Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"2 and a 1/2 - D"

In the neighborhood of my school, an awesome place to eat popped up, relatively recently.

The Pizza Pub (on 23rd and Lex.) offers a slice and a pint for only 5 bucks! The slices are nice and soft, and very doughy and although you don't get your choice of beer for the pint, the house beer is pretty yummy.

While there one day after work, a guy at the bar bought me a shot and I proceeded to chat with him and the bartender about our interests - namely, in animation.

Upon request I described to him my thesis film: In pursuit of food and fun times, a quirky clown and her new critter companion journey across the desk of an exhausted, modern Animator. Inspired by Max Fleischer's 1919 "Koko the Clown" series.

(FYI: You can catch the Fleischer classic here:

My version is meant to update the classic in multiple ways, in effort to convey my feeling that CGI is still in its' infancy and that computers are no more a tool than a ruler.

Shot on a SONY XD-Cam EX in HD (courtesy of the SVA Film Department), starring Theresa Burns (Tisch NYU '09) this film takes the Fleischer classic an extra step.

I put the character in direct communication with the catalyst of the film - that is the pest, the cockroach. In Fleischer's film "The Tantalizing Fly" his struggle to shoo a fly causes him to hit Koko the Clown which would be fine except that Koko comes to life!

In my thesis film, the more urban cockroach decides to pester Theresa as she closes in on a deadline, perfecting her newly crafted CG model of a young female clown, using her Cintiq - the modern day drawing board. A missed death blow hurts the Cintiq instead of the Roach and brings the Clown-Girl to life.

Tired, and frustrated, Theresa tries to figure out the magic behind the Clown-Girl's movement, only to discover that not only does she not know how the Clown-Girl moved, but now she has lost her file and have to start over. In the meantime...the Clown-Girl and the Roach become friends...

To find out what happens, see the film.

Anyway, while the idea sounded interested to him, my bar-buddy was still not convinced that CGI had much merit.

To which I had to say this:

I'm sure when Fleischer started making cartoons there was some live action film director huffing and puffing about how drawn images will never take over the role of a live actor and that no audience would want to see a bunch of drawings, that it was expensive and time consuming...but it happened, and it worked, and people loved it.

Sure there was a great deal of evolution that occurred to allow it to be what it is today. And sure, Koko was rotoscoped dancing for the sake of understanding movement.

But how is that any different than the use of Motion-Capture for the FMV'S in Naughty Dog's recent hit video game "Uncharted?" In exploring how to capture different means of movement - especially the type which is most subtle and yet so significant to the human eye in terms of instinctual identification of an action - each generation simply uses the technology they have at hand.

The limitations of traditional media is more than met by the mathematical nature of the computer: increasing the scale of an object, turning a model 3/4 of the way half way through it's animated segment, ensuring perspective - these are all things that are so time consuming and so easily botched in traditional animation, that it makes no sense to serve an elitist agenda by refusing to touch a computer at the sacrifice of the film at hand.

The limitations of computer generated media - the lack of human soul and clinical-looking results can easily be remedied by applying traditional media techniques and remembering that the computer only helps you generate the image but YOU DECIDE what image you want it to generate.

In my own film, I am STILL handling it as I would a hand drawn film.

Rendering out some poses of the model, I inserted the Clown-Girl into stills taken from the Live Action footage. I drew out the motion paths then handed it off to the wonderfully talented Rob Yulfo who used Flash to help map out the silhouette of the motion.

I am moving my rigged CG model into the positions I agree with Rob on and then animating from there. The idea being that when left to our own devices, we sometimes move CG characters excessively, taking away from their cartoony-credibility. Which is why in this one case when it comes to my traditional understanding vs. my computer understanding, I chose the former over the latter, because if nothing else, traditional animators can plan things out better than anyone - mostly because we HAVE to. We don't have a computerized set of arms to draw tons of meaningless in-betweens.

It's a shame that CGI artists and Traditionalists don't come together more often - both have skills and inadequacies that can be utilized and compensated for by the other for an even better product.

After hearing my long-winded explanation, my bar-buddy joked, "So, I guess you could say, you're not 2D, not 3D but... 2 and a half D?"

I laughed and said "yes, I like the sound of that."

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