June: Animated short in the making

From the makers of ‘Paperman’ comes a new animated short titled ‘June’ for the ride-sharing service Lyft from the States. Directors John Kahrs (Paperman) and Kevin Dart (from boutique design and animation studio Chromosphere) discuss their inspiration of how the animated short came to be.

 

The origins of June is poignantly moving. Ricardo Viramontes the creative director of Lyft called Kahrs up in attempt to make his short story about a Lyft driver a reality. He began with the framework of a woman, a single mum who lost her job and was struggling to make ends meet. This character continued to evolve, eventually becoming a character from the neighborhood of Bronzeville in Chicago.

Similar to Paperman, what is striking about the animation is the 2D aesthetic with an added dimension, except instead of merely having monochrome, June is full of colour. In fact a kaleidoscope of colour. This idea came from the wheels of the car and how the kaleidoscope is a bunch of pieces that come together to create a beautiful mosaic that they want it to represent it as what it is like to be part of a big community. This display of spinning multi-colours produces a wonderful aesthetic effect and transition of the kinds of people that hop on for the ride.

The team had definitely done their research by actually going around Chicago, also using Lyft services and asking questions and being surrounded by the culture and the people. It was helpful that the music artist they worked with ‘Sir the Baptist’ had experience as a former Lyft driver. They also showed their work in progress to drivers and people to get feedback to see how relatable the experiences were.

Understanding how Kahrs and Dart has collaborated helps me understand others thinking process of getting inspiration. Through their thorough investigation, they are able to not only achieve a wonderful aesthetic, but achieve a touching short story.

References:

Failes, I., 2016. How ‘Paperman’ Director John Kahrs and Chromosphere’s Kevin Dart Combined to Make This Animated Short For Lyft | CartoonBrew. [Online]
Available at: http://www.cartoonbrew.com/shorts/paperman-director-john-kahrs-chromospheres-kevin-dart-combined-make-animated-short-lyft-146389.html
[Accessed 12 June 2017].

 

Shorts Worth Investing?

Why invest in short films? Entertainment, accessibility, understanding human cognition. Historically, all forms of film had it’s beginnings as short films. This grew into feature films has people were able to develop more with the growing technology to exhibit more complex story lines. This was able to match up to the theatre and opera at the time and therefore were seen as respectable.

Short films were initially shown before any feature-length film, however this eventually proved unpopular and they were disregarded. However, MTV opened a new opportunity for short films. Tim Pope who directed for many musicians such as The Cure, The Bangles and Neil Young believes that the music video has allowed for a new type of short film-making. With the rise of technology, it was easier for more individuals to gain access to equipment to experiment. With the new age of technology and its platforms YouTube, Vimeo, Vine, Facebook, Twitter and so on, the more people have become drawn to ‘bite-sized’ pieces of information.

Although it is unlikely for short films to enter back in the cinemas before feature-length movies, Pixar has been screening delightful animated shorts.

Webseries is now a current thing, especially in Australia. Each episode is normally around 10 minutes. The difference between this and series from YouTube, is that it is classed as a more professional level. An air of seriousness with a twist of wit.

However, it is not always so fortunate for independent film makers to have the necessary finances; social media and crowd funding has become the main source of allowance. This is especially the case for web series where they rely on their own connections and social media outreach for there to have a demand in the first place.

When there is something unique, something exquisite to invest in, there is opportunity. Such an encouraging example is Trejur’s short animated film below.

Kickstarter, Patreon and Ko-fi are great places for people to support and invest creations. These platforms are helpful in understanding how to reach out, connect and show people why it is worth investing in a project.

Although it appears that Pixar has become seemingly reliant on sequels, the animated short ‘Piper’ from Pixar has proved how animation can be emotional and expressive without relying on the traditional anthropomorphizing of the characters. Perhaps through short film experimentation, this new department would take advantage of this new channel for exploring creative visions.

References:

Davies, R., 2010. The long history of short films. [Online]
Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/film-life/7593291/The-long-history-of-short-films.html
[Accessed 05 June 2017].

Flores, T., 2017. Oscar-Animated Short Nominees Break With Tradition. [Online]
Available at: http://variety.com/2017/film/awards/oscar-animated-short-nominees-break-with-tradition-1201981892/
[Accessed 05 June 2017].

Maher, M., 2016. 10 Revolutionary Breakthroughs in Animation History. [Online]
Available at: https://www.shutterstock.com/blog/breakthroughs-in-animation-history/
[Accessed 05 June 2017].

Shepard, J., 2017. Pixar launches new experimental aniamtede shorts department. [Online]
Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/pixar-original-film-experimental-animated-shorts-department-a7763581.html
[Accessed 05 June 2017].

 

 

Animation Community

During the making of my animated short titled ‘Love Returned’, I was thinking about the platforms that I wish to make my film available. I knew with certainty it would be put up on YouTube. Vimeo is a very good platform for releasing professionally produced videos, and thus I decided I would my film there as well.

I became intrigued as to what other platforms might be useful in gaining recognition and insightful knowledge. Thus animation festivals and forums was brought to my mind. From this I decided to research what are the best methods and routes to accessing the community and sharing my work.

Animation Forums

The most popular animation forums that has jumped out to me is: CGSociety and Animation World Network. I have just signed up and have discovered the multitude of topics and conversations that ranges from practical techniques of software to challenges to job recruitment and much more! It has been difficult for me to get into Twitter, and forums is another level that I feel I should overcome to get more involved in the community.

Animation Festivals

I had found this article that discusses the best strategies for distributing animation films. Paco Rodriguez was interviewed regarding the industry. He founded PPM Multimedia in 1990 worked in distribution and co-production financing whilst producing several animated series for children. He comments on the struggle of being distributed internationally as American films take the largest share of the entertainment industry. There is a larger supply of European films in the market than the demand. For instance in Germany the market is 90% American, 5% local German films and 5% for the rest of the world as reported in 2008. This was very interesting to consider, however I wanted to know more about animated shorts in particular and what kinds of tips there are to more successfully distribute work.

On Cartoon Brew, Amid Amidi suggests 4 rules to successfully distribute short films online.

  1. Put your film online while it is still in festivals
  2. Short films should always have a release date
  3. Do not give away online rights
  4. Distribute on every platform

The links below are of a number of animation festivals to get involved in:

http://www.glasanimation.com/2014/04/25/guide-to-animation-festivals/

http://www.cartoonbrew.com/animation-festival-guide

http://www.animation-festivals.com/submit-to-festival/

Streaming

I was chatting with my friend the other day and was reminded of another method of connecting to the public audience, that is through live streaming. I have not come across Twitch previously, but I realised they had a large section for creative streaming. It seems like a great place to learn and share, to be able to ask for tips and tricks but also for community. It would be the next step forward I feel after grounding myself using YouTube and having a Facebook page.

References:

Amidi, A., 2017. 4 New Rules To Successfully Distribute Your Short Film Online | Cartoon Brew. [Online]
Available at: http://www.cartoonbrew.com/shorts/4-new-rules-successfully-distribute-short-film-online-148855.html
[Accessed 29 May 2017].

animation-festivals.com, 2017. Animation Festival Submission Deadlines | Submit Your FilmAnimation Festivals.com. [Online]
Available at: http://www.animation-festivals.com/submit-to-festival/
[Accessed 29 May 2017].

AWN, 2015. AWN Forums | Animation World Network. [Online]
Available at: https://www.awn.com/forum
[Accessed 29 May 2017].

Bonds, J., 2015. Animation Festival List and Guide | GLAS Animation. [Online]
Available at: http://www.glasanimation.com/2014/04/25/guide-to-animation-festivals/
[Accessed 29 May 2017].

Cartoon Brew, 2004-2017. Top International Animation Festivals List and Submission Guide. [Online]
Available at: http://www.cartoonbrew.com/animation-festival-guide
[Accessed 29 May 2017].

Cineurope, 2008. Best Strategies for Distributing an Animation Film. [Online]
Available at: http://www.cineuropa.org/dd.aspx?t=dossier&l=en&tid=1369&did=82600
[Accessed 29 May 2017].

The CGSociety, 2002-2017 . CGTalk. [Online]
Available at: http://forums.cgsociety.org/
[Accessed 29 May 2017].

Twitch Interactive, 2017. Creative – Twitch. [Online]
Available at: https://www.twitch.tv/directory/creative
[Accessed 29 May 2017].

 

 

Voice Acting Session


Today, my sound designer (Mark) and I began voice recording all the characters. My flatmate who goes to drama has announced for me opportunities for voice acting to the society regarding my project. Three volunteered, the perfect number of people.

Before coming in, I sent them a link to the animatic. When they arrived we decided on the roles. After that, we ran through the entire script together just to get a feel of it.

We individually recorded each character by talking through the script in sections. After a number of takes for a section, we would move on to the next section. Adapting and giving different emphasis in speech was helpful to give thought to the final selection. The reason why it was necessary to separately record was for clarity of the recording.

Mark helped with the recording and editing. After the session, we listened to the recordings. In hindsight when putting the recordings together, we realized that it seemed disjointed at some parts. One thing to consider in the future is to practice the script with all the actors together to get a better feel of continuity and flow. Mark also began to realize another issue that would have helped in efficiently selecting the takes to create the final audio is to have an audio guide whereby I would read out the dialogue for all the characters and the actors talk with a similar pace to control the timing (that helps with the animation as well). Although I do feel that may loose the expressiveness of some characters or perhaps I realize later on that there is a better way of saying the dialogue.

I wanted to dig deeper into the perspective of voice over artists and searched for interviews. One such talent is David Kaye who talks about his experience and his advice is to ‘never grow up’, in interacting with people in order to also be relaxed when performing.

From an article by Animation World Network, below was quoted wise words from John Lasseter.

Animators should focus on the acting…make the characters think and act…start with the body first, next focus on the eyes, and last focus on the mouth. When reviewing reels we look at the acting first.”

— John Lasseter, November 4, 1996 during a lecture at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles.

The article continues to mention not only do animators have to understand the process of acting in order to create a character, but they also have to be able to direct and communicate with actors for projects involving live actors for reference or motion-capture.

I continued to research through the book Performance and Acting for Animators and in chapter 8 titled ‘Working with Actors’, it details helpful information about how to get the best out when working with voice over artists, as well as the finer details of the operation process.

A common misconception is that the rehearsal is the place where the performance is decided upon and finalized and that the recording session is where the performance is recorded. In fact, the rehearsal is actually about opening the script, delving into it and coming to a common understanding; finding out what the movie is about for each character and playing with the material. It is not intended to have things fixed in stone, rather to explore the possibilities. Some directors do not like this process because they believe it removes the spontaneity of the performance.

It is true that voice actors nowadays are recorded not in the presence of the other characters. However there are times where they are able to listen to the recorded voices of previous voice actors.

The book discusses how to talk to actors and mentions if one is directing, it is assumed that one would be more outgoing than implied and one would be used to talking to people like producers to give direction to animators and the rest of the film crew. It is recommended if within the budget to hire a voice director, not saying to take over completely but to translate what the director wants. Before each take, the actors should be given some context, physical actions and envisage what the character is doing. There is the idea of using verbs, acting coach Judith Weston calls “action verbs”. For example if a character is angry with another character, instead of saying “more anger”, it is better to ask to “scold” or to “intimidate”. Giving feedback at the end of a take is also very helpful for both director and actor.

It is quite odd to be reading all this information after the recording session, however after processing and editing all the dialogue, if needed it is possible to call the actors back again. Fortunately, the direction that I had handled in interacting with my sound designer and actors was more or less in line with what was described in the book. However, more research and a better group practice session would have been better in connecting the characters and improving the flow of the dialogue to make a more convincing take.

References:

Hayes, D. & Webster, C., 2013. Acting and Performance for Animation. 1 ed. s.l.:Focal Press.

Lieff, J., 2000. Performance And Acting For Animators. [Online]
Available at: https://www.awn.com/animationworld/performance-and-acting-animators-0
[Accessed 22 May 2017].

 

 

Forefront Discourses

Yesterday I have picked up two magazines: ImagineFX (future issue July) and Computer Arts (May). Both contain insightful information regarding the current trends in design and animation. There are tips on style, techniques, free tutorials, new brush palettes, interviews and discussion. I am still reading through the articles but I want to mention two that has been brought to my attention.

Within the Computer Arts issue contains advice from the award-winning Disney animators. Dan Povenmire and Jeff ‘Swampy’ Marsh are the creators of Phineas and Ferb and Milo Murphys Law. They share their top animation tips:

Photograph doodles – collect, select, and improved selected

Create illusion of character processing information – good convincing is good thinking

Playing with expression – eyebrows, lips

Thinking characters in three dimension – character turn arounds

Simple geometry

Handling exaggeration – mid range

Anticipation of character – instead of going up, go down slightly then up for bigger reaction

Don’t try to be perfect

From ImagineFX, the artist Guweiz (real name is Zheng Wei Gu) was interviewed. From Singapore, he initially planned to become a pharmacist. At the age of 16, after watching a YouTube video on a tutorial of how to draw an Anime face, he tried to replicate and it turned out quite decently. He began drawing every day and searched the internet for references. Social media became his ‘art school’ and he gained advice, feedback and validation in order to move forward. He began his professional career as an illustrator for Legend of the Cryptic and eventually completed promotional art for the big budget film Ghost in the Shell.

Guweiz says when completing work for a client, the artist believes the most important thing to remember is that he is telling someone else’s story.

In his digital paintings, he mentions that the image’s success is based on how solid the underlying idea is. He reveals that an idea takes a few days to ‘mature’, but he will always consider these questions: what’s the impression you want to make? Does your subject and general content in the piece help to make that impression? Is there a better subject or composition?

He splits his personal work into three main categories: colour sketches (usually an environment and simple character, focusing on mood and story); character drawings (zoomed in on a character); and photo studies (to sharpen skills).

Guweiz describes his work as fantasy art and his biggest influence was his family visits to Shanghai. Due to the fog, he associated these grey days with happy thoughts and memories. This really struck me as I realised how ones individual style can be derived. Through drawing and creating, one would potentially gravitate to what they like, the genre, the feel, the tonality, what colours, characters and environments produced that is most comfortable and enjoyable, would be one route to uncovering ones style.

After reading through the magazines, I came to realize it’s importance in two areas. The first is that it is a great source of encouragement and understanding artists’ thought process and work ethic, among other discourses. Secondly, it is a helpful platform for connecting and communicating within the social media of animation.
Reference:

  • Carson, N., 2017. How to Animate the Disney Way. Computer Arts, Issue 266, pp. 88-91.
  • Howlett, C., July 2017. Artist Portfolio Guweiz. ImagineFX, Issue 149, pp. 40-47.

     

New Inspiration, again!

 

As I continue to search through Youtube to obtain the necessary information, I came across this channel that got me really excited. The Bible Project uses animation to help people understand and break down the 66 books of the bible that consist of letters, gospels, writings of prophets and records.

The style, motion graphics and visuals are attractive and helpful in understanding the concepts. I am very much interested in creating visuals as a documentary format or educational format in the future. However, my current final project is based more on a narrative, I am still drawn to the mentioned formats.

It is great to view the behind the scenes in what they do and get a glimpse of their thought process behind their current projects of the time they released the video.

How they plan for series, try to keep it coherent and the styles they consider, and viewing their layout and image collage was very insightful!

Voice Acting for Animation

Yesterday I did a test run with friends recording the dialogue of the older brother, Michael Parker. It was a very informative session as I discussed with my sound designer (who will be helping out with sound effects, sound tracks and in this session voice recording), the effects of diction, emphasis on certain words to bring across different impacts and connotations. We had mutual friend to do the voice acting, although not experienced, was helpful in the process.

I realized the importance of voice acting and its relation to animation. That both should compliment each other in order for it to be convincing. Thus I decided to research and read articles and books on voice acting for animation to observe how standard collaboration is done.

A helpful book I came across is Acting and Performance for Animation by Derek Hayes and Chris Webster. It describes that good performance must consider a number of elements. The actor must absorb the cinematography, editing, environment, backgrounds, sound, character design and so on. It is also important to understand which creative approach is taken to aid in determining one’s practical approach to animation, performance and having a clear aim to achieve. Hayes and Webster breaks it down into three distinct categories: simulation, representation and interpretation.

Simulation animation is used when a high degree of realism is required. For instance the film The Perfect Storm directed by Wolfgang Petersen (USA, Warner Bros. 2000) contains realistic sound effects that can only be convincing if well replicated.

Representations demands for less accurate movement that can be observed by the behaviour of the subject, making it as believable as possible. In the BBC TV documentary series Walking with Dinosaurs, the sounds created were of something similar in size, shape and action and made believable even though the audience does not have a real reference.

Interpretation is a more creative expression and neither depends on naturalistic or believable movements. An example is Clive Walley’s Dark Matter (one of six three-minute films in Divertimenti 1983).

 

The fact that they have mentioned about sound design in this manner reminded me of an article I had read by Kate Finan on The History of Animation Sound that is linked below. It details how the two main animation studios Disney and Warner Bros. had their two different techniques of sound design.

 

Back to Hayes and Webster, they mention the book is not intended to be a manual for writing the animated film, but suggests that directors and animators must understand something about story and script before they can begin to produce a vital and interesting character performance. Researching may help in understanding the script better to create empathy for the story and characters. Finding links between one’s life and aspirations to that of the characters would be better in breaking down the personalities of the character to see the needs and desires behind their actions.

From that segment of reading, I made another search on the relation of voice acting to animation and found an article that discusses the success of Hayao Miyazaki’s films in America voiced by star voice actors. One successful example is Spirited Away’s Oscar. There appears to be two broad categories to ‘quality’ animation star voice, that is it invokes the physical star persona and secondly that quality can be carried in the voice itself. An example is Hamill’s roles as villain Muska in Castle in the Wind and as the Mayor of Pejite in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Hamill drastically shifts his normal vocal qualities in both roles by the level of pitch, accent and pacing.

This mini research has brought to my attention to further detail of the animation process and the groups of people, skills and technical aspects that need to be dealt with. Further reading and research into this area of animation would be useful in creative approaches, influence and application.

References:

Denison, R., 2008. Star-Spangled Ghibli: Star Voices in the American Versions of Hayao Miyazaki’s Films. animation: an interdisciplinary journal, 3(2), pp. 129-146.

Finan, K., 2015. The History of Animation Sound – Boom Box Post. [Online]
Available at: https://www.boomboxpost.com/blog/2015/11/8/the-history-of-animation-sound
[Accessed 17 May 2017].

Hayes, D. & Webster, C., 2013. Acting and Performance for Animation. 1 ed. s.l.:Focal Press.