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The Secrets of Animation: An Exploration of the Guiding Principles behind The Secret of Kells

August 22nd, 2014 by Kelly Lin

Whether your interests lie in CG or stop-motion, traditional 2D or puppetry, there’s a famous set of 12 Principles used throughout the medium to give all these forms the illusion of life. Popularized by Disney animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas, the goal of these principles is to cultivate believability and style. Let’s examine their use in the Hulu Summer Film School selection, The Secret of Kells.

The Secret of Kells tells the story of Brendan, a young monk in search of a legendary crystal that he can use to complete the Book of Kells.

1) Squash and Stretch - Squash and stretch is the extending and compressing of a character’s body to create the illusion of weight and volume. In this scene, squash and stretch is used to establish how two of Brendan’s mentors, Brother Tang and Brother Assoua, are different not only in height but also in the way their bodies move to form expressions.

2) Anticipation - Animators use anticipation to prep the audience for a forthcoming action. In this scene, Brendan pulls the quill back in anticipation before touching it to the book to make the line.

3) Staging -  This is the concept that every pose or action that a character takes should clearly communicate a character’s goals, attitude, mood, or reaction. Compare these images of Brendan from different scenes. Notice how each pose is different from the other and expresses a clear emotion. If you were to make a silhouette of the character’s pose, you would still be able to tell that these are distinct poses.

4) Straight Ahead & Pose-to-Pose - More related to process than product, this principle highlights the two major methods of animation production: straight ahead and pose-to-pose. Straight ahead animation is popular in stop-motion animation. In this process, the animator will animate one frame at a time in chronological order. Pose-to-Pose involves creating key poses and then adding the in-between “filler” later.

Pose-to-Pose: To animate this scene from The Secret of Kells, animators first developed these key poses for Brendan and his mentor, Brother Aidan and then passed the scene on to other animation studios in Brussels, Belgium, Brazil, and Hungary to fill in the action between these poses.

Straight Ahead: By contrast, on their 2012 feature, ParaNorman, stop-motion animation company LAIKA employed the straight ahead production process, moving their figures ever so slightly, taking a picture, and repeating again.(This gif is a time-lapse of how the animators from ParaNorman were able to make Norman come to life.)

5) Follow through, and Overlapping Action - Follow through is the concept that when a character stops running or performing an action, their body parts stop moving different times. This one is kinda difficult to see, but if you look closely you’ll notice how when the magical forest fairy Aisling jumps, her body stops on a rock but her hair continues to move a couple frames after.

Tied to the concept of follow through is overlapping action. This concept posits that when the body is in motion, certain parts will inevitably move faster than others. In this scene, take note of how the philosopher Colum-Cille’s arm holding the cane moves at a faster rate than the rest of his body.

6) Slow-In and Slow-Out - The more frames of an action there are, the slower the action will seem. The less frames of an action there are, the faster the action will seem. Thus when animating an action scene, animators will add more drawings to the beginning parts of the action, less towards the middle, and more again towards the end, creating the effect of a slow-in and a slow-out. In this scene, notice how the action seems to slow down when the bell is at the highest and lowest portion of its arc and speeds up when the bell is in the middle of the arc.

7) Arcs - Almost all of life’s actions have a slightly circular flow to them. Thus animators will often animate actions with an arc trajectory. Sometimes this principle can be exaggerated to add appeal to a character, as in this awesome curvature animation on Aisling’s hair!

8) Secondary Action - This is an additional action that helps to supplement the main action of a scene. For instance, in this scene where Brendan is walking, the movement of the character’s legs and feet are the main action while the movement of the character’s arms, head, and subtle body motions make up the secondary actions of the scene.

9) Timing - By incorporating more or fewer drawings into the range of an action, an animator is able to mimic the laws of physics to create either slow and smooth movements or fast and crisp movements, as seen here.

10) Exaggeration - Exaggeration involves broadening your character’s facial features, poses, and expressions to add greater understanding to their movements. As a result of the principle of exaggeration, it is pretty clear to the audience that this goose is terrified!

11) Solid Drawings – This principle posits that the basic ideas related to traditional drawing should also be applied to the animation space. This character sheet shows how the artists designed Brother Aidan’s cat Pangur Ban, taking into account the various poses that the character would assume and the perspectives at which it might be depicted.

12) Appeal – This concept is hard to pinpoint but easy to identify. Simply put, appeal relates to the idea that images should be able to craft a connection with their audiences. This does not necessarily mean that the image has to be cute and cuddly, but rather that the actions on screen will spark the interest of the audience. In The Secret of Kells, the filmmakers use a variety of different setups and textures to spark the interest of the audience, including this beautiful triptych set-up.

By employing the 12 Principles of Animation, The Secret of Kells is able to achieve not only believable characters but also a compelling story. To learn more about the process that went into creating The Secret of Kells, visit The Secret of Kells official blog and wiki page.

Additionally, be sure to visit the Hulu Summer Film School page to learn more about Animation and view the full film (for FREE!).

Last comment: Jan 24th 2017 3 Comments

Valley Girls and Alien Hunks: The Cool Costumes of Earth Girls Are Easy

August 14th, 2014 by Marie Lodi

Editor’s Note: This summer, Hulu’s taking you behind-the-scenes on some of your favorite films to explore how filmmakers use elements such as sound, cinematography, and lighting to tell powerful stories and create moments that are unforgettable. To celebrate Costume and Set Design week, Hulu Summer Film School is excited to bring you a special guest post from Rookie Magazine staff writer Marie Lodi. Visit theRookie Magazine website to read more awesome style posts from Marie

Earth Girls Are Easy (1988) stars Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum (who were also husband and wife at the time!), as a sweet Valley Girl manicurist and a hunky space alien who fall in love after his UFO crashes into her pool. Valerie (Geena) works at a beauty salon called “Curl Up and Dye,” which I always thought was the coolest name for a place to get one’s hair did. A quick Google search revealed that many other people must have thought the same, because salons from Las Vegas to Bakersfield to Texas operate under the same clever pun! When Valerie senses her fiancé losing interest, she enlists the help of her salon boss, Candy Pink (the iconic Julie Brown who also penned the film), which results in one of the funnest makeover montage scenes to exist. Though I MUST disagree with Candy’s insistence that blondes have more fun…

Makeovers were a recurring theme in the movie. The furry alien dudes needed to blend in with their newfound Earth surroundings so they went from this:


(Many of us whose first crush was Jeff Goldblum maaaay have been because of this movie, just sayin’.)

From the set design to the costumes, Earth Girls is a visual feast for those of us who embrace color in colossal amounts, both in our personal wardrobes and interior decor. Costume Designer Linda Bass and Production Designer Dennis Gassner made sure that both of their respective worlds were the perfect combo of pastels and geometric shapes. “80s does 50s” was a theme that was seen a lot during that time and it makes plenty of appearances in the film, from Valerie’s retro cotton candy-colored kitchen to her nosy neighbor’s sky-high beehive hairdo, to Candy’s black and white-striped miniskirt and crop top which she wears while belting out “Cause I’m a Blonde” with her gaggle of beach bunnies and bros.

Although the film was released over two decades ago, many of the characters’ outfits could probably be seen on fashion-loving Tumblrs today. Go on any trendy clothing site like Nasty Gal or Dolls Kill and you will more than likely will find a few outfits that could easily have been worn by Julie Brown’s Candy. The kitschy heart-shaped purse that Valerie carries? The credit card earrings on a female club extra? Both of those accessories could have 100 likes on Instagram today, at least!

Nail design has amassed unbelievable levels of popularity over the years so it’s fun to see closeups of 80s-style nail art in the salon scenes. Valerie would definitely have been referred to as a nail artist instead of a manicurist if EGAE came out today. The film also features a cameo from LA billboard queen, Angelyne, whose frequent sightings of her driving around in her still-there (but most likely a successor) pink camaro around town are almost considered a token of good luck to LA residents. Such dedication to a signature color should be applauded!

Earth Girls are Easy is no doubt the perfect movie for those who are obsessed with camp, color, and crazy costumes and sets. You can also see the early comedic stylings of Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans who played Goldbum’s extraterrestrial buddies! Even the film’s premiere had their cast in amazing outfits:

– Marie Lodi, Style Advice Columnist and Staff Writer for Rookie.
@agentlover //agentlover.com

Visit the Hulu Summer Film School page to view Earth Girls are Easy (FOR FREE!)  and learn more about Costume and Set Design. 


Last comment: Feb 15th 2017 1 Comment

Hulu Summer Film School Week 4: Soundtrack, Score, and Sound Design

August 8th, 2014 by Kelly Lin

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Dear Students,
It’s hard to believe but we’re already halfway through the Hulu Summer Film School semester. This week, we’re exploring the role of the Soundtrack, Score, and Sound Design in the development of the film.
The job of the composer, music supervisor, or foley artist is to use sound to breathe life into the story. Through tinkering with the sounds of the film, they can make the hairs on our neck stand up at the surprise arrival of a villain or our hearts swell over a first kiss. When these auditory artists are able to pair the right song with the right scene, it’s a moment of pure movie magic.
Enjoy the following selections and if you have any suggestions on specific content you’d love to see us feature, shoot us a comment below. Happy Learning!
– The Hulu Summer Film School team

Required Viewing:

1) A Hard Day’s Night

Setting the Score with Source by Jonathan Katz (an analysis of the use of sound in A Hard Day’s Night)

2) Black Orpheus

Composers: Antônio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfá
Recently featured in the music video for Arcade Fire’s “Afterlife,” Marcel Camus’ Black Orpheus celebrates the carnaval atmosphere of Brazil and radiates energy and visual spectacle through every frame. Composers Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfa score this Grecian tragedy with the music of their homeland, inspiring a generation of music lovers across the world to fall in love with the infectious beats and rhythmic guitar stylings of the bossa nova genre. Of special note is the movie’s closing scene in which a young boy serenades the rising sun with Orpheus’ signature tune “Samba de Orfeu” while a little girl dances beside him. By revisiting this song in the final scene, the composers encourage a nostalgia towards the start of the movie and create one of the purest exclamations on the cycle of life in cinematic history.
Extra Credit: Watch Black Orpheus and That Bossa Nova Soundan 18 minute feature from the Criterion Collection exploring the history of bossa nova and the film’s influence on the genre.

3) M

Sound Designer/Director: Fritz Lang
Released at the dawn of film’s conversion from silent to sound, Fritz Lang’s M is a master class on using sound to reflect a character’s internal state. In this case the character whose mind we’re entering is Hans Beckert, a child killer who whistles “In the Hall of the Mountain King” whenever he’s hunting for his next victim. In one memorable scene, the sounds of a bustling city street encompass the soundscape as Beckert prowls the neighborhood. Suddenly all goes silent as our villain notices a child from the reflection of the shop window and is overcome with desire. It’s as if the sight of prey has caused his whole world to come to a standstill. When the child begins to wander off, the sound is abruptly un-muted and we are sonically tossed back into the honking horns and footsteps of the city. Although M is a sound film, it’s these pockets of silence in which it draws its strength.

4) Eraserhead 

Location Sound and Re-Recording: Alan R. Splet
Sound Editing: Alan R. Splet
Sound Effects: David Lynch and Alan R. Splet
Lady in the Radiator Song Composed and Sung by: Peter Ivers
David Lynch’s obsessive attentiveness to sound is apparent in all of his work, and that’s especially true of his debut feature film, Eraserhead. To Lynch, a film’s sounds are as important as its images. Sounds include everything from music to diegetic noises to surreal embellishments and canvases of abstract soundscapes. Eraserhead’s sounds paint a portrait of its vaguely dystopic world. Henry’s jaunts across a barren exterior landscape are supplemented by wind and groans that suggest an alien industrial wasteland. As Henry unravels psychologically, Lynch’s sound design builds to an unsettling crescendo, a technique often used in subsequent films (see: Laura Palmer’s descent in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me or the final sequence of Mulholland Drive). Eraserhead also introduces the seamless integration of song with narrative as a psychologically-illuminating device. When the Lady in the Radiator sings “In Heaven,” it’s a great, cathartic musical number whose strange beauty seems to bridge the surreal visuals of the film with its very real emotional states.

Supplemental Viewing:

5) Waste Land 

Composer: Moby

6) Gimme Shelter 

Composers: The Rolling Stones

7) The Pianist 

Composer: Wojciech Kilar

8) The Coal Miner’s Daughter 

Composer: Loretta Lynn

Extracurricular Links:

1) The Soundworks Collection – This video series profiles the composers and foley artists behind some of Hollywood’s most popular hits. Be sure to watch the episodes about The Sound of Wall-E and the spotlight on Gary Hecker, foley artist behind iconic films such as the Star Wars and Spiderman trilogy.

2) How to Compose a Killer Film Score by Michael Giacchino – The composer behind beloved features such as Up, Star Trek, and Lost walks us through his filmmography and explains his creative choices and where he finds inspiration for his scores.

3) How Wes Anderson Soundtracks his Movies – Wes Anderson’s music supervisor Randall Poster talks about working with Wes and his process selecting and licensing songs.

Visit the Hulu Summer Film School page to view A Hard Day’s Night and learn more about Lighting and Color Theory. 

Hulu Summer Film School Course Syllabus

August 5th, 2014 by Kelly Lin

Whether they’re transporting us into a world of fantasy or revealing a deeper truth of our present moment, great films have a way of touching our hearts and changing how we look at the world. Using elements such as sound, cinematography, and lighting, filmmakers are able to tell powerful stories and create moments that are unforgettable. This summer, we’ll be examining these elements of filmmaking through some of the films that employ them best.

Miss a lesson or looking to review one from the past? Well look no further! Here you can find links to all our articles from previous weeks of Hulu Summer Film School. We’ll also be updating this post regularly as the new lessons are released. Happy learning!

1) Introduction to Story Structure and Screenwriting by Hulu Staff

2) The Three Act Structure: The Repeating Phantasm of Story by Jonathan Katz

3) Famous Screenwriters: Not Always an Oxymoron by Christopher Rowe

4) Links and Additional Resources for the Aspiring Screenwriter by Kelly Lin

1) Introduction to Cinematography by Hulu Staff

2) A Feast for the Eyes: Dissecting the Cinematography in Jiro Dreams of Sushi by Kelly Lin

1) Introduction to Color Theory and Lighting Selections by Hulu Staff

2) Lighting Persona by Michael Koresky of the Criterion Collection

1) Introduction to Soundtrack, Score, and Sound Design by Hulu Staff

2) Setting the Score with Source by Jonathan Katz

1) Introduction to Costumes and Set Design by Hulu Staff 

2) Valley Girls and Alien Hunks: The Cool Costumes of Earth Girls are Easy by Rookie Magazine writer Marie Lodi 

1) Introduction to Animation by Hulu Staff 

2) The Secret of Animation: An Exploration of the Guiding Principles behind The Secret of Kells by Kelly Lin 

1) Introduction to Post-Production by Hulu Staff

2) Making the Cut by Jonathan Katz

And that’s a wrap! This project was put together by a bunch of passionate film buffs at Hulu and we really appreciate you tuning in each week to learn about film. We hope you’ve looked at movies a different way and learned something you didn’t know before!

The Hulu Summer Film School Team

Last comment: Oct 13th 2015 3 Comments

Lighting “Persona”

August 1st, 2014 by Michael Koresky Staff Writer for The Criterion Collection

Editor’s Note: This summer, Hulu’s taking you behind-the-scenes on some of your favorite films to explore how filmmakers use elements such as sound, cinematography, and lighting to tell powerful stories and create moments that are unforgettable. To celebrate Lighting and Color Theory week, Hulu Summer Film School is excited to bring you a special guest post from Criterion Collection staff writer Michael Koresky. Visit the Criterion website to learn more about Persona and the work of cinematographer Sven Nykvist

Simply put, cinema is light. Every recorded moving image in every movie you’ve seen from the earliest Thomas Edison experiment to the most recent Hollywood blockbuster is impossible without the light it takes to illuminate it. The camera lens is a device for capturing light. So light—as well as the more abstract notion of time—is what defines the art of cinema and sets it apart from other mediums such as music, literature, and theater—aligning it most with painting. It’s important, then, to pay attention to a given film’s lighting choices and notice how much they reveal about that film’s characters, story, and overall artistic point of view. Look closely, because with movies what you see is what you get.

One of the cinema’s greatest cinematographers, a true sculptor of light, was Sven Nykvist. He worked with such varied directors as Woody Allen, Nora Ephron, Bob Fosse, Philip Kaufman, Louis Malle, Bob Rafelson, and Andrei Tarkovsky, but he is best known for his collaborations with fellow Swede Ingmar Bergman. And perhaps none of their projects together is more strikingly lit than their extraordinary 1966 film Persona. It’s a master class in the delicate art of lighting for film, nearly every image expressing something sharp and distinctive about the human condition. This story, about an actress, Elisabet (Liv Ullmann), who one day decides to stop talking, and the nurse, Alma (Bibi Andersson), assigned to take care of her, is so visually compelling it could be watched with the sound and subtitles turned off and still communicate so much.

Said Nykvist in an interview:

“Sufficient time is rarely taken to study light.  It is as important as the lines the actors speak, or the direction given to them.  It is an integral part of the story and that is why such close coordination is needed between director and cinematographer. Light is a treasure chest: once properly understood, it can bring another dimension to the medium.”

Persona typifies this sentiment, and throughout it also displays the variety of ways a cinematographer can light a scene resulting in constant emotional impact. From scene to scene there is lighting either hard or soft, natural or ghostly, realist or surreal; illumination can come from the front or the back, it can fill a room or only brighten certain corners. It’s a visual tour de force; it’s no surprise the original title of Bergman’s script was Cinematography.

One of Persona’s most famous images is near the beginning, nested within an abstract prologue largely divorced from the proper narrative. A young boy reaches out to grasp elusive, enlarged images of the film’s two main characters. This is an example of high-key lighting, which usually comes from three sources and minimizes shadows to create an even look. In this case, as a result, the boy appears wise and innocent.

In contrast, look at this amazing flashback insert of the moment when Elisabet stops talking, during a stage performance of Electra. She is in dramatic close-up, her pained expression filling the screen, but her face is half in shadow, giving it an eerie quality. This technique, implying there are two sides to her—a light and a dark—will be a recurring motif throughout the film.

Sometimes the light can be adjusted and toyed with during the course of a shot for dramatic effect, as in this intense close-up of Elisabet lying in her hospital bed, the main source of light growing increasingly dark until she is all but obscured by shadows.

The lighting can come from any part of the set, of course, and the way it is aimed will subtly alter the mood of a scene. Here, Elisabet watches a violent news segment on television in her hospital room, and she is lit from below, which gives the scene the aesthetic of a horror movie.

Prioritizing of illumination on one character over another can create implicit drama and say much about character. In this scene, Elisabet is in shadow even though she is in the foreground of the shot, while a hospital psychologist in the background is more evenly lit. Since the doctor is speaking harshly to her, accusing her of intentionally playing the part of a sufferer, this lighting emphasizes the cold nastiness of the doctor and the negation of Elisabet.

Conversely, later, when Elisabet and Alma have gone to the summer island home where the latter will help the former recuperate, Bergman and Nykvist often illuminate and make Elisabet the visual focal point of a scene. This is fascinating because, as a mute, she is always the listener, while Alma is always prattling on. Our attention is directed to the passive Elisabet’s subtle facial responses. In this scene, there is a diegetic light source on Elisabet, as a lamp next to her bed serves to make her the center of our attention while Bibi tells her a dramatic story.

In another of the film’s most famous scenes, Elisabet approaches Alma’s bedroom during what looks like very early morning. This is an example of soft light, so diffused it looks like a dream; the light source from the background is so soft, in fact, that Elisabet seems to materialize from and dissolve back into the light.

Of course a good, old-fashioned glare of sunlight aimed directly at the camera can produce a wildly dramatic, natural effect.

At one point, we see the women’s profiles nearly silhouetted. This is because the main source of illumination here is harsh backlighting, directed toward the camera.

Above all it’s those close-ups half in shadow that are Persona’s claim to fame. Its climactic confrontation between Alma and Elisabet consists of a succession of amazing shots of the women’s faces all but split in two by darkness.

Said Nykvist about working on Persona:

“One of the more difficult tasks for me on Persona was to light the close-ups because they involved such incredible nuance It’s very important to me to light so that you can sense what lies behind a character’s eyes.  I always aim to catch the light in the eyes, because I feel they are the mirror of the soul. Truth is in the actor’s eyes and very small changes in expression can reveal more than a thousand words.”

Visit the Hulu Summer Film School page to view Persona and learn more about Lighting and Color Theory. 

Last comment: Oct 9th 2017 4 Comments