review

How To Train Your Dragon 2 Review

Thanks to Tea Time Animation, I got some passes to see an early screening of How To Train Your Dragon 2! This may have been my number one anticipated movie this year and I was not disappointed. The movie was a lot of fun and perfect in time for Father's Day. Spoilers ahead! I'm personally one of those people who don't mind spoilers and sometimes even likes them as they give me something to look forward to. Instead of thinking that the movie is completely ruined, I go "hey, that's awesome, I really want to see such and such part for myself!"

There seems to be quite a few main plot points going on around this sequel. One of them that I picked out is that the movie is about Hiccup growing up and becoming an adult and learning about the responsibilities that he will have to shoulder, namely being an adult and a leader means that he must protect those he holds dear. Another is that you win friends and their loyalty through trust and respect, not fear and domination. The third one I would say is that everyone, although different and in this case dragons and humans, can live in harmony and peace.

The main selling point of this movie would be the dragons and they were magnificent. We get the ones from the first movie along with some great new ones such as Valka's Stormcutter dragon, Cloudjumper, and the alpha Bewilderbeast dragons. Loved the animation on them and how they heavily referenced real animals and really showcases well Toothless and Cloudjumper's personalities. Toothless was interesting in that it feels that his personality changed. In the first movie he was more panther and cat like as he's more wary and just getting to know Hiccup but now Toothless is more doglike and playful. Meanwhile Cloudjumper seems to be referencing cats and owls and is a lot more regal and is not having any of Toothless' shenanigans. The human characters I'm not quite as sure of. There are times where I felt they were a bit over animated with lots of gesturing and head movements while talking. What made it very interesting though is that the movie points it out itself and makes fun of it through Astrid's teasing of Hiccup on how he talks.

Since we already have an established romance aspect of Hiccup and Astrid from the first movie, this time around we have a more comedic approach to it through Snotlout and Fishlegs fighting over Ruffnut who then in turn crushes on Eret. The dynamic between the crazy four way romancing was hilarious and had the entire theater laughing, particularly the parts where Ruffnut attempts to flirt with Eret and we get closeups of Eret's bulging biceps.

There were some plot points that didn't quite make as much sense. Toothless has an entire contraption on him to make the tail work so that he could fly properly and in the first movie we see Hiccup going through a lot of experimentation and training to get it right. Hiccup even makes the claim that Toothless can't fly properly without a rider so when Drago decides to commandeer Toothless I would think that it would not work since Dragon wouldn't know how to make all the mechanisms function correctly. Nope, Drago somehow flies Toothless perfectly and gets to Berk without any issues. Drago has a dragon hiding underwater and through Fishleg we are set up to expect some amazing dragon such as a Leviathorgan. Unfortunately when the dragon is revealed, it is just another Bewilderbeast. At least since it was able to survive submerged deep underwater I would have expected it to look slightly different other than coloring and have different abilities but unfortunately no, it was just a dark version of the while Bewilderbeast with the same ice breath powers. While on the subject of the Bewilderbeasts, I wish that there would have been more to the Bewilderbeasts' battle. Instead there were just a lot of bashing up against each other as if they were two rhinos. I expected at least a couple of ice breathes to the face! Toothless getting a second set of dorsal fins was somewhat interesting but slightly weird that Toothless seems to have never known about them. They're on his body and seemingly an integral part of how he moves and flies. It would be like a person never knowing that he/she has knees and walked around back and forth without ever bending them.

Loved the texture work. The dragons' scales were especially spectacular with all the little nuances of different amounts here and there, more prominent ones in certain areas, the coloring, and spikes in all the right areas. The hair work is amazing once again and I especially liked Stoic's beard with all the different layers and striations.

I didn't know until the credits but Eret is voiced by Kit Harrington, or more popularly known as Jon Snow from Game of Thrones. If I were to watch the movie again, all that would go through my mind when Eret argues with Hiccup over dragons now would be "You know nothing Eret son of Eret".

It'll be interesting to see what DreamWorks comes up after this as I expect more sequels to come. I really hope that the series doesn't get overworked and leads to its death. It is quite unfortunately that DreamWorks has apparently decided not only to ceased to create original works but has also cut funding in their animation division with focus on putting out sequels that they can depend on to sell well. Personally I don't want to see any sequels past three and a series shouldn't have more than two spinoffs. Once its at that point then its overkill and when I see another title that comes out trying to milk that series I just roll my eyes and put it in a corner to be further considered at a later time. Here's to hope for the next few originals that DreamWorks had already planned and in development to do well to show that people do want and like new things so that more can come our way!.

Maleficent Review

It was quite interesting leading up to this movie. First I was excited for it since it's one of Disney's most beloved villains but then I was disappointed since the reviews on it were the general consensus that Angelina Jolie played an amazing Maleficent but the rest of the movie didn't really live up to par. Seeing those reviews I had initially decided that I was going to pass or hold off on watching Maleficent in the theaters. However, my interests peaked back up again as even though the movie still stays at a 50%-60% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie is making well over two times in box office as compared to X-Men: Days of Future Past which holds a 92% rating. On top of the box office, having friends that I know who have actually went to see the movie all have come back with great reviews. Thanks to another invite by the VES, I got to go see a screening of Maleficient at Pixar last Saturday!

Some have said to go into movies with zero expectations so that you wouldn't be disappointed and can only be impressed. However, I think that's silly since if you don't have any expectations then why go see the movie at all?At that point you are just throwing money at a screen hoping for something that might entertain you for a fleeting hour and a half without any real interest. Having read and watched various reviews, I went in already knowing what to expect. That Jolie is going to be spectacular and that the story isn't truly "canon" to the original Disney version that everyone grew up loving. When I came out of the movie I had found that I enjoyed myself quite a lot.

The story follows as Maleficent is the guardian of a place called the Moor where all the fairyfolk live. She falls in love with Stefen who then betrays her due to greed and desire to be king. Maleficent seeks revenge and curses Sefen's daughter, Aurora. Herein lies the biggest issue that I have with the story. Maleficent is super passive aggressive when she shows up once again in front of Stefen. Stefen betrayed her and cut off her most prized wings. Even without her wings, Maleficent is still a force to be reckoned with as she still has all her magic. Instead of going on a raging warpath to seek revenge upon Stefen which is what she wanted, Maleficent instead decides to sit back and mope for at least almost a year until a baby is born.

Since I already knew that the story was going to be different, it's not just the same story told through a different perspective like Wicked, I knew that the ending was going to be different and I didn't mind the change. However I can see why some people were all up in an uproar over it initially. Part of the reason is that it is so unexpected because the movie was making little references here and there back to the Disney classic, such as only having three fairies come to bless Aurora (the original story had twelve fairies with the thirteenth being left out), the whole line about not being able to fly or use magic, and making a mess out of trying to take care of a human child. I did feel that the "true love's kiss" coming from Maleficent herself instead of Prince Philip was slightly corny and jumping on the bandwagon. It has been done twice already in the TV show Once Upon A Time, also owned by Disney, and Frozen has already established the whole "you don't need a man to save you". When the initial kiss failed and Maleficent came to kiss Aurora on the forehead I already knew what was going to happen and started to roll my eyes. While the not needing a man to whisk you away aspect isn't necessary, I wished the movie could have done something different than the same tropes that have been shown repeatedly.

One part that I did not really like in the movie was during the final battle, after getting her wings back, Maleficent changed into a strange skin tight leather looking outfit. It is plausible that she could be wearing that under her cloak/robes but that was never set up at all. One minute she is wearing her robed look, then shes hit, and then the next shot is of her without her robe on. Another factor that I disliked about it is that it ruins and changes Maleficent's silhouette as it's part of her signature look to make her look mysterious and imposing. The other factor that I disliked the skintight leather outfit was that it was completely out of left field compared to everything else that Maleficent had worn throughout the movie. If you look at Maleficent's wardrobe, all her clothes were seemingly made naturally, either from animal skin and feathers or from tree bark or other plants.

Angelina Jolie, as said, was magnificent. She had the look, stature, and personality of what we expected Maleficent to be. I particularly loved the eyes as they were truly captivating and always had a perfect specular highlight brightening them up. Unfortunately the other characters tend to fall short. No fault to the actors, I felt that the shortcomings tended to come more from the script. While Maleficent had rich and provocative lines to deliver, other characters seem to exist to move the story along. The characters seem to be created specifically to fill a certain role and we don't see any development, thought, or other sides to a character for them to be interesting and want to be connected with. The king is evil, the three fairies are incompetent, and Aurora is cute and pleasing as blessed to be.

I loved the CG elements in the movie, particularly all the creatures. My favorite being the water sprite/nymph things that are greenish blue with the red streamers trailing behind them as they dance across the water. They remind me kind of like a leafy sea dragon. I wish the movie would have been more specific with what the creatures are as they were only addressed in passing if at all. Mostly they were just referred to under an umbrella term of fairies. Although the three red, green, and blue flower fairies that came to bless Aurora were called pixies at one point but then never mentioned by that term again. Maleficent is also a fairy but clearly different from the others.

X-Men: Days of Future Past Review

I usually don't review live action movies since my focus is in animation but I like X-Men this much so I'll do it. It also helps that I got to see it twice. First time in theaters and once again through a special invite from VES to watch a private screening of the movie at Dolby Labs' theater. It's nice that I got to enjoy the movie as it is the first time and then focus on analysis the second time around instead of thinking about every scene as it happens and jotting down a memory of note so I can review it later. Really enjoyed the movie. Go see it if you haven't already! I was never a big superhero fan as a child growing up and am only more into it now as I'm in the animation and visual effects industry. I didn't grow up reading the X-Men comics or watching the cartoon so I don't have a lot of back history with the series; I only started to become a fan after the first movie in 2000. I've read some of the comics in recent years, but the timelines were all after the House of M devastation. What I did learn from those few series is how bleak and depressing the world for the mutants is. The mutants are despised, feared, segregated, and discriminated heavily against and often killed through some of the most horrific means. To top all that off, in order to end the timeline and to start a new plot the comic often ends with all the mutant killed either by the hands of others or by themselves through someone going berserk. I have actually cried through reading some of the issues and makes me wonder exactly what the Avengers were doing. Particularly in New Mutants when a mass homicide happened to kill a bus full of children.

This is one factor that I really liked about Days of Future Past. The movie captured that bleak future and devastation of the comics that I remembered. However they then turned it around with a message of hope saying that there can be a better way instead of living in fear and discriminating others.

Just because someone stumbles and loses their way, it doesn’t mean they’re lost forever. Sometimes we need a little help.

Getting to see the movie a second time enabled me to watch for the little things and those little things were really fun and made me appreciate the movie much more. First up is when Wolverine is talking to the mafia thugs trying to intimidate them. I just found it hilarious that Hugh Jackman was flexing his chest while talking, adding to the "intimidation" factor. The other one that I really like is when Magneto hits his head on the pavement from being attacked by Beast. It's not a major or even a minor part to the plot and in no way affects anything but the movie remembers to make Magneto bleed while he's held underwater in the fountain and then him stitching himself back up afterward.

However, being able to analyze the movie a second time also means that I can spot plot holes and continuity issues. First up is Magneto's ability. Magneto's power is to control magnetism not to control metal. It's fine if the non-mutants chalk up Magneto's ability to control metal since they don't know that much but for Quicksilver to say that he was told that Magneto can control metal is strange since Xavier and Wolverine should know way better than that. Continuing on Magneto's abilities, he threaded metal through the Sentinels so that he was able to control them but in no way is he able to overwrite their system. Thus, it makes no sense when Magneto gives a voice command to a Sentinel to go "do what you're made for". As Magneto is saved from prison, the rescue finds themselves facing a group of security with plastic/ceramic guns and Xavier doesn't have his powers. Quicksilver comes to the rescue with his super speed and diverts the trajectories of the bullets and the guards' bodies. It was a fun and hilarious scene but the issue is that Quicksilver is listening to music as it happens. Unless he has a super sped up song it kind of can't happen. A confusing continuity issue is the jump from Paris, right after Mystique attempts to kill Trask, and then to Washington DC, when the President is having a meeting to discuss the issue. It looks like the same day and time and if a major issue of having mutants show up in public I assume that the President is responding immediately instead of waiting a few days to review the issue. The problem is that Trask is also at the meeting. How did he get from Paris to Washington DC in seemingly no time, assuming it's the same day and probably only soon after the event? Even more puzzling is to why is Trask at the meeting at all. This was a private meeting between the President and his council members. Trask is a businessman and developer but seeing as how the President knew nothing about the mutants or the Sentinel program, there would be no reason to have knowledge of inviting Trask to the private meeting.

Assuming all the movies thus far are on one singular timeline, as it seems to be from the flashbacks, there are some questions left. Mystique was captured by Trask and then experimented on to create the Sentinels but then she somehow escapes or is rescued but all in one piece even though Trask wanted to take brain tissues, spinal fluid, and bone marrow at the very least. After the future is fixed does the first X-Men movie still happen with Magneto kidnapping Rogue so he can turn the entire world into mutants? At the end it shows Stryker pulling Wolverine out of the water but it turns out it was Mystique impersonating. I assume Wolverine still gets his metal claws in the new future since it's party of his signature but then how did Wolverine get from being saved by Mystique to being back in Stryker's hands to be tortured and pumped full of adamantium?

Apparently Rogue was suppose to play a part in the movie. After Kitty Pyrde got cut by Wolverine, Magneto and Xavier were suppose to go rescue Rogue out of prison so that Rogue can take Kitty's powers and take over holding Wolverine in the past. I was glad that this part got cut out as it doesn't seem extremely necessary in the larger part of the story, it doesn't break the already going on continuity to go to a third location, and it adds to the urgency of the situation.

Effects and CG wise I thought they looked great. I wish they had Blink with her purple skin, even tinted slightly, and that Sunspot looked more like the comic book version with him being largely black with a fire-y halo/glow around him as I feel the current version looks somewhat like Human Torch from Fantastic Four. Small nitpicks though and not all that important. I can see why they decided to go with the direction of Sunspot as everything was really dark in the future and he would have been hard to see. Loved the future Sentinels and how they would ripple when changing. As always, love Mystique's transformation effect. Props to Jennifer Lawrence and the make up team for having to go through seven hours of prosthetic makeup to create Mystique. The only part that I felt was awkward and not integrated completely was when the metal tracks were flying alongside the train. I think the specularity on them may have been too high or the black and white values were somewhat off.

Remember to stay to the end, not only for respect of all the artists who worked on the movie, but there's also a sneak peek into the next movie, X-Men: Apocalypse. We get a teaser with Apocalypse building a pyramid and then off in the distance are the silhouettes of four people on horses!

I'm glad that the movie is doing well as that means it paves the way for more movies to be made. X-Men movies are probably ridiculously expensive to make as not only are there all the visual effects needed for every mutant but there are quite a few large named actors which most likely costs a pretty penny and they can't really be replaced as they've long been established as their characters already.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman Review

In preparation for director Rob Minkoff and, daughter of the original creator, Tiffany Ward's arrival to give a talk about the Mr. Peabody and Sherman movie on February 21st, Tea Time was invited to view a special press screening of Mr. Peabody and Sherman yesterday, February 13th; 3 weeks before the movie's actual release! As I've never seen the original, Peabody's Improbable History, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect but was hyped for the movie after attending to a panel about the movie at CTNx. We even got limited edition Mr. Peabody themed 3D glasses!

Mr. Peabody is an incredibly intelligent dog who won the right, through legal law, to adopt a human infant boy, Sherman, as his son. Inspired by Sherman, Mr. Peabody built a machine called the WABAC to take Sherman on travels through time and teach him not only history but important life lessons. Now that Sherman is growing up, Mr. Peabody has to deal with the issues of being a father, trusting, and letting go through the adventures and mishaps that occur while attempting to solve the paradox created by Sherman and Penny when they traveled back in time.

I loved this movie. While I have some friends who would disagree, I liked this movie more than The Lego Movie. I laughed and I cried. I felt the characters to be endearing and relatable. I found the puns funny and having co-directed The Lion King, Rob Minkoff knew how to hit those beats to make heartstrings twinge as Mr. Peabody and Sherman attempt to resolve their issues. While there may be some issues of the story that takes a bit of a stretch of imagination, such as everyone speaking the same language, even in Egypt and Italy, they tend to be common occurrences in cartoons and thus I did not mind them. One small stretch that may have been a little too far is how Agamemnon says "Don't tase me bro" as if he knew what a taser is. One small point that was confusing to me was exactly when the WABAC was built. Mr. Peabody mentioned that he built the WABAC after being inspired by Sherman however in Mr. Peabody's memory sequence we see Mr. Peabody traveling back in time to William Shakespeare's and even ancient Egyptian time on the Nile (great reference back to Dreamwork's Prince of Egypt movie) while Sherman was still an infant. Otherwise, for a time traveling movie that can have many plot holes and inconsistencies, I felt that the story was decently strong.

While there were quite a number of butt jokes I quite liked the comedy element of the movie. I found the puns to be witty and quite funny. They were also very well integrated into the dialogue which is an issue that I had with Sunny with a Chance of Meatballs 2. In Meatballs 2 the puns just kept coming one after another as the characters kept on shouting them and it was quite dull and the "THERE'S A LEEK IN THE BOAT" joke wasn't even funny in the movie as it was completely out of place unlike the trailer when you think that they are in danger while going down rapids.

I really like the textures and materials in this movie. They were simple yet detailed. Simple in that they refer back to the original hand drawn cartoon yet detailed to give the world feasible plausibility and richness. The wood grain was intricately painted,  the skin textures while simple had a great and beautiful amount of subsurface, and while Mr. Peabody may just look white, he in fact has detailed hair covering him. Also, while having had a dog, the details and specularity on Mr. Peabody's nose was perfect. I also want their shader/material for the sand used in Egypt as I am currently working on look dev for a beach.

The lighting was also really nice. There were subtle color adjustments for mood shifts that matched very well. Interestingly there is a segment in the movie as Mr. Peabody reflects upon his memory of Sherman growing up and during the segment the lighting/materials were "faked" as there were specularities, particularly eye specs. It was beautiful with a nice sepia tone but it was a similar method in turning everything to surface shaders and using an occlusion pass to create shadows.

While there have been movies where I have said "amazing in 3D, totally worth the extra ticket price", I unfortunately did not feel quite so for this movie. The movie tended to be very character focused and towards the front of the screen so there isn't often large expanses of land going back in space where the stereoscopic 3D can really shine. Instead there was a lot of fingers or swords point straight at/out at the screen which felt somewhat gimmicky and I didn't particularly care for.

The Lego Movie Review

I initially was like "meh" about this movie when I first saw the trailer in the theaters since it was about Legos, which I thought to be constricting and limiting, and clearly a comedy film, which I don't particularly like to go to actual theaters for. I hadn't been watching the trailers either and it wasn't until recently when a friend showed me the second trailer was I like "Wow" due to the quality of the textures, which I will go into more later. Trailers! Most memorable is Laika's Box Trolls trailer where they showed the creation process of creating a stop motion movie. It was beautiful. Mr. Sherman and Peabody again which I am looking forward to, and the other trailer for an animated movie is Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return. Kind of iffy, particularly how cartoony and kid-oriented it seems and the story isn't based on previous books.

The Lego Story is about Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrel) disliking the chaos that is created from the combination of multiple sets of Legos, without instructions, to create hodgepodge of creations. Lord Business steals the "Kragle" from Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman) and sets in motion his plan to ensure everything will be exactly as he wants the world to be. Vitruvius prophesies that there will be a "special" who will find the Piece of Resistance which is capable to stop the Kragle. Eight and a half years later, Emmet, the most ordinary character with no special qualities becomes the one to find the Pieces of Resistance and he goes off on an adventure attempting to escape from the clutches of Lord Business and to get the Piece of Resistance to the Kragle in order to save the world. The movie does a good job at hiding exactly what Lord Business' plan entails and what the Kragle is. It turns out that the Kragle is a tube of Krazy Glue with the "zy" and "u" scrapped off. The Piece of Resistance is the cap to the tube of Krazy Glue. Through all the adventures and towards the end of the movie, we find out that the Lego world is a reflection of the real world, that was actually live action, and a child's imagination as a little boy, Finn, plays with his father's Lego set that he was not supposed to touch.

Distributed by Warner Bros., the animation is done by Animal Logic over in Australia, which I know them for the Happy Feet movies and Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole.

When I first heard about a Lego movie my reaction was "meh" in that everything is just going to be plastic and very limited. What got me to go see this movie in the theaters is how ridiculously detailed the textures were down to the small scratches and dents that appear in the plastic by default and additional ones through usage. Everything was done very exactly, such as seams along edges from when the plastic is molded and scratches around the paint. There was some nice subsurface going on so that light can pass through thinner areas of the plastic. Animal Logic had an interesting tool that allowed them to take individual blocks of Legos and actually build everything that can be seen in the world. Which is great as texture artists probably didn't have to paint thousands of individual Legos that seemingly looks the same and only a few variations. The "dynamics" in the movie were hilarious and amazing in that things like explosions and water were still made out of Legos which seems quite a feat to do. "The Void" wasn't made out of Legos which I found strange at first but once I realized what it actually way, the drop off the table where the Lego world is sitting on and into the real world, I was like "Okay, that makes sense then".

The animation was quite interesting. While limited, due to the lack of joints and possible deformations of Legos, the animators were able to achieve lively and hilarious performances. The movements were kept very much in the style of how a Lego character is limited, although there were a few instances where I saw an arm reach out horizontally. I did feel the choice of how the characters wear clothes was strange though and wasn't what I was expecting. If you want a figure to change clothes when playing Legos, you take off the head and actually switch bodies. Instead what happened was Emmet through a shirt up into the air, jumped through it, and it magically was worn. Everything else was kept very Lego-like with hair being taken off, Good Cop/Bad Cop having a second face in the back, and heads being able to turn 360 degrees.

Towards the end of the movie felt to be confusing and have somewhat fallen apart with inconsistencies and large stretches of inference. There was the small tube of the Kragle that can somehow be a world ending weapon and is able to somehow create an endless amount of super glue and putting the Piece of Resistance, the cap on the Kragle automatically stops the TAKOS machines spraying the super glue everywhere as if the Kragle was merely a power source, how Emmet could move in the real world although like a demon possessed toy, and how Emmet miraculously gained Master Builder powers on his return to the Lego world so that he can create a giant robot to save the world. Overall I found the movie to be enjoyable though. Usually I dislike Will Ferrel movies as I don't find him funny, just stupid, but like Megamind, I didn't mind him so much. The story had a nice message of the flourish of creativity and that everyone is special. I particularly like the aspect of how, since the world is made of Legos, if you have the creativity you can just take things all around you to create something. The movie is doing extremely well. It has a 97% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The sequel has already been announced and it seems like the second movie, with the arrival of Duplex blocks at the end brought by Finn's sister, might be something about allowing others, even though extremely different, into your world of imagination.

Apparently there are some theaters that are giving away limited edition Lego characters. Below is a photo taken by a friend, Mark Angoncillo of the one he got at Regal Cinemas. Unfortunately I went to Century Theaters where they did not have this gift.

Frozen Review

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! I got over my cold right on time for it and what's just as exciting is finally the release of Frozen! It's been quite a while since I've went to the theaters as I skipped Turbo, Planes, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, and Freebirds. I have been eagerly waiting for this movie to be released and haven't been able to see any early screenings of it either, at ILM or CTN. I don't care about some people saying the characters look too homogenized, looking too much like Rapunzel from Tangled, or how they dislike the sidekick character, Olaf. This movie is completely for me. Frozen has two princesses and lots of singing which is, even though I still loved it, something that I found sadly missing from Wreck-it-Ralph. After the official release, there's even been a review with a headline, that I quickly glanced at,  saying that Frozen is the new best movie since Lion King. This is a tall, tall, order to make as Lion King is my favorite Disney movie. While Lion King doesn't lose its spot, I loved Frozen. I've cried many times throughout the movie and, while For the First Time is easier to sing, Let It Go is my favorite song.

First off is trailers! Animal Logic is making another movie, The Polar Bears, and it features the polar bears from Coca-Cola. I don't know. It looks cute with polar bears and it seems like a standard happy family movie but at the same time it may fall into the trap of making a giant hour long advertisement for Coca-Cola. The Nut Job, by ToonBox Entertainment and Red Rover International, is something new but unfortunately doesn't really spark my interest with squirrels and rats trying to break into a nut shop. I was kind of iffy on The Lego Movie before but seeing this new trailer made it look pretty good. The movie is directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the directors of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and it really comes across with all the hilarious gags.

The short that comes before Frozen is Mickey Mouse in Get a Horse. I had already seen Get a Horse previously at Animation Show of Shows but it was unfortunately just in 2D. 3D does make it better, it was more visually appealing as the characters play with the different levels of space. Not only is there the 3D foreground space of the theater and the 2D space of the projected movie screen but there is another 3D space behind the screen which further suggests the authenticity of the characters and the world that they inhabit, recalling back to my days from DxArts.

Frozen is based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale The Snow Queen. Loosely. Which I love. Just like with Princess and the Frog and Tangled, I love seeing how Disney can take a classic story and put a new twist on it that is exciting, intriguing, and appealing. Instead of a girl traveling to snowy lands to save her kidnapped brother from the snow queen, Anna and Elsa are sisters and Elsa, who becomes the snow queen, is frightened of her powers and ends up running away after an incident to protect those she cares for from herself. Anna must journey to find her sister and resolve the issue, casting Arendelle into eternal winter, accidentally caused by Elsa.

Since the trailers, people have been giving a lot of grief over the snowman sidekick character, Olaf. Many complaints were that he was annoying and doesn't contribute in a significant way other than to provide comedic relief. In the movie, while he does provide comedic relief, I actually find Olaf coming across as very endearing. This is partially built upon by the history he has between Elsa and Anna as Olaf is the snowman that Elsa built for Anna in their childhood, while they were still friends and Anna hadn't had her memory wiped.

I love Elsa, she is fierce. I do wish she had more screen time. Her character cinched it for me when she sang Let It Go. The sequence was beautiful and the song really hit home as she sang about how she had to keep herself hidden all the years past and become the normal girl everyone expects of her. She's had enough hiding herself and it's time to open up and be proud of who she is. One confusion I do have though is her issue of being unable to control her powers. She looked like she was able to control them perfectly well as she creates a bridge of ice and an entire palace. It's only when there are other people around does it suddenly become "Oh no, stay away from me, I can't control it!" However, I'll attribute this more to that Elsa isn't so much as can't control her powers as she has too much powers and it is bursting out of her, especially after being stoppled for so many years.

There is one point with the story that I take issue with though and that is the romance angle. It was great that Hans isn't who he really seems to be and of course Anna can't just up and marry a guy on the first day they meet but turning around and saying she's in love with Kristoff also felt like a stretch. Through their journey together there was a sense of camaraderie but I would not say feelings were developed. The love angle was more so pushed at the last minute between Olaf and Sven as they attempt to push Anna and Kristoff together in necessity of true love's kiss.

The snow dynamics was amazing and beautiful. I believe Disney is calling it Matterhorn, which they presented at SIGGRAPH. There were multiple scenes where the characters would be covered in snow and I wondered if they had to create separate rigs that are covered in snow or if they just used the snow particles and stuck it to the characters.

For animation, the one shot that struck me the most is during Elsa's coronation. She had to take her gloves off to pick up the scepter and an orb(?), but her gloves are what she wears to keep her powers at bay. As she takes off her gloves you can see the little tremors in her hands which was beautiful and says so much.

The lighting is beautiful throughout the film. I wish a color script or a render script is somewhere for me to gaze upon. The movie starts out strong with a beautiful sunset back lighting the mountain men as they sing Frozen Heart and harvest blocks of ice. Following the beautiful and almost painterly tones and style of the world, the lighting was typically kept soft. While the land was covered in snow and ice, to keep the movie going sad and cold, a lot of vibrant blues and warm purples were used. It wasn't until when Elsa was captured and locked up did the world turn a stark and gray only to have that shadow be cast away when the protagonists emerge victorious.

I love staying through the credits, not only to support the artists, look for names of people that I know, and to stay for the often ending clip. I found Kira Lehtomaki (animator), Robert Showalter (lighter), and Dawn Rivera-Ernster (director of talent development). While reading through the credits there was also a fun little disclaimer. In the movie, Kristoff made the statement that all men eat their own boogers. The disclaimer said that Kristoff's views were his own and does not reflect upon Disney. When I got up to leave the theater I noticed that I was the only one left. Everyone else missed the ending clip with Marshmallow coming on screen to put on Elsa's tiara. They missed out!

StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm

I haven't played any actual video games in a long time partly due to having a pretty old computer, lack of consoles, and mainly lack of time. I have been amusing myself with flash games in attempts to pass the time. During this week off from having to go to the computer labs to work on projects I picked up StarCraft II: Heart of the Swam and I was ridiculously excited while playing. While I'm not a big RTS game player, I do love the plot in Warcraft's and StarCraft's campaign mode. I've played Wings of Liberty and was looking forward to this next expansion but had completely forgotten that it has been released already. My favorite unit of Zerg are the Spiders. I just find them hilarious in that they can move and attack while burrowed underground. Burrowing means invisibility and I've evaded annihilation before with games between friends just by having a couple spiders run around while burrowed so no one could find me and end the game. Unfortunately the original spiders are no longer in StarCraft II but the system in campaign mode was really interesting. As with the loss of the Queen of Blades, the Swarm has all scattered and so Kerrigan has no strong Zergs under her command. Through missions the player finds other hives and integrates them back into the Swarm. However, it doesn't just end here. The specialty of the Zergs is that they can integrate the abilities of other species into themselves so on our journeys there is an Evolution Pit where not only can units obtain not only new abilities but after completing evolution missions, the unit can evolve with new traits!

I love cinematics. They're all fancy and flashy with actual high res textures, real shaders, actual lighting, and beautiful renders and composites. At the same time they make me kind of sad, particularly when cinematics are used as trailers, as they make me think the actual game will look as beautiful as the cinematic and then when actually playing the game I become somewhat disappointed. However, what was even more horrifying here in StarCraft II were the dialogue cutscenes. They use the really low res ingame textures and flat shaders so everything looked really blurry and pixelated. The eyebrows were particularly funny in that they are drawn onto the face but because of the lack of resolution they were even worse and all blurred. Lack of lighting made me sad. Since there's no lighting, there wouldn't be any eye specular highlights but that could have been solved with a cheat by painting it in. Without the specular highlight in the eye, the faces just looked really dead to me and as if there were no emotion to any of the dialogue. I even saw parts of the mesh, such as Kerrigan's hair/tentacle things, clipping.

I was disappointed with Kerrigan, the Queen of Blades. When a character gets a transformative powerup I want a new look! When Kerrigan went to receive the primal Zerg power to transform back into the Queen of Blades I was expecting some new fancy powerful look but instead she just looked the same as previous. I do love the design of the Queen of Blades, though. Particularly the silhouette created with the large bone wing protrusions. What I felt was off putting though was the color scheme. In game, her body is this weird bright mauve color and her face is a bright yellow green color which is just completely strange. They are complimentary colors but it is just this weird stark contrast between the head and the body that doesn't work. It looks like the head and body are two separate entities and disjointed. I feel like the yellow green needed to be brought down past the neckline into the chest and back and some of the mauve needed to be highlighted on Kerrigan's face to integrate the color scheme together. Even stranger was why she was that color in game. In the cinematic cutscenes, Kerrigan's tended to lean more towards the purples. The mauve was desaturated and not as red, and her face was towards the purple tones. Partly it may be due to the lighting but Kerrigan's face was definitely not yellow green.

It's always exciting to see a name that you recognize in the credits of something and I happen to know someone who worked on this game. I found Lana Bachynski under the interns! She got an internship at Blizzard a year back, I believe, as an animator and got to animate some dances for the Zergs and some other animation cycles.

I am looking forward to the last expansion of the game, Legacy of the Void. The ending of Heart of the Swarm leads right up into the next plot with a greater evil lurking in the darkness that must be destroyed. Additionally, it will be the Protoss chapter and the Protoss are my favorite race to play as, particularly due to the carrier unit.

The Wolverine Review

Had an amazing night out with some friends and we all went to see The Wolverine! X-Men is probably my favorite superhero series despite the depressing endings. Whilst Wolverine isn't one of my top favorite characters it was a good movie to see, especially in preparation for the next movie, Days of Future Past.

So much better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine but I wouldn't place it above the first X-Men movie. I haven't followed all of the X-Men comics so I can't say for sure how true to the original comics that the movie was being but I felt that the movie was somewhat very stereotypical action movie with of a big manly hero and getting the girl. I grimaced so hard when Wolverine leaned in to kiss Mariko and they end up having sex. The two characters barely have any real connection other than "Oh, there is this big white manly man who just saved me and the one I used to love isn't around...so yes I'm totally in love with Hugh Jackman's giant biceps and broad chest"; it just felt very contrived. By the way, so glad when Wolverine got a hair cut and cleaned himself up. I'm not sure if it was planned or not but it was somewhat amusing how none of the non-asian characters couldn't pronounce Mariko's name correctly. It is Ma-ri-ko but they always say something along the lines of Mary-ko.

The VFX was better integrated this time instead of the travesty that was in X-Men Origins. I'm still not completely sold on it as it uses a lot of metal but they were always the super shiny chrome type and there were never any solid reflections. The metal was lit nicely with blues and oranges and such to match the environment but I found the surfaces lacking actual reflections of the surroundings. I was confused about Wolverine's claws at the end. He had them sliced off so what is going to happen to him? The bone protrusions can be regenerated back but the Adamantium covering wouldn't. What became even stranger was Wolverine's claws in the raw bone form are really just straight sticks of pointed bones but somehow when he regenerated them back they were big and curved and looked similar to his Adamantium claws.

Maybe it's because I don't go see live action movies in 3D often enough but I didn't really think that stereoscope did anything for this movie. There were shots that look nice but it wasn't anything extravagantly amazing like when I saw Epic in 3D with all their layering of elements together. If anything I felt that the movie was harder to watch in 3D with all the extravagant fighting scenes. The movement became very hard to follow and instead of a smooth motion blur I would instead see afterimages of certain poses that stick in midair for a second.

Another factor that I found strange were the English subtitles for when some characters spoke in Japanese. The issue being that it wasn't consistent. They didn't subtitle everything and it wasn't like they were only subtitling the important dialogues as there were subtitles that would start only partway through a dialogue or even worse, partway through a sentence. Thankfully, my many years of watching anime, I was actually able to understand what was being said in Japanese even without subtitles. An interesting fact that was never pointed out in the movie was the sword that Yashida tries to give to Wolverine had kanji characters written on the blade that says Un-aging, Undying, and Un-something. Unfortunately I couldn't catch what the last character was but it was interesting how well the sword fits Wolverine.

Just something completely off topic. A random thought that occurred to me while I was watching the movie was how Wolverine must have beautiful hair as he wouldn't get split ends or dandruff or anything. Just something to amuse myself with, but more important, as a friend pointed out, is if Wolverine would have hair since technically hair consists of dead cells with the only the living portion being in the follicle. Hm.

Stay through the credits to catch the little prologue to the next X-Men movie! I'm looking forward to Days of Future Past as all the original line up of X-Men are coming back; Ian McKellen as Magneto and then some of my favorite X-Men, Cyclops and Storm!

Despicable Me 2 Review

I finally went to watch Despicable Me 2! I wanted to see the movie but I was hesitant to go see it in theaters though. I normally don't go to theaters to see movies and when I do it is only for very specific movies, mainly animated films. When I go to theaters I don't really go to watch comedies, instead I like movies that have more drama and a more serious plot. Thus I was slightly hesitant to go see Despicable Me 2 in theaters, particularly it is a comedy and is even more so aimed at the children and family crowd.

The movie was funny for both children and adults. It had many pop culture references that adults will notice and laugh at and while the children may not understand it, the joke is portrayed in a way that the children still laugh. Story-wise, I did like this sequel more than the original. I remember when I watched the first movie that it had a pretty conventional plot with a conventional journey and ending. I felt that the story here in this sequel had more depth and was further developed. A tiny bit of annoyance that I had towards the end when Gru was trying to save Lucy who was tied to a rocket was how he was tugging on the ropes. Maybe he didn't have a knife and so he was trying to loosen the knots, but nope. Right after the launch button had been pushed and they were up in the air flying towards their deaths, Gru pulls out a knife deftly, as if he knew he had it all along, and quickly cuts the rope. I know that they want to build up some suspense but this is just silly.

There were some nice moments with the lighting. While it was completely in your face with weather changes to match Gru's mood, it was still nice nonetheless. Everything was sunny and bright as Gru left his house but then after learning that Lucy is being transferred to Australia the world suddenly becomes stark gray and not only that begins to become dark and raining. Amidst the rain, the door opens and Agnes comes out with an umbrella, which at the same time spills a beautiful golden light from the doorway onto the two characters as they talk in the gloom.

While I didn't watch this movie in 3D, there were very specific scenes where you know it was made for 3D. While I like 3D in that it can create a beautiful and amazing depth of field, as in Epic, the scenes that stand out were the other kind of 3D that is very gimmicky. The primary offender is when Lucy Wilde, the female protagonist, drives down into the ocean and here the audience watches fish swimming right at the screen and then a giant shark coming right towards the audience.

A fun personal thing that I saw were palm trees. I have been attempting to paint palm trees for awhile now particularly due to being exasperated by the model of the tree trunk that I was given to paint on was a flat cylinder. Usually for tree bark, to get all the detail of cracks, crevices, protrusions, and such, it is a combination of both modeled detail, bump map, and displacement map. The past week I've gotten back into working on the trees for a short film that I am working on, Muscle Beach. I've finally gotten my palm tree bark to be somewhat decent with a good displacement map and now here I see a beautiful rendered palm tree in the movie.