Saturday, January 30, 2010

Expressing Loneliness and Isolation...

This definitely qualifies as a "so obvious, we forget to use it" piece of film making advice.. Loneliness and isolation, are powerful emotions that are often an important part of a hero's journey (Above from "Avatar"). I've found that the most effective way to express this is NOT with direct dialogue, or even an accurate drawing of the characters expressive face, but rather to place the character small in the frame and/or surround that characters by empty space. Above, a story sketch from my new film "Masks", where I used this approach in a very basic way to show one of the characters traversing the exploited badlands of his once lush home.
(Above a classic story sketch from "The Rescuers") It's effective for expressing character's emotions and it's a poignant statement, despite the fact that you're not even looking at a detailed image of the character, just their gesture and their placement within the background. It also acts as an effective establishing shot for the rest of the sequence, putting the sequence into context right out of the gate!
In addition to giving a lonely feel, Andrew Wyeth placed the female character low in the frame, creating an even more powerless position in relationship to the overpowering desolate farmland.
This painting by Kendrick Mar, expresses the same thing in a more iconic context, but the basic idea is there.. small figure, open space.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Slamdance Film Festival

I've been going to Park City for a long time. In fact my first year was 1991 with How to Kiss and that was the famous Sex, Lies and Videotape year that put Sundance on the map. The next year I premiered my first feature The Tune there and got to meet and hang out with Quentin Tarantino. He knew more about my animation than I did!

Recently I was invited to show my short film "Santa, The Fascist Years" at the wonderful alternation film fest Slamdance.

I was the short before the feature Down Terrace by Ben Wheatly. This film had been picked up by Magnolia and it is one of the strangest darkest funniest film I've seen in a long time - a sort of sick Sopranos in England. Another excellent film is called And everything is going fine it's a documentary about Spalding Grey and his life leading up to his suicide using only footages of his taped shows. It was created by his friend Steven Soderberg who couldn't be there but made an appearance via skype.

I highly recommend Slamdance, send your films (shorts or features) to this wonderful festival. They really keep the indie spirit alive, and it's a great experience.

Beautiful Losers..

I was lucky enough to catch the documentary "Beautiful Losers" (nice title borrowed from Leonard Cohen) last night at Sinema Old School (an epic movie house, my new favorite) here in Singapore (thanks Jenny Ruff). I found it to be a very inspiring, and accurate film, depicting my tiny generation of artists (some of which aren't even that good, but excel in attitude and positivity).. Artists include Shepard Fairey, Margaret Kilgallen, Harmony Korine (director), Mike Mills, Stephen Powers, Aaron Rose (director), Ed and Deanna Templeton, and others.

Possibly my favorite quality of the piece was how it explained the skateboarding culture influence, and how this is firmly embedded within the art movement itself. It was also interesting to hear these artists talk about doing commercial work, a struggle that most animators can relate to. Try to see it, the film site posts screening times.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Eyvind Earle and Frederic Edwin Church..

I've written about Eyvind Earle before, but it's particularly relevant now because I'm starting back ground design on my new film, and, of course, I'm studying classical landscape painting as well as Disney background art.

Eyvind Earle was one of the many fine artists recruited by Disney in the 1950's. Eyvind's artwork is simply stunning. I can't think of a stronger visual designer, the best examples of which are the incredible images created for "Sleeping Beauty". I would highly recommend Hans Bacher's book "Dream Worlds". Below are a few of my favorite paintings by Eyvind. Michael Sporn does a way better job of collecting these images than me. I'm typically not drawn to this heavy use of graphic design within the context of animation, but these images are too alluring not to admit their greatness. Power like this reminds me of the american painter Frederic Edwin Church, a Hudson River school landscape painter that specialized in this type of imagery, with out the graphic design element. Specifically his iceberg paintings.
Church gives an amazing lesson in contrast of scale here, something I use very often in my own work. One of the things brilliant landscape artists seem to excel at is making us humans feel insignificant in comparison to nature.
Earle uses a similar contrast of scale method here to create a feeling of power. jeeeez.The depth of this piece is astounding. The more depth a piece has, the more dramatic and powerful it becomes.. in contrast to this, things that are flat are often used for humor or light hearted-ness.. a concept introduced to me by Mark Kennedy.
The contrast of scale itself is the single element that provides depth to this piece above.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Society of Illustrators

On Wednesday I was booked to do a master class at Society of Illustrators called "Inside Bill Plympton's head" (I don't make up these titles). I remember when I first moved to NYC, the society was one of my favorite hangouts. In fact, I silently swore to one day have one of my piece of art hanging on their august walls. So it was very satisfying to finally return as a guest lecturer.

It was a packed house with lots of fans that seemed to love my show. I did numerous live drawings of my famous characters plus a caricature of animator Dennis Dietrich. I showed the new cut of the "The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger". They seem to like the new ending. Yeah!
During the Q&A portion I was asked a question by famed illustrator Peter De Seve. I used this opportunity to promote his fantastic new book "A sketchy Past" definitely check it out, you'll love it.

Then a bunch of us went to the local bar to celebrate Peter. I was joined by the wonderful illustrator Jenny Yip and Alexia Gray, one of my first illustrator friends when I moved to NYC. One of her claims to fame is that she drove all around New England with John Lennon who apparently stalked her for quite awhile.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Rule of 3rds/Divine Proportion...

Everyone knows the rule of 3rds, but I'm always shocked when I see compositions that would be vastly improved if the animator simply remembered this basic guide. This stuff can seem so obvious, that we forget to think about it! most of us just assume our brains are wired to know these type of things intuitively.. but we ALL need to be reminded sometimes, for the benefit of our artwork. It also helps to know a little about WHY it works..Simply put, if you divide the field into 9 sections by drawing two vertical and two horizontal lines, you should put things of interest on the lines or around the points where the lines intersect. I think you will find that some of your favorite compositions follow this guide. (I like the word "guide" instead of "Rule" or "Law") And of course, just to head off the hordes of defensive over-individualists out there, rules are meant to be broken, and often should be within certain circumstances.. but really... i bet your shot will look better if you just stop talking for a second. Art is a form of communication, and you're not going to get anywhere speaking jibberish.
The rule of 3rds seems to be derived from Leonardo's "Divine Proportion", the visual representation of a + b over a = a over b = Phi (1.61803...). In simpler terms, imagine a line divided in two pieces. This formula states that the whole of the line is to the larger section as the larger section is to the smaller section. The "Divine Proportion" is all around us, from art to nature to music to our bodies, to just about anything.. nautilus shells, the cochlea in the inner ear, the pyramids of Giza, snowflakes, spiral galaxies, even the music of Beethoven and Mozart!Back to using this idea in film and art... above, "Touch of Evil" used it to perfection throughout. Within illustration, it would be hard to find a single Norman Rockwell that isn't composed effectively using the rule of 3rds.
Of course you should break this guide from time to time, especially if you do it to further the characters, or the shot by shot direction, for example if you centralize a composition in order to make the main character feel like a target! there's always good reasons to break it! I like to turn the guide lines on in After Effects, and slide my artwork around until it hits that sweet spot! I do the same in iphoto, where I very rarely don't crop or move around a snapshot.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Story Myth- Bill

How many times have you heard the expression "all great films start with a great story"?

Talk about clichés! Well, I'm sick and tired of hearing that bull. Sure there are a wonderful films that are wonderful because of the story, but please give me a break! First of all, people describe great films as cinematic. What does it mean? It means it's a visual experience, something that has nothing to do with words. In fact, I love many films that have either no words, or very minimal script. For example, Jacques Tati films, or Triplets of Belleville, Georges Méliès, Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Busby Berkeley. Or, for example, the films of the Marx Brothers or W.C. Fields are essentially plotless, they are cavalcade of gag sequences strung together by a weak plot. Or take John Cassavetes, his films were essentially improvised in front of the camera.

And what the hell was the story for such classics as 2001, The Space Odyssey or Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke or Howl's Moving Castle? Did you understand anything in these films?

Some other great films that had no real story Citizen Kane (very cinematic), Raiders of the Lost Ark, or Woodstock. Yellow Submarine, the animated classic was begun without a script.

I could go on and on, but why beat a dead script? If I hear the expression "story is everything" one more time, I'll stick their tongue in my electric pencil sharpener - now that's cinematic!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Story Myth -Patrick

It has grown tiresome and frustrating to me... People talking about the importance of story. It seems like a reflex answer.. making a film? better have a good story! Now, how many have ever contemplated the overwhelming importance of CHARACTER and IMAGERY. I will go as far to say that you don't need much of a story at all, especially within a short film. As long as the characters breath an essence of life that supports the overall CONCEPT, and the IMAGERY is appealing and accurately supports the characters. Stories, especially complex ones, can actually hinder the characters, that often just want to go about their business being AWESOME. Below.. the character of Travis Bickle and the warped world he perceives carries the 1976 film "Taxi Driver." The story is interesting, but that's not why the audience is attached.Have you ever not wanted a movie to end? That's due to rich and believable characters, not to the story. Sure.. why not give them a simple story to play in, but in the end.. it doesn't matter. It's ALL THE CHARACTER.
One of the best examples of this is Richard Linklater's "Dazed and Confused", where there is NOTHING to the story. It's a great movie because of the characters, the story itself is simple to say the least. Another tell tale sign of a movie that rides on Character and not story, is that if you can imagine the characters still living and interacting after the film is over, and you're curious about them.
Above, an image from one of my favorite films of all time, Ron Frick's "Baraka", a film that has no story, just beautiful mind blowing IMAGERY of our world and it's people. The film holds your attention the very same way a beautiful painting would.

I know that a lot of people will argue with me on this one, and often times it comes down to semantics. Some would counter that "Idea" and "Concept" are the same as story. But so often I've talked to short filmmakers struggling to figure out their complex stories, when all along they should have just been focusing on "framing an idea", and representing that idea with a strong imagery and characters... the story will take care of itself if the idea is strong and the audience can relate to it, especially within a short format. wussies.

Heinz Edelmann

Last summer I visited the San Diego Comic-Con where I did a panel and I asked a crowd of 800 people if they had heard of Heinz Edelmann (because he had just died) and no one raised their hand. I was shocked!

Heinz Edelmann was the designer of Yellow Submarine, one of the breakthrough masterpieces of animated features.

The story I heard from Milton Glaser was that the producers asked him to be the designer of the film, but he was too busy (probably designing the “ NY” logo) and he referred the Mr. Edelmann who was an illustrator and designer living in Germany. They contacted him and he had one year to design all the characters and finish the celebrated film.

A sidebar is that Peter Max, who at the time was an intern at Milton Glaser’s studio (Push Pin Graphics), now takes credit for designing the film when he had nothing to do with it.

The ordeal Heinz went through making the feature was so crazy that he gave up the film work and went on to teaching in Stuttgart.

With Heinz Edelmann at the opening reception of “The Masters Series: Heinz Edelmann” exhibition at School of Visual Arts in New York, 2005.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Chat with Mike Stuart animator "The Wall"..

I wanted to start off with a good post... I've written about "The Wall" several times on my old blog, and I don't feel as if I've exhausted the topic, so I wanted to re-post the words of Mike Stuart. I also wanted to use this as a transition into SCRIBBLE JUNKIES. I was fortunate enough to have the following exchange with master animator Mike Stuart, an animator who has influenced me immensely. This semester I'm going to screen "The Wall" as part of a lecture series at Tisch School of the Arts-Asia.. and I intend to include even more of the material I've gathered about Mike, and his role in "The Wall".

Mike was the directing animator on practically all of the sequences, and the more I researched, the more I realized that Mike was truly the MAN behind "The Wall". Here's bits of our exchange, Enjoy:

"THE WALL" gave me a lot of creative freedom and allowed me to move into direction as well as animation. The opportunity to 'forward animate' ie. to start with a drawing and draw from drawing to drawing instead of producing 'key' drawings and then have an assistant 'inbetween' them. The Flower Sequence is an example of 'forward animation'(psmith note: "straight ahead" to us americans). And I used it also in the 'Tumbling Leaf Man' sequence - which, incidentally, is the first bit of animation I did for Pink Floyd." -Mike Stuart

"THE WALL" was made in a very unconventional way. Very much 'on the hoof' as it were. Most of the animation for the live performances was 'recobbled' and used in the picture. The 'hammers' caused a big problem as they were initially designed for the circular screen - extra hammers had to be added on either end as, in the film, we used an 'anamorphic lens', It is really Roger's film (Roger Waters) in my opinion. Nick Mason (pink floyd drummer)occasionally came to rushes but it was Roger Waters that had the last word." -Mike Stuart

"I am working with a chap in the states who is writing a book on the making of the film. He has already produced a book on the making of the album." To quote G. Scarfe - "I don't understand why people like it so much" I think you'll find this comment on the DVD." -Mike Stuart

Above: Images depicting my obvious influence from "The Wall" from my music video "Moving Along"

"My last project was the 78 'KIPPER' series. It won a BAFTA and Annecy in 1998 plus something in Positano. I have just designed a float for the Viareggio carnival. I mainly spend my time painting and making jewelry". -Mike Stuart

I'll be returning to the subject of "The Wall" very frequently in this blog. Let me know what you think.- Patrick

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Welcome... This will be EPIC!

Welcome! This blog is the result of several long winded conversations, arguments, agreements, and critiques between Patrick Smith and Bill Plympton. Me and Bill see eye to eye on many things, but also disagree vehemently on several other things. We decided to give our conversations a forum, and here it is, enjoy SCRIBBLE JUNKIES! This is where Bill and I will share our opinions, techniques, photos, drawings, and films. Please contribute in the comments, and we will keep the discussion as animated as possible! ready.. GO! (photo above: Danny Antonucci, Bill Plympton, and Patrick Smith at "Live Bait" in NYC)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Welcome Fellow JUNKIES!!

Let me be the first one to welcome you to "Scribble Junkies" - the blog! My good friend, painter, sailor, surfer, Montauker, and animation rock-star Pat Smith and I have decided to open up pour minds and lives to the curios world. Our hope is to explain what the reality is in the cartoon world, and point out all the bullshit that bombards our eyes and brains. We want the blog to be visually and emotionally exciting - we'll show clips from our new projects, whether they be pencil tests or finished art. So, tell your friends , get the kiddies and watch this space for the most amazing and bizarre information! -Bill Plympton