Saturday, 21 February 2009

Frankenstein - German Expressionism Review


Directed by James Whale

Released in 1931, James Whale's Frankenstein has all of the key elements of a German Expressionist inspired film. The film follows the story of Dr Frankenstein, a scientist who is obsessed with creating a living being from human body parts. He eventually succeeds by creating a man and subjecting the body to an electric current. His successful experiment eventually turns into a dangerous situation as the monster escapes and tragedies begin to occur. The film is a horror classic which has inspired many films since, from its style to the monster that Frankenstein has created.

The films follows the German Expressionist key themes very closely - for example the main character is a mad, obsessive scientist which is a key character trait in German Expressionist films. Although he is the main character, Frankenstein is the anti-hero as his actions throughout the film all have negative results. Another key influence of German Expressionism that can be seen in the film is the architecture of Frankenstein's castle. The castle has sharp angles in the interior, with a spiral staircase leading up to his laboratory. Also, shadows play an important part in the film, particularly concerning the monster. The monster is revealed slowly by walking out of a shadow, to build up tension and fear upon his revelation.

Overall, this film is a good example of German Expressionist cinema and a classic cult horror film. It clearly demonstrates key elements and themes of both genres very well, and has had a great influence on modern films today.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Literary Review 4 - Cartoon Modern - Style and Design in Fifties Animation

Cartoon Modern – Style and Design in Fifties Animation

Amid Amidi

Cartoon Modern is a fascinating book which looks at animation in the fifties, and how modern design has affected the animation of development in this era. The book looks at each of the major studios and animators of this time, and discusses their unique styles and how each has created distinctive and memorable animation throughout the years. The author discusses how studios in this era overcame the financial challenges that they faced by embracing cheaper design techniques, creating cartoony-designs in their animations. However, rather than creating sub-standard animation, the animators featured in this book successfully created memorable characters and designs which have influenced the vision of animation today.

It is very much a visually-inspiring book, and would appeal to any fan who appreciates the original works of studios like MGM, Hanna-Barbera and Disney. The book has a lot of high-quality images of each respective studios work, from concept sketches to stills from their films, and discusses the design process behind each, and what makes them so distinctive. Although it does not specifically discuss Tom and Jerry in particular, I found this quite helpful and interesting to read when researching for my essay as the author discusses both Hanna-Barbera and MGM, and the style and work of each studio. I found it helpful to further understand the history behind each studio, and their particular design choices, as the designs of the characters in their films are important to create comedy in their films.

Literary Review 3 - Monty Python : Lust For Glory

Monty Python: Lust for Glory
Cineaste 26, Fall 2001
By David Sterritt and Lucille Rhodes

Monty Python: Lust for Glory is an in-depth magazine review of the works of the Monty Python group and their collection of works throughout the years, discussing their various films and TV series Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The article discusses each of the Python’s contributions to their work, but more importantly what their work has contributed to the world of comedy, arguing that "This is not an enormous body of work, but it’s had enormous influence on large- and small screen- comedy thanks partly to its high laugh content and partly to its innovations in comic writing and performance." The article moves on to discuss their unique humour and influence upon British comedy, but also different sources that have influenced their work aswell.

The article covers the important areas of the Python films, but what I found to be most helpful and interesting in the article was the discussion of the animated segments in the Flying Circus series. The article discusses why Terry Gilliam chose to insert animated segments into the series, and how they add to the comedy built up in each episode. I found this article particularly helpful regarding my essay as it has helped me to understand that the animation in the series was not just created to create comedy but also work alongside the comedy created by the live-action sequences in the series.

Literary Review 2 – Chuck Jones and MGM – Re-evaluating Tom and Jerry (Kevin O’Brien)

Chuck Jones and MGM – Re-evaluating Tom and Jerry
Animation Journal Fall 1996
By Kevin O’Brien

This journal article discusses the Tom and Jerry works by Chuck Jones and the differing positive, but mostly negative attitudes towards his work. The article attempts to discuss as to why Chuck Jones’ Tom and Jerry Works have been shunned into the shadow of the Hanna-Barbera shorts.

Many writers have split the Tom and Jerry series into three categories rather than viewing them as an entirety. The categories are the Hanna-Barbera films, the Gene Deitch films and the Chuck Jones films. Chuck Jones’ films are often viewed by writers and animators as being less funny and characterised. Kevin O’Brien discusses in the article that we should be able to appreciate Chuck Jones’ work for its own merits and values, looking at how and why the essence of Tom and Jerry has been kept in his films. O’Brien comments "The criteria for a positive evaluation should not be limited to how funny the stories may or may not be or whether each film is a masterpiece when compared to the Hanna-Barbera films or Jones’s other animation work."

This article was really interesting to read, and was helpful as to further understand the depths of the Tom and Jerry series, however I do not think it has provided me with any understanding the comdy of the series, only the history and background of it. Therefore, I think this article will only help me to form arguments concerning the difference between particular Tom and Jerry series.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Literary Review 1 - Understanding Animation (Paul Wells)

Understanding Animation
Paul Wells

Understanding Animation is a thorough analysis of all areas of animation, discussing its history, social and political contexts, developments and audiences. The book begins by discussing the very fundamentals of animation - what it is, what techniques can be used and the key stylistic approaches, such as Disney’s realist approach - and leads into discussing the audiences of animation and their responses. The author supports and develops his arguments by using case studies which further explain his discussions.

I have decided to write my essay about comedy in Animation, and the reason that I have chosen this book is because it has a large chapter dedicated to the area of comedy in animation. This book in particular thoroughly covers comedic animation from its very beginning, discussing different types of comedy and the key conventions of each. In the chapter the author has discussed visual gags (such as the subversion of the surroundings to create humour), black humour, repetition and more. The author attempts to discuss as to why we find particular things funny, and how animators have responded to this and adapted their characters and stories to make us laugh, discussing what is successful and what is not.

What I really like about this book is how easy it is to read, the arguments are well structured, and the language is precise and uncomplicated. While it is formal and factual, it is also very enjoyable and fascinating and each argument leads on well into the next.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Llantony Abbey (1942) - John Craxton

This painting caught my eye because of its unusual composition and sketchy, textured detail. Although I’m not really a big fan of landscape paintings, I really like this one because it has an almost cartoon-like quality, like the sort of illustrations you would see in the Cartoon Museum.

The painting is of Llanthony Abbey, an Augustinian house in Wales. The artist was part of the Neo-Romantic movement, inspired by artists like William Blake. The Neo-Romantic art movement depicted Britain in a romantic vision during World War 2. To me this image feels poetic, like it is trying to tell a story about the building which is something the artist often tried to create through his paintings. The composition is interesting, as although the painting is entitled “Llanthony Abbey” the tree almost seems to be the central focus of the image. I think this is a poetic approach to depicting the building rather than showing only the building on its own, it is attempting to describe to us the beautiful natural life that surrounds it as well.

In this painting the artist has used ink and watercolour on board. The use of black and white rather than colour is interesting, as it gives a nostalgic and mythical feeling, almost like an old black and white photograph; I think the absence of colour adds to the image rather than detracts from it. I also like how the artist has used cross hatching and different lines to create tone and shading as well as different tones of watercolour, as this adds texture to the image. The contrast between the tree and the background detail creates an instant depth in the image; it really creates the feeling of the tree being much closer to us.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Telling Lies - Film Review

Directed by Simon Ellis

When we watched Telling Lies in our first lecture I was thoroughly stunned and amused by the film. Not only was it a great concept, the film style complimented it so well and it was made brilliantly, adding to the overall experience.

Telling Lies is a short film where we hear one man’s phone conversations after a night out. However, the twist is that there are animated words which show the distinction between thought and speech. For example, at one point in the film the main character is asked when he split up with his girlfriend and he says “last night at the club”, but the text reads “none of your business”. As the man slowly remembers his antics from the night before, and faces more and more phone calls, his frustration and lies are shown on screen by the animated text. The film progresses with the main character being disturbed by prying phone calls from his mother, his ex-girlfriend phoning to make him jealous because he left with another woman, and then finally the woman he slept with phoning saying that she didn’t want to see him anymore.

The film is very comical because although we are not able to see the character’s emotions, we are able to hear their tone of voice and the animated text very cleverly captures their moods and emphasises them further. The colour and style of the typography is used to show his growing anger and lies. Simple little lies are represented in white text, suggesting it’s a simple “white lie”, while as he gets angrier and yells the text changes to red. While these seem like simple or insignificant points on their own, in context of the film they add great meaning to what is happening.

Overall the film works very well, it’s very much based on a simple, everyday happenings, therefore there is no music used in the film as it does not need any. The most important part of the film is the relationship between the speech and the visual text. The text is animated in such a way that no other visuals are needed and overall it has worked very well.

Memoirs of a Geisha -Film Review

Remember, Chiyo, geisha are not courtesans. And we are not wives. We sell our skills, not our bodies. We create another secret world, a place only of beauty. The very word "geisha" means artist and to be a geisha is to be judged as a moving work of art.

Director - Rob Marshall
Written by - Robin Swicord, Arthur Golden (novel)

Memoirs of a Geisha is a beautiful, but painful story of a young Japanese girl who is separated from her family and sold to a geisha house as her mother is sick and her father cannot look after her. Told from the point of view of Chiyo, we see her introduction to the world of the geisha, and her transformation into becoming Sayuri, one of the most renowned geisha in the country. Throughout the film we see her growing up and attempting to rebel, but eventually choosing to become a geisha in order to win the heart of the man she loves, but cannot have. It is a beautiful bitter-sweet love story which you will not forget easily!

It is one of those rare films that really does justice to the novel that it's based on. Shortly after reading the novel, I watched this film and not only did it keep close to the original story, it brought life to it. The film is visually stunning - the geisha world is described so vividly in the book and the film captures that so wonderfully. The costumes look rich and authentic, and the film is full of colour and deep, well crafted scenery. In fact, the film actually won three oscars - Best achievement in Costume Design, Best achievement in Cinematography and Best achievement in Art Direction. The filming style combines the grittiness of Chiyo's childhood, and the glamourous world of the geisha. It's easy to see why Chiyo is seduced into becoming a geisha, and we grow with her throughout the story as it is told entirely from her point of view.
The author, and the film crew, have clearly researched very well into the culture and history of the film period that they are portraying, and have successfully created an authentic world in which their characters inhabit. This is refreshing as there have been many manga and anime releases which have focussed on traditional Japanese culture, but this film seems to delve even deeper.

The music from the film complements it very well - it combines traditional Japanese music with orchestral scores which capture the atmosphere of Japan, but also creates a magical and sensual world emphasising the world of the geisha. While the story in the film and novel are fictional, what I love most about them both is that they are well researched and closely based on the true world of pre-war Japanese culture, where geisha truely existed.

I really would recommend seeing this film as it really has such a beautiful story and filming style as well.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Monday, 2 February 2009

'We're coming to get you Barbara!' - Shaun of the Dead film review

Director - Edgar Wright
Written by - Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg
A romantic comedy with zombies?!

Shaun of the Dead is a film that could be classed under many genres, though it has now become the pioneer of the zombie-romantic-comedy genre (or more snappily put "zom-rom-com). While this may seem like a strange and rather pointless genre, it has become an instant cult hit and I think that there should be more!

The film follows our protagonist Shaun, who is dumped by his girlfriend Liz as their relationship is stuck in a rut and he is content to leave it that way. This sounds like a regular romantic comedy situation so far, right? Unfortunately for them this happens in the midst of a zombie outbreak. Shaun and best friend Ed concoct a genius plan to rescue Liz and Shaun’s Mum Barbara, In true horror comedy fashion things are never as easy as planned, and survival is made a little more difficult for Shaun when you throw in Liz’s best friends David and Dianne, and Shaun’s step-father Philip (who he doesn’t get along with.). Hilarity and gore combine to form a laugh-a-minute romp, all with added shuffling and groaning.

Shaun of the Dead is undoubtedly influenced by the works of George Romero, most notably Dawn of the Dead. The zombies in the film are obviously ‘Romero’ zombies - slow moving, groaning and shuffling, rather than the increasingly popular “fast zombie” seen in films like the Dawn of the Dead remake and 28 Days Later. This influence is acknowledge in the film by amusing cameo jokes (for example Shaun works at Foree Electronics, and Ken Foree starred in the original Dawn of the Dead), which is often a trademark element of Edgar Wright’s films.

Although it has taken many influences from other zombie films, it also feels like an extension of the TV series Spaced which was also directed by Edgar Wright and starred Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Edgar, Simon and Nick have worked on several projects together now and seem to have created their own brand of unique comedy. What makes their films work so well is the relationship between Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, as they are best friends in real-life it is very much believable so it feels like you’re watching an entire film about a private joke. In Shaun of the Dead you have a sense of a close friendship and so the banter, jokes and arguments feel genuine. And it really is genuine, as some of the scenes between Simon and Nick were completely improvised so the laughter is real!

The story works very well as there doesn’t seem to be a particularly overpowering genre within the film (aside from the zombies). The romantic comedy element plays out well, combining comedy horror for a unique twist. The supporting characters create a balance, creating comedy and adding drama where necessary to keep the plot moving along (as we all know in a horror film, we need more cast to have them picked off one by one!). The sound in the film has clearly been carefully planned as there are direct music clips from films like Dawn of the Dead, while there are more subtle references with songs like “Ghost Town” and “Zombi Nation” which add to the atmosphere and also play along with the story. Commonly in horror films sound effects are exaggerated to add to the shock factor, and so of course we have many exaggerated hitting and squelching sounds to make the zombies more disgusting, but also comical.

There are few special effects in the film except for the zombie make-up which is not overdone, and the occasional gore scene. The make-up has been done well enough to create the right amount of comedy and horror as the zombies look authentic enough to be disgusting and scary, but not over-powering that they remove all comedy in the film.

Overall this film is a very successful homage to the zombie genre, but also a unique view on romantic comedy as well!

Friday, 30 January 2009

Interesting weblinks! - Drawn! is a fantastic illustration/cartooning blog where professional illustrators and designers post daily with videos, internet links, interviews and various other creative materials to help inspire others. There are some fantastic gems on there and it's bound to have something to inspire everyone. Great browsing for when you're struggling to get inspired for your latest projects or just need a creative boost. - Passion Pictures is an independant production company who produce many of the great animated adverts and music videos that have been released recently. Some of their more recent and notable works that you may have seen are the new Audi Q5 "Box" animated advert, and the Gorrilaz music videos. This website has some wonderful pieces of good quality commercial animation available to watch, and there are some great examples of how different animation styles can be applied to popular culture and advertising. I'd recommend watching the Coldplay "Don't Panic" and Thomas Fersen "2 Pieds" music videos on there. - A huge archive of illustrators and examples of their work, easily sectioned so if you have a specific interest or style that you like you can search to find a variety of work to suite your own taste. There are a lot of interesting and varied pieces on there, and it's easy to see why animation and illustration are so closely linked! - "30 Unforgettable Movie Opening Sequences" is a really wonderful online article with video clips of some of the greatest and inspiring film openings to date! The article covers a variety of different films spanning different genres and styles. It's really great when a film has a wonderful opening sequence to set the scene, and the clips mentioned on this site really set the scene well. My favourite is the Casino Royale opening on there, absolutely great! - An independant UK based manga group who make and sell all of their own comics. They focus on storytelling rather than artist skill, but requirements to join their group are that you draw in a manga style. They are largely influenced by Japanese manga but have been bringing a new unique style to their comics, so it's definitely worth taking a look. - My favourite animated music video, ever. The song is beautiful, as is the animation. This was one of the animated music videos which inspired me to want to do animation, it combines stopmotion with rotoscoping in such an amazing way. - Official website to the Photographer's gallery, a small gallery on Ramilles Street which regularly holds very interesting exhibitions by upcoming photographers. They are currently showing a photography prize exhibition with some amazing new work. - This is ridiculously cute and catchy. You'll never look at eggs in the same way again. A UK based independent video game production company, who mainly focus on point-and-click games. The games are free to download so far, so it's really worth taking a look at what they've made! They have produced some really great work and it's a good example of how collaborating with various other students can help to create great things. - Carbonmade is an online portfolio site where you can upload your own work to show it to the world, and attract potential freelance jobs! It's interesting to see some of the work that people have put up on there.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Bird in Hand (2006) - Ellen Gallagher

I have decided to review Ellen Gallagher’s mixed media painting ‘Bird in Hand’, as I felt it was the piece that I could most relate to in the gallery. Ellen Gallagher was born in 1965 and often works around themes that are relevant to her own cultural identity as a black Irish-American. She often works in mixed-media, focussing on mythical themes, transformation and metamorphosis.

The painting has been made by using layers of paper which have been built up and cut away in places to create depth and texture in the image, while the figure is painted using oil and ink. The subject is an imaginative representation of a black pirate or sailor walking under the ocean through the “Middle Passage”, which is described as the worst slave trade path between Africa and North America.

I chose this painting because I have always enjoyed Illustration, and felt that this particular image had a very illustrative feeling to it. The painting has a sense of narrative, it tells a story rather than being a representation of reality. Ellen Gallagher stated ‘I think of this painting as an origin myth of sorts, with a kind of evil doctor, perhaps related to Doctor Moreau or Frankenstein, at its centre’. She is fascinated with the slave trade and transformation, and this is reflected in this piece by the subject and her artistic style. The patterns are organic and appear to flow naturally across the composition, while her use of layered paper adds texture to the image drawing our attention to the detail in the image.

The composition is simple - the figure in the image is placed centrally to instantly draw our attention to him and his actions, while the surrounding layered patterns set the scene of being under the ocean. The scale of the image makes the figure almost life-sized, so we are submersed with him. Her use of colours is also interesting as they are limited, and therefore are not overpowering. The pirate is the darkest part of the image, mostly in dull and monotonous colours again drawing our attention to him.

Ellen Gallagher’s use of intricate and complicated detail is often a popular style that many modern illustrators have adopted recently, for example the illustrator Silja Goetz ( In many of her illustrations she uses intricate patterns, paper textures and organic shapes like in Gallagher’s painting, while her subject matter mostly focuses on people. Tara Hardy ( also uses a similar style in her illustration work, however she mostly uses collaged images combined with detailed and flowing patterns. This style is often used to create mythical, sensual images which intrigue the viewer into looking closely and using their imagination to create narrative based upon the image.