Saturday, December 10, 2011

My Intro to Animation Final

Our final project assignment for our first semester frosh animation class was to create 3 books that used 2 or 3 of our assigned objects differently, giving them different contexts or meanings. Can you guess what my assigned two reoccurring objects were? Some of my classmates couldn't. (Answer at end of post.)

A walk cycle experiment made difficult because I noticed too late the model I used had scoliosis.

What's happening here, because I know it goes pretty fast: A girl in rags gets a fairy godmother, she gets a dress, the fairy talks to her about the midnight clause, then with a lecherous smile and wink makes a line of princes she can choose from poof into appearance, the girl looks turned on, she inspects the line, she chooses the ugliest one possible and attacks his face with her mouth, which he somehow doesn't want.

My animations seem to flip back and forth bipolarly from Disney-inspired to nightmare scrawl.

(My reoccurring objects are hearts and dresses!)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Night Hawk Concept Art

I'm working on a hand-drawn, short animated film with some of the other freshman animators. It's a black-and-white film noir with some cartoon humor, but lots of gore, and the characters are all animals. My characters are the rich widow (the pigeon), the manic bartender (the bunny), and the cat burglar/lackey/kidnapper (the worm). Here are my model sheets:

Figure Drawing with Tom Mahoney & Bonus Museum Sketches

So Tom Mahoney, of Disney Concept Art and CalArts fame, taught some weekend figure drawing classes I attended a month or so ago. Mahoney does not like students to focus on realism when drawing, and encourages us to use markers or ink and contour techniques. In this way he hopes to cause students to discover new ways and styles of interpreting the human form--especially as monsters. All of these poses were around 7 minutes.



Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Week 12: Portrait Reflecting on Personal Time Perception

This is a self-portrait type animation, and is rather on the sloppy side. Mostly I just wanted to relax and see where the style I was experimenting with would take me so as to develop it further.


This animation was based upon the portrait I doodled of myself, as seen below:

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Week 10: A Very Spontaneous Gorilla

So we were supposed to be spontaneous this week--that was the prompt for our flipbook. So we went to a museum and were supposed to find our favorite room and animate something there. As I admitted to my animation professor in class, a walk cycle isn't exactly spontaneous. But I did make the spontaneous decision to teach myself walk cycles this week, and I did decide to make a walk cycle from scratch--based on a youtube video of a gorilla--come hell or high water. There's a lot of mistakes with this cycle--ones I don't feel like pointing out--but considering this is  my first effort with walk cycles, I feel pretty good about what I did this week.

This week's flipbook is dedicated to my dad, because I was listening to a bunch of 1970s protest/political activist songs this week, most of which my dad showed me at some point, and one that stood out was "The Pretender." The lyrics I used in this video are my favorite, and I thought they would be pretty funny/ironic when applied to a gorilla walk cycle.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

USC Alphie Results: Animators Win Grand Prix

Yes, the USC animators, collaborating on just one entry (Aha Moments under the direction of Jabril Mack), conquered the USC Freshman Short Film Competition, beating the dozens of other live action entries submitted by the rest of the cinema school. That said, all the other entries were amazing--most incredibly funny, and some surprisingly thoughtful and emotional. It was a great competition.

Week 9 Color Exploration to "My Body is a Cage"

(Please listen with audio, as the music enhances the meaning of the film.)

So the theme this week was color, and the color I was assigned was yellow. While people typically associate yellow with its positive connotations--such as sunshine, energy, happiness, youth, and enlightenment--there is actually a darker side to the meaning behind the color. Yellow can also represent loudness, decay, cowardice, age, waste, and sickness. I was very interested in the fact that yellow means both youth and old age/decay/sickness. I also wanted to incorporate the loudness of yellow, making it feel like my character was screaming or moaning. Enlightenment and cowardice were also contrasts I wanted to work with. I thought following the life span of someone who could not come to terms with their aging process, body, or mortality--and who faced both their birth and death with gracelessness and fear--would be an effective means of exploring each of yellow's connotations through my character's facial evolution and expressions.

Miscellaneous symbolism: Upon their death my character reluctantly receives enlightenment as signified by the growth of long hair that halos their face. When you see the character at 30 with a mohawk, the orange tears he cries are actually the male sign (O-->). This represents his inability to accept his adult form or the gender roles society imposes upon him. The opening and closing doors illustrate the rapid speed at which life passes him by. Doors of opportunity open for him, but he is too caught up in his imminent death to notice. The doors then close for him forever.

This is probably my favorite animation so far. In this short film I am telling a story that is actually important to me, in a style that is very much my own. I hope I can continue to tap into the source I used for this in the future. I think it actually helped that I did not use any pencil work in this animation, so my lines were bolder and more free. I enjoyed this loose, flexible style.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Week 8 Rectangular Color Scheme to "Tangled Up in Blue"

This week's challenge is dedicated, of course, to my twin sister. This may not be her favorite song anymore, but I thought she'd enjoy an animation about Dylan. I like the characters in this piece, but next week I want a real story and not just reactions, and I want to animate a more realistic character--maybe even use sources. I keep jumping to cartoons without exploring the 3D realm.

I actually stayed up so late making this, that I was still shooting it at 9 in the morning though I started work at 5 the night before. I was so exhausted that while the file was converting to Quicktime around 12, that I just laid down on the classroom floor and slept. Forget that I was using the room containing the graduate students' cubicles and that many of those cubicles were occupied at the time. I was so tired that sleeping on the floor in front of strangers without warning seemed perfectly normal. I was only hours later when the adrenalin hit to keep me up the rest of the day that I started facepalming myself.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Aha Moments! A Frosh Animation Collaboration, Amalgamation, Alphie Application

A short film for the Alphies--a USC Freshman film competition. Jabril decided the USC animators were going to enter this generally production-dominated competition, and directed this film created with the aid of most of the freshman animation class. We made the film in 2 weeks, and learned a lot about the complex collaborative process needed to make an animated movie in a timely manner. It was also incredibly fun.

That said, this took two intense weeks to create. TWO WEEKS, production students. Not one weekend. Especially not the ONE WEEKEND RIGHT BEFORE the SUBMISSION DEADLINE.

Friday, September 30, 2011

My Contribution to Jeremy the Hipster God

Jeremy O'Houlihan: Hipster God

For a general cinema class I'm taking, the large student body is split into around 8 groups. Each of these groups is required to give a half hour presentation to the class this semester. These presentations will be given a theme by the instructor. We had to come up with interweaving stories using photos taken by our peers the week before. The locations in these images will tell the story.
My group combined our stories by having all of them orbit around the character Jeremy O'Houlihan--a hipster photographer who chases ghosts, is forever alone, and likes images of empty spaces because they represent his soul.
Two of my fellow freshman animators were in my group, and we decided to make an animated film combining 3 separate stories about Jeremy. We came up with our concepts animated, and edited them in one night, so both Camille and I haven't slept in over 24 hours. But it was worth it, because our video is hilarious, and the animation isn't half bad.
Please enjoy! (For full enjoyment, please watch full-view.)

Week 5: Rhythm and Pattern

When I made this Tuesday I knew my teacher wouldn't like it all that much--she desperately wants me to stop using characters. But after animating dead grass and ant-infested dirt last week, I decided this week I'd animate what I wanted.
By the way, this animation is dedicated to my father, because his birthday occurred upon the day I began this. The content doesn't match him, but he wanted my flipbook dedicated to him, so there it is.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Nirvana Poster

A poster I made this week for a 5-minute challenge film led by Will Merrick and Scott Breitbarth, with the help of a bunch of other USC students. I wish I had had more time to make this, as my painting skills were super rusty, but I think it worked out alright. I'll leave a link to where you can watch the movie when it gets posted.

Here some of my process:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Week 4 Texture: "Watching Experimental Animation is Like . . ."

. . . watching grass grow. Then something predictable happens.
My instructor is experimental, and my character animation annoys her to no end. SO HERE IT IS. AN EXPERIMENTAL ANIMATION BY YOURS TRULY.
Sorry the end is blurry--I filmed both halves separately, and someone had really screwed with the focus on the down shooter.

EDIT: I got an A++++!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Week 3 Tone Exploration: Kafka in Wonderland

My third week animation assignment to work with tone and shade, neglecting lines. The original idea was Alice in Wonderland, but then I went Kafka, because Franz Kafka is THE MAN.

These are the events intended to be seen in this animation: Alice comes closer and we see that she is actually a giant, her apron becomes the backdrop, a mushroom grows under the mystic orchestration of the smoking caterpillar, who is consumed by smoke and darkness, becoming the Kafka-esque caterpillar who as he puffs on his cigarette has his face become transformed into a skull.

I still need to work on walking cycles--the one I created on my own here makes her look like a stomping demon. I think I should plan these books better, making less pages with better art.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

PikaPika! Light Animation Workshop at USC

If you look REALLY closely, you can see me squatting, grinning, and making the "Live Long and Prosper" sign with my left hand. I show up behind the orange guy with the big nose falling backwards--who is actually aspiring summer blockbuster director Will Merrick--who I animated.
It was a great time, and it gave me a new perspective about whether there are any limits when it comes to animation.

Experiments: "And Along Comes Alice"

Some things I tried along the way--some of which failed. This is really for my benefit and reference.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Star Crossed: Promo Poster

My very dear friend is about to get her second book published! The publishing company, while handling many things, is not handling publicity in her area. Therefore, I volunteered to create a promotional poster for her. I hope this meets with her approval.

Although I originally wanted to include at least 3 characters in the poster--the male love interest, June, and one of her best friends--I decided that the heroine alone was more striking, and eye-catching. (This was not laziness! I had drawn out the characters and everything already when I made this decision!) I also chose a simpler style than I normally employ, opting for the "cut-out" method. I felt this added intensity, sharpness, etcetera--my lined style is much more soft or zany, and wouldn't be quite dramatic enough. Furthermore, I'd been wanting to experiment with cut-outs for quite some time. Details to the poster may change--perhaps I'll come up with a gray watermark for the black part of the background, and I will almost certainly have to change the text and reorganize it once more details concerning the book's publishing comes in. Also, knowing Sarah, she'll want to screw around with the fonts I've chosen. >:C

Nevertheless, this is basically what the poster will look like if the boss approves . . . I hope. Below are a few of my steps in making this. Even my nasty sketch.

EDIT:  It has won the Wendel stamp of approval--even the fonts. Wonders may never cease. ;P Good luck with your book, Sarah!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Snow White Theme Caricature

Here’s a caricature I made of one of my close friends for her 18th birthday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HALEY! Two of her favorite things are Disney princesses and squirrels—which hopefully explains this picture. (If not, that’s Squirrel!Doc.) I REALLY hope she likes it. Here are some of my steps along the way to creating this.

EDIT: Ohthankgoodness, she loved it. But why is it so blurry on this site?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Phantom of the Paradise, Director Brian DePalma (1974)

Here at The Paradise we offer you a special blend of fantasy and fact. Atrocity and art. Music and murder twice nightly. And is the horror you witness mere theatrics, or is it real? The only way to be sure…is to participate. At The Paradise our performers are contracted to entertain you at any cost! And entertain you they will. Trust me…” Swan
Winslow discusses his musical with Phoenix.
Meet Winslow Leach—a bug-eyed, left-over hippie who can write the most perfect music that ever existed. But being an archetypal underdog and stereotypical  victim, it comes as no surprise when the dweeby musician’s cantata is stolen by the sinister Swan (played by the film’s composer, Paul Williams), a music producer of great renown who appears to be the devil incarnate. After a series of severe betrayals, accidents, and torments at the hands of Swan, Winslow is left with his face horribly disfigured, a growling, ruined voice, and a jaw full of iron molars, canines, and bicuspids. He has lost his music, he has lost his voice, and as a final blow he meets his true love, the rich-voiced Phoenix, only to have her swept away from him by the wave of fame Swan provides her. Winslow, now unable to sing the perfect music he composed, desires nothing more than for Phoenix to sing his cantata in his stead, vowing that “anyone else who tries, dies.”  He comes to terrorize Swan’s hotel called Paradise, destroying those who would mar his work with anything less than the perfection of Phoenix’s voice. 

Phantom of the Paradise is a dark comedy and musical much like Rocky Horror Picture Show, but for inexplicable reasons it remains far more obscure. Many of the songs contained in the film are parodies of various musical genres and styles popular during the 1970s, and the film’s plot and characters play off of the stories of The Phantom of the Opera, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Faust, and Frankenstein. Major themes in the film are the corruption of fame, specifically within the music industry, the danger of obsessive love (or obsession in general), and the evils of pride and the pursuit of perfection. However, the themes I find most prevalent in the film are the role of the artist in modern society, and how modern society views the artist.

Winslow, our pitiful protagonist, represents the Artist in society. He is depicted as a sentimental dreamer with a very dark, wrathful side to him—as illustrated by his tantrum at the film’s start when it is suggested someone other than him sing his best song, Faust. From this dark side of him stems his music, his obsession for perfection (an obsession he shares with Swan), and the thirst for revenge he acquires that causes him to become the Phantom. (Who but a TRUE artist would don the guise of what appears to be a gothy, metallic vampire-owl in order to reap his revenge?) 

The antagonist, Swan, on the other hand, is a producer who does not create music, but who lives off of and exploits the talents of others, throwing them, their careers, and sometimes their lives, away when he is finished with them. He also has the peculiar habit of requiring his musicians to sign their contracts for life and in blood. Furthermore, he will stoop to any level of decadence to put on a good show, and it is often ambiguous whether the human sacrifices and murders occurring on stage are mere theatrics or quite real. (As he says, the only way for the audience to be certain is to participate.) Swan represents how the materialism of the powerful entertainment industry cheats artists out of their work, and how the enterprise suffocates true art and beauty while elevating manufactured, shallow music for the masses’ consumption—music that speaks to the baser levels of humanity, rather than more sensitive songs like the ones Winslow composes. 

Performers for the song Somebody Super Like You.
However, Winslow, representing true artists, is continuously abused, used, and taken for granted. Swan’s music-manufacturing machine, Death Records, chews him up and spits him out—even steals his soul. As the Phantom, however, Winslow never ceases challenging the status quo, pursuing perfection through combining his songs with his true love’s voice. This mirrors the struggle of many great artists—the struggle to find beauty, and somehow meaning, in the face of opposition or a depressing existence.

(End spoiler warning for the next two paragraphs.) How society chooses to remember Winslow following his death is also representative of how the artist is viewed by society today. The opening song, Goodbye, Eddie, Goodbye, claims that musicians who suffer tragic, premature deaths are held particularly close to society’s heart, and are even viewed as martyrs of a generation. Conversely, the lyrics of the film’s concluding song, Hell of It, which plays during the credits, suggests that while society places its greatest artists upon pedestals during their prime, artists within our civilization are actually despised and seen as leeches or parasites (making Winslow Leach’s last name ironic). The song suggests humanity loves to see its idols fall from grace. But why? Is it because the artist’s decline—their loss of favor and beauty in the eyes of fans—is somehow their greatest masterpiece, moving people in a way their original rise to greatness did not? Or perhaps the masses enjoy seeing the artist humbled—brought low into the mundane existence society imposes.

Of course the concluding song’s portrayal of society’s artists, though highly insulting, is not wholly unfair to the movie’s characters. (Although the justice of the song, if applied to all artists in general, may be more debatable.) The lyrics of Hell of It—which, while relevant to all of the movie’s main cast, fit Winslow best—are sadly accurate when describing the Phantom as “super destructive, you were hooked on pain.” After all, Winslow as the Phantom is the image of twisted creativity, and he claims the role of a murderer. Winslow is also aptly described in the song as “born defeated,” and “died in vain.” This raises the question of whether the sad, worthless state of Winslow at the film’s close is the portrait of every artist, or if it is only the fate society imposes upon its artists. Phantom of the Paradise is an excellent—and painfully frank—exploration of this very issue. 

Of course the true reason Phantom of the Paradise still holds such a dedicated following is not for its existential messages, but for its truly amazing soundtrack. Paul Williams’ songs for this movie are often labeled as “new age rock,” and they are almost always described as being “ahead of their time.” Williams, who spent most of his career preceding the film composing easy-listening music for such groups as The Carpenters, dove into completely new territory with his spooky rock opera—strange and wonderful territory he never truly left, as he later went on to involve himself with such projects as The Muppets. Williams sings three songs on the movie’s album—more than any other artist involved. His songs include Phantom’s Theme, the second version of Faust, and, of course, Hell of It. 

I recommend this movie to musical fans, dark comedy fans, horror fans, and all fans of the bizarre—Phantom of the Paradise is truly the cult film all the other cult films want to be. Possessing a faultless soundtrack, a timeless theme, and unforgettable characters, it is my hope the rock opera will continue to circulate among cult film enthusiasts for generations to come.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Brendan and the Secret of Kells

The Secret of Kells is an Irish animated film. I had the pleasure of viewing it last summer during the California State Summer School for the Arts. The primary charm of the film is its light-hearted, imaginative quality, which is greatly due to the film's young main characters. Brendan, the young monk, and Aisling, the ghost girl, were exceedingly endearing for their innocence and bravery and other typically heroic qualities. Brendan, the protagonist, was not a particularly interesting character, but he was a sympathetic hero and served the plot-line effectively. Aisling, however, was captivating for her animalistic mannerisms and whispering, crackling voice . . . and then you realize she's dead.

Speaking of terrifying, Brendan’s uncle, the Abbot, is terrifying, and he was an excellent antagonist. He towers over the rest of the film’s cast, glowering with bulging blue eyes and a mysterious scar running down his face, lording over the other monks. What makes him all the more formidable as a villain, however, is that he is truly well-intentioned. There is nothing more unnerving than an antagonist who is trying to serve the greater good—it makes you doubt the moral integrity of the hero, and it undermines the protagonist’s morale, making him or her appear feeble and foolish. Just think about Ozymandias from Watchmen, Saruman from Lord of the Rings, or even the witch from Disney’s Tangled--who, while actually fostering Rapunzel for selfish reasons, made the heroine believe otherwise. “Greater Good Villains,” I feel, far surpass their more blatantly malignant peers. The Abbot is precisely such a villain, and I was very impressed.

One cannot help but commiserate with the Abbot, making the suspense created by Brendan disobeying his commands all the more intense. The Abbot, only desiring to protect the monks of his Abbey,  is the sole practical soul amongst a colony of idealists. While the other monks focus on art and enlightenment, the Abbot strives to build walls to protect his careless companions and their knowledge from the incoming viking hordes. Nevertheless, the man is callous and cruel and cold, as a villain should be. He locks his nephew in a dungeon, and responds to challenges made to his authority with physical intimidation. Between the Abbot's complexities and Aisling's dark back-story, The Secret of Kells has a surprisingly intriguing group of characters.

The cartooning style was very simplistic, but very effective. It gave the movie a light, airy feel, which I found conducive to the film’s innocent perspective, and very mythical/spiritual themes. The only thing that ever bothered me artistically about the film were the backgrounds. Sometimes they were downright cubistic—in that the animators tried to portray a 3D environment using only a one dimensional plane. Often I would wonder where, exactly, the characters were, or how the characters managed to navigate themselves through their Picasso-esque world. But I won’t condemn the backgrounds because, looking back, I see that the one dimensional, excessively simple settings were meant to reflect the Celtic art style of the time period the film is meant to represent. (During the rise of Christianity and the fall of Paganism in Europe—the time that yielded some of the West’s most treasured mythologies, such as the Arthurian legends.) The backgrounds, therefore, mirror the artistry Brendan must master in order to complete the illustrations of the Book of Kell.

Recommendations: I recommend this film to all artists and authors, as this movie is a homage to the powers of their crafts. The film is a celebration of books leading the way to enlightenment, thereby overcoming fear and hate and prejudice.

One Last Note: I watched the film with approximately 20 other students at CSSSA, and most of us were confused over the Book of Kell itself, although we hazarded that the book was a Bible of some sort. I suspect that European audiences, more familiar with the history of Christianity’s spread, were not so mystified, as the book is not fictional, but a Gospel manuscript book made by Celtic monks ca. 800 (approximately). The struggles of the monks to protect the book are based off fact, although the characters are the creation of the film’s director and animators. I highly encourage those who see the movie to read up on the fascinating history of the actual Book of Kell afterward!