Thursday, December 29, 2011

Film Theory II - The French New Wave

(note: the fact that the third of the film theory lectures has come after the second is because it was delayed due to the national strike)

The French New Wave was a term coined for a group of young French filmmakers of the 1950s and 1960s who, inspired by Italian neorealism decided to break from the traditions of Hollywood cinema and create films that were vibrant, innovative and bold, experimentally reworking genres such as film noir and musicals. This was an era of many "New Waves" in the film industry, including the British one, but the French has been the most influential.

Film Theory III - Italian Vernacular Cinema

This lecture began with a quote from Werner Herzog: "Film is not the art of scholars, but of illiterate." This relates to the word "vernacular", which means "made for the majority of people". Generally, films aren't made for intellectuals; they are available and viewed by ordinary people. They are not a matter of literacy and dialogue, but of visuals and spectacle.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Film Theory I - The Auteur

The term "auteur" is used in the film world to refer to a filmmaker or director who exerts control over the creative decisions made in the filmmaking process, particularly in the artistic direction of the film. They have become increasingly popular in modern culture with the rise of directors such as Tarantino, Bergman, Tim Burton, etc. who all exhibit a common visual "style" that makes each of their works instantly recognisable.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Shane Meadows: This is England

I'm going to write a few posts about some of the weird and wonderful (or not so much) things I've been watching/playing/experiencing over these Christmas holidays.

It started off with this, This Is England '88. I'm not entirely sure what it is about Shane Meadows' work that I find so appealing. The bleak, gritty council estates in which they're set? The often violent/crude actions and constant foul language of the characters? Perhaps not, yet something about that "kitchen sink realism" combined with the rebellious but loveable nature of the characters - in this instance, embittered with a sudden need to "grow up" - topped with moments of brilliant dark humour has made the entire series from the first This is England film irresistible to me.

Compared to the first film, where a lot of the focus was on the intimidating Combo and his controversial views of society, the two television series to follow it (This is England '86 and '88) seem to have concentrated more on exploring the relationships between the characters. I find the characters themselves are very well-realised and believable; you really do get the sense that they're a long-running group of friends who continue living even after you've finished watching the series.

Yet, there is a strong undercurrent of sorrow and sinisterness throughout the series. Their lives are not happy ones, as Meadows seems very keen to ensure. Particularly the tragic and enigmatic Lol, portrayed by Vicky McClure, whose past of abuse and a failed relationship has left her as a single parent suffering from disturbing hallucinations.

But, story aside, one aspect of This is England that always prevents my eyes from wandering is the way it's shot. It's shaky and nervous, and never ignores those mundane moments that make it feel all that more believable. There's also plenty of lingering slow-motion and close-up shots that take us momentarily away from the turmoil and swearing and give us a glimpse of their fragility.

I personally don't think many dramas pull off creating truly loveable yet tragic characters, but this is one of them, and I'm looking forward to the next instalment.

In any case, it was a welcome break from the artificial glossiness of most Christmas television.

Animating in Maya: Heavy vs. Light

Another little animation exercise we had to complete on Maya was to animate a light ball and a heavy ball falling simultaneously. After some initial attempts that didn't look at all realistic, I had a quick look on Youtube for some reference (both from real life and from animations). Although I didn't try to completely mimic these motions, it gave a good sense of how the two spheres should act.


My animation:

With the light ball I was free to be more dynamic and less limiting with the movement, so I found that easier than the heavy ball. The main thing I considered would be that, although it would have to hit the ground on the same frame as the light one, it would have to have much fewer bounces following it. However I found it a bit difficult trying to determine exactly how many, and how high to make them. Sadly I don't know much at all about physics so in the end it was all just simply my judgement of what looked more realistic. 

I'd have liked to have added a resulting "roll away" effect so that the balls took up more of the three-dimensional space, and I also am considering adding in some squash and stretch. But I shall leave it as it is for now.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Film, continued...

Today was our interim crit, where we showcased our progress so far and presented our completed storyboards. Over the weekend I'd pulled together screenshots from a couple of the short films I watched for inspiration, namely Be Near Me and also another film, Notte Sento

I admired the atmospheric lighting and cinematography used in these films, and so compiled them together to give a very rough impression of the effects I'd like to create in our film.

Notably the happy memories are going to be shown in warmer, more saturated colour tones which will completely contrast the cooler palette shown later in the film to express their sadness. I also like the idea of shooting the city at twilight, perhaps early evening or very early morning, as I find the pale, hazy effect to be very atmospheric and almost ethereal. I'd also like to make use of the light to highlight the edges of their silhouettes (as shown in the bottom left) to express that vagueness and lack of distinction that is often associated with memories.

Our next step in this project has been to advertise for a female actor, and create a filming schedule. My fellow storyboard artist Alex and I will also work on an animatic to show a very rough draft of the finalised film.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


In the second part of our film module we are creating two two-minute films inspired by poetry.

We were put into groups depending on our preferred role. I decided I would prefer to focus on the storyboarding and concept design.

The first poem we were given is a story of oppression and expectations within society, and of love that is forbidden and frowned by their respective religions and cultures. After some initial brainstorming we decided to focus solely on the love story, and less on the cultural element. However there was some decisions to be made on how conceptual we wanted the film to be; Do we want it to be abstract, or have a more evident narrative? Do we want the visuals to be impressionistic and set in a studio, or do we want to be filming in a specific area?

We watched a few short films that depict love in one way or another:

Thought of You from Ryan J Woodward on Vimeo.

This is a minimalistic but very moving animation that was the project of artist and animator Ryan Woodward, who wished to combine his interests in animation, effects and contemporary dance.

On his website, Ryan states: "Rather than creating a narrative animated piece that communicates a well defined story, this piece allows for each individual who views it to experience something unique and personal that touches their own sensibilities."

He hoped that his film would inspire many different individual responses and interpretations, and, judging by the 1000+ comments on the Vimeo link, I think that's been achieved. Some feel that it represents how we tend to idealise people in the first stages of the relationship (as shown around 1:00), and how we sometimes forget that they are, in fact, just normal, mundane people (as shown around 2:40, when the woman is drawn with plain pencil lines). Personally I find it very sad to see that the transformation between the bright, angelic creature to "plain" causes him to doubt and leave. 

I think the fact that people relate their own experiences to the film is the reason why it is so touching. For my film project, I would have liked to have done something ambiguous like this, so that others would respond to it with their own experiences. However our group reached the final decision to do a narrative approach so that it relates more to the poem.

one step forward (award winning 48 hour film project) from ben crowell on Vimeo.

Again, a touching film (I'm a bit of a romantic at heart). However this one is particularly unusual as it is all shown in reverse. We are curious and slightly confused at first as to why a soaked, bedraggled-looking guy looks, at the same time, like the happiest man on Earth. We watch him take part in various activities, still unsure as to who he is or what he's doing. The music cuts to a minimal piano when, towards the end, he shares a tender moment and proposes to his girlfriend, and we discover why he's so cheerful.

This idea of "starting at the end and moving towards the beginning" is interesting to me as it leaves room for the viewer to guess and wonder at what's happening, and keeps their attention until the end.

Although our poem is a bit more brooding, I played with the idea of beginning with the girl looking dejected as she and her lover have left each other. This would progress to show them in conflict over the fact they aren't allowed to be together, which would then go on to show them in love in various happy memories. The ending, whilst happy, would still have a saddening effect on the audience as they know the couple didn't, in fact, end up together.

I drew up some rough storyboard ideas for this.

However, following feedback from others, I think it wasn't entirely clear that the story was in reverse, so the message of the film wasn't understandable without my explanation, so we decided to compromise and combine some of my ideas with a more narrative approach.

Be Near Me from John X. Carey on Vimeo.

And the last one. There is a clear story here of the woman losing her partner in a plane accident. The film expresses lucidly how memories of lost loved ones keep them alive within us. The main feature that struck me in this film was the cinematography and use of short, brief cuts to contrast between happy memories and the current day. In the memories, the colours are more warm and saturated. Towards the end, they become much darker and washed out to reflect her grief.

We've decided for the focus of ours to be on the memories that the couple have shared, so I'm going to take inspiration from this for how to organise them and contrast them with the reality of the situation - that they can't be together.

My next steps are to create the final storyboards, moodboards and eventually an animatic.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Anticipating "Brave"

There are so many great things about this trailer. But the best, of course, is her hair. I'm glad to finally see fellow curly-haired people getting a look in in character design - especially in Pixar's first female protagonist!

I found some images at (which coincidentally no longer exists). The comments thread also hosted some interesting opinions on the film and it's seeming similarities to DreamWorks' How To Train Your Dragon, and how the theme/genre isn't "living up" to Pixar's standards of originality.

Now I haven't researched the topic deeply, but my general thoughts are that Pixar would be fully aware of certain visual resemblances between the two films, and I have no doubts that Brave is going to be an excellent - and completely different - experience.

Either way, some of the designs are excellent, I'm looking forward to seeing some in-depth concept art. I'd recommend you have a look!

Maya: Deforming and basic shading

We had quite a fun lesson today on the deformers tool in Maya. Basically these are tools which can twist, bend, squash, flare, etc. shapes to create more dynamic and interesting models and animations. The entire morning was spent just playing around with this.

We then learnt about Hypershade, and how to colour and texturise shapes and add in lighting and shadows. I certainly need more practice with this, particularly on textures, but in the end I managed to create this little fellow:

(he is standing on a heart)

I felt a bit more free to be creative today, as opposed to our previous lesson on animating which was very precise and technological. I enjoyed experimenting with the deformers and shapes, and next week I'll be attempting to build a replica of my little Micropet cat. I can see this being a challenge already...