February 24th, 2015

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Instruction: George Clayton Johnson- Screenwriting For Television

George Clayton Johnson

George Clayton Johnson and Robert Redford
On The Set Of “Nothing In The Dark”

On Saturday January 14th 2012, the Animation Creative League hosted a program featuring the legendary screenwriter George Clayton Johnson.

Mr. Johnson is well qualified to speak on this subject. He was one of the principal writers on Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone”, writing both stories and screenplays for such legendary episodes as “The Four of Us Are Dying”, “Kick the Can”, “A Game of Pool”, and “Nothing in the Dark”. He also was the writer of the first regular episode of Star Trek to air, “The Man Trap” and the feature films “Logan’s Run” and “Oceans 11″. He was part of a group of Southern California science fiction writers that included Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury and Charles Beaumont. He collaborated with Ray Bradbury on the story for “Icarus Montgolfier Wright”, an Academy Award nominated animated film produced by Format Films.

George Clayton Johnson

George Clayton Johnson’s
“A Game of Pool”

If you missed this program, you missed out on a once in a lifetime event. Thankfully, Mr. Johnson has been interviewed extensively and the interviews have been posted to YouTube. Here is a ten part interview that covers his life and career.

GEORGE CLAYTON JOHNSON INTERVIEW
(Click to play all ten parts back to back as a playlist)


PART ONE (Direct YouTube Link)


PART TWO (Direct YouTube Link)


PART THREE (Direct YouTube Link)


PART FOUR (Direct YouTube Link)


PART FIVE (Direct YouTube Link)


PART SIX (Direct YouTube Link)


PART SEVEN (Direct YouTube Link)


PART EIGHT (Direct YouTube Link)


PART NINE (Direct YouTube Link)


PART TEN (Direct YouTube Link)


PART TEN (Direct YouTube Link)

Many thanks to George Clayton Johnson for generously spending his time with us.

George Clayton Johnson
Stephen Worth and George Clayton Johnson
at the Creative League meeting.

George Clayton Johnson
George Clayton Johnson
Photos by Eddie Fitzgerald and Alex Camarillo

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

INSTRUCTIONINSTRUCTION

This posting is part of an online series of articles dealing with Instruction.
TheoryTheory

This posting is part of a series of articles comprising an online exhibit entitled Theory.

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Posted by Stephen Worth @ 2:13 pm

February 22nd, 2015

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Online Screening: STORYTELLING

Storytelling Screening

STORYTELLING
Event held February 21st, 2015 at 7:30pm
Sponsored by The Animation Creative League
Animation Resources Screening Room in Pacoima, CA

One of the most concentrated form of writing is the short story. In just a few pages, the writer needs to get across character, atmosphere, action and tie it all up at the end with a satisfying conclusion. Sound familiar? Animated shorts have the exact same goals in mind.

For those who missed our program, here are YouTube links to the films we screened. We are looking for donations to purchase lights and video cameras for our screening room. The goal is to be able to live stream our events. If you would like to contribute to this project, either monetarily or through technological assistance, let me know at sworth@animationresources.org.

"Oh Whistle And I’ll Come To You" by M.R. James (1968)

M.R. James was an academic at Cambridge and Eaton. He was a renowned scholar with expertise in Medieval manuscripts. To entertain his students he wrote a ghost story for them every Christmas. These ghost stories are among the most famous short stories in English literature. James was a living contradiction. He lived through the industrial age and World War I, but at heart, he was a Victorian with a fondness for Britain’s distant past. This adaptation of James’ “Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” clearly reflects that dichotomy. The lead character is a rigid minded man of science who comes face to face with an ancient horror.

There are several interesting techniques in this teleplay… the use of non-verbal under the breath muttering similar to Popeye cartoons, and “micro-gags” which pepper the whole introductary section of the film. Micro-gags were used a lot in Disney features, they are amusing secondary actions which are not the focus of the scene, but serve to reveal the personality of the character in an amusing way. Here, they are skillfully used to bring the viewer into the lead character’s world and point of view. But while we are distracted by the micro-gags, the real point of the story is going on in the shadows, just out of sight. It’s a brilliant touch by the director Jonathan Miller, and it acts like a magician’s misdirection to keep us occupied while something big sneaks up on us. This is one of the greatest British television programs ever aired. Enjoy!


Click here to view “Oh Whistle and I’ll Come To You” (1968) in full DVD quality.

"The Signal Man" by Charles Dickens (1976)

Today, when we think of Charles Dickens, we don’t normally think of him as a writer of ghost stories, but think about “A Christmas Carol” for a moment. He wrote many eerie short stories, and is widely considered to be the father of supernatural fiction. Before Dickens, ghosts in literature were primarily vague shadows of Kings and Queens that existed in ancient times, but Dickens was the first to place his ghosts in his contemporary Victorian times. It’s a tribute to how effective he was at this that we still set many ghost stories in the 19th century.

Take a look at his story, “The Signal Man”. Dickens not only uses real everyday people as the lead characters, but he bases the whole story on the most modern technology of the day… railroads. This would be like setting a ghost story today on the space shuttle or on a jet airliner. Yet Dickens uses our fear of technological catastrophe to heighten our fear of the unknown. This story may not seem so much like it today, but for its time, it was a great example of “thinking outside the box”.


Click here to view “The Signal Man” (1976) in full DVD quality.

"The Hitch Hiker" by Roald Dahl (1980)

Roald Dahl was quoted as saying that he labored more over a short short story and it took longer to write than a novel. Distilling atmosphere, character, conflict and resolution into a few short pages took months of writing and rewriting. Because of this, he rarely wrote more than one short story a year. But the ones he wrote were absolute gems. In 1979 he adapted all of the short stories he had written into a British television series titled “Tales of the Unexpected”. This is one of the best episodes from that series.

When George Clayton Johnson, writer on Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” spoke to us at a Creative League meeting last year, he said that the way he approached writing was to come up with two characters, each with their own diametrically opposed argument and point of view, to create a conflict. But he didn’t want the audience to be able to pick a side. Each argument needed to be perfectly balanced in opposition with the other, so the audience’s sympathy alternates back and forth between the characters. Here is a drop dead brilliant example of that. In addition, the direction the story is going is revealed in perfect little glimpses, until the truth is finally revealed. Dahl was a superb storyteller with a great sense of timing.


Click here to view “The Hitch Hiker” (1980) in full DVD quality.

I hope you will view these films with your co-workers and fellow artists and discuss the techniques that you are able to glean from them about story construction and pacing. Feel free to discuss it in the comments section of our events page on Facebook…

Storytelling Event Page
.

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Posted by Stephen Worth @ 5:07 pm

February 20th, 2015

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Theory: Organic Shapes- Ernst Haeckel’s Art Forms in Nature

Artforms in Nature

Artforms in NatureArtforms in NatureToday, I hope you’ll bear with me as I get philosophical. (I promise not to get all “hippie college professor” on ya!) Think of this as one of Eddie Fitzgerald’s theory posts at Uncle Eddie’s Theory Corner.

When an artist sits down to draw something, he is focused on how the object he is drawing appears. But there are other aspects that can be caught in a drawing beyond just the likeness. Believe it or not, it’s possible to also capture the place that object holds in the universe.

Artforms in Nature
Artforms in Nature

We scanned an interesting and inspiring book today- Ernst Haeckel’s Die Natur als Kunstlerin (Nature as Artist). This paperback book from 1913 is a popular adaptation of Haeckel’s landmark book, Kunstformen von der Natur (Art Forms in Nature) originally published in 1904. Haeckel was a biologist and an artist, and he merged both disciplines into a study of natural forms, shapes, symmetries and patterns from every aspect of the natural world.

Artforms in Nature
Artforms in Nature
Artforms in Nature

Natural history studies are beyond the scope of what we do here at Animation Resources, but this one is an exception. Haeckel didn’t just attempt to document lifeforms and their place in the environment… He documented the structures and shapes that are common to all plants and animals on this Earth. His drawings have no indication of scale or habitat of the various organisms he depicted. A jellyfish would appear right next to a single cell animal or the patterns of folds of skin on the face of a bat. The focus was on the form.

Artforms in Nature
Artforms in Nature
Artforms in Nature

Biologists in Haeckel’s time thought of man’s place in nature much differently than we do today. Haeckel was a staunch Darwinist. He saw mankind as a part of evolution, and a vital part of nature. Today, when we turn on the TV to watch a nature show, we see jungles and tigers, or underwater coral reefs full of fish. There isn’t a human being in sight. Many people today look upon humans as "contaminants" to the natural world. But in Haeckel’s day, nature was seen in everything- Darwin’s Theory applied to the evolution of fish or birds just as much as it applied to the evolution of people. social organizations, business practices or creative processes.

Artforms in Nature
Artforms in Nature
Artforms in Nature

Haeckel saw no contradiction in his role as scientist/artist. In fact, he considered his work to be an expression of his own natural place in the world he was attempting to represent. Instead of approaching the subject from an objective viewpoint, he subjectively and selectively edited what he saw to reduce it to a form that appealed to him on a basic level as an artist. Thus, the scales of a fish become arabesques, and microscopic diatoms become beautiful sculptural forms. Haeckel was using nature’s imagery to express his own inner nature.

Artforms in Nature
Artforms in Nature
Artforms in Nature

At the turn of the century, when this book was published, Art Nouveau was popular. Natural forms were incorporated into everything from architecture and illustration to street signs and ornamental patterns on clothing or wallpaper. Today, we have nearly eliminated natural forms from our lives. We live in shoebox shaped houses and drive cars shaped like shoeboxes with rounded edges. We pave the landscape with geometric grids of asphalt and design characters for animation out of triangles, rectangles and circles. We have isolated ourselves from natural shapes; and in so doing, we have isolated ourselves from ourselves.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

Proteus DVDProteus DVDErnst Haeckel was a remarkable person. He straddled the seemingly contradictory disciplines of art and science and was able to reconcile them in a way that fully expressed the best attributes of both. The DVD documentary, Proteus presents an amazing look into Haeckel’s life and work. It includes eye bogglng animation based on his drawings of the remarkable single celled creature, the radiolarian. This is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen on any subject. It changed the way I think about the world around us. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The following three books comprise an encyclopedia of natural shapes for you to explore. Don’t copy from them- incorporate them into the way you think…

Art Forms In NatureArt Forms In NatureArt Forms In Nature by Ernst Haeckel

Art Forms In OceanArt Forms In OceanArt Forms From The Ocean: The Radiolarian Atlas Of 1862 by Ernst Haeckel

Cabinet of CuriositiesCabinet of CuriositiesCabinet of Natural Curiosities: The Complete Plates in Colour, 1734-1765

I promise you, you won’t be disappointed by these books. They may just change your life!

UPDATE

Pita, a reader of this blog sends along this link to a page with all 100 images from Haeckel’s landmark book, as well as a downloadable PDF version.

Also, check out Pita’s great image blog, Agence Eureka. It’s at the top of my blogroll; and I bet once you see it, it’ll be at the top of yours too.

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

TheoryTheory

This posting is part of a series of articles comprising an online exhibit entitled Theory.

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Posted by Stephen Worth @ 1:54 pm