Invisible Ink

A while ago I wrote about how I think being an animator has more similarities to being a writer than it does to being an actor. Not that we cannot or should not learn from actors and acting technique, but I think we share quite a bit in our process with the work that writers do.  Along those lines, I’ve been spending time recently at The Invisible Ink Blog, which I found among the links at Ted Mathot‘s excellent blog. The Invisible Ink Blog is by Brian McDonald, author of a couple of books on writing, Invisible Ink and The Golden Theme.

Here are a couple of his recent posts I especially like from an animator’s point of view. First, one on the role and nature of conflict in story: Conflict Resolution.

One of the key lessons I try to impart at Animation Mentor is the importance of conflict in animation. Every shot in an animated film should be essential — something vital needs to be happening, and it often involves a character in conflict. Every shot tells it’s own tiny story, and there is no story without conflict. Read the rest of this entry »

Milt Kahl magic

Sorry for the long delay between posts.  Working seven days a week will do that.  Here’s a quick bit of animation inspiration courtesy of Michael Sporn and John Canemaker: some fantastic animation of Peter Pan by the great Milt Kahl.
Kahl Pan
Go here to see all the key drawings from the scene, and the actual animation (sans inbetweens).    It’s wonderful stuff. Read the rest of this entry »

Yin and Yang in animated features: Tangled and The Illusionist

The Illusionist

I saw both Tangled and The Illusionist within a couple of days of each other through the CTN Expo, and came away impressed by both, but for very different reasons.  In a way, these two films represent the Yin and the Yang of feature animation.   The difference in animation technique is the least of the differences between these two features.  One is intensely personal, hand crafted, subtle, and demands a certain patience of its audience.  The other is a big-studio extravaganza, with all that that entails.

Warning: there be spoilers below.  Proceed at your own risk.

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CTNX2010 postscript

CTN logo

The second CTN Animation Expo happened the last three days in Burbank, and I’m really glad I went for the whole thing this year.  Despite some rough edges, it was well worth the time and money (and I came away with some ideas for several blog posts).

One of the great things about gatherings like this (actually, CTNX is the ONLY gathering like this these days) is that you run into scores of old friends, students, and colleagues, and you get to meet a ton of new people (here’s a nice summary with photos of last year’s event by Randall Sly; the photos look like they could have been taken at this years event, so this gives an idea of what it was like).  I was pleased that several people talked about enjoying my blog, so I’m also fired up to try to post more regularly. Read the rest of this entry »

Cartoon Gluts?

For as long as I’ve been in the industry, I’ve heard people grumble about the number of animated features being made.  This conventional wisdom posits that animated features must be rare and ‘special’ to be successful. The corrollary is that an abundance of animated films will destroy the market.  For some people, more than two major animated releases a year is too many, and any more would spell doom.

The boom that followed The Lion King lead to a lot of worrying about animation gluts, as I was reminded by a Daily Variety article from July 15, 1997 (my first year in the industry).  Is it high noon for toon boom?, written by Andrew Hindes, starts with this tired cliché: “There may be trouble brewing in toon town.” (Really Andrew?  Was that priceless wit the best you could do?)  After noting the relatively disappointing performance of Disney’s Hercules, the article continues:

In the next 18 months, no less than five new big-budget feature cartoons, plus Disney’s reissue of its 1989 hit “The Little Mermaid,” will be released [Anastasia, Quest for Camelot, Mulan, A Prince of Egypt, and A Bug’s Life].  As those pictures begin competing for promotional partners, toy licensees and audiences, one analyst predicts, “It’s going to be a bloodbath.”

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Pres-Aid Charity Art Auction

Just when I thought I’d have some time to do some blogging, life intervened.  For the last few weeks I’ve been spending most of my free time putting together a benefit art auction for my friend, animator Pres Romanillos, who has leukemia.  The Pres-Aid website will give you all the information you need, so I won’t repeat much of it here.  If you have an interest in collecting animation/illustration art, or know people who do, please spread the word.  It’s for a good cause.

Pres-Aid site

Happy Birthday, AnimationMentor.com

The on-line character animation school, AnimationMentor.com, celebrates its fifth birthday tomorrow.  How the years have flown by!  I’ve been a mentor for 70% of that time, and I’m certain I’ve learned and grown at least as much as my students have.  It’s been a privilege to be part of the school, and to see so many students take their animation to the next level.  I really don’t think there is a system or school that gets as high quality results as consistently.

For any of my former students reading this, congratulations on what you’ve accomplished.  And congratulations to Bobby, Sean, Carlos, Cathleen, and everyone else at AM for doing it right.

11-Second Club eCritque screengrab

For any of you curious about the backbone of the AM system, the fabled eCritique, I’ve just done one for the winner of the March 11-Second Club.  And guess who the winner was — one of my former students, Bordeaux’s own Nedy Acet! Great to see you again, Nedy.

In honor of all of the above, I raise a glass of Bordeaux to toast AM and its students. Cheers!

Is Variety the Spice of Life? Animated Settings and Characters

Pete Emslie made an interesting point in the comments section on a recent post:

“I particularly believe that films set in exotic locales like South America have a great deal of appeal . . .”

This is consistent with what most of us believe — Variety is the spice of life.  We consciously crave variety — at least we think we do.  Most of us long to visit exotic places when we’re daydreaming, but when vacation time comes, we’re usually happier to just chill out in our back yards, or travel an hour away to the beach or a favorite resort community.  The relatively new field of Happiness Research bears this out.  Research shows that more variety doesn’t make us happy, and that we’re actually happiest with what is familiar.

The Incredibles House

This is about as exotic as most successful animated film settings get.

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Kurosawa on TCM this Tuesday!

Mifune! Noir! Kurosawa! Happiness!

I should have posted this earlier, but each Tuesday this month Turner Classic Movies is showing a huge selection of Akira Kurosawa’s films, all uncut and commercial free.  I’m a huge fan of TCM and Kurosawa (and the great Toshiro Mifune) so this is pure gold.  I pretty much filled up my DVR last Tuesday, and here’s what’s on tap for the 23rd (all times are Eastern Standard):

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My Final Answer to the Question

We’ve established that I don’t think story is the end all and be all for successful animated films, and that it might not even be crucial.  And I’ve written that I think storytelling is one factor that is absolutely crucial.  But is there more?  Yeah, I think so, and I think both of these things are separable from story and storytelling.

My answer to the question, ‘What are the three most important things for a successful animated film?’ is,  Storytelling, great characters, appeal. When you’ve have these three things going on, you have a chance unleash a Lion King or a Toy Story or an Ice Age.

Dumbo model sheet

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The animation and animation-related musings of Kevin Koch