animation content for a fraction of what it costs to create in the west, or even other Asian markets. The only saving grace of the west was that the quality of Chinese animation work was not up to par. Now that seems to be changing, but the price isn’t. What is their left to justify the cost of these $100 million animated films?
This raises another scary issue for those who work in the industry. If the same quality can be produced in China at nearly 10% of the price, won’t all the work go there? Regardless of what artists think, there are still bean counters sitting atop the Hollywood heap who are only going to look at the numbers. If those numbers say they can get the same quality that equals the box office returns they are used to, while producing in China on a micro-budget, the writing is already on the wall.
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As an independent creator, you need to get your head squarely and completely out of those clouds. We are not a part of that game. Trying to get into or become a part of that game is nearly an exercise in futility. You need to create your own game.
A perfect example of this is the indie creator Signe Baumane and her recent micro-budget feature film Rocks in my Pockets. This film was apparently on the short list for the Oscars, but was not nominated in the end. Being a realistic tale about depression and suicide, based on true events, maybe it was too indie for them. While many Hollywood animated features are little different than live action blockbusters, she travels the paths that only animation can travel. She spoke about this not long ago in an interview with Vice.
“Telling that amount of history in a live action film is nearly impossible. Showing how a person feels from inside, how depression works from inside, is also nearly impossible in live action.
Do you remember that film A Beautiful Mind about the mathematician who went crazy? To depict his state of mind, they used blurry spinning images. This is all the language you have in live action. In animation it's different; you can just walk into a person's mind and you can show everything going on in there. In animation you're free to do anything you want.”
Is this really true? Of course we know it is, but you might not think so looking at the big films in the industry. They are just as formulaic and, in some ways, lacking in artistry as any Hollywood Blockbuster. For the indie, any attempt to mimic that would be a recipe for disaster. This is a notion of which I am often reminded by independent animation veteran Paul Fierlinger, who has long been advising me to put more realism and more of myself into my work. He is adamant that the indie trying to directly compete with Hollywood, or anime, or anything else mainstream will find themselves without an audience. Signe Baumane certainly has her style and definitely speaks from her heart in her films. This makes them decidedly different than the mainstream.
“...what really bums me out is that animation is misunderstood as a medium for children; this makes me really upset. Animation has been around for ages, it was the first moving images. Then sometime around the 1920s, it was hijacked by children.”
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I APPLAUD THIS SENTIMENT! Now, don't get me wrong, there are a lot of rumors going around, even such that he chose to resign simply to avoid being fired. It has also been suggested that he commanded a $2 million per year salary, which led to the corporate bean counters wanting to axe him. I have even read comments to the effect that the company had been doing everything in their power to make life miserable for the "old guard" or veteran employees, in the hopes that they would leave. I am, of course, no stranger to this idea.
I read that Keane spoke of his future plans in a video, saying about the famous Disney traditional look, “It’s a style that looks that way because of a technical limitation.” He goes on to say, “I thought if I ever get a chance, I want to animate something where my original drawing stays on the screen.” My own sincere hope is that he goes off and does something Bill Plympton style, rough lines and all, that is ENTIRELY HIS OWN CREATION. Can you imagine what GREATNESS, what ARTFULNESS, what CREATIVITY... I truly want to see that.
There is really something to that line of his about animation being that ultimate art form with endless territories. I fully intend to explore these territories myself. Those video updates I mentioned will be forthcoming, and projects like the one above will be explained. More importantly, though, something about this Glen Keane story has really inspired me to EXPLORE those territories rather than just talk about it.
I have seen comments on the internet that suggest some fans desire him to follow Chris Sanders, the director known for Lilo & Stitch who left Disney and found himself at Dreamworks Animation doing How to Train Your Dragon. As much as I love that movie, the last thing I want to see is Glen Keane going into that company and doing 3D. I want to, like he said, see his original drawings on the screen!
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After seeing the Japanese live action production of Space Battleship Yamato, based on the 1974 anime TV series marketed in the west under the title Star Blazers, I hope to never again see a Hollywood remake of any anime show. I know there are a few either in the works or rumored. The previous efforts by Hollywood to turn anime into big screen western entertainment, such as Dragonball Evolution were dismal failures on so many levels. Recent Japanese efforts, though, have more than proven that they have the technology to do their own projects as live action, and do them very well.
I just watched the Space Battleship Yamato film earlier today. This film is of great importance to me because I was really sucked into the original 1974 series, though I saw the heavily edited english dubbed version Star Blazers. It wasn't until many years later, around university time that I saw the second animated film. You can imagine what it was like to see the sequence of the Yamato launching from the water, while that original theme song played, after not having seen the show in over a decade. Now, still many years later, I see this live action version, and again hear that amazing theme song and watch a realistic, live action Yamato launch from the scorched earth and fire the wave motion gun. It felt like I was a kid again!
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If you consider the domestic box office of a very successful movie, and also take into account the price of a movie ticket these days, even the movies which gross hundreds of millions of dollars are, in fact, viewed by less than 10% of the population. Some of those tickets sold are likely to people who view popular movies multiple times also. I can also imagine that when it comes to the huge, FX driven films now common in Hollywood, it is very likely the same 10% that is watching these films. What, then, are the other 90% of people watching?
Let's take a look at the HBO series Game of Thrones. This fantasy is definitely not Harry Potter or Dungeons&Dragons. The show contains a lot of gore, plenty of nudity, graphic sex and is very slow paced. In the entire first season there are only two or three monster appearances and only one CG creature. This show is heavy on the drama and characters. It is also hugely successful, having picked up for a second season after just one showing of the first episode. I am willing to bet that, while there is some audience crossover, this caters to a very different crowd than the typical Hollywood summer movie.
In the world of games, Nintendo began to find entirely new audiences with products like Nintendogs and that cooking game. Suddenly, housewives and the elderly were playing video games. Facebook has a number of very popular games among people who don't consider themselves gamers, and they are nothing like what is generally considered popular in the mainstream market. The mobile market, especially the IOS market has opened up entirely new avenues to reach entirely new players.
There is no reason to believe that you have to make what they are making in order to be a success. You don't have to follow Hollywood formulas or feel that you need to make a Disney or Pixar clone for your animated movie, just because everyone else is doing so. Deviating from this doesn't mean you are attempting to make an ice cream parlor in the cold north. We have the internet at our disposal. It may take you bit longer to build up, but the people who would most love to watch what you want to make will eventually find you.
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Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within grossed just over $30 million at the domestic box office. That is a lot of money when you think about it. Most people would be overjoyed to see that kind of gross on their film project. The problem, however, is that Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within cost over $130 million to produce, and probably an equivalent amount to market. This makes for an incredible loss of money for those involved. As a note of contrast, The original A Nightmare on Elm Street films of the 1980s, starring Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger, also grossed around $30 million at the domestic box office. These films, however, cost from $2 million to $4million to produce, making them amazing successes. That same box office take, in this case, means people love this kind of movie and it spawns 5 or 6 sequels.
This brings us to the question, then, if 2 films can gross the same $30 million at the box office, and this box office take means that people love one of them and that there is a big enough market for it, how can the other be a failure? We already know, of course, it is because the other film cost entirely too much to produce. The matter then turns to whether or not the the film considered a failure could be produced for the same cost as the one considered a success. This can certainly be done, though with a few caveats.
Such a production will likely never happen in the U.S. through Hollywood. It is also not likely to come out of the bloated studio system of any country. In the world of independents, though, it becomes a real possibility. This, however, will even require said independents to think differently and abandon prejudices often imposed by the mainstream industry. Just to give an example, from a recent thread on CGTalk, there still seems to be a heavy prejudice against certain software applications, such as Poser, Daz Studio, Vue, Bryce and a few others. While it may be true that there is a vast amount of low quality images associated with these particular tools, it is by no means the fault of the tools. Also these prejudices are years old, and often those who tout them are unaware of the major strides these tools have made since their opinions formed.
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For the sake of simplicity, I'll call this pattern The Twilight Bandwagon. I will grant that the Twilight films were far from the originator of this pattern, but they may be the best known example of it, so I think it a fitting name. Since Twilight was a huge success, it can't really be said to be part of the problem, but more of a great reveal of the lack of creativity currently in Hollywood.
The absolute best example of the industry jumping this bandwagon would be the film Red Riding Hood. This film had Twilight written all over it. It hit all the plot points, filled every cute, young character spot, and even had a huge werewolf. What more could the audience ask for? Well, apparently, the audience wanted something different because the movie failed at the box office.
I would have thought the movie version of I Am Number Four would have been a shoe in for success on the Twilight Bandwagon. I loved the book. It had all the elements, including the characters actually being in high school, which seems to be a necessary part of the equation. Shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Smallville and Teen Wolf show that TV is not exempt either.
Still, I am Number Four failed at the box office.
So now we have a new Spider-Man being put back into high school. I don't expect this one to fail, certainly not on the level of other attempts to cash in on this trend, and I suspect that unlike the first Spider-Man film series, he will never get out of high school this time. The question was asked, in that forum, why couldn't this same story be done with the original cast? Well, the original cast are now too old for the Twilight audience. Movies have been skewing younger for ages now. I read somewhere that even The Expendables sequel will be adding fresh young faces to the team, which seems to go against what that movie was about. I guess they'll be adding tough, ass kicking women to the group now too.
The more I write this post, the more I start to wonder why I even waste my time looking at what Hollywood does. It's always about lowest common denominator. The reason is simple. When you spend that much money on a film, you have no choice but to try and draw the largest possible audience. This is why you won't see a Bogey style mystery in the cinema anytime soon, or an Alfred Hitchcock type film either. I suppose I should focus on the world of animation, but do I even want to get started on where the anime industry has gone?
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