Tag Archive: Pixar


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By Art Schmidt

I was having lunch with a friend the other day and we were talking about comic book movies and the slow transition of the formulas for the ones which have succeeded to television format. My friend was grumbling about the lack of costumed heroes on popular shows such as Arrow or the new Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  I have to admit, I hadn’t really noticed the lack of costumes in those shows, loving the first season of Arrow despite very few folks with traditional comic book costumes, and enjoying the first couple of episodes of A.O.S. (can you acronym an acronym?).

But the more I thought about it, the more puzzled I was.  Why weren’t there more costumes in Arrow?  Certainly Deathstroke’s mask was a pivotal prop in the series, and the Dark Archer had a cool getup, but they weren’t costumes so much as work attire fitting the villain’s nature.  And of course A.O.S. is a show about normal people, super spies and highly-skilled to be sure, but not superheroes.  And certainly without costumes outside of May’s black leather suit, akin to Fury’s normal wardrobe and the attire seen by many personnel aboard the Heli-carrier in The Avengers.

Speaking of which, The Avengers is a perfect case in point.  The evolution of the superhero sans costume.  I’ll get back to that in a minute.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you ever had an inkling to go to film school, if you are going to film school or if you teach film courses, Richard Rickitt’s Special Effects: The History and Technique should be required reading.  Not only is it a comprehensive work about the history and craft of special effects, it is a detailed account of the history and progress of film, and could serve as a college textbook to a master class in film technique.  And it is also a history of science and technology in its own right.

Rickitt’s Special Effects is a well-reviewed work, which is why it was purchased for me as a gift.  It is used as a college text in film schools and for good reason.  It has seen several printings since its first printing in Great Britain in 2006, including a reprint as recently as 2011, and it is as current as a nearly 400-page volume can be, including new effects technologies employed as recently as the Lord of the Rings films and X-Men 3.

Because of its price, Special Effects may not be for the casual movie enthusiast–but only because of price–as it can cost $40 for older editions and up to $230 for the most current edition.  Yet if you are really interested in behind-the-scenes cinema, it is probably worth saving for, and if you’re a college student, just slip it into your current semester’s $800 book purchase (at least that’s what I spent on each of my last few semesters for books and I can’t imagine prices have dropped–plus this book is actually a fun read you’ll hold on to).  It’s breadth is enormous, with both general and detailed coverage of landmark people and technologies from George Melies to Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen to Industrial Light & Magic to Pixar and Weta.  Although it purports to cover merely Special Effects, in truth it covers the beginning of film and every technology that was created since, building upon each discovery and new invention to bring us to the complex CGI technologies of today.

This is far from a quick read, and will likely serve as a reference work or one you pull off the shelf from time to time when you need something exciting to read of the non-fiction variety.  I mentioned college text–Rickitt is a good teacher, clearly explaining in terms anyone can understand not just the “what” but the “why” and “how” of benchmarks in film with visuals and diagrams, including explanations of the role and use of technologies like the zoetrope, the parts and functions of the modern movie camera, the history and types of film recording materials, matte film, blue-screens, film printing, optical and digital compositing, the A to Z of film projection, post-production techniques like image interpolation, the use of mirrors, forced perspective and miniaturization, pyrotechnics, cloud tanks, models, motion-control photography, digital and procedural modelling, texture mapping, special effects animation, rotoscoping, 3D technologies, motion blur, digital skin, performance capture, particle systems, high dynamic range images, match moving, rendering, the A to Z of matte painting, props, make-up, prosthetics, animatronics, sculpting, inner mechanisms, performance systems, digital make-up, atmospheric effects, breakaway effects, sound recording, sound effects mixing, foleying, dialogue replacement, and the future of film technologies.

A diagram from Rickitt’s Special Effects: The History and Technique

The author uses hundreds of photographs and provides real-use examples from movies to explain techniques.  Detailed analysis is used for movie benchmarks Rickitt has identified, including The Abyss (1989), The Birds (1963), Aliens (1986), An American Werewolf in London (1981), Blade Runner (1982), Citizen Kane (1941), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959), Destination Moon (1950), Earthquake (1974), The Exorcist (1973), Fantastic Voyage (1966), Forbidden Planet (1956), Forrest Gump (1994), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), Jurassic Park (1993), King Kong (1933), King Kong (2005), The Last Starfighter (1984), The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003), The Lost World (1925), The Matrix trilogy (1999-2003), Metropolis (1926), Mighty Joe Young (1949), 1941 (1979), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), all six Star Wars films (1977-2005), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), The Thief of Baghdad (1940), Things to Come (1936), Titanic (1997), Toy Story (1995), Tron (1982), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), The War of the Worlds (1953), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), Willow (1988), and Young Sherlock Holmes (1985).

You’ll learn about ambient occlusion, beam splitters, cannon cars, color separation, depth of field, diffuse reflection, dissolves, dubbing, edge detection, emulsion, extrusion, fluid dynamics, go-motion, introvision, the Lydecker technique, morphing, NURBs, plates, ray tracing, squibs, time-lapse and time slice photography, wipes, zooms and zoptics.

An early edition of Rickitt’s book–note that earlier versions will not have the most up-to-date coverage of current technologies. The version shown at the top of this review is the most recent edition.

And along with the “what”  and “why” Rickitt profiles a “who’s who” of landmark film creators, including Georges Melies, Mack Sennett, D.W. Griffith, James Whale, Alfred Hitchcock, George Pal, Roger Corman, Irwin Allen, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Robert Zemeckis, Peter Jackson, Dennis Muren, John P. Fulton, Linwood Dunn, Richard Edlund, Dennis and Robert Skotak, Arnold Gillespie, Theodore and Howard Lydecker, Gordon Jennings, John Dykstra, Steve Gawley, Lorne Peterson, Willis O’Brien, Ray Harryhausen, Phil Tippett, John Lasseter, Norman O. Dawn, Albert Whitlock, Peter Ellenshaw, Lon Chaney, Jack Pierce, Stan Winston, Rick Baker, Ken Ralston, Cliff Richardson, Michael Lantieri, Jack Foley, Ben Burtt, Gary Rydstrom, and the Carboulds.

But you don’t need to look at Special Effects: The History and Technique as a dense book of facts.  Pick it up now and then and enjoy reading the book in 4-5 page stints and you’ll become an expert in film in no time, or just be amazed at how the magic of film works.

Special Effects: The History and Technique has a forward by Ray Harryhausen and an appendix, including a glossary of film terms and awards.

First look–Pixar’s Brave

By Elizabeth C. Bunce

I have to admit something unpopular, here. I don’t always flock to the latest Pixar releases. I guess I enjoy their films, but as a whole, their trailers don’t do anything for me. There’s a 2012 release, though, that’s a big, notable exception.

And that would be Brave.  I’ve been keeping an eye on this one, since spotting it in an industry magazine about six months ago, and was immediately hooked.

According to IMDB: Determined to make her own path in life, Princess Merida defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom. Granted one wish, Merida must rely on her bravery and her archery skills to undo a beastly curse.

Ok, it didn’t take that much:
Scottish princess with curly red hair?  I’m in.
Scottish princess with curly red hair who loves archery, and does it wearing a dress and NOT pretending to be a boy? Huzzah!
Scottish princess with curly red hair, archery skills, and totally awesome green dress voiced by real-life Scot Kelly MacDonald? Be still my heart.

This weekend, I finally saw a snippet of it on the big screen, and it looks awesome!

The first thing I noticed was the marvelous gravelly burr of Billy Connolly (Mrs. Brown, Muppet Treasure Island), and then Merida’s spectacular red curls. The look of this film is gorgeous, from the brilliant, intense colors to the misty, haunting landscapes; and the cast is a virtual who’s-who of British actors we love to listen to. (I personally find MacDonald’s voice–and accent–completely enchanting, and could happily listen to her all week!)  In addition to the aforementioned MacDonald (State of Play, Gosford Park, Boardwalk Empire) and Connolly, watch–er, listen–for Harry Potter alumni Robbie Coltrane, Emma Thompson, and Julie Walters.

Great Scot Kelly MacDonald in Gosford Park

Great Scot Kelly MacDonald in Gosford Park

The trailer makes some obvious allusions to Braveheart, but I don’t expect to see MacDonald’s Merida riding before her troops, claymore aloft, crying, “They’ll never take our frrrrreedom!”

IMDB actually has five trailers, for your viewing pleasure.  Brave hits theaters next June. I can’t wait!

On February 17, 2012, Studio Ghibli releases Arrietty, its first Hayao Miyazaki project since Ponyo in 2008.   Miyazaki, for anyone who hasn’t explored anime before, is considered to be the master of the medium, and if you have watched any Disney or Pixar DVD special features you will be hard pressed not to have seen John Lassiter and his American animator brethren praising Miyazaki as their mentor, and their inspiration for their own animated storytelling.

Miyazaki has served as writer, artist and director, often painting frame after frame of his own films, where other studios might rely on studio artists for detail work.  For Arrietty, Miyazaki wrote the screenplay, based on Mary Morton’s The Borrowers.  Arrietty is a little girl, a very little girl, who lives in a world of tiny people called the Borrowers, who live by borrowing items when humans are not around, in the spirit of the fairy tales told in Miyazaki’s past films.  She befriends a human boy and encounters trials not unlike other “incredible shrinking person” stories.  Released last year in Japan and soon in the UK, Arrietty won’t hit U.S. theaters until next year.  In the meantime several great anime films are available on video to get caught up on Miyazaki’s works and other Studio Ghibli films.

Years ago we stumbled upon an AMC Network Monday night marathon that played two Studio Ghibli movies per night.  First up was Princess Mononoke (1997), and we were sucked right in.  It played first in English dubbed with American voices, but later we re-watched it in its original Japanese, with added English subtitles, and it was a different, far better film.  We are not fans of movies with subtitles, but this communicated its story seamlessly, and pretty much every other Miyazaki film we have seen plays better without the American dubbed actors.  The dubbing choices for Ghibli are typically known actors and actresses and they can sometimes detract from the story and are a bit distracting.

Princess Mononoke at first viewing reflects the animated movie Battle for Terra, in its interesting and inventive visuals, exciting action and mythic story.  Princess Mononoke surpasses that film and is a more complex story, but it plays like Star Wars in its energy.  Clone Wars should be this good.  The soundtrack is spectacular.  The story centers around a warrior on a quest to cure a curse.  He must walk a line between competing factions of a village and the forest and along the way encounters natural and spirit world obstacles.  Nothing is predictable in this world, but elements like sword fights, bravery, and sacrifice make the story familiar to any audience.

Another worthy film from Ghibli and Miyazaki is Spirited Away (2001).  A little girl is literally and figuratively spirited away when she wanders away from her parents and enters a strange and bizarre world of unique creatures, gods, witches and unworldly monstrosities.  She is forced to work for the creatures in a bath house.  The story and direction is imaginative and descriptions of the admittedly bizarre plot do not do justice to the compassion and angst you feel for the lost girl of the story.

Characteristic of Miyazaki is his sweeping panoramas of nature, whether through water, mountains or forests.  No film surrounds the viewer in these elements more than Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984).  Both written and directed by Miyazaki, Nausicaa follows a young princess who must forge through warring factions in her attempts to save her world.  Nausicaa is an ecological parable and a satisfying and sweet film.   Miyazaki’s storyboards were once available in book form (now out of print, but can still be found from time to time on eBay).  They showed in still form the great details and care he used in making the film.

The most fun of Miyazaki’s films is the first movie that made him a global name, My Neighbor Totoro (1988).  Two girls move to the country to be with their ailing mother and befriend several strange nearby animal creatures called Totoros.  This is a charming story of children having a fun adventure, despite the realities of their lives.  One highlight is a giant 12-footed wide-smiling Cheshire cat that serves as a bus to transport the girls and their spirit friends.  A story in the realm of Alice and Wonderland, but without all the dark and twisted places.

1995’s Whisper of the Heart marks a departure from Miyazaki’s trademark fantasy, focusing on a sweet romance between two Tokyo teens. But Studio Ghibli lavished the same care and detail on the scenery and cinematography of Whisper that characterized such masterpieces as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, and the result is a fully-realized and richly layered film that gives depth and majesty to this deceptively simple tale of two young people learning to follow their dreams.

Grave of the Fireflies (1988) plumbs the darker potential of anime, turning the delicate artistry and storytelling to this heartbreaking tale of two young siblings struggling to survive in Postwar Japan. This film pulls no punches, exploring the war’s effects on the Japanese homeland, a side of history seldom presented in Western film, with tremendous empathy and perspective.

The above are our top Ghibli recommendations. Other notable Studio Ghibli films include Kiki’s Delivery Service, Howl’s Moving Castle, Castle in the Sky, Porco Rosso and Ponyo.

C.J. Bunce and Elizabeth C. Bunce

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