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I like these guys films (so far) better than studio Ghibli's films.  Those films have some **great** moments in them, but I think this studios two films are working better as a whole.  They also have some better character animation (although studio Ghibli's effects animation is very impressive) and more inventive designs.  Studio Ghibli has some fantastic artwork, to be sure, but it's mostly similar to other Japanese animation, especially with the characters.

 

Yeah, I'm kinda surprised by this, too.  The Cartoon Saloon movies are absolutely wonderful, and there's a number of Ghibli movies I'd put below them (everything not Miyazaki or Takahata or Whisper of the Heart, for a start).  But I find the specialness of Cartoon Saloon to lie in their almost unique and utterly gorgeous design style.  Their odd flat/not-flat scene design also allows them to get in some wild movement, with characters flitting here and there, that you simply won't see in a more traditionally designed and animated film.  So if that's what you mean by character animation I see your point.  But if we're talking about character animation as acting, with naturalistic gestures and facial expressions that convey the subtleties of emotion with skill and artistry, then I don't think Tomm Moore's team has come even close to the heights of Ghibli in things like My Neighbor Totoro, Only Yesterday, and Whisper of the Heart--though Song of the Sea is a definite step up over Secret of Kells.  (I need to see Kells again, but I remember feeling the characters were too simplistically defined, and Song of the Sea sets out very intentionally to avoid that--though this is mainly a matter of the writing in both cases.)  The Ghibli animators, at their best, are able to convey character with some of the smallest and simplest of gestures, as well as throwing in big, exaggerated expression and movements that are the essence of cartooning.  Just the thought of "character animation" or "acting" for me brings to mind multiple brief moments in Ghibli movies where a character rests her chin on her hand and blows her hair, or a little girl chases her sister around the yard copying everything she does, or blushes when a boy admits the crush he has on her.  

 

Ghibli characters feel like real people to me, more fully than in any other animation I know.  Admittedly that's not the only definition of character animation--the Looney Tunes are brilliant because of their perfectly timed exaggeration, not their believability--but I think it's a valid one, and to the extent that Cartoon Saloon seem to be aiming for emotional subtlety in their characters, I don't think they've quite scaled those heights yet.

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Everything StephenM said.

 

Look at little Setsuko's shoulders wobbling slightly back and forth after her mother has died in Grave of the Fireflies. Notice how Osono sits down like a pregnant woman in her third trimester in Kiki's Delivery Service (more persuasively than many an actress with a prosthetic belly!). Watch Sosuke hunch through an opening in the gate in Ponyo. There is a grace and a power of observation at work there that I haven't noticed in what exposure to non-Ghibli anime I've had, and that definitely can't be replicated in Cartoon Saloon's gorgeous stylized animation. 

 

I agree with you, Stephen, about the character animation in Kells being too simplistic. The supporting cast of monks moving and acting as a single unit, for instance. It's a clever and satisfying way to work around and through limitations, but it is a limitation. The greater naturalism of Song stretches the expressive power of Cartoon Saloon's flat style without losing its essential charm at all. 

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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SDG said:  Heh. I'm pretty sure there's not a syllable here I agree with. smile.png (Well, except for "although studio Ghibli's effects animation is very impressive" and "Studio Ghibli has some fantastic artwork.")

 

 

Fair enough.  :)   I think my biggest issue with Studio Ghibli, is that I'm not particularily fond of the "look" of the character designs in Japanese animation in general, although I do find Studio Ghibli more appealing than most.  I do like the inventiveness of their stories, and very much like some of their quieter moments, even if I find that their stories often don't quite work for me.  I'd note, that I still appreciated what they are doing more than most Hollywood films, at least the latest crop.  They are trying to make good film.

 

 

 

StephenM said;  So if that's what you mean by character animation I see your point.  But if we're talking about character animation as acting, with naturalistic gestures and facial expressions that convey the subtleties of emotion with skill and artistry, then I don't think Tomm Moore's team has come even close to the heights of Ghibli

 

 

I'm an animator, so I can insert a few thoughts here.  I'm very much influenced by the Old Disney animators who considered animation to be something akin to "give the breathe of life."  The Illusion of Life.  Several years ago I attended one of Richard Williams' (Who Framed Roger Rabbit) workshops and he mentioned  how he had been mentored by some of those old animators (especially Milt Kahl) and how he had shown them some animation from time to time that would be consider great by most, and indeed was often far and above what one could find in Studio Ghibli's films (he showed us some clips), but for them it didn't cut it.  Then, after working on a shot for a great long time, he finally presented it to one of them.  After looking at the shot this master said, "okay now your an animator."  That's what it took to even be considered an animator by them.

 

The characters have to be "brought to life."  Most of what we see on Television animation doesn't have that quality.  Simpsons has some great storytelling and funny jokes, but the characters rarely achieve life.

 

 

Williams had presented us with the shot in question.  Here it is.  Have a look at the beauty, movement, flow and elegance of the thing.  He has created a character that is "alive."  I have yet to see anything comparable in either Studio Ghibli or Cartoon Saloon, although there is some animation in Chomet's the Illusionist that comes close.

 

 

 

 

 

That clip from Williams was animated in "ones", being that there was a different drawing for every frame (24 drawings in a second.)  Richard Williams was a big advocate on shooting everything one ones, and during the seminar was even intruiged with the idea of animating ones with 30 frames a second (as found in video.)  I've heard other animators point out that there *is* a place for twos here and there, like say if one was hitting a nail with a hammer, to hold it on twos when it hits the nail in order to exaggerate the impact.  I agree with that view.

 

 

But then, look at this clip from Studio Ghibli starting at the 50 second mark, which has some animation that would likely stand beside some of their of their higher end animation in other films (I believe.)  It has some interesting poses.  But it is filmed in a combination of twos (12 drawings in a second) and 4's (6 drawings in a second.)  It becomes jumpy and the "illusion of life" starts to fall apart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

That's what I find with Studio Ghibli's films.  The Illusion of life sometimes works, but other times it noticeably falls apart.  (Of course filming on 4's is a lot less work and time - thus easier on the budget,)

 

 

 

I don't find that this "illusion of life" falling apart to the same degree in Cartoon Saloon's films.  As well.  Kell's had some shots with parts of the characters animated on 4's (like as mentioned above), while Song of the Sea rarely had this (if ever, I can't remember it jumping out at me.)

 

 

Some of the wilder gestures can be fun to animate, and can look pretty cool.  But, I agree, it really is the subtler "human" moments that are the hardest to animate.  One reason is that more precsion is required.  That's one of the problems with a lot of animation out there now.  They just do wilder movements to get from pose to pose because it's easier, but then something is lost.

 

 

 

 

SDG said:   There is a grace and a power of observation at work there that I haven't noticed in what exposure to non-Ghibli anime I've had, and that definitely can't be replicated in Cartoon Saloon's gorgeous stylized animation. 

 

 

 

There is some fairly nice stuff here and there in Studio Ghibli's films.  No doubt.  But I find that all to often the movement can be exaggerated where it shouldn't be etc.  It can lose that "moment."  Parts of the body can be held still too long, whereby it becomes glaringly noticeable.  The expressions can be unfitting to the scene.  The timing can often seem awkward and strange to me.   The illusion of life just constantly crumbles and I'm left looking at what is only some drawings on a screen.

 

I guess it often just doesn't fit with my sensibilities, maybe others would find it more appealing.  I do know a couple of animators that don't even watch Ghibli's films because they just don't appreciate the way they are animated, although I personally wouldn't go that far in my assesment.  They loved the Secret of Kell's though, although I haven't spoken with anyone about the Song of the Sea.

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Oh, wow, that was an interesting post, Attica.  I've been reading about and watching animation really intensively the last year or two, and there's actually a few questions I've been pondering about technique and process that I wonder if you'd be kind enough to answer?

 

First, I think I know the difference between "ones" and "twos" and so on, but I'm a little unsure of how prevalent they are comparatively.  I've seen some things suggesting that hardly anything is animated on ones, that most animators only use the full 24 frames for really specific cuts, and that 12 frames are usually considered enough on average, but the way other people talk that might not be true.  I've heard animation on twos and up referred to as "full animation," and animation on threes and down called "limited animation," but I've also heard these terms used for broader stylistic (and cost-saving) techniques like whether a character or body part actually moves in a given scene.  Part of what seems complicated about this is that there are different standards in Japan and America, and that TV animation is nearly always done cheaper and with fewer frames than film animation, but I can't figure out what the general standards for any particular sector are.  Does Disney always (or nearly always) animate on ones, or twos, or what?  I'd welcome any clarification you could offer here.

 

Also, as a broader, and perhaps more difficult question: I've heard that the production set-up is usually different in Japanese vs. American animation vis-a-vis the key animators.  In America, key animators are usually assigned a particular character, or maybe a couple of characters in a scene--in some cases (like Glen Keane on the Beast), a key animator will supervise one character throughout the entire film.  But in Japan, key animators are assigned an entire scene or sequence to animate, not just one or two characters within those shots, so they often talk about a particular action sequence or fight scene that one animator was responsible for.  Is this broadly correct?  And if it is, do you think it might have something to do with the different approaches to animation in general between the two countries?  For instance, American animators really seem to emphasize "character animation," with all it's attendant squashing and stretching and exaggeration of expression, etc.  They also tend to design all their characters to look highly unique and original, to allow them to play with the way they animate such figures.  But if Japanese animators have to know how to draw every character, it makes sense that they would design their characters in a fairly uniform way, so that they could focus on the scene as a whole and not exactly how such a character should move.  It also might contribute to the way masterful works by an American animator are generally pointed out to be a particular character as a whole, while the great individual feats by Japanese animators that are usually cited are full scenes of action and movement.  Anyway, it seems to like these things might be connected.

 

 

But anyway, to respond to your post more directly:  I think Richard Williams is a master animator, and The Princess and the Cobbler is magnificent work of pure technique.  But even if he'd been allowed to finish it to his vision, it doesn't seem like he cared about making a film with narrative and dramatic coherence or any sort of multi-dimensional characters.  Which is totally fine.  There's room for lots of different approaches in the cinema.  I think the reason you and I differ on Ghibli is just because we appreciate different effects that animation can have.  Some animators aspire to eye-popping technique, some to a fully-formed narrative; some to an animation style based on movement, others to one that emphasizes stillness and individual images.  While I can see that that Williams cut has a great deal more movement and higher frame-rate than those clips from Princess Kaguya, and I admire it greatly, it is the latter that offers me a compelling vision of human life and natural beauty.  The baby's movements could have been animated with more frames and detail to capture every slight shift in weight or roll of skin, and it could have been great that way, but what we get is something simple and pure and adorable.  Takahata is working in a certain minimalist/impressionist style, while Williams is doing a highly exaggerated cartoonish/expressionist/Middle Eastern-design style.  They're working toward different goals and they accomplish different things, so I don't see a contradiction in enjoying both.  Though in the end I have to say I prefer Takahata.  Every element in his films works to serve the overall narrative and theme; he spends exactly as much time on each scene or character as he thinks it requires.  Williams, on the other hand, seemed to spend so much time on making each cut as elaborate and perfect as possible that he lost sight of the movie as a complete thing in itself that would be watched by an audience.

 

I'm really jealous you got to have a class with him, though, I know he's legendary as a teacher.

 

 

The illusion of life just constantly crumbles and I'm left looking at what is only some drawings on a screen.

I get that.  I think whenever I focus too much on the technical side of film or TV it starts to lose that suspension of disbelief for me, and my mind starts to wander to things like, "Where were those people standing to get that shot?  So in that reverse shot the camera must have been placed in that corner, huh?  I guess to have that special effect the actor must have been acting to a green screen..."  If I start looking at those little clips too close they start doing the same thing.  I guess some people can just turn it off and some people can't, and the closer you get to the actual industry yourself, the harder it can be to ignore the technical stuff.  Personally, though, I've found that even Miyazaki & Takahata's 1970s television work (like Heidi, Girl of the Alps and Future Boy Conan) are intriguing enough narratively, with compelling enough characters, that even when it's animated on "fours" or even fewer frames I am drawn into the story and can't see the images as mere drawings even if I try (or not for more than a moment, at least).

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Sure.  I would be happy to answer your questions, as well as I can.

 

 

Stephen M said:  First, I think I know the difference between "ones" and "twos" and so on, but I'm a little unsure of how prevalent they are comparatively.  I've seen some things suggesting that hardly anything is animated on ones, that most animators only use the full 24 frames for really specific cuts, and that 12 frames are usually considered enough on average, but the way other people talk that might not be true.  I've heard animation on twos and up referred to as "full animation," and animation on threes and down called "limited animation," but I've also heard these terms used for broader stylistic (and cost-saving) techniques like whether a character or body part actually moves in a given scene.  Part of what seems complicated about this is that there are different standards in Japan and America, and that TV animation is nearly always done cheaper and with fewer frames than film animation, but I can't figure out what the general standards for any particular sector are.  Does Disney always (or nearly always) animate on ones, or twos, or what?  I'd welcome any clarification you could offer here.

 

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I think the best way to look at ones and twos is to compare the old Disney work (both shorts and film) with the old Warner Brothers work.  Disney was by and large animated on ones, Warner Brothers by and large on twos.  Warner Brothers stuff is pretty good, at times really good, but it just isn't as smooth as the stuff coming out of Disney.  Most of what is done is animated on twos, especially in the Television sector.  I believe that most computer animation is on ones because the computer does the "inbetweening" anyways.  

 

Depends who you talk to, on the question of whether 12 frames are enough.  Richard Williams would say a resounding no.  But then again, some of those guys animating for Warner Brothers were masters.  But I expect that they would have preferred ones.  Once you get the eye for it you can easily see the difference.  

 

What your saying about animation twos and up as "full animation" is partially right.  In my understanding the whole "full animation" and "limited animation" distinction mostly came to rise with the advent of TV production such as the Flinstones.  Limited animation as found in the Flinstones (and others) consisted of a "hold" (say the body still and not moving) whereby there was something else (say and arm) animated over top.  Or when animation is continuously cycled and repeated (like when the Flinstones were running in a cycle while the backgrounds pass by.)  Therefore the animation is considered to be limited.  *But* some of the actual animation that is happening can be done on twos.

 

Often limited animation will also have places where it is animated on 4's.

 

 

So.  The idea of the cost limitations is closer to the truth, I'd think.

 

 

Again.  Disney used to animate all on ones.  But I believe that some of their output in the late 70's and throughout the 80's animated on twos here and there.  There is a noticeable difference between that period and the much higher quality stuff coming out from the "9 old men" when Disney was stil around.

 

 

So far as standards.  You'll very rarely find a Hollywood film with fours in it, or that much for limited animation.  You'll find a lot of limited animation in Japanese productions (less so Studio Ghibli), but much more of a emphasis on "effects animation."  That's the way their tradition seems to have developed.

 

You'll very rarely find a television production with quality greater than the Simpsons (overall), although there were some like Ren and Stimpy, whom although using limited animation really knew what they were doing with it, and fleshed it out into something that really allowed for some good "parts."  Most animation coming out of Hollywood has the "key frames" animated in America and then is shipped over to India in order to be "inbetweened."  But there have also been a lot of Canadian companies that have been doing work, to various degree, for Hollywood.

 

Seeing something on a continual basis of the quality of Warner Brothers (at least when it comes to shorts - but also TV), is basically lost in Hollywood.

 

 

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StephenM said:  Also, as a broader, and perhaps more difficult question: I've heard that the production set-up is usually different in Japanese vs. American animation vis-a-vis the key animators.  In America, key animators are usually assigned a particular character, or maybe a couple of characters in a scene--in some cases (like Glen Keane on the Beast), a key animator will supervise one character throughout the entire film.  But in Japan, key animators are assigned an entire scene or sequence to animate, not just one or two characters within those shots, so they often talk about a particular action sequence or fight scene that one animator was responsible for.  Is this broadly correct?  

 

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Actually, I don't know how Japanese studios do this.  It is broadly correct for Hollywood.  Sometimes they will assign one character for the whole film to the key animator.  But not always for various reasons.  A perfect example of this was Cruel D Villa in the Rescuers.  She was assigned to Milt Kahl who was the last of the old greats left at Disney at the time (Richard Williams says that he was the best animator who every lived and that the others were jealous of him), and if you look at that film you'll notice the difference between that character and the others.  Most of the rest of the film was a noticeable drop in quality from earlier films, but that character was astonishingly well animated.

 

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StephenM said:  And if it is, do you think it might have something to do with the different approaches to animation in general between the two countries?  For instance, American animators really seem to emphasize "character animation," with all it's attendant squashing and stretching and exaggeration of expression, etc.  They also tend to design all their characters to look highly unique and original, to allow them to play with the way they animate such figures.  But if Japanese animators have to know how to draw every character, it makes sense that they would design their characters in a fairly uniform way, so that they could focus on the scene as a whole and not exactly how such a character should move.

 

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Yes this would make some sense.  As said, North American animation emphasizes characters while Japanese, effects (generally speaking of course.)  North American animation will have characters who are very different from each other.  One twice as tall as another etc.  But also very different designs that fit with their personalities and function.  Japanese characters tend to have a more similar shape and mannerisms.

 

That's one of the reasons that handing a key animator one character is often preferred.  The animator is often considered to be the "actor" and each animator has his/ her own strengths and sensibilities.  So it is wise to keep an animator with a certain character.  Often animators will be assigned to certain characters according to their sensibilities.

 

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StephenM said:  But anyway, to respond to your post more directly:  I think Richard Williams is a master animator, and The Princess and the Cobbler is magnificent work of pure technique.  But even if he'd been allowed to finish it to his vision, it doesn't seem like he cared about making a film with narrative and dramatic coherence or any sort of multi-dimensional characters.  Which is totally fine. 

 

 

Have you ever seen the version that was later edited together with some of his half finished animation, closer to his vision?  Some of the stuff in there will blow your mind.  In some places there is nothing better, anywhere, like in the war machine at the end.

 

When I attended his seminars in 1998 he was still angry about it all, and told us that he wouldn't answer any questions in that regard.  Richard Williams is an animator and an artist above anything else.  He isn't a story guy, and the film constantly had story problems throughout its whole process.  The big thing about that film, was that it was supposed to be a near silent film.  The main character didn't speak at all.  This is because great animation is about the movement and the intention was to convey everything through that.  Again, Williams is very concerned about animation.  About being a master of that craft.  To add the voice over to that character, with his silly thoughts, was blasphemous.  Thankfully the other cut of the film I had mentioned had left it out.

 

The great tragedy with that production was that Williams and others had been working on it since the early 70's mostly funding it through commercial work.  He got involved with Hollywood because they had the money to help him finally finish it, and then he took to long, and they took it from him.

 

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StephenM said:   Williams, on the other hand, seemed to spend so much time on making each cut as elaborate and perfect as possible that he lost sight of the movie as a complete thing in itself that would be watched by an audience.

 

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This is indeed true about him.  He's not a story guy, but again, the original vision of his film was much more coherent.  The animation does work well throughout.  He told us the story about how when he was working on animating Roger Rabbit (he animated the first scene himself) he was working and working on getting it just right.  It was taking so long that someone told him that if he didn't finish it up he would be fired.

 

But that's who he is.  He's an artist that had a hard time balancing the "art" with the "commercial needs" and limitations of a production.  He has basically admitted it.  But that's the thing.  He set out to be a master.  he worked at it for years, and now he is considered the top fo the class.

 

 

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StephenM said:  While I can see that that Williams cut has a great deal more movement and higher frame-rate than those clips from Princess Kaguya, and I admire it greatly, it is the latter that offers me a compelling vision of human life and natural beauty.  The baby's movements could have been animated with more frames and detail to capture every slight shift in weight or roll of skin, and it could have been great that way, but what we get is something simple and pure and adorable.  Takahata is working in a certain minimalist/impressionist style, while Williams is doing a highly exaggerated cartoonish/expressionist/Middle Eastern-design style.  They're working toward different goals and they accomplish different things, so I don't see a contradiction in enjoying both. 

 

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I can mostly go along with this.  I did appreciate the work in Princess Kaguya, or that shot at least.  Like I've said it fits with that studios best, and thus it didn't fall apart as much for me in the "illusion of life" department as some of their other stuff can.  Still, for me anything on fours can become noticeable.  The character is very well drawn with nice lines.  I notice this because the illusion has fallen apart for me and I start looking at the lines more.   wink.png

 

But I do think that what is going on with Princess Kaguya is budget limitation.  If that shot had have been animated on ones.  Now that I would like to see.  

 

But hey.  They are managing to pump out films on a much smaller budget than Hollywood.

 

 

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StephenM said I'm really jealous you got to have a class with him, though, I know he's legendary as a teacher.

 

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Not only the seminar.  A few of us went out for beers with him afterwards.  I chatted with him briefly, but I'm sure he wouldn't remember me.  The seminar was years before his book came out so I spent a few years with some principles that a lot of others weren't privy to.

 

 

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StephenM said:   I guess some people can just turn it off and some people can't, and the closer you get to the actual industry yourself, the harder it can be to ignore the technical stuff.

 

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I usually can't, at least when it comes to animation.  It's become so that I naturally see what is going on.  For instance, if a character hits a nail with a hammer, I can usually tell if they paused the hit frame on twos or not.  It's not that I don't enjoy animation, but something like, say, Southpark, just wouldn't be of enough quality for me to sit through.  Basically anything with quality less than the Simpsons really, unless there was something to do with the story or design that made it worthwhile for me.

 

Sometimes even in live action.  My wife and I were watching the first Twilight movie a few weeks ago (it's her fault) and I noticed where a certain camera move "fell apart" and the illusion was lost.  I played the scene back again and showed her where the frames were that it happened.  

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This is an interesting conversation. Nice to have your professional perspective, Attica. All of this makes me regret missing the "director's cut" of The Princess and the Cobbler when it showed at the Academy a couple of years ago. Even in its compromised form (Arabian Knight--isn't that what they ended up calling it?), it's superior to Disney's Aladdin

 

Speaking as a layman, the Ghibli films have always been a mixed bag for me. The stylistic contradictions are manifold: Painstakingly detailed and colored in repose, herky-jerky in movement. Breathtakingly variegated creature design, cookie cutter human design. Interesting characters indifferently dubbed. Perhaps the most pleasurable aspect of the Japanese approach (and Miyazaki's style in particular) is the simulation of classical continuity editing, in which the action always remains spatially coherent and intelligible. 

 

I appreciated Kells as an arcane cartoon for grownups, but I also found it stylized to the point of distraction. Still looking forward to Song of the Sea.

"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

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Nathaniel said:   Attica. All of this makes me regret missing the "director's cut" of The Princess and the Cobbler when it showed at the Academy a couple of years ago.

 

 

Just found this.  Have a looksey over here.

 

As well.  There was recently a documentary about the subject released, and there is a group working to have the Thief finished.

 

 

 

Nathaniel said:   the Ghibli films have always been a mixed bag for me. The stylistic contradictions are manifold: Painstakingly detailed and colored in repose, herky-jerky in movement. Breathtakingly variegated creature design, cookie cutter human design. Interesting characters indifferently dubbed.

 

 

Yep.

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Nathaniel said:   Attica. All of this makes me regret missing the "director's cut" of The Princess and the Cobbler when it showed at the Academy a couple of years ago.

 

 

Just found this.  Have a looksey over here.

 

As well.  There was recently a documentary about the subject released, and there is a group working to have the Thief finished.

 

Thanks, Attica!

"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

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I meant to reply to this comment a few days ago, but didn't find the time.  Thank you very much for that info, Attica.  It's very helpful to hear from people with inside knowledge on things like that.

 

My questions about Japanese animation were sparked by watching a substantial amount of it in the last year, and reading two books: Miyazaki's Starting Point: 1979-1996, and Anime: A History by Jonathan Clements.  Miyazaki's book is kind of a hodgepodge of random essays, speeches, interviews, and project proposals, but it's got some fascinating stuff in it.  While he does talk repeatedly about trying to get certain scenes or effects just right in his movies, he spends a lot more time talking about ideals and underlying themes in his films.  It presents an interesting contrast with the Disney animators like Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston (whose Illusion of Life I have looked through in the library, but not actually read), who focus almost entirely on the details of animating, and how to make characters move, and (as far as I can tell) relatively little on the themes and ideas communicated by the stories they tell.  That seems to be kind of a blind spot for most American animation, actually.

 

Also, in reference to "limited" vs. "full" animation, at one point Miyazaki lamented the end of fully animated films at the Toei Animation studio, and he referred to it as "two-frame" animation.  I guess--and it's actually pretty clear when looking at it, even for a layman--that the various features animated there during the '60s and '70s, while the most expensive and detailed being done in Japan, were still done (almost?) entirely on twos.  The difference between those films and Disney's of the same era is pretty clear on who had the higher frame rates.

 

It's interesting the different standards or aesthetic values different people can find in the same art form.  Ben Ettinger at Anipages is one of the foremost anime experts on the web (he's a Japanese-to-English translator in his regular job), and what he likes to single out and praise the most in animation is interesting and surprising movement.  He doesn't like movement that's too smooth and boring; he prefers wild poses and changing frame rates and unusual rhythms.  I think in general he would praise the animation of Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro over The Wind Rises, for example.  I doubt most Disney animators would feel the same, but I guess I don't know.  (He also really likes Masaaki Yuasa, whose style is wild and loose and free-hand, with characters going way off-model and the camera swinging around in weird arcs; I do too.  I dunno what you would think, but he directed the movie Mind Game, and the short TV series Kaiba and Ping-Pong: The Animation, which are fairly easy to find if you're not familiar with him.  If you are: Is his stuff at all up your alley?  Or is it just too rough and weird?)

 

 

Have you ever seen the version that was later edited together with some of his half finished animation, closer to his vision?  Some of the stuff in there will blow your mind.  In some places there is nothing better, anywhere, like in the war machine at the end.

I had watched the Recobbled Cut on YouTube a few years ago.  I think it was "Mk. 3" then; it's "Mk. 4" now.  I watched it again the other day, and several parts did indeed take my breath away.  The battle scene at the end is indeed amazing--there's so many details, so many little things going on, and it all hangs suspended for so long before it finally ends.  It really is, as anyone familiar with the film will agree, a tragedy that it was never finished the way Williams wished.

 

One thing I noticed a bit odd, though:  The scenes of the Thief, before the finale, are rarely funny.  They're funny in concept, but in execution they don't seem well-constructed as gags to actually elicit laughter.  They don't set you up for the joke, prime the pump, raise the suspense, and then surprise you with the punchline or series of punchlines.  They just kind of happen. And they get a smile, and maybe some acknowledgement of the cleverness of the action, but unlike, say, Scrat in the Ice Age movies, they don't pull you in close enough or set you up well enough to actually make you laugh.  (At least for me.)  This is kind of an odd thing, because they seem to want to be funny, and Williams was so good at recreating Tex Avery-style humor in Roger Rabbit.

 

 

Anyway, one last question for you: Do you know of any top-notch animators working in computer animation?  People whose animation styles and personality can come through in the way they animate CG characters?  Or is such a thing not really possible?  It seems that with a computer generated model whose movement is limited by its rig, there's no way for an individual animator to make his/her work distinguished.  And that seems to me like a bit of a tragedy.

 

And by now I have left Song of the Sea too far behind in this discussion, and I should probably stop before this thread gets moved to a different board. :)

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StephenM said:  Thank you very much for that info, Attica. 

 

Glad to.

 

 

:he spends a lot more time talking about ideals and underlying themes in his films.  It presents an interesting contrast with the Disney animators like Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston (whose Illusion of Life I have looked through in the library, but not actually read), who focus almost entirely on the details of animating, and how to make characters move, and (as far as I can tell) relatively little on the themes and ideas communicated by the stories they tell.  That seems to be kind of a blind spot for most American animation, actually.

 

 

They weren't story guys.  A couple of the 9 old men seemed to be involved with directing, but not those two.  If I remember correctly.  Disney had separate story guys with Walt of course the bedrock behind it all.

 

Most of those old Disney animators were just simply masters of their craft.  They were pioneers in the artform as they were the ones who developed many of the techniques and understanding used today, probably also in Japanese animation.  They would have had lots of interest in animating the characters to fit the story, but little say in the actual story in regards to it's themes.  Although I do recall, from what I've read, that the main animators had some say in making the actual story work, which I don't believe is entirely the same with it's themes.

 

I think your probably right in that Japanese animation is more interested in themese than American animation is generally.  There's a different view of the target audience.  American animation is of course generally geared towards kids and their parents.  But it wasn't always that way.  Those old Warner Brothers cartoons were directly geared towards an adult audience, yet only later became considered to be made for kids after being broadcast on TV.

 

I grew up with a strong dose of National Film Board of Canada animated film, which was often very theme orientated and very artistically creative.  It rarely had the quality of actual character animation found in Disney, but the creativity in storytelling and design was often as inventive as one can find.  Those short films have been a huge influence on me, in my views on animation as well as the arts in general.

 

 

:and what he likes to single out and praise the most in animation is interesting and surprising movement.  He doesn't like movement that's too smooth and boring; he prefers wild poses and changing frame rates and unusual rhythms.  I think in general he would praise the animation of Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro over The Wind Rises, for example.  I doubt most Disney animators would feel the same, but I guess I don't know.

 

 

I highly doubt it.  Most American animators come out of training schools such as Sheridan College in Canada, which is one of major training schools for Hollywood studios.  Those schools are geared towards producing artists to work in the studio production pipelines.  I know a guy who came out of this system and to his way of thinking good quality animation and design = looks like Disney and Hollywood mainstream films.

 

I generally think that some creativity has been lost in their thinking (generally) because of the influences of these schools and am much more open to different design and story methods than can just be found within the Hollywood system.  Again, my NFB influences.

 

That's probably one of the reasons why I love the creativity of design in Cartoon Saloons stuff so much.  Anything that is not Hollywood, but still very appealing, thrills me, at least when the animation is at a certain level.

 

 

:he directed the movie Mind Game, and the short TV series Kaiba and Ping-Pong: The Animation, which are fairly easy to find if you're not familiar with him.  If you are: Is his stuff at all up your alley?  Or is it just too rough and weird?)

 
 
I'll look into them and try and remember to get back to you (try.)  Are you aware of Bill Plymptons stuff.  He generally films on 4's or 6's, but I like some of what he is doing.  He really like his drawing style and he comes up with some wacky poses.  He's also the king of independents.  I can't think of anyone in the Independent animation world who has the output that Plympton has.
 
 
 
:The battle scene at the end is indeed amazing--there's so many details, so many little things going on, 
 
Remember this is all hand drawn, no computers.  Not even for ink and paint I believe.
 
 
:One thing I noticed a bit odd, though:  The scenes of the Thief, before the finale, are rarely funny.  They're funny in concept
 
 
Which scenes do you mean exactly?  I guess I'll have to watch that part of the video again.
 
 

 

: Do you know of any top-notch animators working in computer animation?  People whose animation styles and personality can come through in the way they animate CG characters?  Or is such a thing not really possible?  It seems that with a computer generated model whose movement is limited by its rig, there's no way for an individual animator to make his/her work distinguished.  And that seems to me like a bit of a tragedy.

 

 

I think it's possible.  Those rigs are pretty complex and allow for a lot of movement.  At least the higher end rigs found in bigger productions.

 

I do think that the move away from the beautiful 2D hand drawn animation is a tragedy. 

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 Are you aware of Bill Plymptons stuff.

I'm aware of it, but I haven't watched anything besides trailers and clips.  There's something about his character designs and their expressions that I find a little off-putting, but he does keep getting praise, and he's obviously very respected among other small-time animators.  I'll have to look into him.

 

 

I grew up with a strong dose of National Film Board of Canada animated film, which was often very theme orientated and very artistically creative.  It rarely had the quality of actual character animation found in Disney, but the creativity in storytelling and design was often as inventive as one can find.  Those short films have been a huge influence on me, in my views on animation as well as the arts in general.

I've seen some NFB films, and I definitely agree.  They can be wonderful.  And anyone else reading this--they have a YouTube channel, and a website where they have put up quite a number of shorts available free to the public, plus some on their sight available for a fee.  I feel like watching some more right now.

 

 

Which scenes do you mean exactly?  I guess I'll have to watch that part of the video again.

Well, there's a number of them.  Even right from the beginning, when the Thief tries to steal from the little old nurse and gets beat up--it's mildly funny in concept, though it's an old joke, but we just kind of watch the whole thing in long-shot in a way that doesn't really pull us in or sell the humor of it.  And then the Thief goes into the Cobbler's room and starts trying to steal from him, but the Cobbler sews them together in his sleep--that is pretty funny in conception, but again it just kind of happens in front of us, instead of building as a more traditional gag scene would.  And these happen all through the movie, some with more success than others--generally I find the funniest ones to be the most complex, and part of my laughter is just from marveling at how many different pieces are coming together.

 

I realize in saying this I may sound like I'm attacking any style of humor which differs from the broad, clunk-you-on-the-head obviousness of most American animation.  And that's certainly not what I'm trying to say, in principle.  But it seems to me that humor is mostly a matter of timing, and I don't really understand the timing of most of these scenes.  And audience identification: With Scrat in the Ice Age series, we're brought in very close to his face; we see his expression and understand his objective; we may find his design humorous in the first place; then we watch as he attempts to achieve his objective, and things go wrong one after the other.  There's a lot of anticipation and build-up there: he wants to get the acorn, he has a plan to get the acorn, it seems he actually has gotten the acorn, then a pause, and then suddenly the ground falls out from under him or something.  That's a fairly simplistic and easy way to get a laugh on one hand--we're prompted exactly when to laugh--but if you build the gag well, with genuinely clever and surprising developments, it can be legitimately hilarious.  

 

With the Thief, Williams mostly foregoes the audience identification, and has less build-up and anticipation--and I could see why this would be desirable.  He doesn't want the big rimshot at the end to tell you when to laugh, he doesn't want the same old style of humor.  Maybe what he wants is something more like Buster Keaton comedy, where we stay in wide shot most of the time and watch as very wacky things happen, one piling on top of another.  And there are times when it does work like that.  But again, we identify with Keaton, we're aware of what he wants or what he fears, and all the gags are carefully timed, even though the rhythm is different from what we expect.  While we are aware that the Thief wants to steal, and therefore what his basic objective is, we rarely get close to him; he has little personality, and doesn't seem to draw the eyes that well.  And a lot of the time his actual movements just seem odd or strange or fascinating rather than humorous, at least to me.  (Sometimes I want to see what he just did again, because it wasn't the movement I expected from him, but it wasn't a movement I found funny either.)  Maybe the best example of the Thief abiding by traditional gag rules is with the three orbs on top of the tower at the palace:  there we see him see the orbs, and watch as he tries successively to reach them, all while counterpointed with the king speaking about how important the orbs are for preserving the city.  It's a classic set-up, and it works all right, though the Thief's attempts aren't quite original or surprising enough to be that funny when we've got a whole history of Looney Tunes gags just like this that break all sorts of rules that Williams, telling a story in a world with rules and limits, doesn't want to break (there's no Acme company selling random mechanical inventions here).

 

Do these paragraphs make sense?  I don't really know anything about comedy or gag-writing, it's just an observation that struck me while watching the movie: "These scenes seem like they ought to be funny, but they're kind of not."  And then I tried to figure out why, and this is what I came up with.

 

 

Edit:

And on that Thief and Cobbler re-watch, I also noticed a few design elements that clearly influenced Cartoon Saloon.  The black and red army in The Secret of Kells pretty obviously comes from the black and red army of One-eyes in Thief, and I think even the Great Seanachai in Song of the Sea (the old Faerie in the cave, with the hair) seems influenced/inspired by the old witch in the mountain of hands in Thief as well.  See? Still on topic. wink.png

Edited by StephenM
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StephenM said:  Do these paragraphs make sense?  I don't really know anything about comedy or gag-writing, it's just an observation that struck me while watching the movie: "These scenes seem like they ought to be funny, but they're kind of not."  And then I tried to figure out why, and this is what I came up with.

 
 
They kind of make sense.  To be honest I found the humour in this film to be mildly amusing, but not hilarious.  I never thought that it was intended to be.  This was intended to anything but a Hollywood film in just about every way.
 
So, I think your right that the film was trying to do things different.  In a lot of ways.  But also, and I think this is important, the work on the film began in the 70's and there was a very different understanding of humour than in modern animated films.  Humour just doesn't stand the test of time as well as other factors of film.  At least often.  I remember as a kid I thought Caddyshack and a few other early 80's films were rip-roaringly funny, but now, for me at least, they are a big yawn.
 
As well.  Williams was an animator who was Canadian born and who was making that film at his studio in England.  Both countries that are known for their dry humour (check out SCTV and basically anything British), as compared to the zip, snap, bang, of Hollywood.  
 
 
 
StephenM said:  And anyone else reading this--they have a YouTube channel, and a website where they have put up quite a number of shorts available free to the public, plus some on their sight available for a fee.  I feel like watching some more right now.
 
 
I'm busy right now.  But maybe I'll send some links to a few classics when I have some time.  I know 3 or 4 people who worked on some of those films.  Actually I'm working on a commercial project with one guy right now (hence why I don't have the time) and another guy was the best man at my wedding.   :)
 
The NFB helped to fund my first film (through their filmmakers assistance program) and in the 90's they provided studio space for some of us Independents to work on films, so I had some connection with them for a few years.  I've never done a commissioned film for them though.  It is very hard to become a director for the NFB.  Often times more luck than anything.
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Sometimes they will assign one character for the whole film to the key animator.  But not always for various reasons.  A perfect example of this was Cruel D Villa in the Rescuers.  She was assigned to Milt Kahl who was the last of the old greats left at Disney at the time (Richard Williams says that he was the best animator who every lived and that the others were jealous of him), and if you look at that film you'll notice the difference between that character and the others.  Most of the rest of the film was a noticeable drop in quality from earlier films, but that character was astonishingly well animated.

 

Do you mean Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians? Or the villainess from The Rescuers, Madame Medusa? 

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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SDG said:  Do you mean Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians? Or the villainess from The Rescuers, Madame Medusa? 

 
 
Ooops.  Yes, I ment Madame Medusa.
 
 
I just found this look at some of the character's animation, along with a bit about Milt Kahl.  Good stuff.
 
 
 
 
 
 
As well.  Here's a clip where Richard Williams talks about Milt.  As I've noted Williams thinks that he's the greatest of the masters and that he never received the respect that he was due.
 
Of note.  Ken Harris, mentioned at the start of the clip, was a legendary animator from Warner Brothers who spent a semi-retirement training people in Willams' studio, while also animating some of the great stuff in the Thief and the Cobbler.  Also, in the clip it's easy to see what a likeable guy Williams is (although some who worked for him say that he wasn't always likeable.)  I found him to be very friendly, unassuming and quite funny.
 
 
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Finally watched this after months of putting it off. I really, really wanted to like it (and still kinda do), but the storytelling never fully captivated me. As with Kells, the animation is quite ravishing, but so stylized as to drain the danger from a storm at sea, an owl attack, and several near drownings.

 

I love the idea of an esoteric family film, but Moore's desire to enchant contemporary audiences with a vision of pre-Christian Ireland involves sifting through an inventory of symbols which will no doubt fly over the heads of most children. So who is this film for? Parents and authority figures. The loving but overprotective father has sequestered his children from their spiritual heritage. The grandmother, whose home identifies her as Christian but whose character design links her directly to the owl-witch, is more practical about taking care of the kids and "moving on" with life, but is nevertheless ignorant of the magic that governs the universe. The Catholic iconography that SDG identifies in his review appear more like monuments to a dead religion than a vibrant mystical force. The "true" enchantment of fairies and selkies and has always been there, but remains hidden for the spiritually discerning to discover. The art (stories, songs, pictures, etc.) that keeps this legendary world alive also bestows life on those who practice it.

Edited by Nathaniel

"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

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FWIW, my wife and I watched this over our anniversary weekend. It was an absolutely beautiful film, but thematically speaking (especially the final scene), I'm not so sure it was the wisest viewing choice for that particular weekend.

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