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!


k. borcz said...

I saw this movie, due to a girls night out. I had no expectations. I'm still trying to figure out how they made 'vowel" movements considering they have beaks. It was ok. What wasn't ok was the Wiley E. Coyote cartoon they had before the film. I've NEVER walked out of a movie (and this includes some really really bad films). But I did that day. I came back in to watch the owls, but there's not a chance I'm going to put a 3d new version of the Coyote into my memory.

M. Phillips said...

Wow now I'll bet THAT's something to check out...