Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lost and Foundish: WTF Edition

Back in my college days I did a lot of drawing while I worked as a teaching assistant at Columbia College's Science Institute.  It eventually led to some rather unfortunate consequences... but I'll save that story for another blog.

In the meantime, here's one such drawing that I did while in T.A. purgatory that didn't make it to my (old) main site:

click to enlarge

More to come!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mrs. Garrison, Markified™

While watching South Park the other night I decided to draw up my interpretation of one of its characters, Mr. Mrs. Garrison...

The original Mrs. Garrison

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I'm sorry I'm dwelling on this, but...

Today while rendering a project I decided to venture onto one of my favorite sites for entertainment news, The Onion's A.V. Club.  On it was posted an interview with Legend of the Guardian's director Zack Snyder, the very same of 300 & last year's The Watchmen.  I was curious to see if what he had to say about his new film would change my preemptive (and possibly irrationally negative) opinion of the movie which OPENS THIS FRIDAY YOU GUYS OMG.  Needless to say that as an animator, I wasn't swayed.  Let's start with some excerpts from the interview, shall we?

AV Club: You actually choreographed the fights with actors wearing owl suits, fighting each other. How’d that work?
Zack Snyder: Yeah. When we got to the fight scenes, one of the things was like—these owls are supposedly an ancient culture, and they have a martial tradition that we can’t just make up. It’s gonna look goofy if they’re just clawing at each other. .... We got my old stunt team from 300 and made them put these cardboard wings on and basically fight each other.
One thing about the art of animation is that you get to do whatever your mind can dream up, after all.  Unfortunately, the mind can be a tricky place and have a few too many ideas sometimes, so why not just dress a dude up and have owls fight like people?  You know what, I've actually seen this before in another animated film which may OR MAY NOT have been a terrible animated feature (skip to about 0:50):
...  Back to Zack!
ZS:  ... The animators then don’t have to pretend. It’s a real thing they have to work with. I think that comes through in the film. 
Later on in the interview, when talking about mixing owl physiology with that of a humans (yup)...
ZS: The thing about owls is that they do sort of have this facial disc, which is unlike any other bird. They kind of have a face, more than like a dog or a giraffe. They have this weird, alien face that you can actually make expressive. We really pushed without breaking. I didn’t want it to be a cartoon. I was like, “I don’t want to make a cartoon. That I can’t do.” 
Children do hate cartoons, after all.  This is one talking owl movie that's not for kids, see?  One thing that I think people don't understand about animation in this sense is that it NEEDS to be exaggerated.  The physics and the way things move shouldn't act as they do in reality, because then things appear stiff and dull.  Here's an example:  I recently watched Anastasia with my girlfriend, and while I didn't mind the movie itself I didn't really care for the main protagonists, Anastasia and Dmitri.  It wasn't because of their characters or lines, it was just that once the weird-looking villain or the comic-relief-bat Bartok appeared on-screen, the protagonists seemed rigid and inflexible by comparison.  Unfortunately I couldn't find any clips readily available on Youtube due to copyright blah blah blah, but I did find these stills online:

"My mouth can only move so much due to the limitations of my movement and desiiiign"

Did you scream when you saw that bat with the dislocated jawbone?!  Pretty scary huh?  
ZS:  So the faux-realistic look was a look I was comfortable with, because this environment feels real. These owls feel real to me. “Now I can make an adventure that feels compelling. The danger is real.”
Ok so just to make sure I understand this correctly, Zack Snyder wanted the danger to be real.  He wanted to evoke some suspense in his audience and give them something "that feels compelling."  I don't want to call a guy wrong, but let's point out a few inconsistencies with that statement above.
    1.  You do remember you were making a movie about talking owls, right? 
    2.  Unfortunately the danger is not real as you have just made a series of images that are projected on a screen with accompanying audio.  Even then, the only time that danger ever seemed real enough for audiences was in 1895.  According to the story, people leapt out of their seats to avoid being hit by the train.  No joke.

    3. Okay that last one was a bit of a low blow Zack, I'm sorry.  I know you were going for "emotions" and had no intention of actually putting the audience in real harm's way.  In fact, I've felt my heart rate escalate and felt nervous while watching animation before.  Hell, I was straight up scared by this when I was a kid: 

Night on Bald Mountain, Fantasia (1940)
    The images above say a lot of great things about that segment from Fantasia: you've got great mood, posing, I mean it just looks like some messed up spooky stuff when you look at it.  Is there anything to detract from them because they're not photo-realistic?  Does this bother anyone?  Don't you just kind of assume the reality of the imagery being shown and understand what fits and what doesn't in that setting?
    4.  Back in my high school days I followed the online production diary (if you can call it that by 2000 internet standards) for a film that was to be released in the summer of 2001.  My excitement for it eclipsed anything else that had ever come before to theaters, I drooled over every still and video clip that was released for it.  I checked their website daily even though they updated it once every two months.  I saw it on opening weekend.  This is the film in question:
    At that time, nothing had ever been made like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.  Everything seemed so real from the pores on the skin to the clothes to the environments to... well, that was the problem.  The people themselves never seemed real.  They gazed at their digital co-stars with dead eyes, and with all of the motion-capture done, these dolls of people moved eerily like us but weren't us.  It was off-putting.  I walked out of the theater confused and disappointed (the story was also just... terrible but I'm not going to get into that here).  It was a major flop for Squaresoft studios who had produced it and caused them to go bankrupt in the following years.  Eventually they merged with another company to form today's Square-Enix.  I'm not saying Zack Snyder's movie will fail for the same reasons as Final Fantasy, but his lack of imagination and confidence in animation as a whole isn't going to make the owls of Ga'hoole any easier to watch.   
    5.  Seriously man it's a whole 90 minutes of fucking talking owls.  Remember when you dressed adult men up like owls and made them fight?
I guess what it all boils down to is that Zack Snyder doesn't think like an animator and that I should stop complaining... and I totally would by now if he wasn't directing a high-budget animated feature.  Personally, I think he shares the same mindset as most filmmakers in that animation is a different & lesser art than live-action film, and I don't judge him for that since that's a pretty popular notion.  You can catch hints of it in his interview, like in the excerpt below where he's discussing the visual effects:
ZS: For instance, say Soren [the film’s owl protagonist] flies into the hollow. I’d say, “If this was a real movie, I’d put the camera low and I’d dolly with him as he comes back.” So that’s the language I used to tell them how to do it, and it worked out really well. There was a point when they created this little bible—the rules, things I liked and didn’t like. Because there’s a lot of trendy things—you never know what the animators will try to whack into the movie.
If only it was a real movie.  Maybe next time, Zack... maybe next time.

Read the whole interview here!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

From the Sketchbook P.5

I've been doing my best to work on a more free-flowing style as I talked about in a previous post... 

... and then there's this guy, who I've been working on refining for a possible upcoming project which I'll announce at a later date if it goes through:

Mmmm that sadness in the eyes can only mean one thing.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Congratulations to Chris & Jessica!

Last month I had the pleasure of making a short two-minute animation for my high school friend's wedding.  They got married at the Heights Theater in Minneapolis and to fit the movie theater motif they had their friends create short films that were projected at the beginning of the ceremony.  I completed mine in just under a weeks' time, working right up til the day before the wedding while staying with my friend in St. Paul.  It's pretty random so you don't need to know too much else going in.  Hopefully one of these days I can polish up a few odds n' ends so I can put some chunks of it on my reel.  Check it out!

... there was also dancing.

Friday, September 10, 2010


... let's all go watch a movie about fucking owls.

pictured above: owls.

Finally -- a movie that really corners the market for those who love owls and the color treatment of Lord of the Rings.  Let's all congratulate the team on making everything look awkwardly-realistic.  Kids fucking LOVE feather textures, people.  I remember when I was growing up watching Looney Tunes on Saturday mornings thinking to myself, "Y'know what?  I don't really believe Bugs Bunny could exist in our own physical reality.  THIS IS ALL FAKE!"  I really had to struggle with that disconnect in life until I was about 14-years-old.  Thank you, Space Jam.*
I apologize for the randomness of this rant but I just don't understand how this movie made it into theaters.  I should mention that I'm completely uneducated on the whole subject of Legend of the Guardians.  I'm assuming it came from children's literature since I can't imagine someone pitching this to a studio as an original idea ("Guys! Owls you guys!"), but at the same time who really cares?  If you had the power of sophisticated CGI to create any imagery you could possibly imagine, what would compell you to make it this?

... an owl wearing a helmet, everybody.

It's a movie about owls doing things that more interesting animals or creatures could be doing... like dragons or dinosaurs or hell, what they did back in my day.  I think I'm a better man for being ignorant towards this movie.  I mean, c'mon... the owls of ga'hoole?  So on top of spending $15 to watch a movie about owls, the movie poster alludes to the fact that I'll also have to put up with an hour-and-a-half's worth of some owl language that somebody made up peppered with owl-puns.

You know what I think of when I think of owls?  This.

At least in five years' time all the CGI will look like crap.

(because chances are it always does)

* for the record I was also too cynical in my youth to ever watch Space Jam in its entirety.  Le sigh.

On the Business of Stiffness

Even though I was brought up in the school of hand-drawn traditional animation, my drawing style has always been rather consistently stiff and rigid.  Everything's sitting in place and/or have very straight structural angles.  If you look at some of the old drawings on my website, you'll see 'em all over the place:




It especially comes out when directly compared to superior illustrators, like with my good friend Tim Haldeen.  During our downtime at a music video shoot, we kept ourselves entertained by doodling all over the rear of the set.

Mark on the left.  Tim on the right.

I still like what I drew, but Tim's perspective and line work suggest much more depth and structure than what I had to offer.  Sure, I threw some shading and a roll or two on the neck but if these drawings suddenly came to life, I have a much clearer mental image of Tim's character turning to look at me as opposed to mine.  We did this back at the beginning of the summer and it really got me thinking about the way I draw for the first time in years.  It's so easy to just keep coasting on what you know and I think I've gotten a bit lazy with improving my style.  It has barely changed since college and it needs a good kick in the ass.  I'm not saying that I'm going to overhaul it completely, but it'd be very beneficial to both my drawing and my animation to add more and more principles.
Yesterday during a staff meeting I got into some more advanced posing with a doodle which led to the more fleshed-out doodle below it.

loosely based on Jesse Laz

They're still super incomplete but I think they're a step in the right direction.  If I know what's good for me you should be seeing more of this in my future blog posts.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

From the Sketchbook P.4

Here are a few images I sketched up while on break last week...

This could double as a self-portrait for me when I've been working too much.  I think I might take this design and flesh it out a bit more later on down the road.

This is actually a bit older & unfinished (even by my standards!) but when some friends were looking through my sketchbook they seemed to enjoy it.  They said it looked like a weird cross-section of a dude's face.  It's something I may explore later as well...

On my flight to the Twin Cities there was a woman who didn't sit down for 90% of the trip.  She kept doing leg exercises and pacing up and down the aisle and it was pretty awkward.  She reminded me of an older strung-out hippy with an eating disorder and I can only assume that she owned three cats minimum.  When the pilot would come on over the loudspeaker she'd stop and strike the pose above.

Here I tried to illustrate a friend's facial expression... I think it's a little too stiff though, I gotta work on that!

I thought I'd revisit the naked-man-animal theme I got into towards the tail-end of college.  I think a hamster is a good way to go but I don't think he's exaggerated enough.  I'll do additional drawings down the road and maybe get something colored soon.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

From the Sketchbook P.3

For those of you who've known me for a few years, you probably know that I've never really had much interest in drawing attractive women.  My philosophy always was that there's enough sexy freakishly-boobed women lining the aisles of every comic book shop and videogame stores already, so why should I try to add my two cents to an over-saturated market?
Well I still really haven't changed my thinking in that regard, but I do realize the benefit of drawing attractive women: it's out of my comfort zone and studying the structure and curves of their faces and bodies can only make me a better artist, right?  I took out a few catalogues and magazines we had laying around the office and did a few quick sketches.  They're not anatomically correct by any means; I intentionally distorted their proportions but I don't think it was enough to be a 'proper' caricature... they're somewhere eerily in the middle.  'Not sure if I like 'em or not but check 'em out!  I'm sure there will be more to come down the road...

This was the first drawing I did with some exaggerated proportions.

Less exaggerated here but I kept the eyes and mouth biggish.  'Probably the better looking one out of the bunch.

This one looks awkwardly like a friend of mine but I think it'd creep her out if I showed her.

The first lesson I learned about drawing attractive women is to NOT make the nose & mouth look like I did above.  The cheek action probably doesn't help either.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Kevin Rudolf "Rainfall" Music Video

As I mentioned earlier, I spent most of July working on this project at Lifelong Friendship Society as animation director.  With the time and budget we had, there were only a few instances where we could afford to go back and fix mistakes.  On a good day an animation station could crank out 3 seconds in a 10-hour shift, so keep in mind that everything changed animators' hands about that often when you watch it.  It all made for a very memorable experience, and I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.  The music isn't my cup of tea, but then again I can't drink music now can I?

I just got back from vacation with loads of new sketches and such, hopefully I'll get 'em all posted by the end of the week!

If the link above doesn't work, feel free to check it out on the YOUTUBEZ.