Archive

Movies

A few things to observe about The Lego Movie:

*It earned $69 million in February.  It’s animated.

*It sits at number two among all-time February openings ahead of Friday the 13th (2009), Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail, Shutter Island, The Vow, Hitch, Ghost RiderValentine’s Day, and Hannibal.  It only trails Passion of the Christ’s $83 million dollar opening.  As it happens, this is the same list for all time opening weekends in the winter, where it sits at number 2 as well.

*It features celebrity heavyweights such as Will Ferrell, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, and other big names including Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Jonah Hill, Charlie Day, Alison Brie, and Channing Tatum.

*It’s looking at a holiday weekend coming up February 14-17.

*Its production budget of $60 million practically guarantees that we’ll be seeing a sequel within the next two years.

*Google worked a nice tie-in during the previews to its Chrome-app version of the Lego Digital Designer, a virtual lego builder that’s been around since I was ten.

This is the next Frozen.  What’s going for Lego is that, like Frozen, its word of mouth capability will carry the picture far.  What’s working against it is the stigma that it’s a product-placement slap to the face for anybody over the age of seven.  Even twelve year-old Ivan Sanchez remarked in an interview with Variety that the movie was for younger kids.  What’s going to overcome this obstacle, however, is word-of-mouth.  In the theater, laughter didn’t come from howling and screeching six year-olds every two minutes, rather there seemed to be a collective satisfaction in the humor on-screen.  Kids would laugh at Superman being covered in a pile of gum; adults would laugh at his misery in being wedged in next to the annoying, useless superhero Green Lantern.  This film has potential for some very strong legs, and I find it promising that, as more people see Lego and find out that it is in truth an ironic criticism of consumer culture and the parents who just buy whatever sets Lego puts out, it will connect with the cynical, grown-up, too-good-for-toys audience (like teenagers).

Something else we can expect from The Lego Movie is an inevitable sequel.  I’d like to think that the film’s central messages on creativity and originality would deter a follow up, but should the original team refuse, another will be hired.  Animal Logic, the animation team primarily behind the movie, has created such superb, specific programming and techniques for animating square, restricted bricks that, should they for any reason not be back on board with any sequel, the product will without question be considerably less than the original.  Look here for an article and here for a video on the making of The Lego Movie (provided by cartoonbrew.com).  Both provide details into the intricate, precise creation of a lego world in an animated movie.

Advertisements

Connections are important.  They are the supply lines of careers that can often act as a springboard for up-and-coming talent in any profession.  In film especially, connections can provide a strong basis on which you can begin a career.  The best way to form these when you live in the middle of nowhere is through email, and over the years, that is exactly what I’ve been trying to do.  I’ve come across some very valuable advice from a woman who has worked as an animator on The Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh.  Just recently, according to iMDb.com, she worked in the visual development of Wreck-it Ralph.  This woman is Sarah Airriess whose blog you can find here.

Following the release of The Princess and the FrogI found Mrs. Airriess’ name listed in the credits as an apprentice animator.  Hoping to find how she had made it to this stage in her life, I emailed her a few questions along the lines of “What advice do you have for a kid who wants to do what you do some day?” I also couldn’t resist asking her what parts she animated.  The response I received was fantastic, and her advice was surprisingly simple.

First of all, she recommended some materials to learn from, specifically a website this website:  The Temple of the Seven Golden Camels .  It is a goldmine in terms of explaining various aspects of storytelling.  The author(s) has posted articles ranging in subject from costumes to character arcs.  Whether you want to better understand movies, or simply add to your writing, this blog will help out invaluably.  In addition to this, Mrs. Airriess recommended the practice of “stop-framing,” as she described it.  Basically, she explained that by playing back animated classics like Snow White or Tarzan frame by frame, a viewer can study character movements and understand better the idea of what animation should look like in the individual drawings.  Through the method of “stop-framing,” you really can get a first-hand look at what animation legends put into their drawings to bring out the life.  I’ve even tried it with Looney Tunes cartoons.  When “stop-framing” a Looney Tunes cartoon however, if it is directed by Chuck Jones, you will find that every few frames contain one of his own key frames, as he would draw out the keys for many of his cartoons, including all three episodes of The Hunting Trilogy.

I also found that Mrs. Airriess animated in The Princess and the Frog many background and crowd shots, as well as a few scenes with Dr. Facilier.  The lesson to be learned from all of this is that a simple email is possibly the most empowering tool for any adolescent looking towards his or her future.  The worst that can happen is your contact may decline or forget to respond due to a heavy work schedule.  All of this valuable advice has come straight from a professional.  It’s safe to say that connections are pretty powerful stuff, and coincidently, they’re in the name of my blog.  (I didn’t mean to do that at all).

Sarah Airriess created this pencil test of Dr. Facilier.  Notice how much energy and flexibility she gave Facilier in this shot, even though the camera angle was in an unfamiliar position.  It’s impressive how visible the energy is in the character, despite the rough form it is presented in the video.  ( http://www.penciltestdepot.com/2011/03/bruce-smith-facilier-patf.html )

The last four years have been torture.  Studios have been attempting to pump out film versions of characters completely unsuitable for the big screen.  First it was Speed Racer, then Yogi Bear, and we can’t forget the forgettable Smurfs.

Now, Sony Animation is feeling Popeye needs to be brought to the big screen, this time in animation (Robin Williams starred in 1980’s awful live-action film Popeye).  There are few circumstances under which I will accept Sony’s Popeye.  Either, a), Genndy Tartakovsky, the appointed director, brings back, from the original 1930’s comics, Hamgravy, Castor Oyl, the Sea Hag, King Blozo, etc., or b) this movie doesn’t get made.

I hate to be so critical of this Tartakovsky project, because in terms of pure entertaiment, Dexter’s Laboratory has always been one of my favorites, but I can’t take any more of these reboots.  Ever since Fantagraphics released the original E.C. Segar comics in six book-form volumes, I’ve become a dedicated  Popeye comic-strip fan.  Segar’s original comics were the greatest adventure stories ever written.  I’d go so far as to say they were the first true superhero stories.  He took on every setting from the old west to foreign countries, and even stretched his stories into the boxing ring on Sundays.  True comic fans also know that Popeye actually rarely ate spinach, and only took on Bluto but a few times in print.

The problem with a Popeye film is the roots upon which the writers will draw.  He was a cartoon genius, but Max Fleischer’s Popeye is not E.C. Segar’s Popeye.  It’s like comparing McDonald’s and Wendy’s: they’re selling the same product, but one is just so much better than the other.  I would feel reassured if I knew Tartakovsky would base his Popeye off of Segar’s, but that just will not happen.  In an interview with Fred Topel of Crave Online, Tartakovksy stated, “You don’t want to put Popeye in a baseball hat and sunglasses and gym shoes, but at the same time he can’t be a pipe smoking sailor.”  I guess that’s reassuring that we won’t be seeing Popeye in “a baseball hat and sunglasses and gym shoes,” but that honestly should be a given.  The problem I have is that in the second part of that quote, he indicates that Popeye will have to lose his iconic pipe.  The pipe in both Segar’s comics and Fleischer’s cartoons was an absolute must.  It is as much a part of Popeye as his one eye or his over-inflated forearms!

It’s the loss of things like his pipe that reveals to me there will be no Hamgravy, no King Blozo, and no Sea Hag.  We’ll just end up seeing a rehash of the Fleischer spinach-eating, Bluto beating, mumbling Popeye.  And if Tartakovsky strays even from that, I don’t think I’ll be able to hold down lunch.  My advice: Skip the movie ticket and buy a Popeye Fantagraphic Collection book instead.