Friday, May 1, 2015

Hello? One, Two, Three...Testing

I just wanted to let everyone know that I am alive and will resume posting this month. I am almost done with college and have recently relocated to work a new job with State Parks. I was also recently contacted by the owner of Character Design References to write articles for his future website, but will still continue to post on this site.

I've been doing more artwork and writing recently too. If any of you like what you see below, would be interested in me using a future Tumblr site for the art or having me post it here? (Or I could post in both places, but draw individual pieces for certain articles I write, etc.)

A simple digital piece made for a web design class.

Animesque concept art.

Lupin III fan art from a few years back. 
(Click images to enlarge.)

Monday, March 2, 2015

Macross: Do You Remember Love? (Review)

Love triangles, J-pop & giant robots shouldn't normally work together, but...

Director(s): Shoji Kawamori, Noboru Ishiguro

Company: Studio Nue, Tatsunoko Production, Topcraft, Artland

Year: 1984

Country: Japan

Macross is one of the most iconic Japanese franchises. Over 30 years ago, The Super Dimension Fortress Macross debuted as a 36 episode television series. (It has since been followed with various other incarnations over the years, each along a different point within the fictional world's timeline.) As a result of its popularity, the show was rewarded with an expensive, high profile animated feature. The film follows the same plot, but is reduced to fit within a two hour runtime. Because of this, the film has a few chronological differences and is set in medias resMacross: Do You Remember Love? takes place in the future. Humanity has evacuated Earth and is in the midst of a war with the male Zentradi and female Meltrandi. The U.N. Spacy, a successor of the United Nations, is in charge of defending Earth and general peacekeeping. 

A young pilot named Hikaru Ichiyo is one of U.N's members. Despite newly joining, he is rather talented. However, his carefree attitude often gets him in trouble, particularly with his superior, Misa Hayase. One day, the Macross is attacked by a group of Zentradi. In the chaos, pop idol Lynn Minmei is rescued by Hikaru. After spending a couple of days together, the two develop a relationship. However, it becomes increasingly threatened by Minmei's busy life, Hikura's duties, and the impending pressure of the war

Lynn Minmei, the forerunner of Hatsune Miku.

This film is not like other franchise films of the era, which were often simply recaps using recycled footage or else made on very tight funding. Its animation and art direction is fully realized, and holds up remarkably well today, perhaps even looking better than the average anime put out now. (In fact, one scene had to be cut because the movie was starting to run over budget.) The amount of detail given in each frame is impressive. Backgrounds convey each scene's mood, and the character's clothes realistically wrinkle when they sit down or stand up. In this way, the film is a lot like Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Both were the first true big budget anime films of the era, and were coincidently released the same year.

Eat your heart out, Gundam.

The backgrounds are gorgeous, and often give off a melancholic feel.

Do You Remember Love? is, of course, also remembered for its use of pop music via Minmei (or rather her voice actress, Mari Iijima) and its tightly choreographed intergalactic battles. Macross's ability to easily switch between genres allows it to appeal to a wide variety of audiences. The film also makes great use of contrast regarding its narrative flow. The first half of Macross is a lighthearted romp akin to a typical teen romance film with some action a la Star WarsHowever, the later portion of the movie is more solemn and slow paced. The songs Minmei sings take on a sad, empty tone. Hikura and Misa are left searching for life on a seemingly abandoned Earth. When the action does return, it is more fast, more brutal. (Certain rather graphic scenes were even edited out of a recent Japanese DVD release.) Only by making peace with the Zentradi and Meltrandi can Hikura, Misa, Minmei and the rest of humanity hope to survive. 

The dogfight scene between Max and Milia.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Thoughts on This Year's Oscars

Let's all agree to disagree.

Another year, another of the same... Well, not entirely. I'll admit I was pleasantly surprised that Birdman won Best Picture, and that it was tied with Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel with its number of nominations: nine total. Both were great films and I highly recommend checking them out if you already haven't seen them.

There is only one true Birdman.

In terms of animation however, the Oscars have delivered yet another predictable, non-deserving win. As with last year, several of the voters on the board admitted to not even seeing most of the nominees outside of a couple of mainstream movies. (The same also goes for the Shorts categories and Best Foreign Language Film.) As a result, Big Hero 6 won. I have nothing against Big Hero 6, in fact I favorably reviewed it earlier this year. It is a fun movie, but nothing out of the ordinary or outside of Disney's comfort zone. It's infuriating that either Pixar or Disney win each year just because they are Pixar/Disney. Personally, I would have either chosen The Song of the Sea or The Tale of Princess Kaguya as the best film. Both moved me in ways that none of the other nominees did and have gorgeous artwork to boot. At any rate, I digress. What did you think of this year's Oscars?*

Two trailers for the two best animated films of the year.

* PS: I will get to reviewing Kaguya and The Song of the Sea, asap. The local theatre will finally be showing them, and I have been waiting to properly see them on the big screen.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Red Dragon & the Woman in the Sun: Symbolism in Manhunter

Let's take an in-depth look at one of the most unique thrillers of the 1980s.

In the 1986 film, Manhunter, Michael Mann makes heavy use of color saturation, a variety of camera angles and other visuals to convey a heightened sense of mood and tension. All of these elements give greater insight into the movie’s theme and its character development. This is especially apparent during the scene where Rheba McClane spends the night over at Francis Dollarhyde’s house. Even though the scene only lasts for about six and a half minutes, it is a crucial part of the film because it helps the audience understand and sympathize with Dollarhyde, despite that he is a serial killer and Manhunter’s primary antagonist. At the same time, however, there is a sense of disease and apprehension that looms over the relationship between Dollarhyde and Reba.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Notable Disney Songs that Didn't Make the Cut (Part 1): 1937-1968

As a semi follow up to my past article, Animated Films that Never Were (Disney Edition), I have decided to write about ten musical numbers that the company axed either in favor of other songs or due to pacing issues. Given that Disney is over ninety years old, it has a very long and interesting history. There are many fascinating 'what ifs' and 'could have beens.' (In fact, Disney's Frozen, had a grand total of seven songs deleted from its original lineup.) So let's take a look behind the scenes at some of the company's decisions to see if any of the music they decided to scrap is actually worth listening to.*

1. Music in Your Soup (Snow White, 1937)

Disney's Snow White was a huge undertaking for the then relatively small studio. Before it was released, feature length animated films were unheard of in Hollywood, and many critics referred to it as 'Disney's Folly.' The critics, of course, were ultimately proven wrong. However, Snow White had a very long and complex production history which lasted a total of four in a half years. "Music in Your Soup" fell victim to this. The musical sequence, animated by Ward Kimball, involved Snow White teaching the dwarves how to eat like gentlemen rather than noisily slurping their soup. The song would have taken place directly after the scene were the dwarves are washing before dinner. Ultimately, "Music in Your Soup" was cut because it simply didn't fit within Snow White's time constraints. Walt Disney actually felt bad about cutting the scene (along with another taking place in the dwarves' bedroom). To make it up to Ward Kimball he let him design and be lead animator on Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio (1940).  

Sunday, December 28, 2014

New Year's Resolutions

First of all, I would like to apologize for being absent from my blog for over a month. As usual, I have been exceptionally busy completing my senior year at college and finishing various projects. I promise to post at least 2-3 times a month from now on and hopefully I will be able to post more frequently (around 5-6 posts per month) by the end of next year...

Resolutions List

1.) Complete College and My Senior Project
2.) Post with Gusto!
3.) Start a Tumblr Page to Post Personal Artwork & Other Miscellaneous Stuff
4.) Find a Full Time Job that I Enjoy
5.) Become as Awesome as Bill Watterson Someday

Well, that's enough about me for now. What are your resolutions?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Big Hero 6 (Review)

Director(s): Don Hall & Chris Williams

Company: Disney

Year: 2014

Country: USA

We introduce to you, the most huggable robot ever!

Normally, this blog does not cover Disney films due to its primary focus being on obscure and foreign titles, but I decided to make an exception for Big Hero 6. It's not because the film is outside of Disney's comfort zone or that it offers anything out of the ordinary. It's simply a really fun and entertaining superhero flick with a lot of heart. Big Hero 6 is based upon the Marvel series of the same name, but it has far more in common with a typical Disney production than it does with the comics it is based upon.

In some ways, however, this seems to have worked in the film's favor. The comic's narrative has been streamlined to allow it to work within a 105 minute run time and much more emphasis is put on the relationship between the protagonist, Hiro Hamada, and his late bother's robot, Baymax. (There has been some debate over the film's whitewashing of two of its cast members, although Big Hero 6 remains a multi-ethnic team. It is also important to note that the comic is not without fault: having plenty of cultural stereotypes and sexualized depictions of its female characters. Both of which the film thankfully avoids.)

The Disney film is vastly different from the comic version (and that's not necessarily a bad thing). 

The movie's plot is nothing new, but it is enjoyable. Big Hero 6 is set in the fictional city of San Fransokyo, a fusion of modern-day Tokyo and San Francisco. 14 year old wiz-kid, Hiro Hamada, and his older brother, Tadashi, live at a coffee shop with their eccentric Aunt Cass. Tadashi urges Hiro to attend college. However, Hiro is more interested in participating in illegal bot fights than going to a 'nerd school' that will teach him things that he apparently already knows. All of this changes once Tadashi shows Hiro his university's lab. At the lab Hiro meets his brother's friends: GoGo Tomago, a no-nonsense, adrenaline-driven, developer of electromagnetics; Fred, the school mascot and resident comic-book expert/hippie otaku; Honey Lemon, a quirky chemistry expert; and Wasabi a heavily-built, slightly neurotic lasers expert.

Hiro is also impressed by the esteemed Professor Callaghan, and Tadahsi's invention, the robotic nurse, Baymax. Hiro manages to get accepted into the college after winning a robotics competition with his microbots, but his victory is tragically interrupted when a fire occurs at the university hall. Tadashi rushes in to save Callaghan, and is killed when the building explodes. Hiro withdraws from college and his friends, until one day he accidentally reactivates Baymax. Hiro and Baymax eventually discover that a mysterious masked man has stolen Hiro's microbots …which were supposed to have perished in the fire. Hiro is joined by his concerned friends. He then proceeds to upgrade Baymax and provides his newly formed team super-suits. But will apprehending the man in the mask really make Hiro feel better? Just who is the masked man anyway? And what would have Tadashi wanted?

Our protagonist 'nerds' before and after suiting up.

As mentioned before, the film's focus wisely sticks to the relationship between Hiro and Baymax. At the start of the film, Baymax is very naive about the world around him and tends to take things quite literally (which is frequently a source of the film's humor outside of Fred's geeky antics). For instance when Baymax accidentally scares Hiro, Hiro yells "You nearly gave me a heart attack!" Baymax then prepares his built-in defibrillators. Over the course of the movie, Baymax matures and begins to question Hiro about his quest for vengeance. The two form a relationship similar to the one Hiro had with his brother and Baymax frequently acts as Hiro's moral compass.

The supporting team characters do feel a bit shorthanded at times. It is refreshing to see that neither GoGo or Honey are pushed as Hiro's romantic interests, however. Fred actually seems to get the most screen time outside of Hiro and Baymax. This is probably to keep Big Hero 6's tone upbeat and detract from some of the heavier topics the story deals with. (Death and dealing with feelings of revenge are surprisingly common topic in family films. However, they are often presented in a way that kids can more easily swallow or are de-emphasized to avoid upsetting certain parents.) Fred even gets a bumper at the end of the film which heavily implies the possibility of a sequel.

This film is one of the most visually interesting movies Disney has put out in recent years. It definitely looks like a Disney film. However, it is also a love letter to super hero comics and Japanese culture. In many ways, it is similar to Wreck it Ralph. Just as Wreck it Ralph is a tribute to retro video games and arcades, Big Hero 6 is a homage to mecha and super sentai shows. The scenery of this film is quite gorgeous, with its mash up of San Franciscan details (such as trollies and the Painted Ladies) and a futuristic, fantasized Japan. The animation in the film features some of the slickest looking CGI animation to come out of Disney yet. The character designs, outside of Baymax, are familiar and derivative of earlier Disney films. (Let the comparisons of Honey Lemon to Rapunzel commence!) However, the costumes they wear have far more in common with anime from the 1970s-80s.

San Fransokyo. Just attempt to say it fast five times.

I'm pretty sure most of the animators on this film got at least some visual inspiration from the likes of this.

Overall, Big Hero 6 is a solid, if slightly generic, family film. It is a bit derivative of films like The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and How to Train Your Dragon. And its story is instantly familiar to anyone acquainted with superhero franchises. So is Big Hero 6 a complex, life-changing movie? No. Is it fun? Hell yeah. Even if certain aspects of the film seem a bit too familiar at times, Big Hero 6 is well-paced and so lovingly put together that its impossible not to smile while watching it. Still, one hardly needs to promote this movie. It's Disney after all. (The Youtube trailer already somehow has over 7 million views somehow!) Now if only more people would be willing watch the likes of Princess Kaguya and The Song of the Sea. Oh well, at least they aren't spending their money on the likes of  "Ice Age meets Alvin and the Chipmunks 5" this year.

It wouldn't be a tribute to super sentai shows without a cool Japanese poster.

Rating: 3.5

About the Short: Feast (director: Patrick Osborne) is a lot like Disney's 2012 short, Paperman. It blends the aesthetic look of hand-drawn animation with CGI. Feast is about the life of a Boston Terrier, Winston, who sees his life through the meals he shares with his master. Winston's way of life is later disrupted by his owner's love interest, a waitress with a knack for healthy cooking. It's a simple story, but like the feature it is attached to, Feast is well executed (and absolutely adorable).

Moral: Boston Terriers are the cutest things in existence.