“…if it isn’t there, I never lost it to begin with.”

Well, this wraps up 2012.  It’s been a huge year for me personally, and I want the thank everyone who has continued to show up and read my blog.  It started simply as a movie review blog back in May, but I can see now that it wants to be a lot more than just that.  

If I had one thing to say before going into the new year, it’s a message to my Cal Arts peers, whether I went to school with you, you‘re currently going there, or if you went there but we just haven’t crossed paths yet.  I am on your side.  My writings about the school, the industry, and people who have had their own success, they are personal observations of what I see currently happening in our industry.  They are not attacks on you or anyone else.  Above all, I do not hate Cal Arts.  I hate what it has become.

  I want to write about this stuff because the ones I do worry most about are the next generation coming in, who don’t really know yet what awaits for them and how easy it is to get yourself trapped in this industry, no matter what kind of success you achieve. The need for approval from others when you’re young and starting out is strong.  But what most students don’t realize is that their search for approval doesn’t end when you get accepted by a school like Cal Arts.  That “need” turns into something else, and gets bigger.  

It becomes about impressing your friends.  You search for approval continues by getting accepted into the Producers Show.  You search for it in the annual Job fair, having to compete with your closest friends.  You search for it from the studios, whom you hope will accept your portfolio.  But it’s not just the acceptance we want so we’ll have a job.  What we’re really looking for is the acceptance and acknowledgement by everyone else, when we spend so much time looking for the one athority figure who can finally tell us, you‘re good.  You’ve made it.”  

But what happens is that even after all that when we’re finally told by someone we’re good, the search for approval doesn’t stop there.  It’s not enough.  Because once you run out of people to impress, you’re not going to have anyone except yourself.  The thing we know deep down but avoid telling ourselves is that we’ve really spent all this time hiding from themselvesYou will see when some of the most successful people climb the ladder, when they become producers, or become creators of their own show, or they start directing moviesBelieve me, there are those people who have climbed the ladder and reached those positions of power, not because they have anything to say as artists, but it‘s part of a never ending search to continue filling a hole inside them.  It’s not their fault though.  The have been trained by Cal Arts, their peers, their parents, the world around them and everything else that success above all is the ultimate goal.  They’ve done nothing all this time but trying to fulfill the wishes of other people.  Never themselves.  They saw those before them who were promoted to success at such a young age, thinking that’s the goal.  Everyone and anyone who is that young is in a rush to make it to the top, never stop to wonder if in all that time when they stuck to their plan if they were missing out on something else.  Or if they were purposely trying to avoid the life that was really awaiting them because they couldn’t bear the thought that it might just be too painful.  Whatever they do, they will never get enough gratification and acceptance from anyone in the world, no matter how big the fan base becomes or how popular they are in the eyes of their friends.  They have lost the courage to show people who they really are.    

But right now if you’re a young art student, whether you’re trying to get into an art school like Cal Arts or your already there now, I can help you avoid all that pain and misery right now.  And this is what I have to say to you: 

You’re already good at what you do.

You are already talented.  You always have been.  You never needed your parents to tell you what you already knew was true inside.  You have the gift.  Before we all turned 9 or 10 years old and we drew as little kids, at that time it was never about impressing anyone accept ourselves.  We all drew or painted what made us happy inside.  And while we do want people to see our work and get the reaction we want out of it,  its like what happens to kids who enter Jr. High and the goal starts becoming about popularity and impressing your friends.  So it’s pretty easy for our audience’s reaction to become everything to us, and we forget on the inside where we came from in the first place.  Because as they say, when no one else is around, who do you have to turn to except yourself?  That’s just it.  

You remember in A Christmas Carol, when the Ghost of Christmas Present has the two children around his legs.  The boy is called Ignorance.  The girl is called Want.  And he warns “beware them both, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written, which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.  We could also name those same children Approval and Gratification, because they are also both stomachs that are never full, and if you’re not careful, those two things will always cling to you and bring you down.  

Thankfully, however, this is why we have great movies to help us work through this stuff.  Here’s one of the best, which is about discovering the true power of self we always inside had but never knew was there.  If you are courageous enough to find it, you can always be happy with yourself, no matter where that tornado may take you.  🙂

 Happy New Year everybody!

The Magic of 24fps

I went to see The Hobbit this weekend, but by accident missed out on the 48fps (fps=frames per second) presentation.  I went to a local AMC and assumed that the 3D presentation was also the 48fps version.  Wasn’t the case, but I decided to stick around for the movie anyway.  I’m not sure if I feel compelled to go back again and see the 48fps version just because…well, the movie The Hobbit itself is very slow.  I wasn’t bored per say, and I thought it picked up speed in the last 40-50 minutes.  But I wasn’t moved enough by the actual movie to really want to see it again.  

As far as the frame rate thing goes, what I’ve heard from most people is that I’m not missing out on much.  Which I’m sure begs the question, why am I writing an article if I haven’t seen 48fps and have nothing to compare it to.  Well, I guess I just feel compelled to write about it anyway because almost everyone I’ve talked to has mixed feelings about the new format.  Nobody I know is quite sold on it.  The idea seems to be that smoothing out the action makes for more realism, and with the 3D, it’s as if you’re looking through a clear window that is the movie screen and into another world.  I’ve had thoughts about this for a little while now.  It’s the thing I’ve noticed now with HD televisions when I go to Costco.  It’s not as jarring with newer films such as Avatar, but sometimes they’ll play older Black and White films in an HD format, and it just doesn’t feel right.  It feels like I’m watching movies on video.  I’m not sure what it is about smoothing out the frame rate that’s supposed make movies seem more real.  Especially when people buy televisions that convert everything to a smoother frame rate.  In my mind at least, doing this is a bit of an insult and a slap to the filmmakers of those original films, because lets say when a person pops in their DVD copy of Citizen Kane on an HDTV and sees all the action smoothed out…well, pardon me, but that’s not the way Kane was meant to be seen.  The majority of people buying these TV’s are told this is supposed to be better, but I think it’s sending people the wrong message.  Realism is not what the movies are about.  

There is something special about films when we see life happening at 24fps.  Watching films at this speed, in a way, tells your brain that it‘s not real.  It’s a fantasy.  I’m not just talking about sci fi movies or fantasy films, but comedies, dramas, and docu-dramas, true stories, etc...the 24fps signals to you that you’re watching something that lives on another plane of existence.  We are entering into another world, time, and place.  What makes it real to us is the fact that its not real.  

A story in itself is not real life.  It’s dramatized.  We know nobody really talks the way they do in the movies.  We have no score accompanying the emotional moments in our lives (except what I play on my ipod in my car).  I was watching the end of The Help last night (a great movie btw) and there’s the final scene where Abiline gives Hilly what’s coming to her and tells her the truth about who she is.  I love that scene as it plays out, but I thought if that scene were taking place in real life, Hilly would be screaming, talking over Abiline, shouting back in an effort to put her down and not listen to her at all.  But Hilly hears every word.  And we see the look of horror on her face.  Is the scene nessicerily real?  No, not really.  But we believe its real because it drives our emotions.  Only in the movies is that kind of drama possible, when you can watch a scene play out where your worst enemy shuts up and listens.  It’s the play acting of it all, and the power of story that makes it real and believable to us.  How many thousands of years has storytelling been around?  Since the days cave men drew on walls.  None of those stick drawings on the wall could ever be considered real to us.  But they were real in the minds and the imaginations of those men 10’s of thousands of millions of years ago.  The true essence of storytelling doesn’t change.  What simply changes is the language in which we tell it.  

In film, the real pioneers are the ones who gave something new to say with it…people like Walt Disney, Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Billy Wilder, Sidney Lumet, Quentin Tarantino, Brad Bird, The Coen Bros., etc…who made us sit up and go “wow, I didn’t know you could do that!”  The language has changed, but the story is the same.  

I want to go on a tangent for a moment.  I had a conversation with my friend who is a musician.  We were comparing cartoons with the audio equipment used to record Mel Blanc in the Looney Tunes vs. the sound you hear in shows like Animaniacs.  Obviously the sound in Animaniacs is of much higher quality in everything from the music, score, voices etc.  And its still a very funny show.  But there is something a little off about the sound in Animaniacs…especially when you go back to listening to the audio of those older Looney Tunes shorts.  

 I’ve always hated watching Musicals that were made after the year 2000.  I can’t stand them.  With new, digital audio, the audio sounds obviously dubbed.  It sounds too clean, and to me its so much more obvious the actors are lip syncing.  Of course in the musicals of the 40’s, 50’s, and 60‘s, they were also lip syncing.  But those movies are so much more believable to me.  And in my ear they sound so much more natural.  How is that possible since the recording equipment they used then would be considered ancient by todays standards?  I don’t know exactly.  But the worlds those films create are more accessible to me personally.  In the age of digital special effects, CG is the standard now.  When Jurassic Park came out however, what sold people on CG was that the animators who developed it were all stop motion guys.  Phil Tippitt who was ILM’s chief stop motion animator in the 80’s, animated all the dinosaur sequences in Jurassic Park in stop motion.  Later, his footage was used as reference for the CG animators to give the dinosaurs that sense of weight and timing to make it work.  Compare that to the dinosaurs in the sequel, The Lost World, which they tried to save money by not having Tippet do all that work, and the animation on the dinosaurs just doesn’t look right.  Keep in mind, Lost World was on 3 years after the orginal Jurassic Park, so the technology hadn’t improved that much yet.  But the question is, why do we always gravitate to the first Jurassic Park, even thought the technology today is far less superior?  It always go back to the basics:  A strong story and a solid foundation in basic structures and principles, which are simply told in a new languageWhen you’re animating something, in stop motion or hand drawn, you get that tactile sensation with what you’re doing.  You feel the hand of the creator.  The magic of the original King Kong (1933) is that you can see the fingerprints of Willis O’Brien by the inconsistent smudging of Kong’s fur.  That’s O’Brien touching the model when he animates it.  In hand drawn animation, the characters weren’t always consistent in their look because they were all drawn by different animators.  But we still believed in them.  It’s the strength of the story that made us skim over those inconsistencies and made us believe in the world of the film.  In the age of CG, you can’t actually touch the puppet in the computer.  When I tried animating CG for a little bit, I compared it to animating with one of those claw machines you see at the arcade to get a toy.  Obviously you have a little more control with the program than a claw machine.  But the fact that the model never changes allows for that consistancy.  It’s the same with motion-capture in movies, but you compare the ones of Robert Zemekis, which goes way over the top into realism, to Peter Jackson who used it for Gollem, the animators for Lord of the Rings were actually allowed to tweak and embellish Andy Serkis’ performance.  Which was more believable?  In my opinion, it‘s Gollem.  In The Hobbit especially when you saw Gollem, even though the technology has improved dramatically in the last 10 years, he’s still just as believable to watch as the one in Lord of the Rings, and the scene with him and Bilbo is the best scene in the film.  

So getting back to the frame rate, I guess the big question we need to ask ourselves is how 48fps is how is it going to improve the way we tell stories in the future?  It’s hard to say.  I know 3D is pretty big at the moment, and there doesn’t seem to be any indication that it’s going anywhere.  But I still question the use of 3D because quite frankly I have not seen a 3D film yet that has really improved the quality of a films story.  There has been talk about using 3D to give scenes more emotional depth by knowing when to add more depth or keep the scene flat.  Unfortunately when a film is 48fps all the way through, it’s got to stay consistent the whole film.  You can’t change back and forth to 24fps or it will jar the audience.  They used to do that technique in early silent and talkie comedies, where for certain scenes they would under-crank the camera (prat falls for example) to make it faster, which made it funnier.  But you see then to that under-cranking and over-cranking the camera was a storytelling device used at the right moments in the story.  That convention however won’t work on audiences today unless you could find the right way to apply it.  There is one film coming out where the 48fps could be used as more than just a gimmick.  I’m talking about OZ The Great and Powerful.  We see in the trailers that like the original Wizard of Oz, the characters start in a sepia filtered setting, and then everything changes to widescreen and color when they enter Oz.  Well, what if not only the color and widescreen emerged, but the frame rate changed to 48fps.  But see the thing is you would be using the frame rate to play up the fantasy more.  The fact that it looks more real is actually the fantasy!  Would it work?  I don’t know.  But I think the experiment needs to be gradual if audiences are really going to accept it as the new way we watch movies.  With The Hobbit, they’re throwing 48fps on the audience all at once, which may be too much.  I have already heard tepid responses from people who have seen The Hobbit.  It’s not getting terribly great word of mouth.  Nobody I knew rushed out to see it when it opened, even my closest friends who wait at the midnight showings for big tentpole films such as this one to come out.  It is hard to know how 48fps can be applied to films that will make it accepted by audiences.  It has to be used as a storytelling device for it to work.  It may make the film look more real, but that’s the problem.  It’s too real.  It can be a distraction because realism is not why we go to the movies.  We go to be compelled by a great story.  John Lasseter thankfully knew this when he made Toy Story, because if it wasn’t for the strength of the story, the film today would look horribly dated.  It’s not only is it a wonderful film, but even then with the primitive CG, it was used artistically in an aesthetically pleasing way.  I can watch that film today and its just as perfect a movie to me today as it was the first time I saw it.  

 So if there’s anything we must remember, it’s that for any great new tool, whether its film itself, CG, 3D, or higher frame rates, it’s still just a tool.  Story will always be forever and unchanging, and it’s simply the way we tell our stories that changes over the course of history.  

It’s Not Animators Who Change The Industry

I was thinking about something regarding Cal Arts the other day.  I have wondered what the program must of been like in the late 1970’s when it first started.  I’m sure for those very first students, there must have been a lot of faults in how the program was structured.  As opposed to today where a variety of different animation styles are coming from the students, most people have said that the original program was designed as a training school for Disney animation.  We know a lot of the major animation superstars who started in the character animation program at the beginning:  Brad Bird, John Lasseter, John Musker, Tim Burton…and almost all of those filmmakers after college broke off on their own.  Tim applied his animation training to live action.  Brad spent years writing scripts for live action before returning to animation with Family Dog, and his position on The Simpsons, which of course led to Iron Giant and The Incredibles.  John Musker became a part of the “new golden age” of Disney animation starting with The Great Mouse Detective, and Disney’s return to form, The Little Mermaid.  John Lasseter broke away and took a risk with this strange computer animation thing that was coming up, that probably no one ever thought would amount to anything.  Most people probably thought he was just wasting his time on limited technology.  

What am I getting at here?  Well, here’s something to think about.  These men all became pioneers in their field.  But at the time when their school started, Cal Arts had no reputation.  Animation was in the dark ages.  At the time most people would have considered you crazy for thinking you would have any sort of career in the animation business.  So in a way, if you think about these men who went to school there, it was already a risk for them to go to school to get into a field that was considered by most people then to be dead.  But Cal Arts of today rides on that reputation that they were the school that made those men who they are today.  But when you look at the situation and how the school started, that’s not really the case.   

This is where the importance of having life experience comes in.  All of these men struggled through life after college, and through a lot of their own personal pain to get where they are today.  Animation wouldn’t be what it is today without these men, who are considered heroes in their own right for revitalizing and bring animation back to audiences.  They did a lot of heavy lifting to make the industry what it is today.  But most new animators, directors, and filmmakers coming into the industry don’t see that.  Cal Arts sticks to their reputation that they made these men who they are.  But in comparison to those men who first went to Cal Arts, and the students who enter the program today, here’s the difference:  It’s not a risk for most students of today to attend Cal Arts.  I’m not talking about the risk of spending $100,000 on tuition to go there, because the majority of students who go there come from wealthy families (You can bet however that the ones who are much poorer and struggled to work hard through scholarships and side jobs are going to have more to say in their work, but that’s for another post). It‘s not a risk because it’s the expected path for young people who want to work in animation.  Cal Arts has all the connections.  Believe it or not, that’s essentially what you’re paying for.  It’s not really about the training or preparing you for the life experience of your journey to become an artistThe school is constantly promoting competition among everyone’s peers.  Everyone will fight to make their film good enough to get into the Producers Show.  Everyone will struggle to make their portfolio look its best for the Job Fair where students hope they will get noticed and accepted by the studio they want to work for.  These are the main events the school stakes its reputation on and promotes to students.  All the students will be good sports to each other, but deep down they all know it’s a battle to be “good enough and be accepted.  At that age, every young student craves that attention to be accepted.      

Cal Arts portfolio selection is basically a casting call for those people who will keep up the school‘s reputation.  I can tell you, I went to school with a few superstar people now:  Lorelay Bove, Nate Wragg, Pen Ward, J.G. Quintel, Alex Hirsch, etc.  Cal Arts did not help them develop their style.  Those people walked into the school with the same style of drawing they have in their shows and work today.  The school might have helped hone their storytelling abilities and help give them a foundation for their work.  But those people had their own thing when they walked in the door.  Most of them knew what they were after, the studio or job/position they wanted for themselves in the industry.  They never strayed from that.  That’s what most young artists see when they look at those people who became big successes in their field at a young age.  They went to school, they worked hard, and they never strayed from their goal to get into the studio they wanted.  But there’s the other side of the coin that most people don’t see.  

Those who have become successes in their field, they are in fact walking the path that was already forged for them…and it was forged by those people who already went before them…John Lassiter, Brad Bird, Tim Burton, John Musker, and the many other animation artists who fought hard to get the industry where it is today.  But no one today has learned from the real risks those men had to take to make the industry what it is today.  And the people who are successful now are walking the path of success of others and not nessecerily forging their own path as those original people did.  In selecting students with a variety of drawings styles, Cal Arts makes it look like their pumping out students who are artists with independent visions.  But they aren’t really independent.  For those students, like everyone else, it’s really success that’s on their mind and wanting to get to the top too quickly.  

This is what I was trying to warn about the danger Skyler Page is getting into about getting his own show when he’s so young.  I’m told he worked on his show idea and pitched it on his own, and he was able to sell a show.  That’s great.  Skyler knows now he has that drive in him that he can be a success with his ideas.  But my question however is…what’s the rush?  Why is it so important to get a show right now before you’ve had a chance to let anything happen to you in your life?  He’s a talented artist, but the studio is buying his show not because its cutting edge or innovative, but his ideas are compatable with what’s currently popular in TV.  The same goes with most TV shows created by artists his age.  Their life experience has not caught up with them yet, and those people really don’t know how much their really missing out on and what‘s missing in their storytelling.  

I can tell you for sure, those young artists I’ve mentioned who are currently successful in their field… you can bet regardless of the money they’re making that inside they are still struggling with their voice and what they really want to say in their work.  When I say what’s really going on, I mean their own deeper personal struggles that have hit them in life.  Some of them might have had divorced parents.  Maybe there was abuse.  Or struggle with their sexual identity.  The death of a sister.  The things they don’t want people to know about themselves, but what they want to talk about deep down.  I know they feel this because everybody in life feels the deeper hardships of life.  But artists have a voice to channel that pain into something that other people can acknowledge and understand.    But with most of those young artists who have achieved major success so soon, they’re going to sit back and wonder after awhile if this is all there is.   
All of those people have some thing deeper inside that they will want to say, something more truthful and honest about what’s really happened in their lives, but they’ll be too afraid to take that risk with their art.  They know by doing that they’ll be abandoning their audience.  It will take one of those people to have a major fall in their life…to fall so low they’ll have nobody left except themselves.  That’s the ultimate test.  There are many different kinds of success.  But some successes are really just a wall that keep other people from knowing the truth.  And many artists who are having that kind of success are putting up that wall as we speak.  I know who those people are right now.  

When most of these Cal Arts grads get their own show, most of them like to hire their classmates as part of their core creative team.  You know the real reason the creators of the shows hire their buddies?  It’s an ego trip.  They want their less talented friends to surround them in the aura of their success.  The creator becomes an alpha dog.  And the alpha dogs friends who want to be in on their success don’t know that they’ve been hired just so their show creator friend can feel good about himself in front of them.  Like the head of a street gang, making sure nobody wants to fuck with them.  And I’ll tell you something else.  The alpha dogs less talented friends…the honest truth is that those people are actually a lot more talented than the alpha dog.  They have more to say.  But they don’t know it.  Seriously, if I were the creator of my own show, I wouldn’t hire my buddies to be on my team.  I’m going to hire the guy whose been in the industry for over 20 years.  I  I’d form new relationships.mm  I’m going to hire people who have actual life experience, because those people are going to have a lot more to say, and it’s going to show up in their work.  And those are the people I want to learn from.  My peers are on the same level as I am going through the same things I’m going through.  I can’t learn anything from that.  

That’s going to be the major fall of the industry.  If there’s one thing I admire about those first people who went to Cal Arts, its that they had a greater respect and admiration for those who forged the path before them, and because animation in the late 70’s and early 80’s was in the dark ages, those artists then had no choice but to take the risk and forge their own paths.  Those people are the real shakers and movers of the industry.  All the young artists of today are doing are taking advantage of their accomplishments, but not really giving any credit to those who came before them.  And I can see this because current artists want to believe their being independent and forging their own path.  They would not have the opportunities they have now if it weren’t for those people before them.  Lets see Pen Ward fight for his vision if he were making his films in the late 70’s.  He would have not only failed, but would have had to fight so much harder to make a show like Adventure Time.  I’ll bet if he went through that struggle, Adventure Time would be a far more powerful and earth shattering TV series.  Most people right now think it is.  It’s not.  It’s too safe.  There are deeper things going on with that show you can tell that Pen is not allowed to talk about.  But Pen’s not going to fight for that vision.  And the studio is not going to listen to him.  And why not?  He’s too young.  The studio knows it.  They’re not going to take him seriously.  As a young show creator the studio expects Pen to do as he’s told.  When the studios tell you these current animated TV shows are creator controlled, it’s a lie.  The same thing can be said about Pixar, who also claims their directors have complete creator control.  If that were true, Brenda Chapman would not have had Brave taken away from her.  After the success of The Incredibles, they would and should have let Brad Bird make another original animated film.  Instead they kicked out Jan Pinkava off Ratatoullie and asked Brad to save the film.  But how much was that really Brad’s choice?  Did they promise him he could make another original film only onlyafter he made Ratatoullie a success??  It’s pretty ironic that after Ratatoullie R Brad suddenly left animation to go into live action filmmaking.  Brad didn’t leave willingly.  Something happened after Ratatoullie that nobody is talking about.  In a way, you can imagine that Pixar persuading Brad to take over Ratatoullie and direct it was their way of keeping control over him.  Lassiter has changed too.  If you think about what’s happened to him, he’s given up his independence to take that Creative Director position at Disney.  He’s making decisions now for the profit of the Disney company, which doesn’t belong to himdoe and has its own set of standards.  He has to abide by those sets of standards now, and if he really started taking risks again like he did in his early days, he would be fired.  All of Disney’s films under his supervision are following the forumla set by Pixar.  

But most young artists don’t think about any of this.  There are other things besides money that persuade artists to work for places like Pixar and Dreamworkss.  It’s the pampering.  It’s the hidden Tiki Bar they like to show off.  The basketball court.  Wear a kilt Fridays.  Dress like a Pirate Thursdays.  Free lunches.  It’s like getting to work at Neverland.  The animation studio where you never have to grow up.  These people work hard on these films for sure.  But all these amenities are about keeping the artists happy and keeping them under control.  The irony is that 90% of these films being made are about characters who have to learn to be themselves…but the films are made by people who have never learned to be themselves to begin with.  They were never trained at Cal Arts to find their own path.  They were trained at Cal Arts through Job Fairs and Producer’s Shows and were told that above everything else, success is the goal, not independence.  Cal Arts job is to keep the studios happy or they’ll never be able to hold their reputation.  Your become a success falls back on them s   to make them more profitable in the eyes of the studios.it  And blindly they attract young artists to set them up for a life in the industry when they don’t know there’s anything greater out there.  They’re trained to live in a bubble that is the animation industry.  I swear to you I’ve said that from day one at Cal Arts the first thing we were told was not to rock the boat or piss anyone off, especially our friends because your reputation will be determined by those people.  Having actually stepped outside the bubble, I can tell you that’s all bullshit.  The animation people working in the industry don’t have the kind of power they think they have.  If you don’t believe me, look at John Lassiter, who gave up his studio to work for somebody else.  He’s got no real power anymore, except keeping in line what the Disney company wants from him.  He’s forgotten himselfpee.  The people in real power who are changing the course of the animation industry are not animators.  They’re business men.  People like Jeffrey Katzenberg.  Not an artist.  But all the films made now are determined under his vision.  You know another person who was the same way?  

Walt Disney.  

Walt was not an artist.  He was a business man and an entrepenuer.  He was a genius and great visionary, but a lot of people are still angry that the animation industry continues to be led by the vision of a man who died over 50 years ago.  Uncle Walt has had a powerful overwhelming influence on the animation industry, but most people forget that this was just one mans vision.  His vision was cruicial to the development and change for animation…when he was ALIVE.  Animation was not meant to continue living under his influence, and as we can all see from the films made today, it’s getting watered down.  A lot of animation people today don’t believe Walts influence has an impacct on them anymore, but I think it still does.    All of the films and TV shows coming out today are the same thing, a cornocopia of marketing and selling a product, giving the audience the illusion each film is unique and independent when really each film is  tnntjust dressed up in different clothing to give the appearance of being unique .  But most animators don’t know or are willing to acknowledge that they a always have been under the control of someone else, from the very moment they were kids who wanted to get in animation and found out about this miracle school known as Cal Arts.

This post by the way, is not me trying to get into an us vs. them argument…animators vs. studio exectutives…animators vs. animators, etc.  It’s a tired arguement that never gets anywhere except to serve as a forum for a lot of needless bitching.  What I am concerned about are all parties involved, especially young animators coming into the industry.  It’s vital you understand what you’re getting into.  Most animation artists allow themselves toes get walked all over, including big shots like John Lassiter.  Most will not stand up for their vision and will be controlled by fear.  They’ll be .promised a lot of money and success, but all that money is there to shut those artists up and keep them in line in   .  If you’re an artist destined to be a mover and a shaker, you really have to understand what you’re get into.  The American Animation industry is very fucked up, and very repressed…and full of bad temptation.  You have to decide for yourself, in your heart, if this is really what you’re destined to do, and fight not just to change the industry, but change yourself. 

Django Unchained (2012) Dir. Quentin Tarantino

 At which point in his career did Quentin Tarantino turn into such a pussy filmmaker?  That’s a question I started to ask myself by the end of the 2nd Act of Django Unchained.  I kept wondering to myself…how much more daring…and how much of a mind fuck would this film have been if it was made in the early 90’s during his Pulp Fiction days?  At that time he was a young filmmaker with nothing to lose, who could not only shock people and make them laugh, but rattle their cages.  He was much angrier and had something important to say then.  And watching Django, I kept waiting for one of those moments to happen.  I wanted to be startled…I wanted to laugh at the sheer “What the fuck just happened” moments created by the film.  But I felt none of that.  Everything that was meant to startle people in the film was completely calculated.  Tarantino pulls all of his usual tricks, and when watching this “homage” to blacksploitation films, I kept thinking a movie like Blazing Saddles has more balls than this.  

Seriously!  I’m pissed just thinking about the amount of blatent ego on display in Tarantino’s last few movies.  The guy doesn’t tell visionary stories anymore.  He’s making superhero movies now.  Kill Bill, Inglorious Bastards, and now Django Unchained, which plays up a fantasy that‘s almost pornographic in its use of violence, and he never uses that violence to cut into the audience and tell a story that has any meaning.  Tarantino plays all the cards right to make it look like he’s shocking us.  But he plays it completely safe.  Step back and look at what happens in the film.  The white man who helps and mentors Django is not an American.  He’s a German, also an outsider with different beliefs regarding slavery.  There were actually white Americans who lived then who didn‘t agree with slavery.  I suppose the thought was if Django’s mentor was a white American it would have been much more of an ego trip.  But that’s the point, his mentor is on an ego trip about rescuing black men.  When the pivitol scene for him occurs later in the film, where Django stops him from buying the black slave so he can watch the slave be torn up by dogs, and Django can show him what’s done to his people, his mentor should have been an American.  It would have had a heavier impact, and it would have tested his egoThat moment would have meant far more.  But as a German, he’s an outsider as Django.  So what is that moment really supposed to mean?   

In his journey, Django‘s actions have almost no serious consequences.  You’ll notice that every time it looks a villain character is going to do something shocking and horrific to fuck with Django, that character is always stopped at the last minute.  Dicaprio shows how he’s going to bash Django’s wifes brains in with a hammer.  He’s stopped.  At the beginning of the Third Act when Django is hanging upside down naked and the white man is about to cut Django’s balls off, he’s stopped.  Tarantino keeps teasing us throughout the film, and then pulls back.  And you know, if you want to hear my honest opinion, the white guy should have cut Django’s balls off.  Scar him.  He doesn’t have to cut off his dick, but take away his manhood.  Because quite honestly if that had happened, and the final shoot out occurs where Django is blowing white guys away, it would have actually meant something.  Furious rage and anger.  And then Django blowing the white dudes nuts off at the end would have actually had some meaning to it.  But it doesn’t.  Django is out for blood, but we never see him become truly scarred to warrant any meaning out of his blood lust.  And what about Django’s wife being pulled out of the hot box stark naked?  Tarantino just cuts to close ups of her.  We don’t see her fully naked and get the shock of her humiliation.  Dicaprio later wants to humiliate her in the dinner scene and make her strip to show the scars on her back, but again, we just see her backside.  Tarantino never really goes there to full out show the dehumanization of blacks.  He’s constantly holding back.  In pissing Django off, how many times is the audience teased that he’ll pull his gun, only to have him put it away?  By the time the third act came, I realized at that point that nothing dangerous or scarring was going to happen to any of the characters for the rest of the film, and it was just a matter of waiting for it to end.      

As a villain, DiCaprio is completely wasted.  Again, Tarantino really gives us no big reason to hate him.  Even in the scene where the black slave is torn to shreds by dogs, it’s Django’s decision that allows it to happen, not DiCaprio’sDiCaprio is not threatening at all.  And Leonardo DiCaprio just by himself does not inspire fear in me.  He doesn’t even die at the hands of Django, the German kills him.  And the “handshake” scene between them is just stupid.  Why are we waiting for DiCaprio to do something when it’s the German who acts on it?  It’s completely forced with almost no meaning behind both their deaths.  By the end of the film, the final standoff is between Django and an old black man (played by Samuel L. Jackson).  So let me get this straight… a movie about a black man getting revenge on white people ends with a final standoff between two black men, and the other is a black man who is too old and crippled to really defend himself.  What exactly is this end scene saying?  

There was also not enough reason for me to care about Django’s love for his wife.  When they finally met in the middle of the second act, we saw almost no personal interaction between them.  They had very few scenes where they actually had a “moment”.  And those moments of humiliation with her are too tame for us to really care about her.  I felt no investment in them, or anyone else, because nothing ever really happens to anyone in this film.  His wife is just a princess in a tower waiting to be rescued.  What’s the worst that could have happened?  Well, what if Dicaprio smashed her brains in.  What if Django had his balls cut off.  How much more drive would he have to kill every white man in sight?  How much more would the thirst for revenge be?  Not just a black mans revenge, but his human side that shows the darkness in him and his loss for humanity?  He’s a black man who earns his keep killing white people.  But nothing about what he does ever really fucks with him.  The film doesn’t even touch on that.  It doesn’t dare go there, and the end product to me just feels phony.  And a bit cowardly I might add.   

I know what I’m going to hear about this.  The film is supposed to be a homage and a play on blacksploitation films.  But we don’t need that nostalgia shit in movies anymore.  We need better storytelling with serious consequences in our storytelling.  Those consequences will MAKE US CARE!  They’ll make us sit up and take it seriously.  The audience I was with, sure, they laughed at all the right moments.  But there was no shocked reactions.  There was no wild enthusiasim.  And by the end there was tepid applause for Quentin Tarantino’s name.  That was it.  But sadly Tarantino is not out to take risks anymore.  He has his built in audience, and he doesn’t want to lose or offend any of them.  Why else would he cast the least threatening white actor you can find (Leonardo DiCaprio) to play your main villain?  Or cast Samuel L. Jackson, whose persona from his other films in my mind overshadowed his performance in this.  He’s playing Samuel Jackson as a slave.  Get someone more unknown.  I swear to you this movie pussyfoots around for three hours.  Where’s the anger to justify the violence?  There isn’t any.  None of it’s meant to be taken seriously, and all we’re left with is one big joke.  

Okay, rant over.  As you can see, I get a little batshit crazy when I see filmmakers who once had such a strong influence and gave us things we never saw before instead just start riding on their reputation.  But that’s what I see happening here.  Quenitin doesn’t really want to offend anybody, especially his target audience.  There’s a lot of talking as usual and a lot of grand speeches made by his characters.  But he’s just selling his brand of filmmaking nowHe makes fantasy films with a lot of gratuitous violence.  And that’s pretty depressing.       

Post Holiday Greetings!

Hope you all had an enjoyable holiday, whichever you celebrate.  It’s been quite a year for me personally.  I’m thrilled to see I’ve managed to keep this blog going since I started it 7 months ago, and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon!  Perhaps this week I’ll catch up on all the movies I haven’t gotten around to seeing, such as The Hobbit and Django Unchained!  I’m excited especially for Quentin Tarantino’s latest film. 

 Every Christmas Eve at Midnight I watch what I consider the pinnacle Christmas Carol movie…the 1951 Alistair Sim version.  It’s such a wonderful telling, rich in character, and its quite frankly the best told version.  It not only goes deeper into Scrooge’s backstory, but there’s even a hint that Scrooge will seek out to find his long lost love.  Also, I’ll let you in on a fun little goof with this movie:  In the Christmas morning scene when Scrooge wakes up, at one point he looks into a little mirror.  If you look behind Scrooge in the mirror, you’ll see a behind the scenes crew member peeking his head in and out!   

More to come this week for sure.  Enjoy the holidays!  

Alias St. Nick

Here’s a terrific Rudolf Ising and Hugh Harman called “Alias St. Nick”.  If you have 10 minutes to spare to watch it, this really is a great cartoon.  Great character designs and animation of course, but it’s a Christmas cartoon that has something to say to kids…that little pessimist kid may not be totally off his rocker after all.  😉