Martha Bayles: July 2005 Archives
According to the Canadian Broadcast Corporation's website, the Walt Disney Company has announced the closing of its last "hand-drawn animation studio": DisneyToon Studio in Sydney, Australia. All animated features will now be "computer animated." The clear implication, deliberate or not, is that the human hand (and mind and imagination) is getting squeezed out of an increasingly automated industry.
Not so. Computers can't draw. Nor can they design characters. And if I'm not mistaken, neither can they map out the broad gestures and movements that carry animated action. These tasks have always been done by artists, and (until computers get as creative as people) they always will be.
For a fascinating glimpse into the process, rent the DVD of The Incredibles and watch the interviews and production features that accompany the film. Or try Prince of Egypt, the Dreamworks version of Exodus that, despite major liberties (the correct word is really idiocies) regarding the substance, is technically one of the most brilliant animated features ever made, combining hand-drawn and computer techniques.
Computers are not the enemy. What they can do, very efficiently, is the laborious work of "in-betweening": that is, filling in all the small incremental movements between Nemo hearing a scary noise and Nemo turning around to swim the other way. This work has been outsourced to other countries for years; and it is true, the better in-betweeners sometimes rise to the top and become master animators and character designers. So in that respect the closing of DisneyToon is a loss.
But in-betweening is not the only way, or even the best way, to learn how to draw. Training the eye and hand is basically the same process it always was, so my best advice to the aspiring animator is take a good drawing class!
Of course, this is all coming from a frustrated animator who confesses to hoping that a billioniare will give her the budget to hire the best classical draftsmen and women and make glorious grownup animated features of the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid, followed by the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso.
P.S. After posting this entry, I caught up with the article in the Chicago Sun Times about the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, currently in the headlines as the designer of the Fordham Spire. After watching Calatrava sketch a tree then a figure, Sun Times architecture critic Kevin Nance is so impressed he exclaims, "What a Disney animator he would have been!" Guess I'm not alone in my grownup animation fantasy...
Recently I compared Hotel Rwanda (excellent) with Sometimes in April (excellent in a different way: the lead actor cannot compete with the brilliant Don Cheadle, but the film itself feels more authentic). Anyway, Rwanda is at least a visible blip on the media screen these days, which is ironic, given what Nicholas Kristof writes in today's New York Times about the unspeakable neglect of Darfur by the so-called network news. Maybe ten years from now, a dramatic film about the genocide in Darfur will win a prize at Sundance, and we can all enjoy feeling bad about what we didn't do today.
Does James Brown's musical legacy live on? Or has it been betrayed? See my essay in the Weekly Standard...
I loved The Motorcycle Diaries. Warm, funny, emotionally powerful, it takes the viewer on a visually stunning journey northward along the mountainous spine of South America with two young Argentinians, dreamy Ernesto and earthy Alberto, who rattle along like a mid-20th-century Don Quijote and Sancho Panza on an oil-spitting Rocinante, until they discover their destiny, which is to trade their bourgeois future for a life devoted to the poor.
I also loved the soulful performances of the two stars, Gael Garcia Bernal and Rodrigo de la Serna, and of all the other actors and non-actors who grace the screen. In the best sense, this is not Hollywood.
But it is also not true. Maybe Ernesto "Che" Guevara was brave, kind, and loving when young. But he didn't stay that way. In a 1967 address to his fellow communists, he highlighted the importance of "hatred as an element of the struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine."
To place this remark into the context of Guevara's actual career, see this article by Peruvian historian Alvaro Vargas Llosa in the current New Republic. After reading that essay, you may want to retire your Che T-shirt and pick up your Cervantes.
The best thing about Beyond the Sea, Kevin Spacey's uneven biopic about Bobby Darin, is its sympathy for the awkward position Darin occupied, in the 1950s and 60s, between pop music and rock'n'roll. Born Walden Robert Cassotto in 1936, Darin was only one year younger than Elvis. But he was not a Southerner; he was an Italian-American from the Bronx, and his dominant musical influences were not the great black and white stars of rhythm & blues, country & western, and gospel, but the great Italian pop singers, from Tony Bennett to Sinatra.
Pop was the residue of the big band era, a music focused on the fine-grained, microphone-magnified vocalism disparaged as "crooning" by ignorant critics. It could be that, but when practiced by singers as subtle and brilliant as Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme, or Sarah Vaughan, it approaches the sublime. (See related entry under Soundtrax.)
All the more pity today's young 'uns don't know any better than to call this whole body of work "lounge music." Blame their parents: for the 60s generation, pop was the ancien régime against which their beloved rock'n'roll was the revolution.
So Darin turned to pop in 1959 and never let go (I will pass in respectful silence over his early 70s foray into "folk"). For all its faults (and there are many), Beyond the Sea is worth seeing for the sheer effort Spacey makes to replicate that bygone sound and attitude - an effort all the more poignant because Darin himself was replicating it. Bless him, he was an anachronism all his life.
It's been fun speculating about the box office slump - almost as much fun as watching the record industry collapse under its own weight. But I'm going to have to find another subject to write about, because Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle has summed up the entire situation.
With particular delight I recommend Mr. LaSalle's "Reason 6: Going to the Movies on a Saturday Night Has Become a Fairly Hideous, Repulsive Experience":
Art houses and repertory houses are exempt from this observation. Those theaters preserve the moviegoing experience as a fun, rewarding collective activity. But to spend Saturday night going to see a major release at a multiplex can be more stressful than going to work the first Monday after vacation.
It costs $10 for a ticket and almost another 10 for something at the concession stand, and you have to wait in line to buy both. To get a decent seat, you have to get there 20 minutes before the show starts, and once it starts, you have to sit through seven or eight trailers, then advertisements for TV shows and then commercials.
By now, 50 minutes have gone by and you haven't seen anything. Finally, the movie comes on, and it's lousy. It ends, and you get banged around to the exit and then have the fun of fighting with your fellow patrons to get out of the parking lot. And half of them are so jacked up by caffeine and screen violence that they think they're Vin Diesel.
I thank Dr. Taso G. Lagos for the following correction of an important detail in my July 4 posting, "The East is Green":
You indicated that since 1948 it has been illegal for movie studios to produce, distribute AND also own the theaters in which the films are shown. This practice is called "vertical integration." While it was illegal after 1948, since 1985, under the Reagan Administration, those prohibitions [the Paramount Consent Decrees] have been relaxed and now most major movie houses in America are owned by the major studios (the only exception is Disney, which at this writing, does not own any interest in movie theaters). So in Time Warner opening up theaters in China, this is hardly unusual. It has been going on here for 20 years, although silently ... By "silently" I mean that it was not widely publicized that this change took place in the mid-1980s. So far as I know, only the Wall Street Journal reported about it, and it was not a big deal.
Maybe the world is past wondering what goes on in the minds of suicide bombers. But what about a suicide bomber who is deeply conflicted about her mission and could go either way? In the aftermath of the London attacks, I recommend a quiet but powerful little film called "The Terrorist."
Written and directed by Santosh Sivan, this 1999 film relates the story of Malli (Ayesha Dharker), a young Indian woman who, wishing to revenge the death of her brother, volunteers to assassinate a political figure by serving as an official greeter who while offering him flowers will detonate a bomb hidden under her clothing.
The camera follows Malli through every step of preparing, then waiting, for the explosion that will rip apart her body and that of her victim. I put it that way because Malli's body, in all its vitality, youth, and sensuous delight, is very much the star of this film.
Malli doesn't talk much; she listens. She listens to her handlers: ideologues who, while not religious (the film is based on the 1991 assassination of Rajiv Gandhi), clearly see the life of ordinary people as vastly inferior to the death of glorious martyrs. But Malli also listens to birds, breezes, bubbling brooks, and her own heartbeat - not to mention the voices of other human beings who do not share the fanaticism du jour. And in the end...