Tuesday, February 15, 2011

My Akira Article Made it to the Daily Targum!

So, good news! My article on the cult classic Akira was published on the Daily Targum last Thursday February 3rd! Please check out the article here. For those who are not familiar with the name, the Daily Targum is the Rutgers University daily newspaper and the second oldest college newspaper in the United States. For more information about the Targum, click here .
Life at Rutgers is very, VERY busy. I have decided that with the time I am given, this blog will just have to stick with my animation/media research and reviews (Not that that really changes anything, but I'm just saying this for the sake of being clear). There won't be personal artwork/ narratives posted, until I get my professional act together. Pretty ironic I know, given the name of this blog...but changes will have to wait later. You CAN get a tiny glimpse of my work though, through my profile icon and the blog banner!

Here's a beautiful animated short I just saw, it is called Descendants, directed by Heiko van der Scherm. The story tells of two flowers, one is old and experienced, while the other is young and innocent and naive. One day they are visited by a stranger that will change their lives forever. Interested? Click here to watch the film!

Monday, April 12, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

Last March, Dreamworks Animation SKG's new animated film How to Train Your Dragon won the hearts of both the audience and critics! This time the reception is extremely positive. The movie has received a whopping 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, an online rating site that has never given a Dreamworks animated film anything higher than a 90%. Time Magazine has announced that Dreamwork's caliber is now equivalent to that produced by Pixar Animation Studios. Competition between these two dominant studios will now be but a hair's width apart, assuming that Dreamworks quality remains consistent in its future animated features.

As with all the recent CG films, this film gets a gold star for stunning imagery---BUT allow me to be more specific so I don't sound redundant. Let's track back to the time when Dreamworks first started on its 3D path, in particularly with the movie Antz. The modeling of the characters in that movie are blocky and crude compared to the detailed sculptures in Dragon. Hiccup's father, for example, looks so real, so real that I have to remind myself constantly that he's just a cartoon. Cartoon, however, is probably an understatement. The detail of the fur on his pelt, the wisps of red hair on his beard, and the speckles on his skin, the lighting of the environments...All of this realism really sucks you into Hiccup's wild world of dragons and vikings.

Not to mention the back breaking use of the cameras. I do not know what type of cameras Dreamworks use, but from what I have learned so far with cameras on 3D software (I emphasize that I am terribly noob at Maya)...I just can't imagine how they moved the cameras so that it appears as if you are flying with the characters. You're dipping and diving through clouds and soaring across the ocean, dodging jagged rocks just in the nick of time. As a noob, I already thought it was difficult just setting up ONE camera, adjusting its lens, adjusting the view planes, and putting it in the right place so that an entire scene is properly captured. The professionals probably have an entirely different system of using cameras, so maybe the little that I learned did not apply to what they had to do at all -_- .

The action sequences are impressive, but what's most captivating are the quieter and intimate moments between Toothless and Hiccup. My favorite scene in particular was when Hiccup drew a picture of Toothless on the sand with a twig and Toothless imitates him using a gigantic tree branch. When Hiccup steps on his drawing, Toothless growls, and when Hiccup steps off the drawing, Toothless stops growling. Then Hiccup hesitantly touches Toothless on the nose. That part for me was just a real twang at the heart.

What makes the film so much more successful is its powerful script. It's very witty, with subtle jokes that adults can enjoy while not traumatizing the children. The writers did not let anything slip from beginning to the end (In the beginning Hiccup says "The only problems are the pests" and at the end he says the only thing that is amazing are the "pets". CLEVER HUH?) It is th
e script and storyline that really impresses us when we leave the theater. To be honest I did not think the preview was anything extraordinary when I first saw it, it looked like another banal Pocahontas and Avatar (still love those movies though) story. So it was no wonder I was very surprised when a third party enters the plot and changes the original perspective of the situation. It was truly a well spun tale.

I am very happy that Dreamworks has finally received such high reception from everyone. Though the studio is known for its inconsistency in the quality of their films, they have released many great productions like Shrek and Kung Fu Panda. The studio has proven its capability of making good films, but they have been outshone by the Pixar's consistent streak of successful hits. It must have stung the whole studio when Jack Black joked that he would use the money he made from Dreamworks and bet it all on Pixar winning the Academy Awards. I believe this love for Pixar is partially due to t
he biased feeling that the studio was established first (Like old Disney vs. Warner Brothers Productions and Max Fleischer cartoons) and also the timing of the productions release.

My favorite 2D animated film is actually a Dreamworks production , the Prince of Egypt. In my opinion it is the most epic film using the animated medium. The visual style is so compelling and suitable for the Egyptian setting. More importantly, it contains the most powerful universal message that transcends princess stories and cute animals---the power of faith. Prince of Egypt was relevant to Katzenberg's original motto "We bring out the adult in every child"(I don't know if he still adheres to that...), and it worked, sometimes. Too bad CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg had to shut down the 2D department after flops like Sinbad and shifted to the 3D medium. Dreamworks almost declared bankruptcy twice and has struggled to come up with a successful box office hit. Now it finally has, and boy does it deserve it after all these years!

So go watch How to Train Your Dragon, support the artists at Dreamworks SKG!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Michael Kustche, Alice in Wonderland, Youtube, and just plain COOLNESS

Movies -Wow I should be seriously studying right now (<---BAHAHA good one...)but, being a second semester senior, I am making up for all of those years of stress and work and catching up with my procrastination... (<---you gotta admit, that's a pretty decent way to phrase it) The best way to do so is just go on my computer, which literally gobbles up all the attention left I have to offer. So I'm going to blah about what I've been up to on the internet...
OKAY so I have a new hero in addition to my band of heroes, and his name is Michael Kustche (The image on the left is his work, titled Boxer which was done on Corel PAINTER, holy crap right?). This guy's AMAZINNNGG, his concept art is just so inspiring, so REAL yet at the same time, BURSTING WITH IDEAS that are open to your interpretation...and that's why I love his work so much. GO VISIT HIS SITE THE LINK IS PROVIDED AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS ENTRY)

He and the guys at Imaginism Studios (<---Also my heroes, GO VISIT THEM TOO )collaborated on the character design for Tim Burton's delightfully creepy Alice in Wonderland! And... according to his website... Kustche will be working on the upcoming film John Carter Goes to Mars which I believe is Andrew Stanton's (Director of Finding Nemo and Wall-E) first live action film...

Also...THERE REALLY IS GOING TO BE A LIVE ACTION TIN TIN MOVIE!!! And they're going to use the skull cap technology that was used on Avatar!


There's are a lot of lovely youtube vids I've failed to mention earlier...so here's one. I just love Where the Hell is Matt?, I always get a smile when I watch it for the 141341413 th time :) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlfKdbWwruY Nothing brings the world together like dance and music :) It reminds you how big and beautiful our home can be.

Okay, time to start studying...at midnight haha. GO VISIT THOSE LINKS AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS ENTRY OR ELSE


Michael Kustche
site http://www.mistermk.de/
deviant http://michaelkutsche.deviantart.com/

Imaginism Studios
site http://www.imaginismstudios.com/
deviant http://imaginism.deviantart.com/

Sunday, February 21, 2010

the Princess and the Frog

To celebrate the end of applications, I am going to FINALLY blog about...the Princess and the Frog! After three years of waiting to see it, I finally did (two months ago). I never thought this entry would be so delayed...but, better than never right?

So by the time I was in the theater, I honestly did not know what to expect. I tried to avoid the Disney Channel at all costs, since they over expose the film with 5 "sneak peaks" clips...but I could not escape those...and even after all that I still found so many dazzling and inexplicable charms throughout the entire film.

Okay, so it wasn't "OMFG that changed my life" reaction, but if anyone really expects that, I think they are missing the point of the movie's release. It isn't meant to convert us into paganism or anything, it is meant to be a film that sticks true to traditional Disney ways, reminding us how the Disney Company all began---with the heart and soul in the 2-D medium. I think John Musker and Roger Clements and the entire Disney crew were just trying to say "We gave it our best shot, and we just want the world to know that this is how we roll." In that sense, I believe everyone did an excellent job, and honestly, they could not have done any better.

This film, like many Disney films, cannot be fully appreciated with just one viewing. Every second is filled with ridiculously luscious scenes that contain wonderful little details that we overlook--- from the lovely structure of Charlotte's bed, to the surrounding plants in the bayou. I felt sorry that the movie was so fast paced, and that these scenes could not be looked at more carefully. The animation had a lot of creative movements, there was so much in so little time that it's hard to notice every single one. And, I must say, the COLORS were sooo beautiful, and I just love all the characters... (except for those three guys in a boat, they were sort of annoying) The soundtrack is completely matches the New Orleans setting. It wasn't OMG BROADWAY music, but it was definitely jazzy and fun to sing along to. All of these things mixed together, and you get a gumbo that touches your heart :)

The story is sort of corny at times, but...THAT'S
WHAT MAKES IT SO CUTE!!! The target audience IS for little kids af
ter all...and of course most teens put on the tough act and deny that they take pleasure watching these films, but that is typical adolescent cynicism. There is no doubt that this film clearly teaches our younger generation important morals, such as working hard for what you want, and remembering that love is the most powerful element in our lives. And I find Tiana one of the more likable Disney princesses, she's one of the few who actually DOES WORK and at the same time displays some form of intelligence...compared to the heroine in OTHER Disney films that were higher acclaimed (Honestly, I feel that it's easier getting a higher rating when a successful studio FIRST starts out ...it's more difficult to CONSISTENTLY meet expectations of the audience for what is now more than 80 or so years...

In essence, I believe that it isn't the film that lacks quality, but the fact that it is now out of place in today's CG dominated film industry. When I was watching this film, I could not help but feel a bit sad, because I felt like I was watching a movie that should have been made ten years ago. And with Avatar released a week later, the comeback in 2-D animation was, in comparison to the blockbusters, very weak. However, I read somewhere that the amount at the box office was enough to keep the studio going, and I am hopeful for Disney's next production on Tangled, which is loosely baesd on the fairy tale Rapunzel and will come out this November!

And here is some of my fanart for the Princess and the Frog from my sketchbook! I lined them over in Photoshop. I'm proud to say that I drew the frogs from memory. I really like Mama Odie and Dr. Facilier...and Ray the Cajun Firefly (he made me cry in the end, the dear thing!) Enjoy!!!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Happy Birthday Norman Rockwell!

left: Triple Self Portrait

bottom four: the Four Freedoms Series (Freedom from Fear, Freedom of Want, Freedom to Worship, and Freedom of Speech)

So I went on the Google homepage and found out that today is Norman Rockwell's birthday! He's one of America's most beloved illustrators, and he's one of my favorite artists. I loved reading about him and looking at his work as a kid, and I never grow tired of checking those same biographies from the library. Norman Rockwell (born February 3, 1894 – died November 8, 1978) is best known for his cover illustrations of the Saturday Evening Post and his patriotic "Four Freedoms" paintings that helped sell war bonds during World War II. He also created the fictional character Willie Gillis, a young soldier and Rosie the Riveter, a tough girl working the power drill while the men were overseas.

Rockwell paid attention to the most infinitesimal details, capturing every wrinkle of someone's face and refining every inanimate object within the environment his characters were in. As a result, Rockwell offers a rich slice of the American life in each of his illustrations. For the majority of his career, Rockwell depicted scenes filled with innocence, love, and charming humor. But in the later part of his life, Rockwell turned to illustrating more humanitarian issues such as racial segregation and man's first trip to the moon.

the Problem We All Live With

As a kid, Rockwell was made fun of for his thin gawky appearence and his buck teeth. No matter how much he exercised, Rockwell remained a very skinny guy and gradually accepted his lack of physical prowess. He realized that the only thing he was really good at was drawing, so he kept honing his skills and stuck true to being an artist. When he was young, Rockwell's dad would read David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, and Rockwell would draw scenes from the book. Rockwell went to the Chase School of Art (Modern day Parsons) and then joined the Art Students League in New York City. Rockwell's first jobs included illustrating for the Boys Scout Magazine called Boys Life, and his work has influenced many filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, who was a Boy Scout and grew up on Rockwell's illustrations. The films influenced by Rockwell include the Empire of the Sun, Lilo and Stitch, Polar Express, the Iron Giant and Forrest Gump.

As a young man, Rockwell tried enlisting in the army during World War I, but was rejected because he was underweight. So, he gorged himself with bananas and doughnuts until he met the requirements. Ironically, Norman was assigned the job of military artist and did not see any action during his term of service. Near the end of his life, Norman Rockwell received the highest civilian honor ---the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Norman Rockwell is such a beast, he really is an irreplaceable guy. People just love him, the way he jokes with his models and the way he smokes his pipe...and his work just makes everyone smile and feel all warm inside :) There is no denying that Rockwell's work displays a high level of skill that is difficult to surpass, and so far no one has left as big of an impression on the masses. Norman has left his imprint on the sand bar of American history, and he will be forever loved and remembered by the American people.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

RIP J.D. Salinger

On January 27th, 2010, J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye, died a peaceful death at the age of 91 in his home in Cornish, New Hampshire.

Catcher in the Rye is perhaps Salinger's best known work, especially because of the main protagonist Holden Caulfield, a restless adolescent questioning the boundaries of society. The book is read by many high school students, as it is one of the "staples" on every English teacher's list.

I recall reading Catcher in sophomore year, and how I thought the way Holden talked sounded so strange at first. Then I got sucked into his world, and really understood his insecurities. This one of the enjoyable mandatory reads in school, and I'm glad I had the privilege to read this jem in American literature. I think many teens can relate to Holden's imagination-- how he dreams to triumph and redeem himself when in reality he does not committ to what he pictured in his mind. In essence, Salinger articulated the adolescent qualities very well.

Salinger was born to a Scott-Irish Jewish family in Manhattan on January 1st, 1919, to a J.D. As a young man, he attended writing classes at Columbia University and yearned for the fame that he was later so famously averse towards. He served as a soldier in World War II, and was said to express his post-war anxieties through his writing. After publishing Catcher in 1951, Salinger moved to New Hampshire in 1953 and stayed there for the rest of his isolated and peaceful life. Salinger is also the author of Franny and Zooey, and Nine Stories.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


I know it's been like... what, 3 or 4 months? It's been pretty hectic nonstop. I still have two more schools to finish applying to, yearbook drawings to finish up on, two AP art concentration pieces due this upcoming week, and on top of that I also have school work to catch up on... Procrastination took its toll yesterday when I put off my work writing a story. It's not really a story, more like a script. That took, what, 5 hours of my day haha. But I feel good doing what I want to do. I feel significantly less stressed than before, and with all these "deadlines", I kinda feel like a legit working artist :D Even though I'm not getting paid -_- Also I had my first peanut butter bannana and honey sandwich! That was goood.

Despite all this I just HAVE to write about Avatar, absolutely have to, this post is already way past its due.

So there's been criticism about poor script writing and James Cameron's treatment towards his fans...but let's just side step that and look at the bigger picture here. Avatar has revolutionized the concept of filmmaking. I think that's already a pretty good plus ...

The artists are freakin incredible, just OMFG amazing. Major props to Weta Digital and Industrial Light & Magic, I wrote an article about Weta earlier so go check that out.

I'm dissapointed, however, that the Art of Avatar is barely the thickness of my agenda book. Perhaps the studios do not want to leak out any raw concept art because they aren't finished with all three films (word has it that they're making an Avatar trilogy)? Beats me... but there's several "behind the scenes" articles up on CG Talk now.

Behind the Scenes: Fun Facts to Chew On

Here's one juicy article that goes in depth with the technical problems the team had to overcome: http://features.cgsociety.org/story_custom.php?story_id=5434&page=2 When making Avatar, the production team had to come up with these new cool features:

  1. Virtual Camera-Also known as the Steering Wheel, allows James Cameron to look through the view finder and "steer" his way around the Pandora environment built by the Virtual Arts Department (VAD) for a certain scene. This way the director could point out changes that need to be made, such as relocation of a tree or floating mountain to get a better camera angle.

  2. Motion/Performance capture (mo-cap) is upgraded to a whole new level so that there is finer detail of facial expressions and other beauties.

  3. Skull caps- Funky helmets the actors had to wear when they acted out a scene. These skull caps mo-cap the actors and process the data into the Virtual Camera. This way Cameron can look over the scene in a more complete version. He will see the actor's "blue suit" alien counterparts moving in real time in their digital surroundings. Doing this allows Cameron to use his directing abilities without delay and make any corrections in a quicker time.

  4. Head of Massive Department Jon Allitt wrote a system to make plant growth in the Pandora jungle look realistic. Massive (Multiple Agent Simulation System in Virtual Environment) is a software used to simulate crowd-related movement in film. In the past Massive was used to move people (overly used in battle scenes, first in Lord of the Rings, then in many other films that followed suit). Allitt thought, if you could manipulate characters to react to their environment, why not instill the same concept in plants? Lo and behold, Allitt's idea worked very well.

  5. I'm not quite sure this is true, but I was told that there is a special camera that was designed by Sony so that the lenses moved exactly the way our eyeballs do. That's why it seems a bit dizzy in certain action packed scenes. I don't know the name of this camera, but it sure sounds cool.

Is Avatar an Animated feature?

This has stirred quite a buzz on forums the minute after this movie was released. Click on this for a thorough read http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/article/should-avatar-be-considered-for-best-animated-oscar . One guy reasoned that if a movie like Alvin and the Chipmunks was eligible for an Oscar in best animated feauture, then Avatar was definitely qualified as a worthy contestant. James Cameron and all the other actors, however, have repeatedly emphasized that Avatar is NOT an animated feature. A new question arises, is there a clear boundary between visual effects and animation? Though Avatar did require tons of animators and animation procedures, almost all of it revolved around the actor's live performance. This is different than what animation studios like Pixar and Dreamworks do, in which the animators make up the performances themselves.

Then again, performance capture is pretty much a modern day rotoscope technique, which was often used in an animated film. This practice has dated wayy back during productions like Disney's Cinderella and Max Fleischer's Betty Boop cartoons.

Perhaps the only separation between what is animated and what is VFX (visual effects) is the director's own intentions. If the director wants to make everything extremely photorealistic, then he'd probably say that the film is not considered an animated feature. If the director wants to make everything look unrealistic and cartoony, then it is an animated feature. I this has to attribute to our way of perceiving animation. We forget that it's a basic science and often associate it with Tom and Jerry Cartoons. Is this a cultural mindset?!

No matter, this is really an open ended debate...Besides, Avatar was not submitted into the animated category to begin with, so it won't be considered this round. One thing's for sure, whether Cameron calls Avatar and animated feature or not, animation was definitely used to make the movie as we see it. Competition in the film industry has now come to a whole new level, it's exciting but a little scary how our perceptions of the future are slowly becoming a reality.

v In the film the Polar Express, Tom Hanks was mo-capped and seen as an animated train conductor in the final film.

In Lord of the Rings, Andy Serkis was mo-capped and in this way played the role of Gollum, the ex-hobbit obsessed over the Ring.