Friday, June 21, 2013

The Jump

I've always had the greatest admiration for animators. When I was little I was in awe of them. They were the makers of magic. Now that I’ve actually had a taste of what it takes to become an animator my respect for them and what they do has grown a gazillion-fold. Good character animation is extremely hard to do.

It’s been a year now since I took my first baby steps into the world of animation and completed that first Basic Foundations class at Animation Mentor. Hard to believe I’ll be graduating in six months. I can honestly say my time at AM has been one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life. At times it’s been a real struggle. Clearly, I still have much to learn. But slowly but surely I’m making progress.

This past term I got a chance to play in AM’s production pipeline, which was awesome.

I got to work on my first ever two-character dialogue shot, using dialogue from an existing source. My sequence involved four different shots, so it was important to maintain continuity between shots. Easier said than done. I gained a whole new appreciation for film editors and their ability to make seamless cuts from shot to shot. 

You can check out the video by clicking here:  The Jump

For our final assignment I had to film a video of myself making a story pitch for a short film.

Next term we’ll vote on our favorite pitch, develop characters and do pre-visualization in preparation for the short film we’ll be collaborating on in our final class. The production process will mirror that of a typical studio. It’s gonna be a lot of fun—I’m really looking forward to it!

A big shout-out to AM guru Bobby Beck for his unyielding commitment to the school and his desire to make it the best it can be. His enthusiasm is infectious, inspiring us to never lose sight of our dreams and to always keep pushing ourselves to grow and learn.

Thanks also to all my mentors—especially my current mentor, Jason Taylor. Super nice guy. He really helped me improve the quality of my work. Fellow comic book nerds take note that Jason worked on the cool animation test for The Goon that came out a while back. :)

And of course, a special thanks to my fellow classmates, whose amazing work and support makes me feel privileged to be part of their community.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Man of Steel

So I watched Man of Steel yesterday. I had some issues with it, but overall I pretty much liked the film. Maybe even loved it. Time will tell. Can't wait to see it again.

For those of you who haven't seen it yet, beware--SPOILERS ahead!! 

Here are my thoughts:

First of all, I should mention that I am a life-long Superman fan. My earliest memories of the character date back to my Kindergarten days and a Spanish reprint book collecting a bunch of classic Golden Age Superman stories drawn by Wayne Boring. I used to get up extra early on Saturday mornings so I could watch the Adventures of Superman show starring George Reeves. Years later, along came Super Friends…then comic books…and I was hooked for life. 

Much as I loved Christopher Reeve's first two Superman movies when I was a kid (and I still do), the camp aspects of those films rankled me even then. Did Man of Steel take it too far in the other direction? Maybe. But after the character assassination that was done to Supes in the awful Superman Returns movie (Deadbeat dad Superman? Really?), I wholeheartedly welcomed the more serious tone in Man of Steel.

A lot of the movie's success or failure rested on the shoulders of Henry Cavill. Nothing could have saved this film if you didn't believe his performance. Thankfully, he was pretty frikkin' awesome. I think he totally nailed the role and made it his own. 

I absolutely loved the science fiction flavor of the film, established right from the very first shot. Totally appropriate for the Superman character, whose roots stem from Flash Gordon. (As opposed to Batman, who is a modern-day Zorro.) All the Krypton stuff was way cool. The overall look of the planet (the Kryptonian armor, the costume designs of the Council members, the hovering robots, etc.) were very reminiscent of designs shown in the comic books over the years. 

Russell Crowe was a great Jor El, getting lots more screen time than I expected. He brought a welcome humanity to Jor El's character, something that was sorely lacking in Marlon Brando's interpretation, which always leaves me cold. 

Though I thought Amy Adams did a great job with the role, I felt she was miscast as Lois Lane. Her strawberry blonde, mid-western earthy looks and soft demeanor would be more appropriate for the Lana Lang character. I picture Lois having a more cosmopolitan, seasoned look and an edgier personality. That said, this a minor quibble--I'd rather have an actress of Amy Adams' caliber play Lois than some vapid Megan Fox-like hottie.

My biggest problem with the film was Clark Kent's overly angtsy childhood and the joy-less portrayal of Smallville. Yes, I get it--the kid had problems adjusting to his powers. But this ain't the X-Men.

One of the cornerstones of Clark's growth as a character and the values he cherishes is that he was raised in a positive home environment and that he had a happy childhood. This is the very opposite of Bruce Wayne, whose traumatic childhood shaped his psyche into the obsessed crime fighter he became. Batman is fueled by this single-minded obsession, while Superman is motivated by his desire to help people. The contrast between Supes and Bats is what makes them such an interesting pairing whenever they're together.

I think the Smallville TV show did a much better job of portraying Clark's life on the Kent farm. Yes, the angst was there, as were Pa Kent's fears for his son--but they were tempered by the warmth and love of his home life and the small-town values of his Norman Rockwell-like community. Watching Smallville you can't help but fall in love with Clark's idyllic home life--awesome parents, a beautiful, peaceful farm (that even comes with a cool loft of his own), great friends, etc. John Schneider=best Pa Kent ever.

Sadly, I didn't get any of that from Man of Steel. Way too much fear mongering by the Kents. Would have been nice to see them have a little more faith in humanity. And the behavior of the few Smallville residents we got to meet didn’t exactly endear them to me either.

Smallville itself should have been more warm and inviting. Bright. Cheery. Let's see some frikkin' color, dangit!! I am sick and tired of every single movie these days using the same color palette, looking all bleak and washed out. Enough with that!! Totally inappropriate for all the Smallville flashback scenes--with the exception of the tornado sequence, which could have served as a bridge color-wise between the brightness of Clark's childhood years and the bleak action taking place in the present. (I'll get back to that tornado scene in a minute!) And while we're at it, Supes' costume should have been just a tad bit bluer. He's a symbol of hope and justice, not dreary gloom and doom. 

Allrightee. The tornado scene. The way Pa Kent's death scene was handled really bothered me. Clark would never ever ever just stand there and watch his Pa die. Consequences be damned, he would have acted to save him. I think that scene could have been staged better so that Clark wouldn’t have come off as such the passive spectator.

I hear a lot of folks were bothered by the amount of property damage in the film’s third act. Sure, all that wanton destruction was perhaps a bit excessive. Then again, I’d argue that it was a deadly accurate portrayal of what would happen if two super-powerful beings were to actually slug it out in a populated area. Of course, the little kid in me was psyched to see two titans duking it out in all-out battle on such a massive scale. Super badass epicness—best superhero/villain smackdown ever!

My only qualm was Superman’s lack of concern for all the civilians getting killed in the process. We should have been shown how this was tearing him up inside. Show him trying to save more people. The other Kryptonians would have perceived this as a weakness and exploited it—laying the groundwork for Supes’ final confrontation with Zod.

And speaking of Zod…

As far as Superman killing Zod goes, it’s certainly not without precedent, both in the comic books and the films.

And in both of those cases the way his death was handled was far, far worse than it was in Man of Steel. John Byrne basically had Superman execute Zod and the other Phantom Zone villains in cold blood—after they had already been de-powered. The second Superman movie played out a similar scenario, with the powerless Zod so casually tossed into an icy chasm that you don’t even realize he’s been sentenced to certain death.

I’m one of those folks who believes that Superman should not kill. Ever.

So seeing Superman snap Zod’s neck at the end of Man of Steel was pretty shocking. But the way the situation had been set up it was clear that he had no other recourse. Supes’ raw reaction afterwards is what made that moment work for me, establishing the value he places on human life.

Loved the clever use of the "Welcome to the Planet" line at the end. Nice touch. 

Maybe I’m being nitpicky here, but I felt that the flashback with young Clark playing superhero outside with a red cape needed a better set-up. Yes, that image and pose are iconic to us because we recognize it as the quintessential Superman pose. But within the context of a film in which the literary Superman doesn’t exist it would have been nice to establish who were the heroes that inspired Clark. A simple scene showing Pa Kent sharing his old comic books with Clark would have served that purpose well. I keep thinking of that awesome scene in The Iron Giant where Hogarth shares his comic books with the Iron Giant, setting up that wonderful “I’m Superman” moment at the end.

So that’s my two cents’ worth. Like I said, I really enjoyed the film, nitpicks and all. And I’m eagerly looking forward to the next installment.