An Animated Future for 3-D

By Kara Lynn Andersen is an Assistant Professor of Film Studies at Brooklyn College,

“Interest in 3-D images precedes cinema and is ongoing today, but as a commercial venture 3-D film production has waxed and waned several times.  But is it possible for 3-D filmmaking to be sustainable as a commercial venture?  Rather than trying to assert what will happen, I explore some common objections, suggesting that the key to sustainable 3-D might be the animated feature film.

One argument against sustainability holds that a film needs a reason integral to the subject matter for the 3-D.  Werner Herzog chose the format for Cave of Forgotten Dreams in order to capture the way cave paintings made use of the rock shapes, for example.  But do we ask whether films employing sound, color, or widescreen have particular reasons behind them?  Some certainly do, but we don’t require it. Rick Mitchell argues that because the best 3-D film processes are too expensive for most theatres to install, 3-D production will remain centered on the less satisfying processes and therefore fizzle out.  This is akin to saying that television will never catch on because its screen is smaller than the cinema.

Some challenges to sustainable 3-D have recently been overcome.  3-D TVs now make it possible to view movies in 3-D at home, and 3-D TVs that do not require glasses will be available as well.  The games industry is producing 3-D games, and this increases the demand for 3-D in general.  As yet, there is no solution for people who get headaches from 3-D.  But this is unlikely to prevent 3-D from gaining ground.  Video games employing first person perspective trigger simulation sickness in some people – but this has not stopped the games industry from releasing more sickness-inducing games, because they sell well.

Arguments for 3-D note that it adds a dimension of realism, but stereoscopic technology is too limited to do more than gesture at a lived spatial experience.  J. P. Telotte has argued that 3-D films imply physical contact through an illusion of depth, and these moments “pointedly work to violate our space, only to leave us sensing something amiss, something unaccounted for.” Thus, live-action 3-D production has been centered primarily in the less realistic genres: science fiction, thrillers, horror, fantasy, and animation.  This is also what makes 3-D a crowd-pleaser: it is not the everyday realism of seeing in three dimensions that we do every day.  It’s something that pretends to be like it, but offers a different sensation.

Currently, 3-D films fail to meet the reigning standards of photorealism and audiences seem to respond best when 3-D is used for fantasy.  By sidestepping the questions of realism and purpose behind the effect, animated films provide 3-D images that are simply fun. As a mode of film not commonly closely associated with realism, 3-D animated films may be the key to developing a sustainable commercial audience.”
Article Link 

My thoughts 

When I go to the cinema to watch a movie that is available for 3-D I always op for the 2-D screening. This is because I find the glasses use hurt my eyes after a while and give me a head ache ( plus they are not really suitable for people who need to wear glasses). I find that the picture is dark and loses quality. I have sat through films that have only a couple of scenes when I have even noticed the 3-D, this is usually in a scene with flying objects. I understand the reasoning behind 3-D, trying to make a sense of depth and make the audience feel more there . I have yet to experience a 3-D television at home so I have no opinion of them, but going to theatres I prefer the normal screening of 2-D.

Abstract Thought as a Danger Zone in Inside Out

Mihaela Mihailova is a PhD candidate in the joint Film and Media Studies and Slavic Languages and Literatures program at Yale University.

“Inside Out (Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen, 2015), Pixar’s film about the structure and inner workings of a preteen girl’s mind, represents the human brain as a cross between a factory and an amusement park. The feature’s mismatched protagonist duo, Joy and Sadness, find themselves stranded inside this landscape and forced to navigate its various sections in order to return to Headquarters (the room from which they control the girl Riley’s emotional responses) as quickly as possible. In one scene, Bing Bong – Riley’s forgotten childhood imaginary friend – decides to help them by taking them on a shortcut through a tunnel-like space that represents abstract thought.

What ensues is one of Pixar’s most conceptually self-reflexive episodes. From the very beginning, abstract thought is designated as a danger zone. Above the door leading into it, a warning sign reads “Danger. Keep Out!” Sadness reacts to Bing Bong’s suggestion to go through there with immediate concern, telling Joy that she has “read about this place in the manual. We shouldn’t go in there.” “There” turns out to be a vast, empty, seemingly endless white space where the rules of gravity do not apply, as demonstrated by a myriad geometric structures hovering in the air. This is unusual for Pixar or any other commercial American animated feature and is therefore implicitly coded as otherworldly and unsettling due to its lack of definition and concrete detail.

Abstract thought is not simply a spooky place, however. It quickly transforms into an active physical threat to the characters’ bodily integrity. Joy, Sadness, and Bing Bong undergo several rapid changes in visual design. First, they transform into Picasso versions of themselves, all angular shapes and misaligned facial features (a transformation which, as Sadness explains, is meant to depict nonobjective fragmentation). Then, they literally fall apart into pieces (deconstruction). At the third stage, the white space suddenly squashes them, turning them into two-dimensional, stylized versions of themselves. Finally, right before they manage to escape, all three characters are reduced to single-colored shapes (a yellow star and two blobs, blue and pink). In that sense, abstract thought is portrayed as a destructive, uncontrollable, and terrifying force.

The terms in which the characters verbalize the threat of abstraction holds the key to Pixar’s approach to animation. Bing Bong shouts that he is lacking depth. Joy laments her two-dimensionality. Sadness warns that they need to get out of there “before [they’re] nothing but shape and color.” As it turns out, what is dangerous and scary about Abstract Thought is abstraction itself. In the Pixar universe, straying away from the reassuring familiarity of three-dimensional physical reality (however creatively augmented by stylization and caricature it may be) is unthinkable and self-destructive. It is an unwarranted risk. It is aesthetic suicide – not to mention a marketing one (flat, cubist figurines rarely make it onto the toy bestseller list). Abstraction is the antithesis to Pixar’s creative philosophy. As Sadness points out, the Pixar manual advises against going there. In Pixar – and American studio animation at large – abstraction remains off limits, while two-dimensionality is increasingly unwanted and dangerous.”

Article Link 

My thoughts 

This was an interesting read. I have seen ‘Inside Out’ and did not realise the meaning of the abstract thought room. Pixar has very smartly added in something that has always been off limits and considered ‘dangerous’. They have brought this into the storyline in a very creative way, being emphasised by the ‘Danger, Keep Out’ sign.

“Business. Business. Business. Numbers. Is this Working?” Art vs. Commerce in the Post-Disney Pixar Studio

An piece written by Helen Haswell is a PhD candidate in film studies at Queen’s University Belfast.

“Her primary research area focuses on Pixar Animation Studios in relation to film production, marketing and distribution, and the impact of the studio’s acquisition by The Walt Disney Company. Her article ‘To Infinity and Back Again: Hand-drawn Aesthetic and Affection for the Past in Pixar’s Pioneering Animation’ was published in Alphaville Journal of Film and Screen Media in January 2015.”

In this short written piece Helen Haswell as looked at Pixar’s success before the Disney take over and after. She gives a brief description of the beginnings of Pixar in 1995, set up originally as an art centred studio with taylorism shown in their work process. Describing Pixar studios as ‘an animators paradise’.

“Pixar has been acknowledged with numerous awards both domestically and internationally, producing films that attract blockbuster and art house audiences, families, couples and cinephiles. The continued and growing success of the studio has been described as an anomaly and is held up as an exemplar for fledgling companies.” 

Pixar was bought by Disney in 2005 for $7.4 billion, which saw Pixar’s Ed Catmull and John Lasseter assume positions as President and Chief Creative Officer of both Pixar and Disney Animation Studios. Helen mentions the films released since then, and points out the reputation of Pixar being disputed. The delayed release of Inside our and Good dinosaur resulted in no movies being released in 2014. This has not happened since 2005.

“Pixar’s reputation as “infallible” has been disputed. Following the phenomenal success of Toy Story 3 in 2010, the studio has been unable to replicate the flawless “Pixar formula”. Furthermore, the delayed release of Inside Out (2015) and The Good Dinosaur (2015), and the announcement of further sequels to the Cars (2006 and 2011) franchise, the Toy Story (1995, 1999 and 2010) series, The Incredibles (2004) and Finding Nemo (2003) suggest that the acquisition has initially had a negative impact on Pixar’s brand identity and studio narrative.”

“The title of my post is taken from The Lego Movie (2014), a film that was a commercial and critical success, but “snubbed” at the 2015 Academy Awards. Why am I mentioning it here? I think there are parallels between this and the change in attitude towards Pixar. Articles written about Pixar (the hype surrounding the studio’s early success, the comparison to Disney animation, the release of sequels, the lacklustre response to some of Pixar’s latest films – see reviews of The Good Dinosaur) all point to an apparent disconnect between Disney, as the multimedia conglomerate, and Pixar, as the independent artist-centred studio. This is summed up simply during the premiere screening of Inside Out at Cannes: audible cheers as Pixar’s name appeared onscreen, and boos for Disney’s. This is further exemplified in the marketing of Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur. The films have been praised for their artistry, but have been promoted via fast food chain Subway and Sky Broadband. And the merchandise for these films seem somewhat contrived; Toy Story toys make sense. Cars toy cars make sense. A full Apatosaurus costume?

My thoughts

Reading this I found it a little opinionated and some points I would disagree with. I would not say Pixar were ‘losing there touch’. Helen was implying that they have been unable to stay original, resulting in the production of sequels. I believe that the commerce side of a block buster movie has alot to do with the success. Although Helen ended her article with “Toy Story toys make sense. Cars toy cars make sense. A full Apatosaurus costume?. ”  I have seen many merchandise of  the Good dinosaur, in not only toys but clothing, furniture and stationary. However, it was true it was not a big a success as hoped, but what child would not like a talking dinosaur? In short I believe., as the title of this article suggest, it is all about business business business, no matter what company, Pixar or Disney.

Article Link

Animating by numbers: workflow issues in Shane Acker’s 9

I read an article by Matthew Teevan of Starz Animation. He gives a short overview of Starz Animation’s production process of Shaker’s Animation feature, 9. It looks at the challenges this production had to make, with a small budget and limited time frame. Even so the animation kept a high level of invention and creativity to address the issues without compromising the films quality. In this article it address some ways in which they approached problems and how they developed solutions. The article mainly looks at character design, art direction and workflow in the production pipeline. For a smaller studio, it offers insight on seeking a Hollywood style animated feature that can stand up against major studios such as Pixar and Dream works.

“Starz (now known as Arc Productions)  is based in Toronto, Canada, and employs around 275 people. We are now making our sixth feature film. What differentiates Starz from major studios like Pixar or Dreamworks is that we function as a ‘studio-for-hire’, so if a movie requires some computer-generated characters, for example, we might do them for a whole film, but we can essentially handle a film from development through to post-production. We operate in downtown Toronto amidst a lot of other animation studios. In this article, I want to talk about the making of an independent film and the workflow process that informs it.”

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Starz Animation Studio – now typical in being configured as computer work stations, and populated by staff working on specific projects, and having a dedicated aspect of production to carry out in relation to an overall workflow pipeline. Screen Grab from Article

The animated short 9 created by Shane Acker was noticed by film director Jimmy Lemly. He is an American film and television producer based in Paris best known for his work on the hit action-thriller film Wanted. Lemly recognise the potential of 9 for a feature development. He turned to Director Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov to help raise funds for the production.

 

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Jim Lemley

 “They in turn took it to Focus Features, who are essentially an art-house live-action studio, but who seemed suitable in recognizing the art-house/commercial crossover of 9.They liked the quirky approach and styling of the film, and worked on it for a year and a half before bringing in Starz as a service house to work on some scenes already in production in Europe, which were falling a little behind schedule. We ended up taking on more work and ended up doing the whole film – some 1550 shots – even reworking some scenes that had already been completed, so that the aesthetic of the film remained consistent.” MATTHEW TEEVAN Starz Animation

Matthew Teevan talks about how they wanted to keep the design true to the original short film created by Shane Acker.

“Much of the initial design stage was based on the original visual concepts in the short film. We needed to visualize what this world was going to look like. These weird little puppet people were living in a post-apocalyptic environment, and though it was being done in CGI, it was very important to Acker that the whole piece was characterized by a very tactile feel, that it had a sense of ‘old school’ stop-motion, and that the movement in the environment responded to an authentically material world. Some of the technical aspects that had been acceptable in the short needed changing for the feature, so a lot of work had to be done to make the puppets functional, yet dress them in the same way as Acker required – the seemingly hand-made, amateur-looking ‘dressing’ had to hide a more sophisticated and robust ‘skeleton’. This was hard work as the characters are essentially a net, with a limited pattern, and this posed problems with moving them, so we needed an extensive pose panel or pose chart – initially of about 15–20 poses identified at the beginning of the project, but added to across the production – to see where the material would stretch, how we would achieve balance, etc. The pose charts also helped different animators achieve consistent movement or emotional gestures across scenes – if we achieved a great scene with ‘5’ looking sad, we would direct another animator to look at the pose chart on which it was based to imitate that emotional performance.”

As the characters are very similar they where able to use the on rig for half of the main characters. For they bigger characters they had to customise the rig to adapt, this also went for the smaller characters. This helped alot in keeping the budget as low as possible,  aswell as time limitations. They really wanted to get that ‘Focus’s usual independent art -house feel’ as it was not a high concept movie.

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Screen Grab in Article 

 

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Screen grab from article

As this was not a children’s story, but very dark and violent, it allowed them to be very creative, but still kept to the original story of Shane Arkers, wanting to get as much of his content on screen as possible with high quality.

Problems

A problem they faced was the characters design for animation. In the original short there was very little movement in the characters for them to animate. They had to put alot of attention into the mouth of the characters, aswell as the eyes. The irises would dilate and the mouth contracted and expanded, but there was little else.

“This was problematic because there were a lot of sophisticated emotional moments and a lot of backstory to convey. It was quite hard for the animators, therefore, to find the emotional performances in the characters, and this was crucial as the backstory has a lot about the characters caring for each other. They had to achieve a lot through body language and key poses, and a great deal through what could be suggested through the eyes and mouth. Once we got a turnaround, surfaced model to a certain level, for example, we would try and place it in a key environment, so we could judge how it could be lit, and how particular kinds of specularity in the ‘eye-cans’ might communicate something. Using a rough set-up was extremely useful in seeing how colour and lighting might communicate emotion. Also, this was important in helping to differentiate the characters, 6 and 8 particularly, who posed particular problems because they were essentially white. For example, 8 looked bright blue in some environments so we had to adjust him almost on a scene-by-scene basis.”

Another challenge they faced was the ensemble nature of the characters. Since there are essentially 9 main characters in this movie which where all on screen for alot of the time, they first thought they had to create all the characters before any work could be started.

“Usually, you might have one or two central characters that can be plotted through scenes, and a workflow allocated accordingly, but here we had a number of the characters on-screen most of the time, although, quite helpfully, we saw in the storyboard that as one gets discovered another one often gets killed !! So, we developed a workflow looking at when the fewest or the same characters were involved. We built 9 because he was in the first sequence and the only one in it, then we added 2 as he emerged, and so on, and this helped us create sequences. Because 5 looked a lot like 2, we could build him really quickly, and work on a range of sequences with those characters. Throughout, ‘animation’ was really chasing ‘rigging’ and it was a very intensive process. The beast characters were entirely different, and highly complicated, as well as time consuming. The ‘Seamstress’ and the ‘World-Building Machine’ were highly complex designs and rigs. They were the last characters completed. Basically, the workflow was created on the basis of how we could match technical requirements – effectively the number of built characters – to when they emerged in the story, saving as much time and money as we could. Though the film was, therefore, made out of sequence, it did not matter, as we had a nearly fully developed storyboard.”

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Screen grab from article

One of the more complex characters in design and animation, the Seamstress, who captures characters in the sewn mesh of her own body.

For the character modellers, they recieved  orthographic views and technical guide information. This gave them another challenge as they had to think about how they where going to shoot the materiel:

“This threw up the issue of ‘scale’ as we had to put together elements that seemed to have different scale references. We had to decide how to actually shoot the material. We had to decide if we were shooting 10-inch tall characters, and photographing them with a heavy depth of field, which can be hard to watch. We decided upon a creative conceit in which we would pretend that there was a miniature cameraman, who was also 10 inches tall, and had a 10-inch tall camera, and the laws of physics, which would be applied to the photography, would be scaled down accordingly. So, essentially you become part of the scale of their world, and everything is in proportion. This becomes clear when you see some of the dead people lying around or compare the characters to other objects and bigger environments.”

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Screen Grab from article

“In relation to a lot of design and layout much of this work is done in 2D – it is drawn, Photoshopped, painted – and we build as many of the assets in advance before we get into shot and sequence production. We decided to geometry-optimize as many of the assets as we could, which means that we could adjust the shape and view of something to make it look different, so that within any one shot we could save on rendering. There was so much rubble, for example, we merely rendered a few pieces then optimized placement and shooting issues. This meant going to layout as early as possible and using as much pre-visualization as possible to facilitate trajectories and rendered elements. If the camera was placed in a certain position we could judge very early what was going to be seen and what would be less seen, and plan what was required accordingly. Thankfully there is always something being knocked down or rebuilt in Toronto, so we could always go and photograph a lot of reference material. We had to do a burned-out car, too, so we repurposed some footage from a movie called Everyone’s Hero (Colin Brady, USA/Canada, 2006) which featured lots of 1930s cars. We retextured it, of course, and did a lot of visual distressing, and that served our purpose well, and it serves as a good example of using extant or previous acquisitions and assets. Reusing materials by turning it around and shooting from a different angle was also another strategy. The art department goes through every shot and creates a colour ‘thumbnail’ too, in order to establish colour tone, hue and saturation. All of this is considered in what we call ‘The Blue Book’ reading, which considers every shot from a technical point of view in relation to the assets, assembly and animation. We then allocate tasks, and define specific work, because in the time frame we had we did not want to create anything that was not actually, ultimately going to be on-screen”

Three Main Challenges

“There were three essential challenges. First, the character animation, especially in regard to the design and the physical storytelling. Second, the construction of this world, which though it had a homogeneity as a post-apocalyptic environment, there were lots of diverse places they had to go to – everything basically blew up, was burned down or destroyed by machines. Much of that was about looking at the frame, and deciding how it might look most effective, so we used a lot of matte painting. The characters remained in 3D, the foreground environment remained in 3D, but thereafter, it was often rough geometry, and matte painting on a variety of planes. There was the benefit of immediacy in this; for the most part we had a clear sense of what things were looking like. The third concern was the dark palette of the film, and whether this would work not only in the cinema, but when it translated to television. At one level we exploited the colour script to both hide some things and suggest others, and the darkness was ‘forgiving’ in some scenes with the large machines. A lot of work was done in post-production, particularly in colour correction, to anticipate what its readability would be in all formats, and to make sure it could be viewed easily. For a low-budget crossover movie, we believe we met the challenges, and created an unusual and appealing film.”

Shane Acker: big worlds, little stories – counting up to 9

I read an interview between Shane Acker, the director of 9 and Paul Wells at the Holland Animation Film Festival at Utrecht in November 2010. 9 is a short animated film directed by Acker and Produced by Tim Burton. Voice actors for this short included Elijah woods and John C Reilly.

Paul wells asks Shane how he became a film maker after doing an Architecture graduate course in UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles). Shane explains how he starting bringing animation into his architectural designs and decided that this was what he wanted to do.

“Also, I was always a cartoonist and illustrator, though I was never formally trained, and I was attracted to constructing different worlds. In my architectural studies, I focused a lot on computeraided design, learned modelling, texturing, etc., and having started to learn that ‘tool set’, towards the end of my architectural education, I started taking some animation electives from the animation programme at UCLA.” Shane Acker. 

He talks of how the UCLA was unique and encouraged their students to be ambitious in film making and had alot of freedom. His first animation was The Hangnail (1999) – a simple 2D film. In 2009 his short film 9 was release altho it originally was only meant to be 3 minutes long, they final production was over 10.

The Inspiration 

When creating 9 Shane started of with the characters, which was inspired by the Quay’s puppets but also the experimental stop-motion work by the Lauenstein brothers. He mentioned the short film ‘Balanced’. I had a watch myself and personally thought they were really creepy. In the interview Shane Acker described them as ‘haunted’ and really like the look of them. Shane liked how throughout this short, although the puppets looked the same they showed different personalities in a non verbal way. He wanted to explore this in 9 and make it a challenge for himself.

“I saw that I could create numerous copies of the same puppet on the computer, and differentiate them with numbers on their backs, but more importantly through their performances. I wanted to prove myself in animation by setting up such challenges to respond to.” 

 

He decribes this as  Pantomimic which Paul asks him to elaborate on.

” It’s about the idea that even as I express myself now, it is not just verbally but physically. When we just communicate non-verbally, it becomes pantomimic and takes on a universal dimension. There is a kind of common experience through body language.  Humans are all cut from the same cloth in some ways, despite cultural differences, and in approaching something through pantomime I am trying to reach that universal dimension, which is basically ‘emotional’, whether comic or dramatic. It creates a tabula rasa, a commonality, which professional mimes exploit to achieve crosscultural communication.”  Shane Acker. Tablula Rosa means an absence of preconceived ideas or predetermined goals; a clean slate.

Shane talks of how, as a film maker, he has the challenge of tell the story though lights and camera directing.

“My challenge is not only to tell a story in this way, but to create it in a fashion where the audience can participate in it, too. The movement of a camera, in itself, can direct the emotional experience of the audience, and the pantomime invites interpretation by, and correspondence with, the audience, which hopefully works to secure responses the world over. Lots of different cultures can embrace the universality of the themes and ideas, and hopefully take some value away from what I am trying to create.”

Film appearance

In a certain level 9 is a classic science fiction film. Shane was asked if this was the genre he original had in mind. Shane describes 9 as a ‘Spiritual film’ but still grounded in a humanist approach. He wanted the film to be a post – human world, with the reason for the Apocalypse to be humans themselves. He didn’t want to explain this in the short film, but allowed it to visually express the haunting scenes of  machinery destroying man kind. I find this man versus machine genre has been made various times in different ways. 9 has a different, more rustic look to their own type of apocalypse.

“They are using old, now redundant objects, as new tools, but infuse them with an incredible creative spirit. But there is this remaining threat from the past that is more mechanical in nature. It has become more instinctive and animalistic, though, and is hunting these new creatures. It is trying to assimilate their energy, so it is very much a man versus nature tale, but reinterpreted in this abstract way.” Shane Acker.

9 has been set World War I yet pre-World War II, but also in an alternative world characterized by what might be seen as a ‘steampunk’ aesthetic. Shane was asked if this was the type of look he wanted to achieve.

“I wanted to tell my story by placing it between the Great Wars because this was one of the darkest and most uncertain times in human history, and when we almost brought an end to our world and our civilization altogether. The way I have created it, it is almost a parallel universe, which suggests that things did go wrong, and we did destroy ourselves in some way”

Next Paul wells talks about the look of the film and the colour used throughout. My opinion of the colouring and style is that shows age, damage and rust. Shane explained:

“This is a world of abandoned, left-over, inanimate objects. The world is dead. The natural world has gone. The way that I could allude to nature was to use all the earth tones. In its way it was a very organic and natural colour palette. For me what is interesting is when things start to decay, and our civilization starts to merge back into the landscape. I like the idea of when the grass overtakes the world and the vines grow, and when metal rusts, and concrete gets stained. It is almost like the manmade is returning to nature in some ways. I like the way the world becomes distressed as a consequence of humankind’s desire to separate itself from nature, but nature resisting and starting to claim back its space. Man can never really separate himself from nature and the earth, and the colours were definitely chosen with that idea in mind. It was important to think about how you bring life to a dead world; how do you construct such a landscape? It can be dead grass slightly blowing in the wind, or torn fabric swaying, and this can bring a subtle naturalism to a very unnatural world.”

Paul wells talks about Shane’s oppurtunity make his short film into a full feature length and asks him how that came about.

“The short took me about four and a half years to make, which was both a burden and a luxury. As I was creating the assets, learning the tools, doing the rigging, creating the characters – all the things you have to do to make such a film – I was concentrating on story and developing a story reel. I kept putting it to one side, and engaging with something technical, and then coming back to it. I developed a kind of critical distance, which enabled me to think about how all the elements – characters, action, design, etc. – could combine to successfully tell the story. The short was essentially a finished and complete piece as a result; then the opportunity to do the feature arose. The producers (Jim Lemley, Tim Burton, Timur Bekmambetov, Dana Ginsberg) felt, though, that it was merely a window into a world for them, and they were excited about how it might be developed. It then became a major design project.”

Paul wells talks of how Tim Burton was notice and was interested in Shane Ackers work. He asks how that made him feel and how did he take the extraordinary opportunity.

“It was, but at the time, I had just come off finally making my short, and was quite stressed, and I was making a living in the industry – I did some work at WETA when they were making Lord of the Rings – and then I was propelled into this Hollywood world I was not used to, of course, with all the pressures that go with that. It was so foreign from the world that I was coming from. I was moving from the world of independent film-making and animation festivals to a commercial environment in which I felt quite overwhelmed. Pitching to executives and major production companies about your proposed ideas is very different from showing your work. The reality is a lot less glamorous than some may think, because I made 9, the short, in a hand-to-mouth way. I would work for three or four months, save the money, work on the short, then work for three or four months, work on the short again, etc. until it was finished. Even when I was pitching the movie, I actually had no money, so I had to keep working even though I had this opportunity. I had to then put in the work of thinking through what I might do in the movie in order to present it. Even though my short had been very well received, and I was confident, perhaps overly confident, and Tim Burton had endorsed and supported my work, this really was a major step-up, and though exciting, was a major test, as you can never be sure if you will meet the challenge. I had never worked with a writer before; I had never done a piece with dialogue before; I had never worked in the long form, so you worry that you’re in over your head. You have to learn from the professionals around you who have done many films before.”

During the planning of the feature length Shane realised that he had no experience in long term story telling and had to put his trust of the writer. He found this a little challenging as the write would have their own take of the story. This was what he called the ‘melting pot’ of influences and ideas.

The characters 

Shane wanted each character to have their own personalities, even though they look kind of  the same and sound the same. He designed  them this way in hopes that the characters will develop as the story plays out. He found that during the feature film of 72 minutes he had to find a balance between character centred view and the backstory.

“Each character does indeed start off as a ‘one liner’ that all the crew can accrue around and understand, but you hope that your characters will develop through the story arcs they play out. Through the course of thinking about story and animating the character starts to emerge. Even though there were nine characters who looked sort of the same, there still had to be distinctive aspects that defined them. You want to give them distinct voices, which I don’t think in all cases we do, because they speak the same, do the same things, but it happens with the main characters. My instinct was that I wanted the experience the story as it was happening to the characters, and that the backstory was less significant. The producers were really concerned with the backstory, though, and felt that it was important to have a strong sense of the history of this world. The very mandate of a 72-minute feature and a certain budget, meant that we had to balance between my charactercentred view and the ‘big-picture’ backstory. The ‘push and pull’ between these things meant, for me, there was a lot of exposition, the sometimes unnecessary and illogical presence of humans, too much dialogue and not enough character-centred story. I was fortunate, though, that I could really trust my lead animators and artists, who helped me solve as many of the significant problems that arose as possible.”

To finish of the interview Paul wells ask Shane Acker what his hopes are for the future. Shane’s responses:

“9 was successful, and won its money back, and found an audience, at the same time as remaining a little bit ‘avant-garde’ and ‘off the beaten track’. I want to carry on and make films that are mature and serious, but animated, too. There still doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of space, particularly in the West, for that kind of film, so I want to pursue that. Basically, the cheaper you can make a film, the more creative freedom you might have, the more risks you might take. While budgets expand though, the independent sector shrinks; the smaller-budget projects seem to be folded into much larger film projects. This is the landscape I am trying to find my way in. What’s encouraging is that even the big players like Pixar are trying to explore more mature, emotional work, and though there is still a lot of understandable commitment to family stories and gag-driven material, I hope there may be a place for emotionally driven work with more unusual aesthetic and narrative possibilities.”

Presentation

The Article 

To begin with, I took the first few slides to explain some words that were used frequently in the presentation. This was Fordism and Taylorism. Fordism is a manufacturing philosophy that basically means when you are in work, you are there to work. When the work is done then you can play, but not before. Taylorism combines the two work and play, resulting in a higher productivity.

Rebecca took the next slide which was the introduction, explaining briefly on slap stick comedy and the difference between todays Mickey Mouse and that of the 20s and 30s. Here is quoted Matthew Crawford’s World Beyond Your Head (2005)

The next slide was on Automation and Comedy which I took to present. I talked about how the writer of WALL-E, Andrew Stanton, describes it has a Pantomine Movie. He wanted to bring Slapstick comedy into not only the title character, but also the entire look of the film. From this we can see it he has collaborated the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Lloyd and Keaton films. In this movie he is able to use comic gags and gestures and guide of the audiences understanding to the plot with minimal verbal explanation. We have found while watching WALL-E that slap stick can be alot more exaggerated when the character is a non human/ robot. This is because some of the things that happen to him although are funny, would normally injure a human. Next I went on to talk about  how Fordism is used in the beginning of WALL-E. In the introduction of the film we are shown WALL-E’s day to day routine as a trash compactor. What is funny in this  is that his work resembles that of a human performance ‘Taking a dump’. He has the look of intense concentration when he is passing the trash out, which adds to the comedy of constipated labour.As we watch him do his day to day work we notice that he is only doing his job in the search of items that interest him, which he then takes home. This shows that also he started of as fordism, after 700 years of doing this job it has turned into Taylorisim, bring pleasure into his work. WALL-E is an assembly line that self humanizes.

The next slide was on Automation and Automatism which Jakob spoke about. He talks of how the only time WALL-E shows true fordism is near the ending when his circuits were damaged and he reverts back to his original programme, forgetting any of his human characteristics. The relationship between slapstick comedy and film theory is vital as it helps to create engaging humour based on realism.

This next slide was presented by Rebecca. She summarised the articles theory of ‘Pixar’s Fun Factory.’ Development with Ages. In the present age, the possibilities of digital manipulation of electronic photography seems to be returning images to a prephotographic quality of painting: that characterized by the painterly brushstroke.Is Pixar a factory itself? ‘Keystone’s mode of production was redefined in terms of its product: the making of slapstick was itself a kind of comedy…’ (p. 36).

Evaluation 

The second half of the presentation was our evaluation of the article and how we can apply it to our work. For the first slide I spoke about Slapstick comedy and how it would be interesting to use this in our work and animations. Although I disagree with the article as it really emphasizes the use of slap stick in WALL-E and compares it to the like of Charlie Chaplin comedy. I believe WALL-E is very watered down slapstick and I would relate it more to the likes of Tom and Jerry or Donald Duck from the original Mickey Mouse short. Jakob spoke on how Fordism could be used in an antagonist character. Fordism can be used to dehumanise a character. That makes it easier to create a distinction between the protagonists and antagonists. Making antagonists seem more automated can make them seem like they would do anything to achieve what they want. The final part of our evaluation was looking at the silent movie aspect. WALL-E has very limited dialogue and no facial feature but yet we are still able to understand his emotion through his actions. We think this is something that is really important to learn and bring into our work, that is being able to show narrative through expressive action. 

The Presentation slides

Slapstick after Fordism: WALL-E, Automatism and Pixar’s Fun Factory

by Paul Flaig University of Aberdeen, Department of Film & Visual Culture, King’s College, Taylor Building A, Aberdeen AB24 3UB, Scotland.

“In this article, I will explore another instance of slapstick nostalgia, turning like Crawford to a digitally animated work released by the Walt Disney Corporation: Andrew Stanton’s 2008 feature film, WALL-E”

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WALL_E image link

In 2805, Earth is abandoned and largely contaminated with garbage, with its people evacuated by megacorporation Buy-N-Large on giant starliners. BnL has left behind WALL-E robot trash compactors to clean up, however, all have since stopped functioning, except one unit who has gained sentience and is able to stay active using parts from other units. One day, WALL-E discovers a healthy seedling, which he returns to his home. Later, an unmanned spaceship lands and deploys an EVE probe to scan the planet. WALL-E is infatuated with EVE, who is initially hostile but gradually befriends him. When WALL-E brings EVE to his trailer and shows her the plant, however, she suddenly takes the plant and goes into standby mode. WALL-E, confused, unsuccessfully tries to reactivate her. The ship then returns to collect EVE, and with WALL-E clinging on, returns to its mothership, the starliner Axiom.

The Axioms passengers have become obese and feeble due to microgravity and reliance on an automated lifestyle, including the ship’s current captain, McCrea, who leaves the ship under the control of the robotic autopilot, AUTO. EVE is taken to the bridge, with WALL-E tagging along. McCrea is unprepared for a positive probe response, but learns that placing EVE’s plant in the ship’s Holo-Detector for verification will trigger a hyperjump back to Earth so humanity can recolonize it. However, AUTO orders his robotic assistant GO-4 to steal the plant to prevent this from happening.

With the plant missing, EVE is deemed faulty and taken to Diagnostics. WALL-E mistakes the procedure as torture, and in intervening accidentally frees a group of malfunctioning robots and causes both EVE and himself to be designated as rogue. Frustrated, EVE takes WALL-E to an escape pod to send him home, but they are interrupted when GO-4 arrives with the plant, placing it in a pod set to self-destruct, which WALL-E enters just before it is jettisoned. WALL-E escapes, saving the plant, and he and EVE reconcile and celebrate with a dance in space around the Axiom.

EVE brings the plant back to McCrea, who watches EVE’s recordings of Earth and concludes that they must return. However, AUTO refuses, revealing his own secret no-return directive A113, issued to BnL autopilots after the corporation concluded years earlier that the planet could not be saved. He mutinies, electrocuting WALL-E and deactivating EVE and throwing them both down the garbage chute, then detaining the captain. EVE reactivates and helps WALL-E bring the plant to the ship’s Holo-Detector chamber; AUTO tries to close the chamber, crushing WALL-E when he struggles to keep it open, but McCrea is able to overcome and disable him, and EVE inserts the plant to activate the hyperjump.

Having arrived back on Earth, EVE repairs and reactivates WALL-E, but finds that his memory has been reset and his personality is gone. Heartbroken, EVE gives WALL-E a farewell kiss, which sparks his memory back to life. WALL-E and EVE reunite as the humans and robots of the Axiom begin to restore Earth and its environment.
Reference 

What is Slap Stick Comedy?

“Slapstick is a style of humor involving exaggerated physical activity which exceeds the boundaries of normal physical comedy. The term arises from a device developed during the broad, physical comedy style known as Commedia dell’arte in 16th Century Italy.” Reference

What is Fordism?

“A manufacturing philosophy that aims to achieve higher productivity by standardizing the output, using conveyor assembly lines, and breaking the work into small deskilled tasks.

Whereas Taylorism (on which Fordism is based) seeks machine and worker efficiency, Fordism seeks to combine them as one unit, and emphasizes minimization of costs instead of maximization of profit. Named after its famous proponent, the US automobile pioneer Henry Ford (1863-1947).” Reference

What is Taylorism?

Production efficiency methodology that breaks every action, job, or task into small and simple segments which can be easily analyzed and taught. Introduced in the early 20th century, Taylorism  aims to achieve maximum job fragmentation to minimize skill requirements and job learning time, separates execution of work from work-planning, separates direct labor from indirect labor replaces rule of thumb productivity estimates with precise measurements,  introduces time and motion study for optimum job performance, cost accounting, tool and work station design, and  makes possible payment-by-result method of wage determination.”

Reference

Writer and Director of Wall-E: Andrew Stanton

BIO: Oscar-winning filmmaker Andrew Stanton was raised in Rockport, Massachusetts. He was educated at The California Institute of the Arts (or “CalArts”) in Los Angeles, where he studied character animation. After graduation, Stanton began working as a writer on the TV series Mighty Mouse, the New Adventures (1987). In 1990, he became only the second animator and ninth employee to join Pixar Animation Studios.
Stanton went on to help establish Pixar as one of the world’s leading animation studios. He was designer and writer on Toy Story (1995), for which he was nominated for an Oscar. He went on to write and direct such worldwide hits as A Bug’s Life (1998), Finding Nemo (2003) and WALL·E (2008), the latter two both winning Oscars for Best Animated Feature. Stanton also dabbles in voice work, perhaps most memorably as Crush, the laid back turtle, in Finding Nemo (2003). Reference Link

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Andrew Stanton

In the Article, Flaig as looked deeply into the creation of Wall-E and how Andrew Stanton has used Slapstick comedy not only in the title character, but the entire look of the film. As quoted in the article:

“Andrew Stanton has admitted a range of slapstick influences on not only its title character – an acronym for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth class – but on the film’s entire look and feel as what he has called, on the film’s DVD commentary track, a ‘pantomime’ film. Especially interested in how to tell the story of characters whose spoken vocabulary is programmatically limited, he and his collaborators watched numerous Chaplin, Lloyd and Keaton films, interested in both comic gestures and gags as well as how to guide both the audience’s understanding of plot and empathy for its robots-in-love with minimal verbal exposition.” (Pg 63)

WALL-E seems to fulfill Crawford’s longing for a return to slapstick as a remedy for virtual disembodiment. In the dystopian future of Stanton’s film, produced by Pixar, human beings have so removed themselves from the world that that world itself has been destroyed, laid waste by endless trash. What remains merely phenomenological in Crawford’s account becomes literal in WALL-E, as humans depart the planet for outer space, leaving their former home to be cleaned up by trash-compacting robots. Understood by its makers as well as many of its critics as a speculative satire of what Crawford calls, in the subtitle of his book, ‘the age of distraction’, WALL-E provides a glimpse into the future of the Disney Channel’s audience, especially if they are conditioned to expect a Toodles at every turn in their future lives at work or play. Stanton and his team infuse their eponymous protagonist – the last surviving trash-compactor – with the very human condition foregone by humans, who have turned into gigantic babies incapable of action or thought. WALL-E is an avatar of slapstick’s uniquely materialist phenomenology, one which he offers to the film’s infantilized humans as well as to the off-screen at risk: those watching the film in cinemas, on television or as one of a plethora of options on their own Toodles-esque screens.” (Pg 60)

References throughout the article

Flaig quotes on many books, essays and journals relating to his topic but there are a few I believed to have a good argument or example to his points or he keeps going back to a particular book throughout.  Here are some of them, I have included parts of Flaig’s article with relating quotes aswell as the books information and a little about each.

Paul Flaig begins by examples of slapstick comedy,  and offers a brief explanation of how Wall-E has been modelled after the likes of Charlie Chaplin, yet offering a twist in humanizing a figure of Fordism.  He explains how the article “focuses on the film’s revitalization of slapstick traditions within the context of recent debates about post-Fordism, the future of automated labor and the transformation of working human bodies” Abstract (pg 59) before diving into a discussion on the use of slap stick comedy. The author Matthew B.Crawford was mentioned frequently during this, quoting his book below:

Shopclass as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work. New York: Penguin (2010), The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction and  by Matthew B. Crawford (2015)  Image links

In this brilliant follow-up to The Case for Working with Your Hands, Crawford investigates the challenge of mastering one’s own mind. With ever-increasing demands on our attention, how do we focus on what’s really important in our lives?
“Exploring the intense focus of ice-hockey players, the zoned-out behaviour of gambling addicts, and the inherited craft of building pipe organs, Crawford argues that our current crisis of attention is the result of long-held assumptions in Western culture and that in order to flourish, we need to establish meaningful connections with the world, the people around us and the historical moment we live in.” Quote Amazon

Quoting Matthew Crawford, Paul Flaig discusses how Crawford opposes “digitally induced distraction, he insists on confronting the contingencies of an obstinately material, nonhuman world, one that rudely insists beyond our representational schema and cognitive certainties.” He mentions an example of Crawford using Disney’s Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. He talks about the contrast between the Mickey Mouse of today to Mikey’s first adventures in the 20’s and 30’s.  ‘the most prominent source of hilarity is the capacity of material stuff to generate frustration’ . In Crawfords article he emphasises on the importance of slapstick comedy and how the ‘real physical grace’ of the characters avoidance of disaster. He gives the example of Donald Duck, but I would also associated the TV show Tom and Jerry to slap stick comedy. As show below:

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TOM AND JERRY. Image Link 

“Benjamin’s famous “Work of Art” essay sets out his boldest thoughts—on media and on culture in general—in their most realized form, while retaining an edge that gets under the skin of everyone who reads it. In this essay the visual arts of the machine age morph into literature and theory and then back again to images, gestures, and thought.

This essay, however, is only the beginning of a vast collection of writings that the editors have assembled to demonstrate what was revolutionary about Benjamin’s explorations on media. Long before Marshall McLuhan, Benjamin saw that the way a bullet rips into its victim is exactly the way a movie or pop song lodges in the soul.

This book contains the second, and most daring, of the four versions of the “Work of Art” essay—the one that addresses the utopian developments of the modern media. The collection tracks Benjamin’s observations on the media as they are revealed in essays on the production and reception of art; on film, radio, and photography; and on the modern transformations of literature and painting. The volume contains some of Benjamin’s best-known work alongside fascinating, little-known essays—some appearing for the first time in English. In the context of his passionate engagement with questions of aesthetics, the scope of Benjamin’s media theory can be fully appreciated.” Info Link 

Paul Flaig looked at ANIMATION AND COMEDY, quoting parts of Henri Bergson’s Essay:

“If Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd’s films mechanically encrust bodies, things and spaces while still finding implicitly human resolution through heterosexual union, WALL-E would seem to both reverse and extend this logic. Henri Bergson’s (1911[1900]) text, Laughter, a necessary if necessarily contestable starting point for the slapstick scholar, insisted on comedy’s interweaving of the human and the machine. Bergson argues as a first premise that ‘the comic does not exist outside the pale of what is strictly HUMAN’ but also claims that this same comedy appears only through the laughable appearance of a mechanical inhumanity: ‘Our starting-point is … “something mechanical encrusted upon the living.” Where did the comic come from in this case? It came from the fact that the living body became rigid, like a machine’ (pp. 3, 49).”

Bergson H (1911[1900]) Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic. London: Macmillan. 

Bergson’s thinking typifies a peculiarly Gallic tendency to rationalize the apparently ephemeral and subjective (in this case, humor), discussing it in exquisitely rarefied language in order to assert that which defies common sense (a funny hat is not funny, laughter expresses no emotion, no one laughs alone) but partakes nonetheless of a logical inevitability. Laughter, first published in 1911, clearly draws upon the early years of European modernism, yet also prefigures the movement in some ways. In recognizing the comic as it embodies itself in a “rigid,” absentminded person, locked into repetitious, socially awkward behavior, Bergson–even as he looks backward, primarily to Molière–seems to be spawning the sophisticated visual and physical comedy of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd”. An Abstract from Laughter, an Essay on the meaning of  the comic (pg 1)

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Image link 

Catmull E and Wallace A (2014) Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration. New York: Random House. 

“As a young man, Ed Catmull had a dream: to make the world’s first computer-animated movie. He nurtured that dream first as a Ph.D. student at the University of Utah, where many computer science pioneers got their start, and then forged an early partnership with George Lucas that led, indirectly, to his founding Pixar with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter in 1986. Nine years later and against all odds, Toy Story was released, changing animation forever.

Since then, Pixar has dominated the world of animation, producing such beloved films as Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up, and WALL-E, which have gone on to set box-office records and garner twenty-seven Academy Awards. The joyousness of the storytelling, the inventive plots, the emotional authenticity: In some ways, Pixar movies are an object lesson in what creativity really is. Now, in this book, Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques, honed over years, that have made Pixar so widely admired—and so profitable.” Reference amazon

Creativity, Inc. is a book for managers who want to lead their employees to new heights, a manual for anyone who strives for originality, and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve center of Pixar Animation Studios—into the story meetings, the postmortems, and the ‘Braintrust’ sessions where art is born. It is, at heart, a book about how to build and sustain a creative culture—but it is also, as Pixar co-founder and president Ed Catmull writes, ‘an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible.’

Animation and automation, or, the incredible effortfulness of being (Volume 50 issue 4) By Vivian Sobchack

This essay explores the shifting historical etymology and vexed meanings of ‘animation’ as the term entails both movement and life (one often, but not always, the sign of the other) and is expanded by its encounters with technology. Indeed, the distinction between movement and life becomes increasingly ambiguous as animation is transformed first by automated mechanical processes that replace human movement and labour and then by what seem to be autonomous electronic technologies that also appear to have lives of their own. In this regard, Disney-Pixar’s computer-animated WALL-E (2009) serves as a particularly apposite and complex tutor-text. Nostalgic for human life and movement yet dependent for their reanimation and redemption on two robots in a future that will have been, WALL-E dramatizes (often self-reflexively) the dialectical entanglements of moving images and animate entities, the constitution of life, liveness and liveliness, and the shifting of agency from increasingly inert human bodies to increasingly energetic and inventive machines. Reference Link 

Gurevitch L (2015) From Edison to Pixar: The spectacular screen and the attention economy from celluloid to CG. Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 29(3): 445–465.

This article argues that Pixar’s computer generated (CG) animated features of the past 15 years sit at a crossroads in both the conceptualization of viewers and their socialization to the contemporary digital screen. Embedded within a new aesthetic visual form, almost all of Pixar’s movies feature, and talk back to, the emergence of the mythical astonished cinema spectator. At the same time, Pixar’s features question the future of digital spectacle and the position of the screen subject. In the contemporary context of the social network and the online video, CG animated features do not simply prepare young viewers for a world of consumer behaviour, they prepare them for a multilayered world of digital screens in which they must learn to function as objects of consumption as well as consuming agents. Beyond this, however, and in contrast to previous Disney features, Pixar movies prepare young consumers for a changed production landscape in contemporary culture. Moving beyond notions of Fordist production that structured previous discourses of the viewing and socialized child, the spectacular specificity of Pixar movies is now structured self-reflexively according to the logic of the attention economy. Abstract link