January 31 is National Gorilla Suit Day. We celebrated today at One Way Street. That's me and super-cool puppeteer/puppet builder Ryan Spittler in the gorilla suits. So go out there and party in your gorilla suit.
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Friday, January 26, 2007
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Here's another fun inside joke from "Back to the Future Part II." This is another scene taking place in the year 2015, the location is the Cafe 80's. Look at the TV up in the top left corner. That's Danny DeVito in the series "Taxi" on the screen, before his days of appearing drunk on "The View." One of the co-stars of "Taxi" was Christopher Lloyd who appears in all of the Back to the Future films as Doc Brown.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
The nominations for the 79th annual Academy Awards were announced today. I actually got up early and watched the announcement live this morning. Last year I started doing a little contest with the staff at One Way Street to see who could pick the most winners for the Oscars. You can find the complete list of nominees here.
I was really glad a few years ago when they introduced the category of Best Animated Feature. The number of nominees in this category varies from year to year depending on the number of eligible films released. This year there are 3 nominees: "Cars", "Happy Feet", and "Monster House". If you ask me, there's no contest. "Cars" will win. I've actually seen all three of these films, that's pretty rare for me now days.
"Cars" was a great movie. I think the producers forgot they were making a movie aimed at kids toward the middle though. I think all the Route 66 nostalgia was cool, but they went a bit overboard with it and the kids in the audience got a bit antsy. Still a fantastic movie, though and a real advancement in computer animation.
"Happy Feet" was a big disappointment to me. I found the animation really flat, the voices uninteresting, and the blunt force politics of the film to be just plain annoying.
I enjoyed "Monster House," for the most part. I didn't like the character design at all, but it was a good little horror story. Definitely not a kids movie, though they tried to market it that way. I watched this one before deciding whether or not to let my kids watch it. I think they'd find it too scary. But I have no problem with a good horror story. In fact, I think this film would've worked much better as a live action movie. Honestly I found the animation to be somewhat distracting in this case.
The big question here has to do with the fact that only one of these movies, "Cars," didn't utilize motion capture. "Monster House" was all motion capture. It was filmed with actors covered in white dots and then transferred to computer generated characters. "Happy Feet" hat quite a list of motion capture performers in the end credits, I assume for much of the penguin dancing sequences. So is this truly animation? Honestly, I'm not sure myself. It comes across to me as being like a new high-tech version of rotoscoping, which I have never been a fan of. Rotoscoping is essentially tracing animation over footage that was filmed. Ralph Bakshi is a director who used this quite a bit in films like the animated version of "The Lord of the Rings." I think it looks kind of creepy myself.
So is motion capture animation? Should it be eligible for the Oscar? I suppose, but I hope that we don't reach the day where all animated films are done with motion capture. At least the most creative and orignal of these films is the one that used no motion capture.
Posted by Squonk at 5:03 PM
Friday, January 19, 2007
Posted by Squonk at 4:56 PM
Friday, January 05, 2007
I love looking for hidden gags in movies. Thought I might share some from time to time. Here's an old one from "Back to the Future Part II."
The Back to the Future films were produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment. So here we have a reference to one of Spielberg's earliest hits "Jaws," as Marty McFly explores the year 2015. What's interesting to note is the marquee credits Max Spielberg, Steven's son, as the director of "Jaws 19." We're going to need to have about two new Jaws films a year from now until 2015 if we're going to see this prophecy fulfilled.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
The best thing about the Richard Donner cut is the restoration of the Marlon Brando scenes. In Lester's version, Brando was replaced by Susannah York playing Superman's mother. With Brando back in, the sequences are completely different, and present a new opportunity for a Christian application. In the new version, Superman asks his father to take away his power's so he can follow his own selfish desires (a relationship with Lois). Later he must return to ask for his "birthright" back when the three super villains threaten the Earth. The father welcomes him back...it's the prodigal son story.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
As the piece begins, the puppet's movements are very graceful and flowing. The first change comes as the puppet removes her nose. Immediately the voice becomes nasal and the body language becomes somewhat stiff. When a bulbous green nose is put into place, the body language is similar to what we saw in the beginning, but with a bit of a sinister touch. The fingers of the puppet (a human-arm character) start to wiggle in a creepy way. After replacing the hair and eyes, a mouthful of fangs is put in place. Now the character's posture is almost hunched over and the character seems to almost lunge out at the audience.
It's unclear which puppeteer performed this character (the ending voice is clearly Henson's, the starting voice is clearly not). Whoever they were, they were very aware of making a transformation happen not just by adding monstrous features, but also having the actions of the character change with these features.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
I love the Guy Smiley game shows from Sesame Street. One of my favorites is "What's My Part," which can be found on the 2nd disc of the "Sesame Street: Old School" DVD. As I was shoveling out from the Denver Blizzard of '06 part II (Electric Boogaloo) I was thinking about this skit. I realized that this skit is a great example of different styles of puppet lip synchronization.
The skit is a parody of the old game show "What's My Line," except in this version three panelists ask questions to try and identify a certain body part. The three panelists are monsters (including Cookie Monster), the mystery guest is a nose, and Guy Smiley is the host.
Now Guy Smiley is an example of what I usually tell puppeteers not to do. As Guy Smiley, Jim Henson would not vary the degree he opened the mouth at all. The mouth of the character opens very wide for every syllable. Henson is even guilty of flipping the lid quite a bit. Puppeteers usually focus the mouth movements more in the bottom jaw of the puppet. In this case the upper jaw moves quite a bit. I wouldn't usually recommend operating a puppet in this way, but for Guy Smiley it works. Guy is supposed to be the ultimate cheesy game show host. He gets overly excited about the most ridiculous things. These hyper mouth movements fit his character, but if every puppet in the skit acted this way the audience would probably get seasick.
The three monsters are at the other end of the lip synch spectrum. Their mouth movements are quite subtle. If you've ever seen some of those old "What's My Line" shows, you may remember that the panelists were often writers or newspaper columnists. They were presented as being rather cultured individuals. These monsters are also presented as being sophisticated characters. Even Cookie comes off as being quite civilized. Their voices are not frantic or hyper like Guy Smiley, which is the opposite of what you'd expect from a monster. Since their voices are calm and intelligent, the mouth movements are fairly minimal. The fact that this is coming from strange looking monster characters just adds to the humor.
"What's My Part" is also a great example of the Sesame Street writing style which makes the show enjoyable for both kids and parents. As a kid, it was completely lost on me that the reason these three monsters could not recognize a nose, even when they take their blindfolds off, is that none of them have noses. As an adult, I now see layers of humor in this skit I had never noticed as a child.