Saturday, 31 January 2009

Graduation film: update

This is roughly the halfway stage of my final year at eca, so here is an update on my graduation film.

I have been animating for 2 weeks and drawn about 20 out of 100 shots, but only about 5 are fully coloured/etched/drawn (however you may want to describe the final look of the film).

I am trying to animate at least one shot a day, and my most recent estimate for the finishing date is April 14th.

I've not yet decided what to do with the soundtrack, and although I still really want to use Finnish dialogue, I don't think dialogue will add much to the story...

Finally, here is a short clip displaying what my animation currently looks like:
video
The shots with the dog are more or less complete, but the shots of the woman are still to be fully drawn/coloured, and none of these shots have the final backgrounds.

Influences part 15: Paul Cezanne

I first discovered Cezanne's work when I started high school almost 10 years ago after my art teacher assigned to everyone in the class a random painting to write a critical analysis about. The Cezanne painting that I received seemed pretty abstract (which I wasn't keen on) and was very different to anything I had previously been familiar with, but I quickly began to appreciate his style, and Cezanne has remained a key influence on my work ever since... Below are a couple of my paintings from March 2008 influenced primarily by the work of Cezanne.


I feel that Cezanne's brushwork creates two completely seperate fields of study in his work: the subject of the painting, and the painting technique.
Cezanne's work uses a loose/slightly abstract painting technique that creates a stimulating aesthetic. His finished paintings are fairly recognisable, however the brushstrokes that make up the overall image are very obvious and not at all reminiscent of their subject in reality. This is similar to Impressionist painting techniques, and I am using this theory to develop the animation process/aesthetics for my graduation film.

For my graduation film I am interpreting live-action video footage, which should create a life-like motion within the animation. This means that I can be more abstract with the visual style of my animation drawings because regardless of how the individual drawings look, the motion created when the sequential drawings are displayed at film speed should create a clear illusion of realistic motion.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Influences part 14: Rembrandt

I appreciate the realism of Rembrandt's paintings, and it was a style that I always wanted to achieve with my own work, but while writing my final college essay (in December 2008) I decided that realist painting styles are never as satisfying as the real object, therefore artistic interpretations of reality (such as Impressionism) should provide a more satisfying aesthetic in any visual medium.
Despite this resolution to my essay (which can be applied to all visual mediums including painting, animation, sculpture, computer game graphics...) I still greatly appreciate the realism of Rembrandt's paintings, but it is a different aspect of his work that I have found so influential over the past year - the lighting and colouring.
My favourite element of Rembrandt's work is the strong dark and light contrast in his paintings, which it is something I began incorporating into my own paintings last March. Below is a painting of Scarlett Johansson in Lost In Translation that I made in March 2008. After that painting I tried to incorporate my influences from Rembrandt's work into my animation work, but it never got as far as I would have liked... After creating the painting of Scarlett Johansson I began work on my first major Paint on Glass animation sequence for Johanna Wagner's Masters film The Inner Shape. Below is a still from my Paint on Glass sequence for the film, which I created in black and white over a coloured background. This sequence is not particularly influenced by Rembrandt, but there was going to be a second Paint on Glass sequence showing a close-up of a woman talking to the camera, which I had hoped to create in the style of Rembrandt - however that shot was cancelled during the storyboard stage...

Despite not being able to incorporate my influences from Rembrandt deeper into my animation work, I think that there are a few shots in the storyboards for my graduation film that utilise strong light and dark contrast (which were initially influenced more by The Old Masters than by Film Noir), and which I am trying to keep in the final animation.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Influences part 13: music videos

Music videos are quite possibly my favourite film genre because they have less demands than commercial filmmaking, so they offer lots of opportunites for experimentation, parody, narrative (of any kind), and general showing-off... Here are some of my favourite music videos:

Incubus - Drive
I like this video purely for the clever rotoscoping (all created by the band) which is based on the drawings of M.C. Escher.


The Killers - Bones
Directed by Tim Burton (Corpse Bride, Nightmare Before Christmas) with a nod to Ray Harryhausen ( Jason And The Argonauts, King Kong), this video sees live-action actors turning into skeletons and vice-versa. The CGI is really effective, and creates a completely different look from the 3D stopmotion work of Harryhausen. I think it works brilliantly (just take a look at my essays to see how much I usually dislike CGI and modern animation).


The Presets - Girl And The Sea
A homage to Yuri Norstein's Tale of Tales, and directed by Lee Lennox. It copies a lot from what has twice been voted the greatest animated film of all time, which removes some of the spectacle, but it is one of the few CGI works that I have found interesting in recent months.


Chemicals Brothers - Let Forever Be
Directed by Michel Gondry (Be Kind Rewind, The Science of Sleep), this video is full of strange effects.


White Stripes - Hardest Button To Button
Another of Gondry's masterpieces, this video was shot with pixelation (animating living people like puppets with other objects like stopmotion) and is unlike any other mainstream music video.


White Stripes - Fell In Love With Girl
Yet another Gondry work, this video is made by animating Lego blocks to imitate the band playing.


Queens of The Stone Age - Go With The Flow
A simple CGI music video with great visuals.


Peter Gabriel - Sledgehammer
Crazy stopmotion video created by the wonderful folks at Aardman (Wallace & Gromit, Creature Comforts) with those bizarre Quay Brothers (Streets of Crocodiles)


Johnny Cash - Hurt
An emotional song with beautiful visuals. I really like the golden lighting within all the blackness, which I think is similar to Rembrandt paintings and the recent Kings of Leon music video for Sex On Fire.


Foo Fighters - Long Road To Ruin
Really silly parody of 70s TV shows as is typical from the Foo Fighters... All their videos are worth watching, but this is my favourite of recent years.


Foo Fighters - My Hero
I like it simply for trying to create the illusion that the whole ridiculous story was filmed with just one single continuous shot (like Alfred Hitchcock's ROPE).

Busted - Crashed The Wedding
The full video is shot in the 'single shot' style of Alfred Hitchcock's ROPE and Foo Fighters My Hero, but this video is full of realtime impossibilities (like numerous ridiculous costume changes) and the 'cuts' are almost seamless, which I have to give it extra credit for!

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Can't Stop
This silly video is based upon the 1 Minute Sculptures of Erwin Wurm, which in themselves are worth looking at

Blink 182 - Always
This video, directed by Joseph Kahn, uses a split-screen to tell three simultaneous stories. I think it looks awesome, and has stuck with me all these years (which is probably only 5 or 6 years - but it's still awesome!)
I did a test of this for my 2nd Year music video project, which I found really interesting, but I should probably have developed something new from it - there's always next time...

Def Leppard - Let's Get Rocked
Basic CGI, but I like it because it isn't trying to look too realistic (as I often cite as the problem with modern animation)

The Bravery - Honest Mistake
A chain-reaction similar to Rube Goldberg, the Honda Accord Cog advert, and Der Lauf Der Dinge by Fischli & Weiss.
I made a short video called Die Skateboard at college for a 1st Year sculpture project based upon this style, and although my video didn't work as well as I had hoped, I really enjoyed the challanges associated with it, and would relish the chance to try it again.


I'm surprised I can't think of anything more bizarre, but if I remember then I'll add them to this list later...

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Influences part 12: RKO Radio Pictures & Film Noir

One of the Big 5 from Hollywood's Golden Age, RKO is responsible for classics like King Kong, Citizen Kane, and Bringing Up Baby (all of which I have only just seen in the past few weeks)... However this post will not focus on those classic films because RKO's biggest influence on my work is their Film Noir.

I first became interested in the Film Noir genre after seeing Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller's Sin City in 2005.
The first classic Film Noir that I watched was Stranger On The Third Floor over a year ago, and deciding that the genre has a really intriguing style, I have since wanted to create a film in a similar style. As Film Noir is associated with dark, suspenseful stories, and my graduation film has a suspense story set within a spooky/dark mansion, I thought it would be suitable for my graduation film this year.

Soon after I began writing the new darker/suspense story for my graduation film in November 2008, I found a 9-disc RKO Ultimate Film Noir Collection boxset in the shops, and despite knowing of only one film, I thought that the boxset would be useful research so I decided to buy it... Here are some of my favoured films from the boxset:

Out Of The Past (AKA Build My Gallows High)

Double Indemnity

The Big Steal
(coloured version)

The Blue Dahlia

The Killers



Much like the work of Alfred Hitchcock, these Film Noir classics have greatly assisted in developing my graduation film. While Hitchcock's most notable influence on my work is the suspense element, I think that RKO's Film Noir work has most notably influenced the intriguing shot compositions and striking black and white aesthetics of the storyboards for my graduation film. Thanks to the RKO classics I am also strongly considering the use of an opening credit sequence rather than a closing credit sequence (which is now standard practice today); but the credit format will not be decided for a few months yet...

Monday, 26 January 2009

Influences part 11: Alfred Hitchcock

Doesn't this image look similar to the paintings of Edward Hopper? (See my earlier post about the influence of Hopper on my work).

The most obvious influence with Hitchcock's films on my graduation film is the suspense element that he is famed for. I have been interested in creating a suspense film since I started 3rd Year, but it was a long time before I considered writing such a story for my graduation film (roughly two months into my 4th Year, after having spent 5 months prior to that working on a different story)! But anyway, here I am (at last) with a suspense element in my graduation film, and I'm now much more enthusiastic about trying to pull it off.
In the last 6 months I have watched 14 Hitchcock films as influential research for developing the suspense element of my graduation film, as well as almost 100 other films for alternative research purposes. While the suspense element is what Hitchcock is famed for, there is no single/specific element that creates the suspense - it is built up with effective use of several elements together - and that is what I will try to focus on here...


Setting:
Hitchcock films are regularly set within common locations that either seem typical of any town in a Western country (for example within the town centre, library, church, motel, seaside resort), or in real-life locations that are well known (like San Francisco, Quebec, Mount Rushmore, Albert Hall). This gives the film a familiarity within which the audience does not expect crime or murder to happen, making the audience realise that such events could easily happen anywhere - including their own friendly neighbourhood. This prospect terrifies the audience, and the terror makes the audience anxious to discover what has or may happen, therefore creating a lot of suspense.
I feel as though this element of Hitchcock's work is not as effective in today's society because we get access to horrific news from around the world instantly through TV and the Internet. This means that we now get regularly bombarded with news of murder and crime, so it feels commonplace in the 21st Century, and this reality of commonplace murder therefore lessens the impact that fictional stories about death can have on us... This does not mean that fictional stories will no longer affect us like they affected people when Hitchcock made his greatest films, but simply that the setting of Hitchcock's films is not as relevant to today's society.
For example, I do not think that a film about war set in a Western country like America or Britain would have much impact on kids in those countries today because kids hear about their war in Iraq on TV but have little idea of the impact that war would have on their life, whereas if you show the same film to an older generation who experienced the Second World War, I think it would have a much greater impact on them because they have a real understanding of the story.
It is not that for a fictional suspense film to be effective today it must tell a story relatable to everyday life and set within a typical location, rather it is that the story should seem realistic without already being commonplace in the media.

Characters:
Aside from the fact that Hitchcock's protagonists are often played by the glamorous people of Hollywood, the characters in his stories are usually living a believable life (eg: a common man wrongfully accused of crime, a woman on the run, or someone in the wrong place at the wrong time) which helps the audience to relate to and sympathise with their situation.
The audience's sympathy for the character makes them more emotionally involved in the story, and therefore heightens the audiences response to the situation arising within the film. This emotional connection to the film is a key component with any film genre because without it the audience is likely to have little involvement with the story, and they will probably not care much for what is happening, or have any interest in seeing the film again.

Shot composition:
Hitchcock uses a lot 1st or 2nd Person shots (from a human perspective like head-height) that are immediately relevant to the viewpoint of a character in the story. This places the audiences directly into the action, and involves us with what the characters on screen are doing within our proximity. This places us in the same situation as the characters, allowing us to more-or-less experience their life, and feel what they feel. This shot composition makes the story situation feel real to us, and heightens our emotional response to the story - increasing the suspense.
Along with the regular use of 1st or 2nd Person shots, Hitchcock also uses what I will call "suggestive angles" (shot from a non-human perspective like the far end of a tunnel or from the ceiling - a position not immediately relevant to a specific character in the story) that takes the audience away from the situation of the characters in the story, but hints at something nearby that could be dangerous for the characters. This tells the audience of a threat that the characters in the film are unaware of, but rather than spoil the surprise for the audience, it makes the audience anticipate the threatening action, which then allows the film director to play with where, when, and how this threat will take place. It may occur immediately, or will occur after many false starts, or may not happen at all.
Regardless of what happens after the audience sees such a shot, the audience's anticipation of threat creates a natural suspense in the imagination of the audience, but the director will often choose to play with this natural suspense, and the less predictable the director's decision is, the better the suspense may be - so long as the director does not make it too recurrent.

Timing:
A basic film will be shot at a leisurely pace, but in order to create suspense the pacing will fluctuate more often. For example the pacing may slow right down to calm the atmosphere only for a sudden change to dramatically alter the story - creating a fright. The pacing may get quicker and build up to a frantic climax, or it may just steadily fluctuate to keep the audience guessing.
There are various rules commonly adopted by directors, but the key is to allow for change and not to be predictable or for the pace to be drastically off. As a general rule in relation to suspenseful moments, shots will slow down and there will be few cuts, so that the audience gets sucked right into the moment and is constantly expecting a sudden change to scare them.


Through the work of Hitchcock I have learnt a lot about pacing my film and shot composition, which has greatly assisted in developing the suspense elements of my graduation film.
There are a couple of things in my film that could be identified as being influenced by his work, but hopefully my eclectic range of other influences will make it more than just seem like an imitation of the Master of Suspense - because that is not what I have been aiming for.

To conclude, saying as I have barely referenced Hithcock's work in this post, here are some of my favourite Hitchcock films:
Vertigo,
North By Northwest,
I Confess,
Strangers On A Train,
Dial M For Murder,
Rear Window,
The Trouble With Harry
ROPE.


And here is a great website with lots of images from all of Hitchcock's films:
1000 Frames of Hitchcock

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Influences part 10: Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper had been one of my favourite painters since I first saw his work at the beginning of my time in High School, and although art college has since drastically altered my perceptions of what is good art, I think that the work of Hopper still has a big influence on my work today.

His work seems to create a bizarre atmosphere within even the most standard of locations, and his work often features a strong composition that reminds me of Hitchcock films like Vertigo, Shadow of a Doubt, Rear Window, and Psycho - and Hitchcock is one of the biggest influences on my graduation film.


That last painting features a building with an architecture style similar to how I want the spooky mansion in my graduation film to look.

Hopper's less-accessable sketches are also very important for the aesthetics of my graduation film:

Not only do Hopper's sketches have the environments and compositions of his paintings, but they also have a drawing style similar to how I am approaching my graduation film.
(I'm glad that I posted this today, because I would otherwise not have realised how important Hopper has been to my film).


Related websites:
- Edward Hopper at artchive.com

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Influences part 9: Vincent Van Gogh

Van Gogh was an artist whom I never paid much attention to until I began doing Paint on Glass animations last year. At that time I began to feel that his painting style would look fantastic as an animation, and I have since felt a greater influence from his work. I think the style of his brushwork [below] can also be linked to the drawing style of the illustrations that I have been highlighting recently.

I always imagine the lines of his brushwork coming to life and creating a vividly abstract animation sequence, and although I have barely experimented with this style, it is something I would like to return to in the future.
In the meantime the similarity of the textures in Van Gogh's work and the illustrations that I mention in earlier posts (particularly those of Tim Burton) are playing a small part in the development of the aesthetics for my graduation film.

As well as the texture and brushwork of Van Gogh's more popular work, this early painting has a rather muted lighting scheme and colour palette similar to how I would like my graduation film to look.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Influences part 8: Tim Burton

Tim Burton could have been included in yesterday's post, but his drawing style is, for me, the least influential component of his work.

I am not fond of The Nightmare Before Christmas as a film, but I really like the texture in the concept art and posters. Images like this particularly influenced the rough style in my graduation film. The DVD bonus features also introduced me to Burton's early works: Frankenweenie and Vincent.

Above is a Frankenweenie illustration in an interesting style similar to the other influential illustration work that I mentioned yesterday.


Vincent has a nice simple aesthetic, and I think the poem that narrates the short film is wonderful. I originally began writing the story for my graduation film as a poem (greatly influenced by Vincent), but my graduation film slowly developed away from the poem, and is now a completely different story.


Corpse Bride is one of my favourite 3D stopmotion films, and I greatly admire the perfectionism that the production strives for. I think it is a really beautiful piece of animation, and it is one of the few animations capable of contradicting my prejudices against CGI-style slickness in modern animation.
I greatly desired to produce my graduation film with 3D stopmotion because it is a technique that I am really interested in but have not had the chance to use. I would jump at the chance to work on a 3D stopmotion film: either to animate or to build the sets and props. Jess' graduation film, The Owl House, looked so-damn cool and I enjoyed watching her set coming together this time last year.
I wanted to try emulating Jess' achievements with my own film this year, but I was not going to use stopmotion if it was not best suited to the story of my film - as has now happened... So stopmotion will have to wait for another day.

I was really disappointed with Sweeney Todd, but I found a lot of really interesting stuff in the extensive DVD bonus features: most notably the etchings and vintage illustration-style animations used to visualize historical accounts of Sweeney Todd. The animation movements were lame AfterEffects kind of stuff, but the characters and backgrounds looked great, and would make a wonderful-looking film if they had better animation (it is reminiscent of Alison Cross' graduation film Tale Soup about book character illustrations coming to life - which I thought looked fantastic).

I've written this much without even mentioning Tim Burton's trademark Expressionist style... So I won't elaborate much more than to say that this gives all his films a stimulating and original visual environment - something that I would like to achieve with my own work.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Influences part 7: Rackham, Gorey, Cope

Although I would regard the drawing style of my graduation film as a natural development of my earlier artwork, the animation style of Piotr Dumala (previous post) has motivated me to keep this rough style through to the final animation rather than clean it up and make the finished film look cleaner or more 'commercially appealing'...
Despite the importance of Dumala to the aesthetics of my graduation film, here are some other artists with a similar drawing style whose work I find interesting.

Edward Gorey:
Gorey's black and white artwork best illustrates the drawing style for how I imagine my graduation film looking. This image also has an interesting hazy border (instead of being drawn up to the edge of the paper) that is similar to my concept sketches, and which I want to try incorportating into the final animation of my graduation film.

Arthur Rackham:
I prefer the style of Rackham to that of Gorey, and although I imagine my graduation film being in black and white, I will colour my animation with watercolours in a style similar to Rackham if I do eventually decide to use colour. I have used watercolours in my animation work in the past and I think it looks nicer than most animation colouring methods.

Jessica Cope:
Jess' drawing style is different to my graduation film but I have greatly admired her style since I met her at eca in 2006, and I would credit her with being the original influence for the direction that my artwork has since taken. Without meeting Jess I would probably never have gotten into the work of Tim Burton, expressionist art, and this general style of art...

Here is a sample demonstrating how their artwork (plus a lot more research sources) have developed my graduation film:

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Influences part 6: Piotr Dumala

Erica told me about Polish animator Piotr Dumala in relation to the Paint on Glass animations that I was making last year, and although Dumala uses a different technique [he animates by scratching into blocks of painted plaster] his rough style intrigued me, and it seems to have a bigger influence on me as I became more familiar with his work...

The most influential part of Dumala's work for me is the scratchy aesthetic because it made me consciously aware of the fact that animation does not have to look smooth, detailed, or conventional just because that is how the commercial industry looks. This helped me to loosen the preliminary sketches and designs of my graduation film, and I think it will give me a much more interesting film aesthetic at the end of it all too!

Here are some links about Dumala:
Dumala's artwork in the AWM Famous Animator Gallery Series

AWM article, January 2001: Beyond Good and Evil: Piotr Dumala's Crime and Punishment

AWM article, December 1997: A Conversation With Piotr Dumala and Jerzy Kucia

Video: Crime & Punishment (2000)

Video: Franz Kafka (1991)

Video: Scainy (1987)

Video: Little Black Riding Hood (1983)

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Influences part 5: Aki Kaurismäki

- He's a Finnish auteur filmmaker,
- He has an absurd/dead-pan sense of humour,
- And his films have New Wave elements...
How could I not like Aki Kaurismäki!?

I started watching films by Aki Kaurismäki in December 2008 because I wanted to make my graduation film in Finnish.
Why in Finnish you ask?
I dislike Scottish accents in the media, whereas I have grown up hearing lots of great Finnish racing drivers giving interviews on TV and I have always loved their accent, so that is my reason for using Finnish voices rather than French, German, English (or anything more "predictable").
I originally used Kaurismäki's films to check what Finnish dialgoue sounds like on film, but I found his work to be really interesting so I have continued to borrow his films from the college library on a near-weekly basis so that I can watch them all (I've currently seen about 8 of the available 12).

Below are some short reviews about some of the films I've seen so far:

Calamari Union (1985) follows a group of 15 strange men (14 of them are called Frank!) as they try to make their way to the mythical land of Eira. It is full of silly little things (perfectly suited to my sense of filmic humour) that, for me, make it such a delight to experience... It might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I'd strongly recommend it just for the absurdity of it all!


Hamlet Goes Business (1987) is loosely based upon Shakespeare's Hamlet, but it also features a Swedish mafia trying to corner Finland's rubber duckie market! That story premise sounds fantastic, unfortunately it didn't live up to my high hopes.


Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989) is a ridiculous road movie about a 9-piece polka band with trademark foot-long pompadour hairstyles and long pointy shoes, that decide to leave the tundra to try making the big-time as a rock n roll band in America. This is perhaps his most commercial film, and for this reason is perhaps the easiest for general audiences to get into, but other than the absurdity of the band, I do not think it does the director justice. I would describe this film as This Is Spinal Tap meets The Blues Brothers translated by Borat...


Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatjana (1994) focuses on a roadtrip across Finland between a coffee addict and a vodka addict accompanied by two foreign women trying to reach Estonia. I would describe it as a minimalist New Wave film (having little in the way of dialogue or action), but it was really captivating! (I thought that one of the protagonsits was like a Finnish version of John Travolta in Pulp Fiction - which further enhanced the comedy element!)


The Man Without a Past (2002) opens with a man getting ruthlessly attacked as he sleeps on a park bench, he then goes through the film without any memories and making new friends with the poor whilst living in a cargo container and falling in love with a woman from the Salvation Army.
Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 98% rating, while Metacritic classifies it as deserving Universal Acclaim.



Related websites:
An in-depth biography at Virtual Finland

The Guardian interview, January 2003: 'I am a lousy film-maker'

Director info & DVD reviews at http://www.moviemail-online.co.uk/film/dvd/The-Aki-Kaurismaki-Collection-Vol-1/?tag=5|80

Film stills for Shadows In Paradise (1986)

Film stills for Ariel (1988)

Film stills for The Match Factory Girl (1990)

Film stills for The Man Without A Past (2002)

Film stills for Lights In The Dusk (2006)