Wednesday, 26 January 2011


Directed by: Rintaro
Release Date: May 2001 (Japan) / January 2002 (UK)
Running Time: 109 minutes

Plot Summary

"Metropolis is a story of how important emotions are and how they separate humans from everything else. The movie follows a young boy and his uncle (a private investigator). The story is set in the far future where humans and robots live together, unfortunately not in harmony. Many robots are forced underground and are terminated for entering unauthorized areas. They are more or less servants to humankind. The plot starts to unfold when the boy meets a robot named Tima and they get in all kinds of trouble. Never a dull moment when you've got a robot by your side." 1

Metropolis is based on the manga by Osamu Tezuka (Astroboy, Kimba the White Lion and Black Jack), and you can see that they have remained true to his artistic style throughout the film. They did not stay completely true to his story though. In Tezuka's original manga, the story revolves around a humaniod named Mitchi who has the ability to fly and swap sexes. Whereas this adaptation revolves around a boy and female robot. Tezuka said that he did not what his manga to be made into a film, so they waited until he passed away in 1989 to do this adaptation. The film was also scripted by Katsuhiro Otomo, best known for his manga Akira, and directed by Rintaro, also known for the film adaptaion of X, so an all star cast went towards this animation.

"The legend surrounding the comic book is that the so-called God of Manga Osamu Tezuka saw a poster or Fritz Lang's classic silent film Metropolis and based his book on that alone: he never saw the film. Watching it, it is nearly impossible to believe that he was able to fashion such a similar artwork out of that single image.The story, at its base, is quite close, and while there are distinctly Japanese elements as well as several layers of the story that were not in the original, the similarities are shocking." 2

Visually this film is gorgeous and it mixes traditional 2-D with CGI. One thing that stands out is the extreme detail that the animators go to, and it really immerses you in the film. Also the juxtaposition between the short chubby like people with the highly rendered background makes for even more interesting viewing. "The lanscape of Metropolis is pure eye-candy. As mono rails and airships criss cross overhead, people go about their business among terraced skyscrapers and fanciul buildings, which surround the wide throughfares. The dark lower levels are filled with equally dark characters and the sound of jazz and be-bop music can be heard rolling along the narrow, crowded streets."3 Added to all this gorgeous viewing is a jazz music score, giving it an odd but stunning twist. During the film's climatic scene of the Ziggurat crumbling down the song "I Can't Stop Loving You" performed by Ray Charles, a gorgeous song and a stroke of genius to add it to that moment.

One of the big themes that this film tackles is: What does it mean to be human? Tima comes to a horrific awareness to the ways that humans treat robots, she sees that the horrible things happening to them would happen to her. So it is only logical what happens at the end of the film when you see it from Tima's point of view. Much like Spielberg's A.I. , this film questions the way in which humans and artificial intelligence integrate together. It also shows the weakness and powers of human nature and the ever present danger from ego, greed and selfishness. Other themes include Class Division. Mechanisation has made the division between rich and poor even larger, the poor become poorer as they cannot find work that isn't already being dome by robots. The lessons from this film, as said in many a sci-fi film before it, the arrogance of man will bring about his downfall.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Whack Bat

"There's three grabbers, three taggers, five twig runners, and a player at Whackbat. Center tagger lights a pine cone and chucks it over the basket and the whack-batter tries to hit the cedar stick off the cross rock. Then the twig runners dash back and forth until the pine cone burns out and the umpire calls hotbox. Finally, you count up however many score-downs it adds up to and divide that by nine."

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Seriously Check this Out!!

I posted a couple of links at the end of the Corpse Bride Review and I had a thought that some people might miss them, so I'll put it in a separate post.

Corpse Bride Interview with the Puppet Maker- Concept art to Finished Puppets

This is such an informative interview as to how the puppets are made, how long they take to make them, the problems they face and how they go from artwork to final model. So please take a gander :D

Fantastic Mr Fox

Director: Wes Anderson
Editor: Andrew Weisblum
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: 2009
Running Time: 87 Minutes

Adapted from Roald Dahl's book of the same name, Fantastic Mr Fox is a quirky, funny and brilliant stop animation. The plot is as follows:
It is the story of one Mr. Fox and his wild-ways of hen heckling, turkey taking and cider sipping, nocturnal, instinctive adventures. He has to put his wild days behind him and do what fathers do best: be responsible. He is too rebellious. He is too wild. He is going to try "just one more raid" on the three nastiest, meanest farmers that are Boggis, Bunce and Bean. It is a tale of crossing the line of family responsibilities and midnight adventure and the friendships and awakenings of this country life that is inhabited by Fantastic Mr. Fox and his friends.'1

The film has an all star cast of voice actors including George Clooney as Mr Fox, Meryl Streep as Mrs Fox, Owen Wilson as Coach Skip and Willem Dafoe as Rat. These famous actors really add to the character's personality, for example George Clooney's voice adds the suave charisma that is needed to portray the sly Mr Fox. 'The humour is often dry, even ironic, while the look of the film- all reds and browns and at once convincingly realistic and ultra absurd-is perhaps its greatest strength.'2
Wes Anderson has visually tried to make this stop animation look like it has jumped off of the page. The set design and colour palette is absolutely stunning, each scene looks like you could frame it and hang it up on your wall. It is a beautiful film right down to the carefully composed, symmetrical framing, the almost theatrical depth of field, and the colourful, choreographed movements.

Shot digitally using a Nikon D3, which offers a significantly higher resolution than even that of full High Definition. It was also shot at a frame rate of 12 frames per second, rather than the more fluid 24, so that viewers would notice the medium of stop-motion itself. Making a stop animation is a very pain staking process as Andy Biddle, an animator for the film, says:
'Any animated film is quite painstaking. If you ask an animator how much footage they do in a day, it depends on the production, but for Fantastic Mr Fox, it was about 4 seconds of footage a day. The style that Wes[Anderson] wanted was quite fast and character-based action. It was quite involved.'4

The puppets themselves are gorgeously made, and the individual hairs on each of the animals shows the pain staking amount of work that went into making each puppet. 'The human characters' hair was actual human hair collected from studio employees at MacKinnon & Saunders, the company that manufactured the puppets for the film.'3 And the animal hair was collected from goats, due to how well it dyes, the strength it has and how good it looks when lit.In the end there were 100 people working on making the puppets and eventually about 530 puppets were made. The reason for so many puppets were that they made the puppets to 6 different scale, some for up close and others to interact with the humans.

Nobody can deny that Wes Anderson took on a huge task here, turning a much loved childrens book into a full length stop animation. From the frequent laughter from the cinema, I think it has definitely been a success, appealing to adults and children alike. He hasn't ruined the original and has created something that is beautiful and lovable.

Usual links:
Interview with the animators


Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Corpse Bride

Directed By: Tim Burton and Mike Johnson
Running Time: 74 Minutes
Released: October 2005
Film Editing: Chris Lebenzon
Jonathan Lucas
Music By: Danny Elfman
Distributed by: Warner Bros

Based on a 19th century Russian folktale of a groom who marries a zombie by mistake, the Corpse Bride is a stunning, romantic musical set in the gloomy Victorian era. Two characters Victor Van Dort and Victoria Everglot are Due to be married, to both of their parents advantage. After forgetting his vows in the rehearsal ceremony the priest tells him to go learn his lines otherwise they cannot be wed. Victor goes out into the woods and everything is going perfectly until he puts the wedding ring onto a twig on the ground, which turns out to be the hand of a corpse called Emily and she declares they are now legally married and whisks them off to the underworld. He desperately tries to get back to the land of the living so that he can marry Victoria, but finds out that she is to marry a rich lord to make sure her family doesn't go into the poor house. "The man she is being forced to marry is the devious Lord Barkiss, who is only after Victoria for her money (not knowing that she and her family are now completely broke). When he (and the rest of the dead) finally get to the land of the living a shocking discovery is made which reveals how Emily (the corpse bride) died and who did it, as Victor and Victoria are finally able to be together."

The film was made using stop animation, a technique used to make objects appear as if they are moving by themselves. This is done by photographing the object between small movements which creates the illusion of movement when the images are played in a sequence. Corpse Bride is ground breaking in many different ways. Firstly it is the first feature to use digital SLR photography (31 Canon EOS-1Ds MARK II SLR cameras with Nikon Lenses) instead of film cameras. It is also the first full length feature to use Apple's Final Cut Pro.

The actual models were made from stainless steal armatures covered with a silicone skin. The puppets were 25-28 cm tall and some of the stages were so large that animators could actually fit through the set doors with minimal crouching. The puppets used neither of the industry standards of replaceable heads (like those used on The Nightmare Before Christmas) or replaceable mouths (like those used in Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit), but instead used precision crafted clockwork heads, adjusted by hidden keys. This allowed for unprecedented subtlety, but was apparently even more painstaking than the already labourious animation. And to make sure that the production went faster they created multiple identical puppets, fourteen of Victor and Emily were created and thirteen of Victoria!

The actual shooting part of the production is the most arduous part of the whole process. Editor Johnathan Lucas says;
"Most features shoot in 12 to 14 weeks,” notes Lucas. “With Corpse Bride it’s 52 weeks! We only get two minutes of film a week with stop-motion. One shot can take three weeks."2
The storyboarding is just as labourious as well;
"The storyboards are all JPEG images, and they shoot almost to the frame what’s on the storyboards. At one point, we had five or six storyboard artists working ten hours a day, six days a week. Do they play it in a close shot? A wide shot? It’s fine-tuned for months on end until the director says he’s happy.”

Tim Burton's Own Words on Corpse Bride:

"After doing The Nightmare Before Christmas, I was looking for something else to do in the same medium, because I love the stop-motion medium. A friend of mine gave me a little short story, a couple of paragraphs from an old folk tale. It captured my attention and seemed right for this particular type of animation. It’s such a special medium. It’s like casting––you like to marry the medium with the material. And this seemed like a good match.
I’ve always loved stop-motion animation. What’s nice about it is that it’s so tactile. Our Corpse Bride puppets are beautifully made and our animators are amazing. There’s something wonderful about being able to physically touch and move the characters, and to see their world actually exist. It’s similar to making a live action film; if you’re doing it all on blue screen, it doesn’t give you the feeling of actually being there, which the stop-motion process does.
My love for stop-motion started with Ray Harryhausen. One of the beautiful things about Harryhausen’s work is that no matter what it is that he was doing you always felt there was an artist at work behind it; you always felt someone’s personality. It’s like bringing an inanimate object to life. It’s moving a three-dimensional object frame by frame, and you think, “Wow, there’s something really beautiful and old-fashioned, hand-made and artistic about that.” To me, there’s something very special about that.

You can do beautiful work on a computer and you can do beautiful hand-drawn animation. All of it has its own quality. But there’s just something special to me about the stop-motion medium.

It truly is such a visually gorgeous animation with its gloomy moody dark undertones in the living world contrasting with the bright colourful jazz filled underworld. It is sad that the film is only 77 minutes long as it does not give enough time for character or narrative development. The film does not quite live up to The Nightmare Before Christmas but the film definitely does have it's heart in the right place and is a very touching story about love and death.

To Read more into the technicalities of making Corpse Bride I highly recommend this article, it goes extremely into depth and is well worth the read:

Plus I highly recommend reading this website as it tells you how all the models were made, what the challenges were to making the models and how they went from sketches to model in exquisite detail:



Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Monsters, Inc.

Directed by: Pete Docter
Co- Directed By; Lee Unkrich & David Silverman
Studio: Pixar Animation Studios
Distributed by: Walt Disney Pictured
Release Date: 2nd November 2001
Running Time: 92 minutes

Monsters, Inc is a 2001, American, computer animated film. The story is set in the city of Monstropolis where all manner of monsters live. A utility company called Monsters Inc works to get the energy that the city survives on. The company sets up portal doors to the closets of human children and extracts the energy from their screams.

James P Sullivan, "Sulley", and Michael Wazowski, "Mike", are two hard working employees that work to collect scream. Sulley and Mike are the company's bests scarers, but their record is endangered after a toddler called Boo slips into Monstropolis, which is a big no-no considering that humans are highly toxic to monsters. Boo is a cute, brave little girl who finds life on the other side of the closet more exciting than her real domestic life. She is also endearingly innocent and blissfully unaware to the dangers she faces, and the mess she creates wherever she goes. The characters in this film are funny and loveable, which the audience can relate and attach themselves to.

The voice acting is superb, especially those of Mike and Sulley. Billy Crystal is the voice of Mike and if you didn't recognize his voice from his films, then you might recognize his as the voice of Calcifer from Howl's Moving Castle. Another famous actor is used as the voice of Sulley. John Goodman's voice has been used in many other animated films such as The Bee Movie, Emperors New Groove, The Princess and the Frog, and Cars.

The film is technically more advanced than its predecessor, Toy Story 2, as will be the case with every computer-animated film as the technology moves on. But for the sake of comparison Toy Story 2 used nearly 1.1 million render marks (a measure of computer power) compared to Monster Inc's 2.5 million. A much more intriguing detail was the breakthrough of depicting a characters' fur and hair, which has all the density, lighting, shadowing and above all the movement is consistent with the real thing.

Overall I think that this is a good example of what Pixar can do. Not the best from the studio, but it still delivers what Pixar sets out to do: A visually captivating film whilst appealing to a wide audience.