Picture this: A character sits at a table and takes a sip from a glass of water.
In the live-action world, this shot might take 15 minutes to set up and shoot. In the animation world, this seemingly simple action might take 3 months. Not only do the characters and sets have to be designed, rigged, and modeled, but the sound of the character drinking and putting the glass on the table has to be recorded; the movements of the character, the character’s clothes, the chair, and the water have to be animated, and don’t even get us started on if this scene were crafted in traditional 2D.
Welcome to the world of animation where artists begin with a blank canvas and from that blank canvas, they build a world. This week’s Hulu Summer Film School selections explore a wide variety of animation styles and how animators use their tools to create worlds that extend beyond our wildest imaginations.
1) Sita Sings the Blues
Director: Nina Paley
Nina Paley’s “Sita Sings the Blues” is a charming and unique collage of animation styles and narrative strands, that, when considered as a whole, exemplifies the ability of an auteur animator to pioneer her vision with near complete creative control. As a medium, animation offers the potential for a purer authorship than live action because it limits the contentious issue of sharing authorship across many different roles. “Sita” offers different tellings of the traditional Indian story of Ramayana about the troubled love between Sita and her neglectful lover Rama. Paley was eventually able to distribute the film through a Creative Commons license which let her use music that would otherwise be protected by copyright law (in one strand of the film, Sita sings Annette Henshaw songs from the jazz era). In addition to Paley’s role as narrative auteur, “Sita” becomes an intellectual embodiment of her artistic creed. Paley is an advocate of the free culture movement – best summarized by the title of her original song, “Copying Isn’t Theft.”
3) The Muppets Take Manhattan
Director: Frank Oz
Whether puppetry should be considered “animation” is a polarizing topic among film buffs, but there’s no denying that the form of theater performance is deeply rooted in the simplest concept of animation: Performers animate inanimate objects to tell a story. Just like in traditional pencil-and-paper animation, this effect is achieved not only through scenes that are “drawn” out, but also through the sounds and movements of the made objects to create an illusion that it is all real.
Operationally with Jim Henson’s puppets, one hand manipulates the head and mouth while another manipulates the hands and arms. Because of this, the puppets’ faces remain static so emotion is primarily expressed through tone of voice and arm movements. Through her powerful voice and aggressive arm movements, you can tell that Miss Piggy is tempestuous; Kermit is mild-mannered because of his permanent pensive eyes and soft movements.
Jim Henson’s “Muppet” characters are a definitive example of puppetry used in movies. In “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” the group of fuzzy, big-eyed characters hit the streets of New York City. With puppetry magic, these furry objects sing, dance, and feel sadness and happiness all while experiencing what it’s like working at diners, being broke, and having failed dreams in the big city.
Director: Don Bluth
A cult favorite of many established animators today, The Secret of NIMH draws on classical animation techniques to tell the tale of a field rat who seeks help from a colony of other rats to try to save her sick son. In many ways, the story behind the film is as compelling as the film itself.
Flash back to 1979. Disney Animation Studios was in production on The Fox and the Hound. Animator Don Bluth was dissatisfied with Disney’s increasingly computer-based modes of production and wished to revive the traditional animation techniques used by Walt Disney in the 1930’s. With a rag-tag team of sixteen other Disney animators, Bluth left the studio to form Don Bluth Productions. Their first feature was The Secret of NIMH. By placing a deeper focus on character body language and detailed backgrounds, Bluth’s team was able to create one of the most vibrantly animated films of all time and spawn subsequent Bluth features including An American Tale, The Land Before Time, and All Dogs Go to Heaven.
1) CartoonBrew – The go-to destination for information on the latest news and trends in the animation industry. Be sure to check out their Animated Film Preview guide about the animated features getting released this year as well as their collection of the best student and studio short films on the web.
2) Monsters University Progression Reel – These days it takes a village to make an animated film. Watch this video to see just how many different teams touch the footage before it is released in its final form.
3) ParaNorman: This Little Light – If your interests lie in the stop-motion animation realm, then you’ll definitely enjoy this ParaNorman making-of video from the wizards at LAIKA about the extensive process that goes into the creation of a single prop from the movie, a little light. Watch the trailer LAIKA’s latest feature, The Boxtrolls, here.