Artist’s journal post 1 : My passions and the history that has influenced them

(Hey guys, haven’t done a post like this in a while and it’s a big one, so bear with me)

(screenshot from Grasshopper Manufacture’s game ‘Killer7’)

‘I feel that we are definitely in a golden age (for CG)…There’s an explosion of content..beautiful colour and appeal, characters are so expressive and alive. But as good as that is, there’s a part of me that believes that kind of stylised photorealism can’t be the only way that computer animation can look’ John Kahrs, director of Disney ‘Paperman’ Short

Even though I have slightly mixed feelings about ‘Paperman’ in general, I think this quote from John Kahrs pretty much sums up my feelings about animation, films, games and other forms of art perfectly. On one hand, in the case of industry stylised-photorealism and ‘pixar style’ cartoon animation, I feel that while the gains in them are impressive and there have certainly been exceptional pieces of work done with them; I feel that they are at base level specific tools that can bring certain moods across brilliantly and completely ruin other ones and should thus never be used as a norm for all forms of expression in animation.

More often than not, I find myself becoming more interested with animated shorts on the internet and indie video games. Specifically the type which seem more interested in trying to portray a mood or context by comparison with much mainstream animated films/ video games that, in my opinion, seem to put too much of a focus on stuff which is from a technical standpoint, exceptional, but from a conceptual standpoint quite shallow. I feel this belief has, in many cases, fed into my own work as well.

I think with much of my work, I try to put as much of a theme into it as possible, sometimes more than the overall impressiveness of the techniques used. In terms of my character animation, I feel this usually comes out as characters, of many moods and characteristics, being beaten down or screwed over by horrible situations ( almost to the point of purposeful malice). Of course, I would be willing to consider that this could merely be my good ol’ sadistic desire to kick the crap out of cute animated characters. One thing a friend said about some of my work after watching it is that, in regards to the situations themselves ‘it’s not just this specifically is hopeless, it’s that everything is hopeless’ (although I would argue that the latest solo project I’m working on is far more optimistic but hopefully not to the extent where it becomes cheap or un-truthful).

I think a large part of these feelings I have stems from my enjoyment of studying history at A level and that I’ve always been interested in history of different media and how other, sometimes older, filmmakers and animators have managed to achieve the atmosphere of their films. Sometimes to a greater effect to modern day blockbuster studios with multi-million budgets.

This belief has also inspired the way I render out many of my works. If I can make something look impressive visually with basic shaders, I find myself being far more interested in that rather than producing a world that necessarily has intricate texturing and lighting. I understand this look may not be to everyone’s taste and that many animators and filmmakers try to avoid this type of look for the fear that it will look ‘too computer-like’; but I feel that the artist can also can produce incredible works that can have a unique ‘mathmatical beauty’ which is unique to the use of the computer and can be used to great effect. The latest indie game ‘The Antichamber’ is a good example of this with it’s great use of ramp shaders and minimalist design which helps the calm atmosphere of the game.

‘Killer7’ on the flip side, goes for a mixture of ramp and cel-shading which gives it a unique look, which I feel really strengthens it’s already grim, subversive and creepy atmosphere.

Although I have a great interest in character animation, I feel it also suffers from a similar flaw. It goes without saying that the principles of character animation are in many cases invaluable and can be used to really push the results of many. That said, I feel that it’s limited by the fact that, more often that not, the results in many are very pantomime, exaggerated and bold to the point of being unsubtle for the mood that the piece is trying to create. This being said, this can be down to the specific technique of animating the creator uses as in many cases, different software can have a big influence on the overall look of an animation. I can also appreciate that many animators feel that this type of exaggerating is what they see as the ‘point’ of animation and something that clearly distinguishes it from traditional film. Nevertheless, I feel that, just like an aesthetic of particular films, there are cases where it compliments the mood better than others.

In the interest of not beating a dead horse too badly, here are some animations that I feel explore different animation techniques

BEAT from or bar-el on Vimeo.

This is an Animation I found recently. The interesting thing I find about ‘Beat’ is that it’s mostly animated in stepped and uses very basic block shapes, yet still manages to create far more subtle feelings and emotions in a character because of the deliberate limitations it puts on it’s aesthetic style.

One of my favourite shorts from das bo schitt. His’MOMMY’ animation is very exaggerated to the point of being un-believable at times. But it’s the fact that his timing is so spot on and that the poses match the mood so well that it’s still very entertaining and allows him to get away with a lot.

In the techniques defence, there is some truth when people say the method of computer animation is still relatively young, especially when compared to the several decades that 2D animation was in the powerseat. While I do complain about aspects of this current fascination with stylised-photorealism, I also recognise that it’s still an immensely challenging field to pursue, especially with the greater risk of moving into the ‘uncanny valley’, which other forms of animation don’t have to contend with to the same extent. There are some incredibly talented groups and individuals working in this field and I’m in no way saying that they should not be commended for the work that they do. I can also appreciate that they simply may not have that much of an interest in this kind of stuff and that a substantial amount of people get into this industry to get away from the ‘pretentious hipster artist’ that they may have encountered in a typical Art lesson at school, (as illustrated beautifully below)

which is perfectly fine and is the last thing that I would want to be attributed to.

That said, and as egotistical as this may make me sound, there are times when I do feel there are substantially less people who seem to have a genuine interest in different art-forms and other techniques which may be outside of the industry standard. I also feel that when people talk about how computer animation/video games is still a young medium, they still seem to use it as a justification and an ‘argument crusher’ for how things are. It isn’t as if this medium has come from nothing and the past hundred years of artistic development in painting, films, print, photography etc. didn’t happen. You have all this other mediums to draw influence from, enormous amounts of ways of expression and the ease of access to all this never fading information that is unique to the digital revolution. So it seems ridiculous to me why so many creative and intelligent people seem so eager to restrict themselves and be so conservative with the aesthetics of the work they are trying to create. In horror, for example, the most scariest monster is rarely the one that’s rendered the nicest. Usually it’s the thing that doesn’t show itself completely and is abstract enough that it appears more sinister than it would do otherwise. This can be applied to other mediums, as the most intense feeling isn’t necessarily best conveyed through the most technologically impressive effects. The film ‘Enter the void’, for example, uses special effects and heavy amounts of cg but never to the point where it dominates the film or where the audience is more interested with how an effect is made as opposed to what emotion they are suppossed to be feeling at the point in the film.

Anyhow, that’s my feelings on the subject, sorry if it went on a little too much. As always let me know what you think, whether you agree or not. Believe me when I say I would prefer to be given solid reasons as to why I may be full of it rather than continue inadvertently believing stagnating ideas, so please share even if you completely disagree with me. Hope this was interesting for you guys, see you next time.

2 thoughts on “Artist’s journal post 1 : My passions and the history that has influenced them

  1. Interesting read. That ‘Beat’ animation is awesome!

    1. Haha Thanks, just glad it wasn’t too ranty. Yeah ‘Beat’ is great, still amazes me how he can show so much emotion in a character that’s literally cubes.

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