Wednesday, June 22, 2011

On Vacation

There will (probably) be no updates to this blog for the next week or 10 days. See you soon.

Tyrus Wong at the Walt Disney Family Museum

From left to right: Tyrus Wong, Diane Disney Miller and Kim Wong, Tyrus's daughter.
From left to right: Paul Felix (Disney animator), Tyrus Wong and Ralph Eggleston (Pixar art director)

I wish that I could have attended this event. Tyrus Wong, whose style was a major influence on the look of Disney's Bambi, appeared at the Walt Disney Family Museum on June 11. Wong is now 100 years old and had a lengthy career in live action films after leaving the Disney studio.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Flying House: Resurrection or Ruination?

Independent animator Bill Plympton is using Kickstarter to raise money to "resurrect" Winsor McCay's 1921 short The Flying House. Plympton is digitally cleaning the film, colorizing it, replacing word balloons with audio dialogue and adding music and sound effects.

I am torn about this. On the one hand, the film is in the public domain. I personally think that copyright has become way too restrictive and that the public domain is a good thing for society at large, allowing past work to be re-issued and to inspire new work. What Plympton is attempting here is fully within the law and an example of how the public domain can feed contemporary creation.

On the other hand, the historian in me believes that the past has value and to remake the past is to distort it. I was always against colorization when it was applied to black and white films. I also believe that there is great value in attempting to understand the past by immersing yourself in it. The world was a different place socially, culturally and technologically, and understanding how the world has changed can only be accomplished by understanding how the past was different from the present.

I don't think I'd have a problem if Plympton decided to remake the film. Leaving the original alone and offering a new interpretation of a past work is something people have been doing throughout recorded history. Restoration has always been focused on returning a work to its original state. This is a posthumous collaboration. Because film is mechanically reproduced, the original is untouched, but is this something like changing the background behind Mona Lisa or revising Duchamp's painting so that it is Nude Ascending a Staircase?

It's not fair of me to judge an unfinished work as it's impossible for me to come to a conclusion, but the project does raise questions.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Marjane Satrapi on Making a Film From Comics

Marjane Satrapi, author of Persepolis and the co-director of the animated version, gives her thoughts on making a film from comics.
"Animation and comics are false siblings. They resemble one another but they're two completely different things. The relationship a reader has with a comic is nothing like the one a viewer has with a film. When you read a comic, you're always active, because you have to imagine all the movements that happen between the frames. In a film, you are passive: all the information is there. And when you make a comic it never happens that you have 500 or 1,000 people reading it in the same place at the same time, all reacting. The language of cinema and comics is different, even though they both use images. In comics, you write with images; they're like pictograms. And in a movie you think about movement and sound and music, all those things that are not considerations when making comics."

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Elements of a Scene: Character Arc

This is the sixth in a series analyzing a scene from The Grapes of Wrath. This entry is about character arc.

People change. They change as they age and as they experience new things. In drama, the conflict is a crucible for altering the main character's view of the world and him- or herself.

Using Casablanca as an example, the Humphrey Bogart character starts out emotionally dead due to a failed love affair. His past political activities and his way of relating to others have both been frozen. When he is forced to confront his lost love, he undergoes a painful transformation. By the end of the film, he is once more alive emotionally and committed politically. The thaw that takes place over the course of the story is the Bogart character's arc.

As John Truby writes in The Anatomy of Story,
“Drama is a code of maturity. The focal point is the moment of change, the impact, when a person breaks free of habits and weaknesses and ghosts from his past and transforms to a richer and fuller self. The dramatic code expresses the idea that human beings can become a better version of themselves, psychologically and morally. And that’s why people love it.”
Sometimes, the inability to change is the point of the story. If you are familiar with the film From Here to Eternity (based on the novel by James Jones, screenplay by Daniel Taradash and directed by Fred Zinnemann), the three main characters, played by Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift and Frank Sinatra, are all incapable of change. As a result, each loses something due to their unwillingness to bend.

Within the larger film of The Grapes of Wrath, the main character arc is that of Tom Joad, played by Henry Fonda. Over the course of the film he is exposed to how his family and people like them are treated. As a result, he goes from being concerned only with his family to a larger class consciousness.

In the scene above, the protagonist is Pa Joad, trying to buy a loaf of bread. But he has no character arc. He leaves the scene with the same mindset as when he entered it. The arcs in this scene belong to the antagonist, the waitress, and also to the truck drivers. She starts out resisting Pa's request and slowly awakens to the Joads' situation as she hears Pa's explanations and sees the children staring at the candy. Like Tom in the larger story, she achieves something of a class consciousness as a result of her encounter.

The same can be said of the truck drivers. They start out resolutely neutral, saying nothing during the conversation between Pa and the waitress. After the waitress lies about the cost of the candy so that the Joads can afford it, the truckers are also moved to declare their solidarity with what's gone on by refusing their change.

Character arc is a problem when it comes to characters who are part of a series. An arc implies a change of worldview, yet a series character can't change without losing the very qualities that make the character popular in the first place. Homer Simpson can never wise up. Regardless of what he might learn in an episode, he has to forget it by the start of the next if he's to stay Homer Simpson. No real person could live Homer Simpson's life without getting smarter or getting killed.

But if a story is self contained, a character's change or lack of it is the whole point.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Commencement for Creatives

Author J.C. Herz gave the commencement address at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Florida. It's specifically aimed at people doing creative work and is the commencement address that creative people everywhere need to hear.
"As a creative professional, you have to get over the idea that your employer or your client owes you a wide blue sky or a creative romper room. You are the one who’s responsible for your continued growth and development. Sometimes, you have to make your own fun, on your own time. The downside is, you don’t necessarily get paid for that. The upside is, you don’t need sponsorship or buy-in. Realize the leverage you have when no-one’s paying you to do something, and use that leverage to carve out new opportunities. Remember: you have talents and skills that are valuable, and there are a lot of ways to leverage that value. It might be the chance to contribute visually to a non-profit organization or shoe-string arts effort that appeals to you. It might give you a chance to collaborate with writers, musicians, or other artists you respect or admire. When you bring your own talent to the table, there are a lot of social and creative dividends you can earn. It’s not just about the dollars.

"But when you are talking dollars, realize one thing: Most people say that time is money. But for a creative professional, it’s exactly the opposite. Money is time. Having some extra money gives you time to say no to things that will put you in a professional holding pattern. Money gives you time to say yes to the right thing, not just to the first thing. It’s hard, but try to live in a way that leaves you with enough of a financial buffer to take enough time to make the right career choices."
Read the whole thing here.

(link via BoingBoing.)

Monday, June 06, 2011

Andrew Loomis Back in Print

Here's one that snuck up on me, but one I'm grateful for. Titan Books has brought Andrew Loomis's excellent book Figure Drawing For All It's Worth back into print and at a reasonable price. It's $23.49 at and $28.84 at

Andrew Loomis was a commercial illustrator working out of Chicago, a contemporary of Chicago artists Haddon Sundblom and Gil Elvgren. In addition to his illustration work for what used to be called slick magazines (on slick paper as opposed to the pulp magazines), he also wrote several great books on drawing and painting. The out-of-print books are hard to find and usually very pricey.

Titan will be reprinting Drawing the Head and Hands by Loomis in October. They also plan to reprint his Creative Illustration and Fun with a Pencil. I hope they get around to Three Dimensional Drawing, and The Eye of the Painter and the Elements of Beauty.

(link via BoingBoing)

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Blue Sky at the Norman Rockwell Museum

There will be an exhibition called Ice Age to the Digital Age: The 3D Animation Art of Blue Sky Studios at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts starting on June 11 and running through October 31. On June 10, there will be a preview party with an appearance by designer and illustrator Peter de Seve. On June 11, there will be an opening party with de Seve and director Chris Wedge. Details for the parties (which require advance tickets) can be found here. Details of the exhibition can be found here. Peter de Seve's thoughts on the exhibition are here.