Saturday, 1 May 2010

Ken's philosophy on animation

*cracks fingers* So my philosophy........

For the past two years we have been taught by the fine tutors of DJCAD that an animation should have a narrative and character, and the character should have some sort of purpose, i.e. it is pursuing a goal, wanting something, etc. It's the conventional Disney approach. And it's taught for a reason; it works, and it works well. However, with all of the wonderful permutations that animation has to offer, it is a shame to be limited to this convention. If you look at music videos, they don't always have a narrative. Sometimes they are a procession of thought-provoking images which you will remember and ponder about, and sometimes they will affect you emotionally. All of that can be achieved without a narrative and character, if done well of course.

In my humble opinion, animation is an artform which should be able to run free in the fields and not be blocked off by some Disney-fied fence. It should be expressive, mean something to the director and team and something that will captivate an audience and amuse and provoke thoughts in equal measure. You don't always need a character nor a narrative to do all of these.

I fully appreciate the art of making a character and making the audience feel empathy for him/her/it. It truly is a joy to behold. But it is getting harder and harder to come up with something original. Take Avatar for example. Wonderful visuals, great music score. But the plot? Comprehensively cliche. But it got off with it mainly because of the great animation on offer.

In conclusion, one deserves the right to animate whatever they want as long as it appeals to an audience and serves a purpose, with or without a character and/or narrative. If everyone were to animate whatever they wanted in whatever style then presumably a vast amount more creativity and originality will bubble up to the forefront and mainstream.

Just do not mention something as daft as Unobtainium.

Existential Musings

My philosophy on animation??

Well, to anyone who knows me even a tiny bit this is going to be obvious... but I believe that a perfect union of sound and image is absolutely central to the success or failure of a piece. So many times I have seen a piece with beautiful visuals fall flat on its face for lack of a decent soundtrack, and... well, it really winds me up. For a character-based piece, I believe that the leitmotif is very important, and when I wrote the music for Last Show, I wrote it with the thinking that every character has its own "theme" - although in a three-minute piece when each theme is played only once it perhaps doesn't come across so well! A good example of leitmotif is in the Doctor Who score.

I also think choice of instruments is very important. There's a great little documentary on The Full Monty extras DVD where Anne Dudley, who wrote the Academy Award-winning score, talks about the part in the film where Dave wraps himself in clingfilm in an effort to lose weight - then eats a Snickers bar. She uses a brass ensemble to narrate the moment when he wraps the clingfilm around and around - building up to a crescendo - then when he bites into the Snickers, a pathetic-sounding harmonica replaces the brass.

Ironically, the best soundtracks are the ones you don't even pay attention to, because they compliment the visuals so perfectly. Unless you're me, of course - nowadays I quite often find myself noticing and appreciating a good soundtrack, where I didn't before. Soundtracks that don't compliment the visuals jump out at you, and have a jarring effect on the pace of the film.

Now I should probably talk about something that is more specifically animation-related... Pixar's advice to anyone applying for a job in animation (as opposed to modelling, rigging, etc) was that the characters in the reel do NOT have to be visually stunning or even particularly well-modelled: "Your showreel could feature an argument between a cube man and a sphere man... as long as the ACTING is there, it doesn't matter." Pixar demonstrated this with Luxo Jr - a basic model that acted beautifully. Bad acting destroys an otherwise beautiful animation piece just as real-life bad actors destroy an otherwise beautiful film. Sadly, while I can definitely appreciate good and bad acting, I am not a natual actor or animator myself... so there may well be a lot of headaches next term while I try to get things exactly right.