Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Grinch That Could Have Been

I do not have high expectations to see Illumination Entertainment’s take on How The Grinch Stole Christmas, one of the most beloved and iconic tales from Ted Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, when it premieres (supposedly) in 2018.

Now for the most part, I try not to dismiss certain movies before I see them, but then there are ideas that I feel are doomed from the start. This is one such case.

When it comes to adaptations of the classic book, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, two spring immediately to mind: the Chuck Jones animated special from 1966, which I watched often as a kid around Christmas time and still consider one of the greatest Christmas specials ever made, (certainly better than most of Rankin/Bass’ crap,) and the Ron Howard movie that came out in 2000, which I saw and, even with all of its faults, did get enjoyment out of a good chunk of it, particularly Jim Carrey’s manic portrayal of The Grinch. So it seems unthinkable to me that someone would adapt this story again. Has it seriously been THAT long since a movie version came out?

Whoever designed this should be deeply ashamed of themselves...

But that’s not my only problem with this upcoming adaptation of The Grinch. There’s also the little fact that it’s being made by Illumination Entertainment, the creators of the Despicable Me movie and the highly marketed Minions. Why is this an issue? While the movies they made tend to make a surprisingly large amount of money, they also tend to be hit-or-miss when it comes to the quality, with most of them never reaching above mediocre in ratings, and I tend to have a huge amount of contempt for them in general, especially because of the attention they’ve been getting. I’ve only seen two Illumination films to date: the aforementioned Despicable Me, and The Lorax, their previous adaptation of a Dr. Seuss work. Now, Despicable Me was alright, nothing extraordinary, but it had its fair share of funny moments and cute moments, and the premise was certainly an interesting one. The Lorax, on the other hand…

"Fantastic Fun for Everyone", my foot!

The Lorax just sucked. I mean, yeah, it does look nice and it does have the occasional funny bit and the occasional decently executed scene, but overall it was severely underwhelming. As an adaptation of the book, it fails, and even on its own terms, it’s still not all that good. The leads are boring, the storytelling is very paint-by-numbers, there are pointlessly phoned-in songs, most of the decisions made are highly questionable, and making the Once-ler a human has only led to cringy DeviantART fanwork.

But the biggest sin is how hypocritical it wound up being. The Lorax, as written by Dr. Seuss, was not only an environmental tale, but also one that criticized corporate greed and big business practices. This is especially ironic and cringe-worthy when you consider that Universal, before the movie’s release, used The Lorax to market jeeps and iHop pancakes, among other things.

The Lorax was previously adapted into a special in the 70s by DePatie-Freleng, and while it’s not the best Dr. Seuss animated special, it’s still far more faithful to the book than this movie was, and one of my brother’s favorite Dr. Seuss quotes came from it:

“They say I’m old-fashioned and live in the past,
But sometimes I think progress progresses too fast!”

Truer words have never been spoken…

And even though Illumination’s take on The Lorax was a financial hit (at least, from what I heard,) it’s baffling to think that Audrey Geisel (Dr. Seuss’ widow) would make this same mistake of allowing these guys to work with MORE of her late husband’s material. You’d think with such a disgraceful adaptation, she’d sever ties with Illumination completely, like with how The Cat In The Hat put an end to the live-action adaptations, but for some reason, she’s allowing them to adapt more Dr. Seuss works. Illumination Entertainment really shouldn’t be allowed to touch any of these stories with a thirty-nine and a half foot pole, especially if they release posters that look like THIS:

Seriously, what the hell is this? Who came up with this? Who APPROVED of it?

So yeah, I have absolutely no faith in Illumination’s take on this classic story. Especially since I know of another attempt to adapt How The Grinch Stole Christmas that didn’t make it off the ground.

Sometime before the Ron Howard movie, cartoonist Berkeley Breathed (of Bloom County fame) did some concept art work for his own idea of a Grinch adaptation, an animated film with Jack Nicholson voicing the Grinch, and I find these drawings far more interesting and appealing than what Illumination is planning to dump onto box offices. These pieces showcase a Seussian sensibility while also displaying Breathed’s off-beat sense of humor. And yes, this includes his bizarre obsession with tighty-whiteys.

He showed these drawings to Audrey Geisel, and while she did like them, she ultimately decided to go with Howard’s vision. Shame, too, because while I’m fine with the 2000 movie adaptation, even if it does have problems, I think this would have been a fun take on the Grinch, especially since I adore Berkeley Breathed’s work. He always approaches satire with both a sharp edge and a sense of charm, his drawings and artwork can be both beautiful and hysterical, and his writing is funny enough to appeal to both kids and adults. If anyone should be allowed to do a new adaptation of the Grinch, he’d be my personal pick. Sadly, that seems to not be the case, as people seem to be content with letting the chuckleheads responsible for the Minions adapt such a sacred story.

But hey, different strokes for different folks. If this movie ever does get released and doesn’t get cancelled by some unforeseen incident, people are free to watch it if they want. Me, on the other hand, I’ll just be staying at home, wondering about the Grinch movie that we could have seen…

Friday, September 8, 2017

Sick Of CGI Pt. 2

Again, drawing by Landon Kemp (me) and Fly Me To The Moon belongs to whoever gives a crap about this stupid-ass movie they made.

Well, we're back with the second part of this article, where I bring up the threat of rendering other mediums of animation obsolete and foreign imports across the world.

-Rendering Other Mediums "Obsolete"

One of the things I hate the most about this influx of CGI is that people get the idea that it'll render other mediums of animation, most notably hand-drawn and stop-motion, obsolete. As a die-hard supporter of both hand-drawn and stop-motion animation, I don't take kindly to this. This has been a mindset for years, hitting the strongest in the 2000s, and if the 1988 short "Technological Threat" is anything to go off of, it's been going on since the 1980s. I should also bring up that Hollywood has exploited CGI like mad in live-action features, especially in the late 90s, with disaster porn like Independence Day and Armageddon. That trend has sort of died down by this point, but while CG effects are still prominent and heavily exploited in modern blockbuster flicks, it feels like filmmakers have been utilizing the technology a little better, usually knowing when and how to use it most of the time. I still think live-action should rely on a combination of CG and practical effects or even just do all practical effects to create a more convincing illusion, but that’s beside the point at the moment.

Disney has been doing short films combining CGI with hand-drawn elements, like "Paperman" and "Feast", and while they do look nice, it leads me to ask, "Why not just do a hand-drawn film? Do you really need to create some superfluous tech just to give something a hand-drawn look and feel?" I felt The Peanuts Movie did this sort of combination to far better effect, since while it was still largely CGI, it retained some hand-drawn elements, like for imagination sequences, visual effects, and occasionally the eyes on characters like Snoopy, making for a unique combination of styles. It didn't try to mask the CGI with traditional art to give off the illusion of hand-drawn animation, either. The influence of the original Melendez specials came through in how the characters were animated and how they were staged. It managed to translate into a more modern sensibility while still doing its own thing and paying homage to its roots.

Still, the idea that computer animation will render the other mediums “obsolete” is a constant problem in this industry. Not even other countries are safe from this mindset. In a 2014 interview, Hideaki Anno, creator of the popular anime "Neon Genesis Evangelion", stated that he can see Japan, the anime capital of the world, going more towards 3D CG in the future, even saying, "To work with the rest of the world, we have to move on to 3D". Like Hell you have to! A lot of what makes Japanese animation so notable is that it DOESN'T follow what the rest of the world does. It has its own unique voice. Even when CG was worked into the actual animation in the past, whether it fit or not, it still felt like Japanese animation. By following what Hollywood and "the rest of the world" does, it's basically giving that identity up just to become another part of the machine. I'm not discouraging the Japanese from working with 3D CGI since, if the video games they make are of any indication, they know how to work with it, but for God's sake, I'm hoping they're a lot smarter with the tool than we were and not letting it go out of control. The same applies for other countries that use it.

As you can see, this is a major concern. But I think I know what the problem with this whole deal is: it's the greedy executives running the whole show. They see how much money 3D animated movies make at the box office and are under the aforementioned thought process that Andrew Stanton described, that "Computer Animation = $$$ LOTSA MONEY $$$". To them, it's become a safe bet. They are resistant to trying anything new or anything to shake up the norm. And with how outdated a lot of Hollywood standards in general are, that’s a big problem. It really frustrates me that people can’t just put their foot down and stand up to these talentless execs to make their voices heard when it comes to issues like this.

The way I see it, 3D CGI is like a drug. Sometimes it has benefits, but it’s easy to get addicted to it, and can often lead to harmful effects if you abuse or overdose on it. And by harmful, I mean harmful for the industry, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it wound up being harmful in other ways.  I heard on one of the Bancroft Bros. podcasts that despite John Lasseter’s claims that they’re trying to find the right story for hand-drawn animation, all of the new films at Disney are given the 3D treatment because some higher-up, possibly Lasseter himself, takes a look at it and says that it would be “better suited for 3D”. And I hear they’ve sold off the animation drawing desks. Again. So much for your big claims of reviving hand-drawn animation, Lasseter! Working with the CGI medium for years has only left him and a lot of these other animators addicted to this “drug”. And when they become addicted, they start turning out products of increased quantity… but not always at increased quality, which again, is a danger tied to churning out films at the rate they’ve been doing.

That is why I think we need more variety in this industry. I feel we need to acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of each medium and come up with a better system than what we have now. I’m very certain a lot of artists don’t want to do things the “mainstream” way, they want to be able to create what they want the way they want it. I’m certain that hand-drawn animation is and can still be profitable at the box office. It just needs the right promotion and the right story. Same thing for stop-motion. I'm certain that, if Kubo And The Two Strings had been given better promotion and a better release date, it would have been a box office hit.

Seriously, why did this beautiful and creative stop motion movie not do well?

Now, my point here, as well as with this whole article, is that I want computer animation to be able to evolve as a medium of animation, but not at the cost of the more traditional mediums that also deserve a chance to evolve and grow.

-Modern CGI Gets All The Love When It Comes To International Distribution

We've been getting a lot of foreign imports in recent years. Animation is becoming big in not only the US, but in other countries as well. Many countries either have their own animation industry with its own rich history or are just starting up their own. Opportunities have arisen for exporting animated shorts, shows, and features of all kinds to showcase how other cultures create entertaining and artistic animated films around the world.


Seriously, all the big studios flaunt the flashy CGI features of today in movie houses across the world, while indie titles, smaller imports and the features of yesteryear have limited releases in select theaters or even on DVD with little to no promotion. These people seem to be under the delusion that it has to be CGI to be successful in the international market or to American audiences.

This really pisses me off, because hand-drawn foreign films like Ernest And Celestine, Song Of The Sea, and The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya, all distributed by the seriously underappreciated GKids, have only been able to get limited releases. I've seen all three of these movies in a local theater during my stay in Austin, and they are way too good to only be released in select theaters on select dates. And by good, I don't mean that because they're hand-drawn, but because they have a lot of effort put into them in general. And back in 2015, I saw the wonderful Aardman stop motion feature The Shaun The Sheep Movie, only to find it didn’t even make the Top 10 at the box office, because the idiots at Lionsgate didn’t market it properly. From what I heard, it also came from Aardman’s supposedly diminished presence in the US, but I think a quick reminder that Aardman was the same studio that gave us stuff like Wallace And Gromit and Chicken Run will immediately make people go, “Oh yeah, THAT’S what else they’ve done.” It’s not that hard, folks. A simple reminder of what else is in their filmography can definitely go a long way in raising interest.

And even then, there’s not a steady guarantee that foreign animation will even see release in American theaters. The Weinstein Company managed to gain the rights to premiere an English dub of the Argentinean CG flick Metegol (or Underdogs, as it has come to be known,) in the US, only to delay it again and again until it was pulled a week before its planned release, and then casually dumped onto DVD shelves without any promotion. Then again, the Weinsteins don’t have the best history with animation, so it probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

Coming Soon To A Theater Near You... NOT!

Another issue is that some countries don’t have the know-how to do proper CGI animation. As mentioned before, it takes a lot of time, effort, money, and the proper tech to make CGI that is of a good quality, and most of the time, they’re used to make those terrible knock-off movies with CGI that looks dated and awful. And even if that’s not the case, they still don’t always know how to make the rendered computer animation appealing to look at. There have been examples that managed to avoid that, sure, but it’s still something of an issue that needs to be worked with before they truly utilize such a method.

And yes, this IS an animated feature film. This isn't just a series of episodes from an obscure childrens' anime show based on a series of books that we just cobbled together and redubbed to sell to kids that don't know any bet-D'OH!
You may be wondering why I’m bringing imports into this all this. During the big VHS boom in the 80s and 90s, there was a ton of imported animation and anime that was translated and sent to video store shelves, at first mainly for kids and their families by companies like Celebrity’s Just For Kids, but once anime and adult animation started gaining an audience, other video companies started releasing animation videos for mature audiences as well. There’s a ton of animation that hasn’t seen release outside of its own country, though, and as a huge advocate for international animation, cartoons and other creative entertainment, I think a lot of those properties deserve a chance to shine outside their own country, be they old or new, for kids or adults. 

Again, I'm not saying it's not possible for foreign nations to try to create good CGI animation, but not only do they need to learn to use the tool properly, but also not to let it go to their heads, and to give their older hand-drawn/stop-motion features some love as well.

-To Conclude…

As sick and tired as I am of CGI and as much as I rag on it, I don't think it should be completely abandoned. It's proven that it can be a major force in the animation industry, and with each major innovation, it manages to evolve and grow. However, I say something has to be done about it to keep it under control. A good majority of the human race is tired of this kind of CG excess, and furthermore, many of them don’t even KNOW that they’re tired of it. We need to back down and give the other mediums some more exposure. Hopefully, bring some more balance into the industry by allowing hand-drawn, stop motion, and more experimental types of animation to thrive, because in the end, it's not the medium that's the problem, it's the people that exploit it and the worst cliches and notions that are tied to it. The computer is a wonderful tool, but again, it's just that: a tool. It's not the end-all, be-all "future of animation", it's just as much a method of creating animation as drawing on paper/tablet or working with clay and puppetry is.

I may be bitter about the whole situation, especially since I think the current highest-grossing animated film and one that further cemented CGI’s long lasting place in the industry, Frozen, is a mediocre piece of crap, regardless of medium, but what I ultimately want is for there to be an animation industry where people are allowed to work in the medium of their choice and not what the execs or the charts want. It should come down to personal preference. If someone wants to do a hand-drawn film, they can do a hand-drawn film. If someone wants to do a CGI film, they can do a CGI film. If a movie wants more practical effects with a little CG thrown in, it can have more practical effects with a little CG thrown in. It's this sort of freedom to do want you want and, hopefully, break some new ground and innovate by combining different methods to create a unique film or a unique approach to making film that I wish would exist. My belief is that if we make the animation industry a more stable and versatile place, for all mediums to thrive and grow, we can really take animation, in the immortal words of Buzz Lightyear, to infinity and beyond.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Sick Of CGI

Cartoon Drawing by Landon Kemp. Fly Me To The Moon was a stupid Belgian-US made CGI movie made in 2008 by Summit Entertainment and they can keep it.
Seriously, I remember seeing the trailer in theaters and my brother and I thought it looked like one of the most retarded things we had ever seen. It's not a current movie, but it was the most obvious example I could use.

Apologies for the long hiatus, I've just been focused on other things or taking my time with blogposts, but I now have one ready, and it's on a topic that should have been discussed for some time now.

I know this is a common complaint, and I know this is also going to come as a shocker to some people, but I'm just going to say it:

I am so sick and tired of seeing 3D CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) Animation all the time.

You may think, from that statement alone, that I hate CGI. I don't. There has been a lot of great animation made with this medium. Studios like Pixar and Dreamworks have done wonders with 3D animation. It's just that, like many other people, I miss the traditional hand-drawn animation of the films of yesteryear and am so burnt out by the CGI-saturated animation industry. And I get it. Animation has to evolve and change. But I feel there's still a lot of ground left for 2D hand-drawn animation and the other forms of animation to cover. We haven't even begun to scratch the surface of a lot of this stuff. But it feels like CGI is hogging most of the glory.

I mean, seriously, not only are 3D computer graphics in animated movies, but they're also in live-action movies, video games, TV shows, web media, all that sort of thing. At this point, the fine line between live-action and animation is being blurred further because of how many CG effects are incorporated into movies. Everything's gone digital, even the film that’s being used to make the stuff, and it’s getting really tiring to the point that I’m surprised people aren’t complaining about sensory overload or burnout.

Ultimately, though, it's not so much the medium itself that I dislike, since, like I said, there's been some good CG stuff put out, but rather a few different things about it that I feel has led to a LOT of problems. Just a note, by the way, while I will be touching on the subject of CG in live-action and video games, I’m mainly focusing on animated movies, shorts and shows for my examples, because something like CG for live-action can take up a whole other article. So with that out of the way, here are what I feel are some of the problems with this CG excess:

-The Desire for "Realism"

I've heard stuff about CG animators trying to create life-like imagery. Personally, I think this is a terrible idea. Part of what makes animation so attractive to me is because it DOESN’T look life-like. It’s a caricature of life, whether it's drawn or rendered in three-dimensional graphics. It's already hard enough to make CGI appealing as is, so these steps into realism just come off as a big mistake. This mindset makes me wonder how many of these people have ever heard of the "Uncanny Valley".

A chart representing The Uncanny Valley Theory

The Uncanny Valley, for those unfamiliar with the term, is the sensation where something that looks almost, but not quite, realistic, causes revulsion or uneasiness from the viewer due to its creepy looking nature. It's complicated to explain, but I’ve put up a chart to serve as a visual representation, showing the relationship between how human something looks and how much people will like it. If something non-human is given human qualities, it becomes endearing, but if it’s given too many human-like qualities or trying too hard to replicate real life, then it becomes more like an imperfect simulation that people will find disturbing. It’s possible to make something that looks and feels almost perfectly human, but it’s incredibly easy to slide back down to that drop in the chart. That drop is the Uncanny Valley.

To put it basically, we can tell when something doesn't look like real life. The eye is a complex organ (trust me, my dad's a retired optometrist,) and can pick up on the littlest subtlety. A lot of people can tell when something isn’t really there, and when whatever you’re looking at looks off or unnerving in some way, chances are, we’ll be looking anywhere BUT the thing we’re supposed to be looking at.

This is a phenomenon that not even the mighty Pixar is exempt from. Their otherwise fine 1988 short, Tin Toy, was marred by a creepy-looking CG baby that looked less like an actual baby and more like a hellish abomination that menaced the toy protagonist. To be fair, though, this does effectively put us in the toy's position because we're as freaked out by this thing as the toy is.

You'd have no idea this was based on a book by Berkeley Breathed unless I had mentioned it.
Want to know why most of the experiments in motion capture like "The Polar Express" and "Mars Needs Moms" failed? Because of this desire for "realism". They strived so hard for perfection in “realism” that the movies fell flat, essentially melting their wings by flying too close to the sun. There have been aversions to this, like I've heard good things about that Tintin movie, but for the most part, motion capture tends to bring about a horrific looking type of CG.

Sure, a foot in realism is a fine thing to have when you're working in animation, but at times like this, it gets to be used as a crutch. I’ve seen footage of the Disney Studios filming certain scenes in live-action and using that as reference for their classic animated films. The difference, however, is that the animators didn’t completely replicate the reference down to the last detail, they studied and adapted it to animation while adding to it, like making the poses more dynamic or exaggerating certain actions. I feel this is a much better approach than just simply mo-caping everything.

The reason I don't care for a lot of modern video games is that the majority of them have this strange desire to make the characters more realistic-looking, like they think we won't be able to take it seriously if it's in a cartoony looking style, which I think is ridiculous. I'll go more into this in another article, but suffice it to say, if I had to choose between something like Call Of Duty and, say, Ratchet And Clank, the latter would win, hands down.

I like animation that is stylized and creative, and this applies to CG animation as well. One of the things I'm liking about the output of Sony's CG Animation unit, as evidenced by movies like Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs and Hotel Transylvania, is that it doesn't strive for realism, it strives to give the animation that same speed, timing and punch that is in a lot of cartoony hand-drawn animation. Some of that sort of quality does show up in the other studios' works as well, like Blue Sky Studios did a remarkable job translating Peanuts into CG, with the animation feeling a lot like the original specials that Bill Melendez made, and of course, the short film Presto and many of the sequences inside Riley's head in Inside Out have some of the most stylized, cartoony CG animation I've seen from Pixar. Still, it feels like when CG animators strive for such extreme realism, it makes one wonder why they even want to animate in the first place.

-Quantity Over Quality

Is it just me, or have CG animated movies just kept coming out faster and faster? I don't just mean in American theaters, I mean in international theaters and in Wal-Marts the world over.

I've been making a list of my favorite animated movies, and there are very few computer animated films on that list to date. Most of these computer animated films are from Pixar. Sure, studios like Dreamworks, Blue Sky, and even Walt Disney Animation have been turning out some decent CG work, but putting aside the fact that it also comes down to personal preference, (to me, Pixar still does CGI the best,) if you were to look at a lot of the output of some of the lesser known stuff, most of it ranges from mediocre to just downright awful. After CG movies started making all the money in the early 2000s, practically EVERYONE wanted to ride that train of success. The results were very hit-or-miss. We had movies that were trying and failing to be the next Toy Story or the next Shrek, like Planet 51, Happily N'Ever After, or (Lord help us) Fly Me To The Moon. And don't even get me started on those ripoff movies by the likes of Video Brinquedo or Spark Plug Animation. Trust me, the less said about those, the better.

Not actually Ratatouille, but an unconvincing simulation. Had you been actually watching Ratatouille, you would have been substantially more entertained than from watching this.

Pixar director Andrew Stanton once said, "A lot of people think if they make a computer-animated film, it's going to be a hit. I'm afraid we're going to see a glut of really bad films in the next couple of years."

And for the most part, he was right. While there have been good non-Pixar CGI movies made, the majority of these movies are just disposable crap that, more often than not, are made for the sole purpose of making a quick buck. And because so many CGI films have been churned out at a near constant rate, a lot of the animated movies that are usually considered the worst, like Foodfight, have come out ever since CGI started to become more commonplace. Even today, there's still third-rate 3D animation being released unleashed onto audiences whether they want it or not. (Norm Of The North, anyone?)

"Rob Schneider is... A POLAR BEAR!" But no one gives a flying hoot.

Another problem I’ve noticed with recent CG films is that a lot of them seem more like kiddy fluff, like the same brightly-colored obnoxious claptrap with different outer shells. It’s another example of that “animation is for kids” mindset that I absolutely despise with the passion of a thousand suns. These movies just play themselves way too safe and just focus on one type of movie: the family comedy. CGI animated family comedies, in and of themselves, aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but when you have a medium that’s capable of just about anything, it can get really tiring.

Illumination Entertainment, the studio behind the Despicable Me movies, is one of the worst examples of this, as well as one of the worst animation studios in the modern era. Because they’re able to keep their movie budgets low compared to other CG animation studios, they’re able to make boatloads of money with safe, mediocre kiddie comedy fluff that offers next to nothing resembling quality and getting away with it. Because they utilize these cost-cutting strategies to churn out movies that lack in substance, they so perfectly exemplify the statement that the theatrical animation industry has become quantity over quality.


An interesting case in this whole thing is Dreamworks. They're pretty much stereotyped as being responsible for many of the worst trends of CGI movies, like toilet humor, forced pop culture references, attempts at being hip, pop music hits on the soundtrack, you name it. As they've shown with the Kung Fu Panda movies and the How To Train Your Dragon movies, however, they can move beyond that stereotype and create movies that are not only beautiful to look at, but engaging and entertaining in their content. Sadly, some of their recent movies, like Trolls, are turning out to be more along the lines of the aforementioned kiddy fluff, but that’s beside the point. I've heard of smaller CG movies that have fallen into the aforementioned stereotype of toilet humor, pop culture references, and forced hipness that came out AFTER those movies. (Again, Norm Of The North.) I don't know how long some of them were in production for, but there should be little excuse for a lackluster product.

To me, I think that good CGI requires a lot of time, money, and effort. In his book "Independently Animated", Bill Plympton, who used CG backgrounds for his otherwise hand-drawn short, "Shuteye Hotel", once mentioned that it's hard to make your budget back if you use CGI for a short film, which goes to show that CGI clearly isn't cheap. I don't know the overall costs, but I figure that really good computer animation requires a budget that at least goes into the hundred thousands or millions if you're making a feature, so this is clearly not the best choice for indie animation. A powerful operating system is also a plus, because the CG needs to render properly and look pleasing to the eye.

But technology and a big budget can only get you so far. You need to have especially talented artists on board. It is really hard to get appealing images in CG without falling into the Uncanny Valley, especially on the first go. Part of the reason I'm not a fan of cheap, low-budget CGI is because most of the time the characters or other visuals don't look very appealing. They need the manpower of incredibly talented character designers and concept artists and the ability to determine what looks right or not. They need animators capable of actually animating the stuff. And of course, it needs to have a good solid story as its backbone. While I don't think story should be the only thing that matters in making an animated film, the truth of the matter is that, even if you have some of the best looking animation out there, it's not going to be worth anything if it doesn't offer some form of substance, like in its story, its characters, or its entertainment value.

I'm not sure how fast a CG production is compared to a hand-drawn production or a stop-motion production, but suffice it to say, I feel that by churning these CGI films out faster and faster, we're just going to keep getting crap. At some point, people are going to have to realize the danger of this, because if not, we might get a major crash, like The Great Video Game Crash of 1983, which came about because of an overabundance of low-quality games, like E.T. and Pac-Man for the Atari 2600. I feel something like that could possibly occur with theatrical CG animation, because of how oversaturated this market has gotten. This oversaturation has already had a tremendous impact on the industry as a whole, and not all of it is good. It's like that old cleaner guy in Toy Story 2 said:

Stay tuned for the next part...

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Making Of Mickey's Christmas Carol

Merry Christmas to you all. I figured I should write something special for the Holidays. Definitely something animation oriented.

There have been a lot of animated Christmas specials made over the years, like How The Grinch Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, all that Rankin/Bass crap, that sort of thing. However, one that comes to mind just as much as those other specials to me, is Mickey's Christmas Carol.

How many people were introduced to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol through this cartoon? Well, I can certainly say I was. Even watching it all these years later, it still holds up as being an incredibly enjoyable take on the story. One thing that should be noted is that, for something that squeezes the story into under a half-hour, it still has a lot of entertainment value. The animation is energetic and full of spirit, the writing's clever and funny, and the emotional moments manage to hit the mark. Plus, you can't go wrong with Scrooge McDuck playing the part of Ebenezer Scrooge. It's definitely one of my favorite takes of the story. That opening song, in particular, still sticks with me.

My little sister has this cartoon on DVD among her Christmas DVDs. The DVD in question had Mickey's Christmas Carol along with a few Christmas-related Disney cartoons that came after the main feature.

There's just one problem with the DVD: There's no Behind-The-Scenes features!

To give you an idea of the period this was made, it was an incredibly turbulent time for Disney. Most of the old pros had passed away or retired by this point (though there was a credit for Eric Larson as animation consultant on the short's credits,) and the new guard was still trying to find their voice. Mickey's Christmas Carol was first released in 1983 along with a re-release of The Rescuers, and it was Mickey Mouse's first short in 30 years by that point. I actually consider it something of a transitionary film, because this was where then up-and-coming animators like Mark Henn and Glen Keane got to really stretch their wings without most of the Nine Old Men's involvement. Two years later, the failure of The Black Cauldron would cause the heads to question whether it was worth keeping the animation unit on board, but after The Great Mouse Detective and Oliver & Company made a considerable amount of money at the box office, they relented and let the animators stay. This, of course, led to the smash success of The Little Mermaid at the end of the decade and the start of Disney's Renaissance period. (Want to learn more? Watch the documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty. It's a very insightful look into this period of Disney history.)

So to rectify this situation about the lack of Behind The Scenes features on the Mickey's Christmas Carol DVD, I figure I'd share a couple of things I found. First is the featurette for the making of the film, which can be found on the 1984 VHS of Mickey's Christmas Carol, but was thankfully put on Youtube for all to see:

Michael Paraza also talked some about the making of the short on his blog, Ink And Paint Club: Memories Of The House Of Mouse. If you have some time to kill, go over there and give it a read. And give the original special a watch, if you haven't already.

Hope you all enjoy your holiday season!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

My Thoughts On Disney’s “Gigantic” Announcement

CAUTION: Expect some strong opinions regarding Frozen and Disney in general. Also, this article was started in August, so a few things might be out of date.

There’s been a lot of buzz regarding this year’s D23 Expo, which is basically a Disney-themed convention, regarding some of the new Disney and Pixar projects that have been announced, including the unveiling of a new Inside Out themed short, “Riley’s First Date?”, more developments on the new Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Princess And The Frog) film “Moana”, the Pixar film “The Good Dinosaur”,  as well as the other upcoming Pixar flicks, that kind of stuff.

However, what caught my attention particularly was the announcement of a new Disney fairy tale film, “Gigantic”, loosely based off the story of Jack And The Beanstalk.

From what was announced, this new take on the tale will be directed by Nathan Greno (Tangled), produced by Dorothy McKim (Get A Horse), have songs written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (Frozen), and will be released in 2018.

Naturally, I couldn’t let this pass by without giving my say on it.

I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I’ve been increasingly critical of a lot of Disney’s current decisions and methods. I know a company’s got to change with the times, but I highly doubt THESE particular changes are for the better. I mean, yeah, Frozen IS currently the highest-grossing animated film out there, but when you really look at this film like I did, does it really deserve THAT MUCH success? (Personally, my answer is no, it does not.) And yeah, they bought Lucasfilm and are currently making a new Star Wars film series, but is it REALLY necessary to have a new Star Wars movie since it’s been YEARS since Return Of The Jedi, the last chronologically released movie, came out? (Read this article to understand why I have doubts about this.) And yeah, the live-action remakes of classic Disney animated features are making money, but is there really any need to remake some of them at all? And yeah, the animation unit has pretty much gone all CG now, but whatever happened to John Lasseter’s big declaration of reviving hand-drawn animation at Disney? You know, back when he still gave a crap about things?

Maybe it’s because Disney was a huge part of my childhood, but some of these changes leave me feeling kinda cynical. I mean, yeah, I still support some of the new output from the Mouse House and I do try to keep my optimistic side open, but even as someone who loves Disney, I still have my doubts and mixed feelings about how things are being handled and feel it could be run a lot better.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. What’s this movie going to be about?

In Spain during the Age of Exploration, Jack discovers a land of giants hidden among the clouds, where he befriends this female giant named Inma who is, according to descriptions, “11 years old, 60 feet tall, fiery, feisty and a lot to control,” and agrees to help her find her way home. Along the way, she treats him like a toy, there’s some stuff about evil “storm giants” and most likely other adventurous stuff. I dunno, this is still a fairly new announcement.

While the idea of getting a giant little girl involved is admittedly really cute, I’m not sure what to think of this revision. Nowadays, it feels like Disney adaptations of classic fairy tales and stories are adapting sources more and more to the point where they become almost unrecognizable, adaptations in the loosest form of the word. When you look back at something like “Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs”, even with what was added and changed, it still felt like a telling of The Grimm Brothers’ Snow White. If you read Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen or watched a previous adaptation of it, (I saw the Russian animated version from 1957 before seeing Frozen,) would you be able to tell that “Frozen” was an adaptation of that same story? Hell no, because it’s changed to the point where it can no longer be considered The Snow Queen.

That said, however, I don’t mind an adaptation taking liberties and changing things around as long as the final product is ultimately good enough to stand on its own. The Wizard Of Oz from 1939 is a perfect example of that. It does change things around from the book, but the movie can still be enjoyed for what it is, a fun fantasy adventure with laughs, scares, tears, songs and a coherently flowing narrative. Frozen, on the other hand, sadly fails to do this. Even when you separate it from the source material, it’s not strong enough. Sure, it may have made a lot of money and it’s been overhyped to the point where it annoys a good chunk of the populace, myself included, but the story’s a flawed mess that doesn’t know what message it’s really trying to convey, nor how to properly deliver it. I give it credit for what it tries to do, but a lot of the film just comes off as manipulative rather than sincere, (particularly that atrocious, poorly executed, ass-pull twist involving Hans,) and a lot of the plot elements are capable of taking you out of the film because of how badly written and handled they are. Not to mention that, fantasy aspects aside, it really doesn't make that much sense. It does have nice visuals, and a few of the characters I do genuinely like, especially Olaf, who’s good enough for his own spinoff, but calling it the best Disney movie since Beauty And The Beast and The Lion King? I don’t think so.

I’m hoping that Gigantic doesn’t fall into this trap. I mean, yeah, it really doesn’t sound like the traditional story we’re used to, and the whole teaming up an older guy with a kid has been done by both Disney and Pixar before, with Wreck-It Ralph and Up respectively, but let’s be honest, it involves a normal-sized guy stuck with a giant girl child. I’m sure you could at least get some funny and cute ideas out of a concept like that, and maybe get a possibly sweet story out of the whole thing.

The subject regarding the songs doesn’t fill me with much hope, though. I didn’t like most of the songs in Frozen, either, so while getting Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez might be promising for some people, it’s certainly not promising for me. They might get lucky and turn out something decent, but personally, I would prefer someone like Alan Menken.

And then there’s this little comment that Greno made: “We want to make the definitive version of Jack And The Beanstalk.”

“Definitive”? THIS? I don’t know whether to call that over-confident or just insane.

Granted, the Disney versions of a lot of stories like Snow White, Beauty And The Beast, and Alice In Wonderland ARE pretty much the first things that people tend to think of whenever the name of the story is brought up, and they could, in fact, be dubbed the “definitive” telling of the story. But everyone and their mother knows the actual story of Jack And The Beanstalk all too well. How could a story as well known as this with changes like what was just described be considered “the definitive version”?

Let’s not forget that this story had been adapted by Disney before, most notably with the Mickey And The Beanstalk short that made its debut on the 1940s package feature Fun And Fancy Free. And don’t tell me that they could have forgotten about that one. Not only is the full movie considered part of the Disney Animated Canon, but the featurette on its own was released on video during the ‘90s, as well as on DVD collections with other Disney featurettes.

There was also a Japanese animated film adaptation in the 1970s that did its own unique take on Jack And The Beanstalk, which I found out about thanks to Jerry Beck’s Animated Movie Guide. From what I gather about that one, though, it does seem to have a lot of the traditional elements from the original story, along with all the new things added. If Disney still retained some elements into this new version, like the golden-egg laying goose, the singing harp, and the whole “Fe-Fi-Fo-Fum” thing, then maybe one could see how this could tie to Jack And The Beanstalk. It sure as heck wouldn’t make it the “definitive version” of the story, though.

There’s also the issue with the title. Ever since The Princess And The Frog apparently “underperformed”, they’ve been changing the titles of fairy tale adapations into stupid adjectives, like Rapunzel into Tangled and The Snow Queen into Frozen and that sort of thing. Why do they keep doing that? Is it to appeal to a broader demographic or something? Because the average person would consider this a really desperate attempt at doing so. Though, to be fair, considering the really loose adaptations they seem to be making these stories and fairy tales into now, it makes me wonder if they should really leave the name the same or change it to something else, even to something as uninspired as a simple adjective, because as previously mentioned, they’re getting adapted to the point where they can no longer be identified as an actual adaptation. And to think, years ago, Disney artists were poking fun at the fact that they had to change the title of “Basil Of Baker Street” to “The Great Mouse Detective” by sending a fake memo about changing the titles of previous Disney features, like “Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs” into “Seven Little Men Help A Girl” and “101 Dalmatians” into “Puppies Taken Away”. Boy, were THEY na├»ve! (No joke, by the way. This actually HAPPENED.)

(See? Here's the proof!)

Ultimately, though, I’ll just have to wait until it comes out and see it for myself. It might be good, it might be bad, it might be just okay, who knows? Like I said, I still enjoy some of the stuff that Disney puts out, like Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6, and I am looking forward to checking out stuff like Zootopia, Moana, and this as well, even if I do wish that they’d do more hand-drawn stuff again. To me, quality is what matters most whenever I watch movies or read books or whatever, and there are very few Disney animated movies that I would consider straight up bad, since the majority of them have their own sense of charm or elements of likability and at least SOME effort put into the animation and story and that stuff. Even Frozen, which is currently one of my absolute least favorite Disney movies, has its moments that do work. So, without much left to say, it seems like only time will tell if Gigantic becomes either an enormous success or a colossal fail.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Chance Raspberry's Little Billy

One of the things I love doing is promoting special animation projects in the hopes that other people will notice and embrace these projects like I have. I think word of mouth is an important way to spread recognition to something. I’m a huge supporter of creativity in general, and I feel on the ever so vast Internet, there are plenty of talents that deserve more recognition. I’ve already promoted a few animated movies in progress, so this time, how about a TV series in progress?

I learned about this particular artist and project through Charles Zembillas, the designer of Crash Bandicoot and Spyro The Dragon and founder of Burbank’s Animation Academy and I plan to talk about him later, since he’s also worth talking about.

Say hello to Simpsons animator Chance Raspberry…

…and his original creation, Little Billy.

I know what some of you are probably thinking, “What? A TV series about a little boy with a common name? What’s so special about that?” Well, much like the title character, there’s much more to this series that’s under the surface.

The big catch about this one? It’s largely aimed at Special Ed Kids.


Yep, that’s right. Little Billy is the first cartoon for kids (and adults) with Special Education Needs, and I think it’s a good cause.

Anyone that knows me is aware that I have Autism/Asberger’s Syndrome. It’s been a struggle for me growing up, but also a blessing. I’ve been lucky to have a good family, friends, teachers, and God helping me out with the ups and downs in my life. For the past few years, I’ve been working with CLE in Austin to learn how to live independently and provide help with work I might have, and my next step is attending NonPareil Institute in Dallas, where I can try my hand at designing video games and other projects.

Chance is similar. He was part of the original generation to have Tourette’s Syndrome, but thanks to family, friends, God, and a relentless love for cartoons and drawing, he’s learned to overcome his difficulties and managed to get a career as a professional animator. He created this project as a way to share his own story with others and he managed to get it funded through Kickstarter.

So a lot of people are wondering what this series will be about or what it will be like. It’s about this innocent four year old boy who has his own neurological condition: UHS or Ultra Hyper Sensitivity, which gives him, as Chance described in one of his Kickstarter videos, “the energy of a thousand hummingbirds”. That means he has endless amounts of energy all the time. The series will involve his life in suburbia as “that weird kid” and how his family and friends are affected and blessed by his unique way of life.

The condition is fictitious, but as Chance describes on his FAQ page:

By making Billy's condition fictitious, I'm increasing the scope and appeal of his character, as well as the reach of the series. People with any condition or special need will be able to watch the show and feel included, without feeling singled out or put on the spot. Furthermore, the ultimate goal of Little Billy is to blur the line between "weird" and "normal" like never before, so people with NO condition will be just as entertained as those who have them. It will be an outlet and reason for families and friends from all walks of life to come together and celebrate what makes them unique. The icing on the cake is that many of the other primary and secondary characters will possess actual, existing neurological conditions. Literally everyone will be represented!

If that isn’t a good reason to do a show where the lead character has his own neurological condition, I don’t know what is.

Another reason why I wanted to promote this is because, content wise, this series sounds like it’ll be up my alley. Not only because of the Special Ed aspects, which in and of itself should be a big reason to support it, but it will be a big shout out to the 80s and done in the Golden Age style of Animation that Looney Tunes is done in. AWESOOOOOOME!!!

Two Awesome Things...

...That Are Even More Awesome Together!

Those that know me are aware that I love 80s and 90s culture and Golden Age Animation like the Looney Tunes and Tex Avery. The addition of 80s culture and classical animation just sweetens the deal for me and I’m sure a lot of others feel the same way. However, I know there are people that dislike nostalgia-driven stuff. To be perfectly honest, though, I think society needs this stuff more than ever. It’s always focusing on the present and progressing so fast and all that and it’s quite frankly killing us. I’ll go more into why later, but the point is, I love stuff based around nostalgia, mostly because it represents the return to a more simple time, uncomplicated by modern technology and modern trends. I especially love stuff based around the 80s since some of my favorite things are from that era, like movies, music, trends, the works.

Chance also talked about why the show has a “nostalgia factor” in his FAQ:

“A show about Special Needs immediately limits your target audience...but everyone is nostalgic for something at some point. For me, it's the '80s because that's where my childhood magic all began. It's also a great way to involve older generations because so much of the '80s is a throwback to the '50s and '60s (when our parents and grandparents were kids and young adults.) By playing up this angle in a major new way, I'm keeping the subject matter of the show universally appealing (Special Needs or not.)”

Personally, as long as the project as a whole is entertaining, I think utilizing a nostalgia factor is a good thing. And I have a feeling that Chance’s project will be very entertaining. He’s dedicated to giving this project not only humor, but heart as well. It’s something he’s clearly passionate about, having worked on it for years. To be exact, he’s been working on it since 1999, and now he’s revealed it for all to see. I’m glad this has been catching on with people like it has, because I feel it’s a great concept.

He also created a rough animatic for the theme song, and trust me when I say it’ll be the funniest thing you’ll see all week. This energetic opening is a throwback to the openings of cartoons of the 80s, but it also contains a sampling of Chance’s demented sense of humor. It kills me every time I watch it. The link also contains his original unreleased Kickstarter pitch.

I wrote to him expressing my interest in the project, and he wrote back with an incredibly nice response, answering any questions I had and thanking me for my willingness to support Little Billy. I plan to write back to him soon. I was waiting to respond back, since I don’t want to feel like I’m disturbing him if he’s working on it.

He’s successfully managed to fund the first full-length episode, with the plans to release it on DVD and Blu-Ray as both education and entertainment material. As of now, he’s working on the trailer and promoting Little Billy. However, I still feel he needs the extra help, since he’s doing this without major studio backing, and since animation is a labor-intensive process, he might need as much help as he can get to complete this. He still allows donations, so if you want to donate, do so. (And if you want, tell him that I sent you.) If you want to spread the word, spread the word! More people deserve to hear and know about this, because this is a special project that means a lot to Chance, and it can mean a lot to people in general.

If you want to learn more, you can check out this list of helpful sites:

Chance Raspberry’s Official Site:

The Little Billy Website:

Chance Raspberry’s Youtube:

Chance Raspberry’s Vimeo:

Larry Raspberry, Chance's Rock 'N Roll Dad:

To close this article, here’s an extra little tidbit: Chance Raspberry is also a singer and musician, and one of his Kickstarter rewards is an album he made that combines 80’s heavy metal with 90s skatepunk, and one of the songs is the theme to Little Billy. Have a listen to his cover of “Friends”, from the ‘80s B-Movie Cult Classic “Miami Connection”: