Archive for the ‘theory’ Category

Monday, October 14th, 2019

STUDENTS: Three Steps to Greater Creativity

creativity

Recently on Facebook, I was asked why I thought originality in animation was such a rare thing today. I pointed out that originality and creativity are closely connected, and they aren’t just magical gifts that you are either born with or you aren’t. They come from a body of knowledge and a set of skills that can be learned. Originality and creativity are both fed by the same things… observation of life, the ability to think like an artist, and a wide range of creative influences.

Three Steps The primary source of inspiration for all artists is the observation of real life.

Too many animated films employ character “archetypes”… generic mom and dad characters, typical wimpy kid, his goofy dog and clever cat, bratty little sister… I don’t know about you but those sorts of characters bore me stiff. The best actors will tell you that they don’t create characters by looking at what other actors do or employing stereotypes. They look at real people and try to capture the gestures, walk and attitudes that express that person’s unique personality. It works exactly the same in animation.

When you’re riding the bus, drinking your coffee at Starbucks or standing in line at the DMV, pay attention to the people around you. Look for unique personalities and try to capture them in your sketchbook. Exaggerate and caricature them to see how you might put those personalities across in an animated character. You’ll find that the characters you see on the street are a lot more interesting than the characters you see in most animated films.

Three Steps In an earlier post on Facebook, I pointed out one of the primary creative skills, *ideation*. Another skill that is invaluable is *analysis*. Analysis is at the core of what it means to think like an artist.

When the average person sits down to watch an animated film, they are carried away into the fantasy and let the film direct their imagination and entertain them. A film maker thinks differently. Once your mind is trained to understand the process of film making, you will never sit in the theater as just another member of the audience again. You definitely lose that innocence. But it is replaced by something even more important.

When a film maker watches a film, he is looking at the application of technique. How does the film establish its characters and environment? How does it set up the conflict? What rhythms and pacing are being used to carry the film forward… contrasts in moods… staging… color… music… sound effects… acting… dialogue… All these things and more are revealed through analysis. Turn on your brain and your creativity will follow.

Three Steps Lastly, it’s important to expose yourself to a broad spectrum of artistic creativity… not just the few things you already know about and like.

When you as a filmmaker are watching movies, TV shows and animation, you shouldn’t just limit yourself to what you personally *like*. Focus instead on what you can learn from. The principle of garbage in- garbage out applies here. If you watch nothing but lousy animation and stupid movies, what sorts of animation do you expect to produce yourself?

In fact, animation should be just a small portion of what you study and expose yourself to. In order to be a creative artist in animation, you need to understand and appreciate ALL of the arts. This means studying the history of all forms of music- from classical music and opera to country music and jazz. It’s the same with the history of painting, and sculpture, and dance, and most of all- film making.

If you want to train yourself to think analytically about film, choose really good examples from the past to study. Classic films are packed with cinematic techniques that animation hasn’t even touched on yet, and they will open your mind to new genres to explore. In the entire history of animation, there have been thousands of cats chasing mice and dogs chasing cats, but how many gothic horror movies have their been? How many noir thrillers? Westerns? War pictures? People love to say, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” but in animation, that isn’t true. There are a LOT more stories to be told.

Another advantage to using older films as reference is that you are more likely to pull out pure technique and less likely to simply imitate. If you are looking at a WWII movie, you can’t just copy situations and dialogue because it is from a different time and place. Instead, you are forced to focus on the acting, the staging or the cutting technique. Stealing technique isn’t stealing. It requires adaptation to your own context. Copying specific gags, situations or dialogue from modern movies similar to the one you are making is definitely stealing.

Three Steps The keys to creativity in animated film making are to… 1) Open your eyes to the world around you, 2) Think about what you see- analyze how it works, and 3) Expose yourself to a wider range of creative influences.

When your frame of reference is limited to anime, video games and superhero movies, it shouldn’t be surprising that everything you create is derivative. That kind of background may seem to be a good foundation to build a career in animation on first glance, but look at the animators of the past… Milt Kahl had classical art training from Chouinard, Carlo Vinci won a scholarship to the prestigious National Academy of Design, and Grim Natwick studied painting in Vienna under Gustav Klimt. Animators back then were artists first and animators second. If you want to imitate someone’s approach to creativity, imitate the best! Become an artist.


Fall is time to save when you join Animation Resources as a student member! For the month of October our Student Membership will be discounted to only $50/year! Best of all, you will continue to get that savings every year you renew as a student for up to three years! Yes, this applies to full time educators too! Why should you join? Each week we’ll be highlighting more reasons why you should be a member of Animation Resources!

$60Reference PacksSTUDENT MEMBERSHIP

DURING THE MONTH OF OCTOBER ONLY!
$60/year $50/year (recurring)

Animation Resources membership is offered at a discounted rate for full time students and educators. After sign-up you will be required to email a photo of your current student ID card or proof of educational employment to verify your status. Renewals at the student rate is limited to three years. Invest in yourself by becoming a member of Animation Resources.


JOIN NOW Before This Offer Ends!
https://animationresources.org/membership/levels/


FREE SAMPLES!

Not Convinced Yet? Check out this SAMPLE REFERENCE PACK! It will give you a taste of what Animation Resources members get to download every other month!
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Wednesday, October 9th, 2019

STUDENTS: Learning To Animate- Simplicity vs Complexity

simplicity vs complexity

We had a question from a Facebook follower… It was in reference to the motion studies Nicholas John Pozega has been posting every day… “What kind of relevance do the the motion and principles of cartoons like Popeye and Mickey Mouse hold to contemporary cartoons or cartoons with more realistic designs with anatomy and different styles of motion?”

That is an excellent question, and it goes to the heart of how we as human beings learn.

When you start out to master any difficult skill, you should learn it in a progression from simple to more complex. If you try to juggle too many complexities when you are just starting out, you end up making a high splat on the wall and you end up learning nothing.

The great jazz pianist Bill Evans discusses this idea in relation to musical improvisation in this video. Please watch this video before reading further. Don’t just skip by this video. It’s very important to what I am trying to explain here, and it gives an astoundingly clear demonstration of this particular principle in practice…


Bill Evans: The Creative Process and Self Teaching
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MSCReTIeH8

When you begin to play a musical instrument, you start with scales. You don’t start out playing Bach or Liszt. Animation is no different. Drawing volumetrically and solidly is difficult. Drawing a complex realistic human form volumetrically and solidly is extremely difficult. Animating a realistic human form volumetrically and solidly is completely impossible for someone just beginning to develop their animation skills.

The animators who created Snow White and Pinocchio all started animating in the rubber hose style. Using simple forms allowed them to focus on learning how to convey the spirit of a walk cycle or express personality through rhythms, gestures and expressions. The simplicity of the model allowed them to refine and perfect their basic principles… line of action, clear silhouettes, control of volumes in space, appealing proportions… without having to add the compounding difficulty of complex planes, anatomy, musculature and turning highly organic shapes in three dimensions.

When you have learned the principles one by one through experimentation and practice using simple forms, you can begin to add complexity a little at a time, and over a period of years, perhaps you will have the experience and understanding to attempt to animate a realistic human form. Milt Kahl and Mark Davis weren’t born with the experience and draftsmanship to be able to animate realistic human characters the way they animated them in Sleeping Beauty… They worked their way up to it by animating characters with more basic shapes and built their chops. They animated rubber hose characters. And the rubber hose animation in the early 30s Mickey Mouse and Popeye cartoons is drop dead brilliant. If you can’t see the genius in the Popeye walk cycles Nicholas has been posting, go back and look at them again and analyze them for the principles of motion, posing and staging they embody. I bet you’ll find that you were looking at the surface level- the model of the character- and not even considering the way it’s posed and animated.

Students are always impatient and they want everything now. That’s only natural But if you allow your impatience to prevent you from learning in a logical, orderly progression, your impatience can cripple you. Keep your eye on the ultimate goal, but keep putting just one foot in front of the other until you get there.


Fall is time to save when you join Animation Resources as a student member! For the month of October our Student Membership will be discounted to only $50/year! Best of all, you will continue to get that savings every year you renew as a student for up to three years! Yes, this applies to full time educators too! Why should you join? Each week we’ll be highlighting more reasons why you should be a member of Animation Resources!

$60Reference PacksSTUDENT MEMBERSHIP

DURING THE MONTH OF OCTOBER ONLY!
$60/year $50/year (recurring)

Animation Resources membership is offered at a discounted rate for full time students and educators. After sign-up you will be required to email a photo of your current student ID card or proof of educational employment to verify your status. Renewals at the student rate is limited to three years. Invest in yourself by becoming a member of Animation Resources.


JOIN NOW Before This Offer Ends!
https://animationresources.org/membership/levels/


FREE SAMPLES!

Not Convinced Yet? Check out this SAMPLE REFERENCE PACK! It will give you a taste of what Animation Resources members get to download every other month!
Sample RefPack

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Tuesday, October 1st, 2019

Theory: Leopold Stokowski- Artist of the Past, Artist of the Future

Leopold Stokowski

GLENN GOULD ON STOKOWSKI

Glenn Gould was one of the foremost pianists of the 20th century. Best known for his interpretations of Bach, Gould hosted a series of radio programs for the Canadian Broadcasting Company. This article comes from a program by Gould on Leopold Stokowski.

Glenn Gould

When I was a teenager back in the 40s, Leopold Stokowski shared for some years the podium of the New York Philharmonic. His co-director was the late Dimitri Mitropoulis and together they contributed to that memorable Sunday afternoon series on CBS radio, which was one of the few redeeming features of American broadcasting in the years after World War II. Running opposite the Stokowski/Metropoulis programs on CBS was NBC’s entry in the symphonic sweepstakes, a series featuring the orchestra which bore the network’s name, which was created for and conducted by Arturo Toscanini.

Arturo ToscaniniArturo ToscaniniThe attitude of the young people of my generation toward these weekend music specials was rather interesting. It was generally bandied about by my conservatory friends that you were either a Stokowski fan or a Toscanini devotee. There was apparently no middle ground, except perhaps that which was occasionally occupied by Bruno Walter. According to the academic banter of that time, Toscanini embodied most progressive musical virtues. His performances were direct, straightforward and emotionally objective. Whichever notes, dynamic marks or tempo indications appeared before him in the score were, to the best of his and the NBC Orchestra’s ability, what you heard. For Toscanini, the composer’s notational suggestions were gospel.


YouTube: Toscanini conducts the overture to
La Forza del Destino (Verdi) 1944

Not so with Stokowski. He was and is, for want of a better word, an ecstatic. Stokowski is involved with the notes, the tempo marks, the dynamic indications in the score to the same extent that a filmmaker is involved with the original book or source which supplies the impetus- the idea of his film. So, Stokowski’s performances either stand or fall depending on the degree he can infuse them with a sense of his own commitment to the project. And happily for those who became addicted to his way of making music, there’s rarely been a more committed, more imaginative, more resourceful artist than Leopold Stokowski.


Leopold Stokowski conducts the second movement from
Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony (Carnegie Hall/1947) at YouTube

There was however another reason for the disrepute into which Mr. Stokowski’s interperative techniques had fallen in those years, besides that penchant for a neo-literalist performing style which the young people of my generation espoused. He was not only a popularizer- a man who thought nothing of transforming the keyboard works of Bach into massive orchestral statements. But more than that, he was a film personality. In the mid-1930s, he’d relinquished his post as the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, in which he single-handedly transformed the standards of orchestral playing in North America, in order to join Deanna Durbin and Donald Duck on the silver screen in Hollywood.


Stokowski from “Big Broadcast of 1937” at YouTube

“I go to a higher calling.” he was reported to have said to the press conference which was called to announce his departure, and if one can filter out the inevitable quotient of defensiveness which one may assume to infiltrate a remark of that kind, it was a remarkably revealing comment.

Leopold Stokowski

Technology for Stokowski was a higher calling. He was indeed the first great musician to realize that the future of music would inexorably wound up with technological progress, and that communications media were in fact the best friend that music ever had. Many of his recordings… and all of which I know from personal experience where he maintains a firm hand in relation to the processes of production… were years ahead sonically.

But the real benefit of his interest in technology, I think, was that it enabled Stokowski to resist the inhibitions induced by those pre-technological attitudes toward music-making which created the stratified roles of performer, listener and composer; and which held that those roles would ever remain separate and distinct. For Stokowski, I think, those distinctions are themselves are the single greatest danger that the artist must face. And I suspect that the enormous appeal of his music-making over the last sixty years or so is precisely his realization of that fact, and his willingness to act upon the assumptions that follow from it.


Bach’s “Passacaglia & Fugue in C minor” at YouTube

Stokowski is 88 now, at least he was when I interviewed him for this program. Nothing in his manner, his outlook or the vitality of his music-making suggests the incipient nonagenarian, but it’s perhaps useful to recall that Stokowski was born while Wagner was still alive, and when Brahms died, Stokowski himself was already a teenager.

In theory, his outlook and his art should represent the aesthetic attitudes of a bygone era, or eras. But in fact, because of his extraordinary warmth and humility, his remarkable receptivity to new ideas, and above all because in his lifetime we’ve already seen nothing but triumph. But the essential humanity of those technological ideas which have informed all of his work as a musician, Leopold Stokowski is very much a man of the future.

-Glenn Gould

Playlist of the entire Stokowski radio program at YouTube



CONDUCTING MUSIC AND DIRECTING ANIMATION

So, what is the connection to animation, you might ask… Well the obvious link is the fact that Walt Disney and Leopold Stokowski collaborated on Fantasia.

Leopold Stokowski and Walt Disney

But it goes deeper than that. Stokowski shared certain creative instincts with some prominent animators. For instance, In the space of a little more than a decade, Stokowski built the Philadelphia Orchestra up from scratch until it was the preeminent orchestra in the United States. He employed the latest technology to bring the highest possible production value to his recordings. After he had reached the peak of popularity, he turned his attention to bring his music-making to a whole new media. He embraced motion pictures, radio broadcasts and television programs as a means to present his music in an entirely new way to the broadest audience possible.

Walt Disney

Walt Disney pressed his artistic staff to improve and develop new techniques for the art of animation, making huge strides between “Steamboat Willie” and “Snow White”. He employed Technicolor, the multiplane camera and live action/animation compositing to advance the tools available to his artists, which set his films apart from his competition on a technical level. After he had conquered the medium of the cartoon short with Mickey Mouse, he turned his attention to creating the first hand drawn animated feature. And when that was established, he turned to live action films, television and theme parks to take his ideas to new mediums. He succeeded in reaching the entire world with his creations.

Arturo Toscanini

In the article above, Glenn Gould touches on the differences between Arturo Toscanini and Stokowski. Toscanini was a disciplined conductor who demanded and got complete control. He unified a group of over 80 musicians into a single mind, expressing the will of Toscanini. This resulted in performances of incredible directness and power. Toscanini’s aesthetic choices were consistent and were handed down as the law through the regimented beat of his baton.

Leopold Stokowski

In contrast, Stokowski was more of a magician, evoking a unique performance out of each and every musician in his orchestra. Instead of deciding on a plan of attack in advance and executing it with precision, Stokowski allowed for the inspiration of the moment to guide him. He was constantly experimenting and evolving as an artist. His carefully modulated hand gestures directed the ebb and flow of the performance without rigidly controlling it. Even without a rigid hand controlling the proceedings, he could take an orchestra with which he had never worked before and quickly lead them to that distinctive “Stokowski Sound”.

Chuck Jones

Chuck Jones was a director of animated cartoons who planned out his films in great detail at the layout stage and required his animators to hew close to his drawings in their scenes. He precisely controlled every aspect of the timing of his films, and as he developed his characters, he created a canonical set of rules for the story structures and the way the characters acted within them. His Roadrunner and Pepe Le Pew cartoons were more like variations on a single theme than individual cartoons because they were constantly refining and focusing the specific ideas of Chuck Jones.

Bob Clampett

Bob Clampett approached the direction of his films quite differently. Instead of insisting that the artists draw precisely the way he did in the layouts, he encouraged them to go beyond his drawings and work within their own style to express themselves in the most creative way possible. Robert McKimson was encouraged to create scenes of great solidity and strength, while Rod Scribner was directed to explore the fourth dimensional aspects of cartoony exaggeration. This freedom didn’t result in a dilution of Clampett’s control over the film. On the contrary, he used his artists’ strengths and weaknesses to put across his own unique vision and sense of humor. There were no rules in Clampett cartoons. In one, Bugs Bunny would be the victor, in another, he would be foiled at every turn. Each film was developed as its own creative experiment, and the variety of moods, stories and atmosphere in his films is kaleidoscopic.

Both Toscanini and Stokowski were great conductors. In fact, they may have been the two greatest artists ever to work in their artform. But they were as different as they could possibly be. The same might be said of Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett.

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

TheoryTheory

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



FEATURED EXHIBIT

Music ExhibitMusic ExhibitAdventures In Music

Music shares an indescribable magic with animation. It’s hard to describe in words exactly why certain walk cycles or pantomime gags are so wonderful. Music is a source of non-verbal delight as well. The rhythms and pacing of cartoons often mirror the construction of popular music with a statement of theme followed by variations, culminating in a restatement of the theme and a big finish. If you think about it, the best cartoons are inseparable from music. Adventures in Music explores the wide world of music with an eye to revealing the relationships between music and creativity.


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