Rise of the Guardians

Oscar Nominees 2013

The nominees for the 85th Annual Academy Awards have been announced. Yay!The awards show will be broadcast live on Sunday, Feb 24th on ABC.Let's take this by categories, mainly focusing on animation and vfx.

Best Picture “Argo” “Django Unchained” “Les Miserables” “Life of Pi” “Amour” “Lincoln” “Silver Linings Playbook” “Zero Dark Thirty” “Beasts of the Southern Wild”

Life of Pi is expected, and I've already mentioned it twice before so I won't say as much about it this time. Les Miserables was amazing; I cried, everyone cried. I haven't seen Beasts of the Southern Wild yet but I have heard great things about it and this movie is particularly of note due to that a group AAU students worked on the VFX of the movie.

Animated Feature Film “Brave” “Frankenweenie” “ParaNorman” “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” “Wreck-It Ralph”

As unfortunate as it seems, I don't really expect Brave to win as there have been many contention points about the story being somewhat weak. ParaNorman and Wreck-it-Ralph are some great contenders for the award. I'm somewhat disappointed that Rise of the Guardians was not nominated, but I suppose since the list is limited to five and there are already two 3D animated films that picking Frankenweenie would be a more diversified choice, although I found the movie to be somewhat dull.

Short Film – Animated “Adam and Dog” “Fresh Guacamole” “Head over Heels” “Maggie Simpson in ‘The Longest Daycare’” “Paperman”

I just went to watch the trailers for Adam and Dog and Head over Heels and they look beautiful and so adorable. As I haven't seen the full short it's somewhat hard to judge though. I think I've only seen Fresh Guacamole and Paperman in full but here I am fully expecting Paperman to take the award. Beautiful story, beautiful art, beautiful music, and particularly the advancement and combination of integrating 2D animation with 3D animation.

Visual Effects “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” “Life of Pi” “Marvel’s The Avengers” “Prometheus” “Snow White and the Huntsman”

I still think that the top two films fighting for the award will be Life of Pi and The Hobbit. It's quite hard to say who will win but I think I would prefer Life of Pi. I had a lot less issues with Life of Pi compared with The Hobbit, particularly at 48fps. I thought the vfx in Life of Pi was more beautiful and used well without a lot of frivolousness.



VFX and Storytelling

As a form of art, film has been used as a medium to tell stories. With the growth of technology and its implementation into the medium of film and production, stories have expanded to be told many different ways across various genres that could not be achieved during the early rise of movies. The technological improvements achieved over the many years have led to the rise of film leaving a stunning visual impact on the viewers.  With the influx of movies being made each year, there are a number of films that fall unfortunately into the realm of being overly dependent on visual effects work used to stun an audience while losing the grasp of the story.  Audiences first and foremost go to see movies for the story and thus visual effects ultimately should be implemented to further the plot instead of being a distraction.  Within the hoard of movies being released, there are often a handful of gems, films that were able to successfully integrate effect work not only to enrich the visual experience but also the story in creating immersive worlds and appealing characters. Many movies are misguided by the thought that extravagant effects work will entice the audience by itself. Unfortunately in such cases, the visual effects work becomes a crutch and the time dedicated to show off the grandiose explosions, chase scenes, or fight scenes are ill-used and takes away valuable time in plot development.  In extreme cases where certain scenes are extended for prolonged periods of time, the attention of the audience is lost.  One such case is apparent in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2011), as the director opted to cut important deaths and invaluable assistance of Harry’s escape from Voldemort in order to highlight a flying motorcycle chase through tunnels with various shenanigans of dodging cars and careening upside-down.  While the effects works may have greatly improved, particularly in comparison to the previous films, with many poor choices the Harry Potter movies do not hold up well.  The movies consist of many gaping plot holes and apparent inconsistencies that were brushed away but poorly hidden.  George Lucas stated “the realm of storytelling is more important than that of the visual effects necessary to bring a scene to life”.  While a world of magic needs to have many visual effect shots, often times the visual effects are unfortunately misused and are only seen as temporary eye-candy.

Visual effects have solidified as an integral aspect to film making but the winner of the Oscar award for visual effects is now harder to predict as focuses have shifted.  Instead of watching extravagant effects and considering shot counts, the focus has shifted into the integration of visual effects to serve the art of storytelling as expressed by Dennis Muren.  Peter Jackson stated that “in the world of Digital Effects, anything imagined is possible... which in a way brings the emphasis back on storytelling”. With technological advancements, many stories that may have been impossible to create can now be done.  Hailed as one of the books with a story unable to be filmed, Ang Lee took on Life of Pi (2012) and does a remarkable job in creating an epic journey of a young boy stranded on a life boat with a tiger.  Not only were there physical limitations of putting a person in a boat with a tiger, but the story was also difficult to tell in its portrayal of the struggle against nature, the emotional and psychological difficulties, and wonderment of spirituality.  Used well, the visual effects in the film not only portrayed the extreme dangers of the sea, the lonely solitude of being lost at sea, but also the vast wonders of the world.  The visual effects created the world that allowed the audience to follow the arduous journey of Pi as he struggles with survival.  While the animals were largely digitally created throughout the movie, the animals were created well and do not break the illusion of the danger of being in a small boat with a fully grown tiger.  The audience can feel the suspense and fear as they become fully immersed in the story. While often overlooked and not even considered for an Oscar award in the visual effects category, animated films use a lot of visual effects in their storytelling.  A notable film of such that was released recently was Rise of the Guardians (2012).  Much like how the digitally created Iron Man suit from the Iron Man series is what creates the character of the protagonist, the particle dynamics of sand is a part of the character of the Sandman from Rise of the Guardians.  One of the twelve basic principles of animation is appeal; not only is the Sandman appealing in character design but by his actions that were highlighted with the streams of sand that are used to conjure various images and items.  The visual effects of the particles vastly contributed towards the Sandman’s character that he would not be the same without it.  Such is an excellent example of using effects to develop the integral component of a character that plays a core role in the conveyance of the story while the audience continues believing in magic and dreams.

Visual effects have come a long way since they were first developed but, first and foremost, visual effects should exist to assist the story in creating emotion, deepening characters, and furthering the plot.  As ideas and usage of visual effects have shifted it has become difficult to distinguish which movie will win an Oscar for visual effects.  Shot counts and blockbusting films are not criterion in which films are judged but rather the skillful usage and of the effect are what are sought after.  Film, as a form of art is a process used to tell stories and with the rise of visual effects, more possibilities have been opened that were not feasible prior, enabling a larger array of stories to be told.  With anything imaginable being possible, it is important to bring films back to the attribute of storytelling.

Rise of the Guardians Review

Ever since I first saw the trailer for Rise of the Guardians I have been ecstatic and excited for the movie to be released. With all the talks and previews being shown at CTN I just got more and more excited for the movie. Jack Frost is one of my favorite mythical characters and I loved the character designs of not only Jack but all the other guardians. While people have been speculating that Rise of the Guardians will be the holiday movie of the season I say that Rise of the Guardians is a fantastic movie that will be a long lasting favorite regardless of time. Once again, SPOILER ALERT.

Before getting into the movie, comes the movie trailers. Trailers are wonderful in their own way and I love seeing what is to come. Thankfully this time Dino Time wasn't shown. Unfortunately Dino Time just doesn't look like a very good movie in both the animation, shading, and lighting. The story additionally felt unappealing as it was a straightforward "stuck in the past from time traveling and need to get back to the future" without a hook that would catch the audiences' hearts. The new trailer that I haven't seen before is a movie set to be released in February 2013 called Escape from Earth. Aliens come to Earth, get captured and locked up in Area 51 so now they have to escape. Visually the movie looks decent. However, as I grew up with Disney princesses, fantasy, and fairy tales, I'm not much into sci-fi and aliens so it was not something that struck me as I have to see it immediately when it comes out. I wish Dreamworks would release another trailer for The Croods. Seeing all the artwork and the story behind the movie while at CTN, the trailer does the movie no justice. The beginning sequence with the father with the bear talking has always left me confuse and I have finally figured out why. It was the composition of the shots. In the short span of within half a second from where the father is facing the family and talking to when he turns around and smacks the wall to emphasize the death of the bear, he flips from screen right to left and back to right again which is extremely jarring. In addition to that, right after the son talks but the audience is looking at the father while the son has his back towards the audience which made it very confusing on who was talking. There is additionally visually stunning and appealing sets out there that we only get very short glimpses at currently. I didn't go see Despicable Me in the theaters when it first came out but I'm glad that I got to see it later on. Even though the story is simplistic, it was still heart warming and cute with the "It's so fluffy!" shot quickly being loved by everyone. Now Despicable Me 2 has a trailer out but the plot is extremely vague. Two minions are kidnapped in an alienistic fashion with a beam ray while another minion opens the door and makes a horrified face. Hoping for the best for the movie. I am hesitant on sequels though as not many are done well.

Rise of the Guardians is described as a holiday movie and Pete Hammond from Deadline Hollywood has called it "The Avengers of animated movies". However, I don't think that does the movie justice. Guardians isn't quite cliched and washy as holiday movies and the plot is way more than just defeating the antagonist. I would say that the armature for Guardians may be along the lines of "believe in yourself", "find yourself", and "you are here for a reason".

Opening with the Dreamworks logo, the classic fisherboy got changed out to Jack Frost and that little touch was fun and amazing.

Each of the characters have their own world that they come from and to set them all up adequately is a daunting task for to show them off each would take large portion of the movie and thus ruining the buildup of any story. However, Dreamworks did a good job with the worlds in that they are incorporated well into the story and through the action the audience was given a tour around the land showcasing their each individuality. North's base was a wonderful hustle and bustle of yetis, elves, and toys. As Pitch darts around the buildings where Tooth dwells we get to see all marvelous buildings. Bunny's world was a fun journey as the audience follows the eggs as they become painted.

The character designs were very appealing. First with Jack Frost, he looked the part of a fun loving and mischievous teenager. Good looking, too, which a handful of middle school girls who sat nearby also voiced and agreed. Tooth is beautiful with her jewel toned feathers that cover her body and along with her cowl and wings made an elegant silhouette. Sandy the Sandman was fabulous and stunning with all the bright golden sand shining and swirling around; both him and his sand looked like gold glitter. Easter Bunny was interesting in that he was this tall gruff looking rabbit but still looked soft and fluffy. The best part was later on in the movie, after losing his magic, he turned into this adorable tiny bunny and when he showed up everyone in the audience went "awwww". Last but not least is North, or more commonly known as Santa Claus by the children of the world. North is not the giant bellied twinkling eyed Santa that is more commonly known but a large ex-military Russian. Not only was North physically imposing when compared to the other characters but it was wonderful on how North's character was setup. With a Matryoshka doll, North describes himself to not only be fierce, caring, and so on, but deep down in his center he is a child with wide eyes of wonder. Each character were all visually stunning so it was somewhat unfortunate that towards the beginning when they are first seen all together that the camera is cutting back and forth and the characters are all talking and passing in front of each other that it made it very hard to focus on all of them. The effect succeeded in making the sequence look disorganized but as the characters were all just introduced I really wanted to be able to look and follow each one of them.

I felt like I connected a lot with Jack Frost and thus I teared up quite a few times during the movie, it was a roller coaster of emotions that rose and fell repeatedly. As the main character, Jack's initial setup was well done. His birth coming out of a frozen lake and the wonder and fun he has as he runs around experiencing and playing really gives a sense of child-like wonder which brings a smile to your face. However, when he finds out that no one can see or hear him you feel along with Jack as your heart falls. Seeing Jack again after a 300 year jump you feel the cocky and mischievousness that emanates from him. With 300 years to practice Jack shows off with the fast and controlled flight and deftness with his staff as easily flips it up with his foot and catches it. The problem that Jack has is that no one believes in his existence and thus he can't be seen. "Jack Frost nipping at your nose" is reduced to nothing but a saying. It was so sad when he was left out when all the guardians were in Jamie's room and Jamie, a child, was able to see Tooth, Sandman, Bunny, and North but not Jack. The pain of not being able to be seen was emphasized a lot throughout the film, particularly through Jack. Even though Jack and Bunny butted heads a lot, when it came to Bunny's turn to suffer not being believed in due to the failure of Easter, the pain could really be felt and shared. Bunny got hit hard from that event that when he came out in his small  cute bunny form and heard that Jack helped made Jamie believe that true gratitude could be felt. I actually had tears coming out at this part. It was great what Jack brought to the group of guardians. Jack showed them the irony that while the guardians were so busy trying to protect the children of the world that they have stopped having fun and knowing how to be with children. Tooth expresses how much she misses being out in the field herself and that watching the children was her favorite part of her job.

Sandy was awesome. Not only does he have glitter all over but he completely owns Pitch in their battle. His dual whips are amazing. Sandy is this round little hovering ball that talks with pictures; he looks like the happiest person as he constructs dreams out of sand and send them to children that the very one-sidedness of the fight was surprising and a delight to watch. Similar to how Hulk just completely flung Loki around like a ragdoll in The Avengers. I was distraught when seeing him get shot by Pitch and taken over. The two whips just weren't enough against a horde of Nightmares and I felt like he could have done so much more. While it worked well story-wise the waves of sand made me think of Katara waterbending from Avatar: The Last Airbender. Katara has a neat trick where she bends the water into tentacles around her and she whips those all around her. That would have been amazing for Sandy to do. Thankfully, with the children's help, Sandy comes back and once again beats up Pitch.

The acting and animation was great. One particular shot was the how when North said that even though Jack holds the record for the naughty list, they are starting clean. As North says starting clean, he is brushing his right arm that has the naughty tattoo on it as if he is literally wiping Jack off the naughty list. I loved the facial expressions and emotions throughout the film for it caught a realistic subtly of emotions. When Jack found that Jamie was actually about to see him, the expression was not a simple joy but surprise, elation, bewilderment, shock, and wonder were all there on Jack's face.

I have to give a big hand to the artists who did the dynamics for they were stunning and beautiful. Jack's frost was beautiful. It was an elegant and swirling pattern like embroidery. Then there was all the particles for Sandy and Pitch. Not only does the sand have to flow, swirl, and scatter, but it has to come together to form various creatures and also as a method for Sandy to communicate. The sand was beautifully done and I was elated to find that Sandy came back towards the end of the film and show off his ability.

While I have mentioned that I've teared up a few times and the adorableness of the cute bunny version of Bunny, the movie also had hilarious parts that had the audience laughing out loud. There's the well known part shown in trailers where Jack calls Bunny a kangaroo, not only funny because while standing on two feet Bunny does somewhat resemble one, but Bunny is played by Hugh Jackman who is Australian. A reoccurring gag is a yeti who paints things. The yeti first paints all the toys blue but North wants them red, but when he paints all the Easter eggs red, Bunny wants them blue. As Sandy doesn't talk, when no one pays attention to him, he picks up one of the elves and shakes him, jingling the bell to get everyone's attention. The look of annoyance that Sandy has is priceless.

Sit through the credits and you get to watch the baby Tooths, elves, and Yetis help the the children back home. Cute and funny but the best part was when a Yeti autographed Jamie's book on mythical creatures.

This is definitely one of the best films of the year, enjoyable for all, and needs to be seen.

CTNX '12 - Day 2

The big day of CTN with so many exciting panels and demos to attend! I woke up at 6am to get ready so that I could stand in line for a fastpass, hoping to be able to get one for the Glen Keane talk. I was so close! I was 10 feet from the table when it was announced that the Glen Keane tickets were all out. So sad. People were apparently lining up since 5am for them. I instead got the fast pass for the Dreamworks talk on Rise of the Guardians.

The first panel to start off this second day was the talent behind Hotel Transylvania. One thing that I loved about the movie, and a topic that the director, Genndy Tartakovsky made a point of is the animation and the application of 2D and 3D. What Genndy wanted was a 2D animation style that really pushed poses with stretch and squash and talking with the riggers and animators, the answer wasn't "no" but rather "we'll try" and they did it. The style was achieved and really pushed the animation of the movie and made it really interesting. 2D is not dead, it is still applicable in the creation of stories that captures people.

I was unable to attend the animation lectures with Mike Makarwicz as I was at the demo with Bobby Chiu. On one side Andreas Deja was doing a demo of 2D animation with Lion King while Bobby Chiu was showing character design. While I love Lion King, the character design is what I came to see. It was amazing. I have read his various tutorials in the magazine ImagineFX but it was a whole new experience and I learned so much from watching him work.

I am so excited for next week when Rise of the Guardians come out. First, I've always liked Jack Frost but getting to hear about movie from a development perspective from the talent behind the movie has me hyped even more. Hamish Grieve, head of story, Gabe Hordos, head of character animation, and Takao Noguchi, character designer, talked.about the creation of each character and really developing the specificity for each so that they're unique in their own way, has a soul that is portrayed, and a core that could be grasped.

There was a sneak peek of Dreamworks' next new film, The Croods. I've been hesitant about this movie for awhile due to the trailers that I've seen portray a bunch of dirty, grimy people living in a cave located in a desolate world. It didn't look very appealing. However, that trailer does the movie no justice. There is a huge.additional part of the movie that takes place in a whole different set that is just fantastical, beautiful, and absolutely amazing.

Glen Keane. The line was ridiculous. People were waiting outside for at least two hours. It did not help that it started raining. Even worse was that about a hundred more VIPs than expected showed up so us people in the general line weren't even sure if we would get in. A lot of us didn't get inside the room but they were able to clear out the lobby and let us watch on the TVs outside. A bit of a disappointment but at least I got to see and hear the talk. The main point of Glen Keane's talk was to think like a child for children have the transparent innocence and imagination that drives each of us to be artists and do what we love.

During a bit of downtime earlier in the afternoon that I had in-between panels I finally broke down and bought a book. It was the wordless comic LOVE - le tigre by Federico Bertolucci and Frederic Brremaud. I've seen posters of the cover up around before and I love it with the tiger but I never seen the actual book until now. Finally getting my hands on the book I had to buy it. Not only is there a tiger but there are also many amazing drawings of other animals. Unfortunately I don't think they are at CTN or else I would have loved to have it autographed.

Coming tomorrow are the panels for Frankenweenie, Paperman, and Wreck-it-Ralph!

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