Sunday, October 27, 2013

Progress and general thoughts

I have so far managed to focus my CoP3 title to something along the lines of: "how narrative, personality and mood is reflected through character and environment design for animated films". Although I think it sounds a little plain, I feel that this title is broad enough to allow me to study a range of films aimed at a range of audiences to really expand my understanding of the process and how different artists have entirely different work patterns. I will then be able to study more in-depth the reasoning behind designs, how history/technology/culture informs animation design, and the deconstruction of common tropes in cultural and historical contexts.

I will possibly be looking at the evolution of animation design and how it has evolved from being created for purely entertainment purposes to something more nuanced and artistic. Modern technology now allows for a wide range of animation methods: hand-drawn cel animation, stop motion, computer-generated 3D animation, Flash animation, etc. and each requires different approaches to design. For example, as stop motion requires the construction of actual puppets and sets, character designers need to take into account the three-dimensional aspects of the design and the manipulativeness of their expressions. I would possibly like to look at a selection of films that use entirely different animation methods so I can further investigate these differences.

As animated films frequently fall beneath the speculative fiction genre, and it is something I am very much interested in, this will probably feature as another over-arching them. I would like to compare different films' approaches to fantasy, sci-fi and/or the macabre within their narratives and how it is expressed in the film's tone and style, particularly the contrast between the depiction of mundane, 'normal' settings and supernatural settings. For example, films like Paranorman and Corpse Bride take place in some Earth-like town which becomes overrun with undead creatures. In Corpse Bride, the underworld is much more vibrant and fun than the normal world - similarly, Paranorman designs potentially frightening elements like zombies and ghosts to be more fun and amusing than scary.

This is to probably make the film more light-hearted and suited to younger audiences, but compare this to a film like Coraline, which fully exploits the contrast between mundane reality and the surreal, imaginative world to make the 'Other Mother' and her world very creepy.

There are also animated films that feature fantasy elements with a more realistic and (sometimes) serious tone, most notably from Studio Ghibli. I'm interested in finding some more animated films that seem to be directed towards a more general audience and seeing how this effects the tone and 'feel' of the film. 

Of course, this is the first mention of a film that isn't American - undoubtedly I will be referring to the cultural inspirations behind Ghibli films and what it is that makes them so uniquely visually appealing. An issue I'm having is narrowing my focus of films to a selection of case studies - should they all be from different countries to expand my experience of animation, or should I keep it to what is generally the most familiar and popular? (Which does generally seem to be American, Japanese, with maybe one or two from the UK). 

In terms of research I really need to make progress on my reading - I have collected numerous 'Art Of' books and books on general character design. I will also look at DVD special features and interviews with practitioners. I'm not sure of methods of primary research yet - I would like to interview practitioners myself but this seems a fairly daunting task. There is Leeds Thought Bubble coming up in late November which would give me an opportunity to talk to some successful artists, who although work for graphic novels still have to think about aspects of character and environment design. 

In a recent lecture we had on organising our project, we were told to really consider the purpose behind our project - what am I trying to achieve by studying this question? What do I want to get out of it?

I suppose I am interested in it as I feel that animation has the power to be a profoundly visually inventive experience - my very first moments of considering character design as a career came when I was a fourteen-year-old Tim Burton fangirl, poring over the pages of the Corpse Bride 'Art of' book. The drawings were so charming and stylised that I spent much of my youth trying to emulate Carlos Grangel's interpretations of Tim Burton's style. 

Since then I've been amazed at the inventiveness of animators and filmmakers - notably the sequence in Coraline where the Other World begins to collapse, and Coraline is rushing to the door as the garden and house slowly falls away into nothingness. Laika amazed me again in Paranorman when Norman confronts Aggie in one of the most emotionally (and visually) intense sequences I've seen in an animated film. 

I'm constantly aware of design choices in animations nowadays and I really enjoy investigating the intentions behind the 'look' of a film - after all, a film is a purely audio/visual experience and getting the look of the characters and environment right is extremely important. If I want to work in this field when I graduate, I have to really expand my knowledge and understanding of the process of creative visual development.

I'm not sure if this is enough to give my CoP project "purpose"... It really is mostly to build my knowledge of this field and to arm me with the tools to improve my own work, which will hopefully be apparent in the practical element of the module.

This is going to be a very big research project... I'd best start making some serious progress!

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