Friday, November 18, 2016

PAPRIKA Animation Analysis: Opposing Forces Within One Body

Satoshi Kon had a unique way of telling stories on parallel levels of reality. While this is most obvious in the editing and scene transitions, the actual animation by Madhouse is certainly worth analyzing as well. 

One scene from PAPRIKA (2006) I find particularly interesting from an animator's point of view is about two characters with opposing goals that share one single body. While the superficially realistic animation of many Madhouse films is sometimes mistaken for rotoscoped live-action reference material, here the animators' mastery of expressing weight and forces within an acting scene are fairly obvious. It is in fact a very sophisticated example of how to successfully apply all the basic animation principles.
many simultaneously interconnected movements in different speeds; squash and stretch on the heads.

Analyzing Animation
When I analyze an animation sequence, I ask myself what the objective of a each shot is, i.e. what story point (or "beat" in McKee's language) we learn from a shot, and how this is visually communicated through animation (= movement).

[NSFW] Animation Analysis of a Scene from PAPRIKA (Kon, 2006) from Oswald Iten on Vimeo.

What we can learn from analyzing the work of master animators, storyboarders and layouters for our own work are answers to questions like:

  • Which movement is best suited for the story point we want to get across?
  • Which shot size is necessary to communicate this movement?
  • How do we make sure that the audience gets the story point and is not distracted?
  • When do we need to hold a movement?
  • What body part leads a movement and to what effect?
  • How can we use counter-movements to emphasize strength and energy?
  • How do we organically time struggle and bursts of energy?
  • When does it make sense to switch from "twos" to "ones" or "threes"?
But the most important inspiration for any character animator should always come from observing reality and human behaviour around us.

If anyone knows the names of the animators who worked on this sequence, please let me know, I would like to list them here.

[Update 2016-12-23] Thanks to reader "ibcf", we now know that the animators were: Ei Inoue and Toshiyuki Inoue!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

ZARAFA: a contemporary addendum to "Sumptuous Costume Colors"

The color schemes I described in a series of posts as "sumptuous costume colors" that were popular in animated features during the 1940s and 50s are still in use today. One fitting example is ZARAFA (Bezan├žon/Lie, 2012), a French film about a giraffe given to the King of France by the Pasha of Egypt. 

While the filmmaker's intentions of exploring historical injustice, among other things, is certainly noble and one cannot applaud its creators enough for trying to break away from formulaic family fare, the resulting film never really takes off.

Whenever the narrative seems to gain momentum, it returns to an overarching storytelling situation which kills whatever suspense there could have been. Perhaps 78 minutes are simply too little time to explore a cast of interesting characters as well as an epic journey through exotic sets. And unfortunately, too often the animation is not on par with the detailed character design.

Tasteful primary colors
But the artwork (especially some of the backgrounds in the later French part of the film, as showcased at the bottom of this post) and the colors are sometimes tastefully dazzling. When Maki, a Sudanese orphan boy, is saved by a wealthy-looking Bedouin called Hassan he is dressed in the same deep dark blue garments. In addition to four different shades of blue there is a very effective shadow layer that makes the costume look even more sumptuous (and realistic):
Naturally, these blue robes look very pleasing against the sand colored backdrop and the yellow giraffe - because they are almost opposite on the color wheel as you can see in the inverted image above.

Then they meet Mehemet Ali, the Pasha of Egypt, who is completely dressed in shades of yellow leaning towards orange which connects him to the giraffe and creates a smooth contrast to Maki and Hassan.
The five bright and warm colors of Mehemet Ali.
The unicolored costume approach makes it easy to distinguish characters clearly in long shots.

In the warm, yellow evening light inside the Egyptian palace (above), these robes look greener:
top: outside, plain sunshine; bottom: inside, warmer lighting.
Hassan's clothes are made up of these four colors plus a very effective shadow layer.

In different lighting conditions they tend towards green.
But intuitively, they still feel blue in contrast to the yellow and red characters. Note that the background in this deep focus long shot below is kept in soft shades of the same basic primary triad:
Red, yellow and blue/green characters in one frame inside the palace.
The aeronaut Malaterre who looks basically red is, in fact, rather brown. The colors of his costume are basically darker shades of Mehemet Ali's costume. Thus, they work well with both of the other dominant costume colors.

"Red" i.e. brown for Malaterre...
...and "yellow" i.e. orange/beige for the Pasha.
Brightness - and especially the expensive shadow layer - are crucial in underlining which character we focus on in group shots. What is obvious in this line-up of figurines...
 ...can also be seen in more subtle versions. In the first frame below, Hassan is almost completely in the shadow while the contrast of values and saturation is much higher on Malaterre. Although Hassan is in the center of both frames, he is only dominant in the second image below, where he seems to be more in the light than Malaterre:
The giraffe who completes the primary triad of yellow, red and blue seems to be less important in the shot above than in the shot below, however.

The costumes of Bouboulina (who is hoarsely voiced by the great Ronit Elkabetz, but whose narrative thread is too underdeveloped here) and her fellow pirates look more down to earth and are made up of more variable colors. Bouboulina herself combines another basic triad very close to the main characters: yellow, red and green.

top row: actual colors, bottom row: pure hues.
Once they reach France, the bourgeois and court people are also dressed in colors that are close to each other, but mostly they look soft and pastel. Most certainly, this is a coincidence - but are these court ladies supposed to be grown-up versions of Cinderella's stepsisters? They were French and affiliated with nobility, after all.
The stepsisters and Lady Tremaine from CINDERELLA (1950)... French court ladies in ZARAFA (2012)?
And if you're not already interested enough in the film by now, there are some astonishing layouts and background paintings that are certainly worth checking out:

Saturday, November 5, 2016

RAIDERS sources comparison

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is one of those movies that never cease to inspire me and it proves that even action blockbusters can be made of only good - or rather cinematically interesting and consistent scenes. And remember, this comes from someone who counts Farhadi, Fassbinder and Fellini among his favorite directors.

Since I am giving a lecture on Spielberg's use of choreography, editing and music (the one element he claims he has no control over) to achieve the specific rhythm of RAIDERS next Thursday, I have once again accumulated much more material than could ever be incorporated into a 35 minute introduction.

Based on the notion that RAIDERS is consciously based on serials, adventure films and noir classics, there are already some supercuts about the twelve minute introductory scene on the internet (some of them rather far fetched but still entertaining). So as a starter I have compiled a random side-by-side comparisons of influencing scenes most of which have been mentioned by Spielberg, Lucas or Kasdan at some time or other.

The only reference I couldn't find any first hand account of is KISS ME DEADLY (Aldrich, 1955). But since it is so obvious and may have triggered the reading of the "ark" as a metaphor for "the bomb" (after all, Brody says that any army carrying the "ark" will be invincible), I have included it anyway.

RAIDERS sources comparison from Oswald Iten on Vimeo.