Movie

Big Hero 6 Review

This is way long overdue. I originally watched Big Hero 6 back when it first came out but life was hectic and I never got to talk about it. Today I was planning on going to see Selma since I got an early screening pass but the theater filled up before I could get in. I wasn't too bummed out since I saw that Big Hero 6 was still playing at the theater and I was way more excited to see that again.

I had almost forgotten that Feast played in front of Big Hero 6 so I got really excited when it came on. I had already seen a rough cut prior to the full release and then once again the first time I saw Big Hero 6. When I saw it in front of the movie, for some reason I had felt that Feast played somewhat faster, as in a shot or two might have been cut, than what I originally saw. It was mainly in the beginning when the man and the woman gradually fall out of their relationship. Now that I saw it again I didn't feel that as much, particularly as I was able to focus on what was going on in the background instead of Winston, the dog, and his food. Other things that I really enjoyed was the visual storytelling. The color green was used so well as it being associated the woman and unwanted foods, but then turns around at the end with the baby on a green chair. I loved the shot with Winston opening his mouth wide and we get a shot down his throat during the football game and is then mimicked again when the baby drops the meatball.

Big Hero 6. I loved it the first time. It was hilarious and also so sad. All the feels! I felt them all again watching it this second time around. During the scene where Hiro is first introduced to Baymax and had to say "I am satisfied with my care" I already lost it and was crying.

I am also currently obsessed with finding a San Fransokyo hat like the one that Tadashi has. If anyone knows where I can get one, let me know!

The skin texture/shading/material is so interesting that I kept looking at it throughout the movie. They're stylized and simplistic and different than what I'm used to doing. The skin is smooth and there's some beautiful color variations with blush and lights and darks which makes it interesting to look at but not overly detailed. Generally for skin I've always had to use a speckle in the specular map and a noise in the bump to give it that skin texture with pores look.

Lighting. Disney has their new Hyperion render engine and I've read a few articles about it and it sounds awesome. More importantly though is that some seem to claim that with Hyperion only a primary light source is needed to light the entire scene of Big Hero 6 and then everything else is left to the render engine to calculate global illumination. I'm not quite sure how true that is as there were a lot of light sources in each scene in and there were clearly primary and secondary lights; otherwise it wouldn't be possible to have both a specular highlight in the eye and a rim light coming from behind. It would probably be more accurate to say that the amount of lights necessary to light a shot has dramatically been decreased and more calculations are handled by the render engine which in turn also decreases some inconsistency of light and color between shots.

Generally I cringe at the thought of sequels but I really want to see a sequel to Big Hero 6!

Book of Life Review

Coming all the way from Texas, Reel FX brings us a new movie after Free Birds. The general consensus that I got about the movie was that the movie was good, can be a bit corny, but a good movie. Hearing that I was looking forward to Book of Life, especially seeing how pretty the Land of the Remembered is from trailers. The movie starts off as triangle love story where two boys/men fall in love with a girl and vie for her attention and hand in marriage. The catch is that the gods of the afterlife, La Muerte and Xibalba, have a wager going on of who wins the girl, and the prize being the one who gets to rule over the Land of the Remembered, which is far more appealing than the Land of the Forgotten. The story quickly becomes a whole lot more of growing up, becoming who you are, and creating your own life. The movie itself is told through an interesting way as the main plot is told as a story to a group of kids by a museum tour guide. I find it an odd choice as I did not feel the "present" world contributed a lot significantly to the plot and the movie could have probably just been told through the main story alone. The method does explain the artistic direction and stylized approach to why everything looks like wood figures but an art director could have just as easily said "I want the film to look this way and this is how it will be" without the whole preamble of being a story within a story.

I don't know a lot about the holiday Dia de la Muerte other than it is a Mexican holiday to celebrate/remember the dead. I took the characters and the representation of culture at face value. Now that I have the time to do some research, I've found that La Muerte is actually the figure Catrina popular in modern Dia de la Muerte and Xibalba is actually a place from Mayan mythology and not a figure at all. I haven't heard anyone become horribly offended and cry bloody murder for misappropriation of culture so all seems to be fine. La Muerte was beautiful and my favorite character. Xibalba was interesting with his skull eyes however I found him to be slightly too comedic for my tastes. I prefer my villains to be cold and haughty, like Maleficient, but Xibalba read more like Hades from Hercules. I am extremely iffy about the Candlemaker. I love the textures and shading on him as he looks amazing but there is already a large cast of characters and the Candlemaker character doesn't feel like he contributes anything significant. His character could have been cut out and the movie would have moved along fine without him. During the movie I had assumed that it might be because the Candlemaker was a central figure to the holiday but I could not seem to find anything about such a mythological figure.

The animation and humor involved a lot of slapstick. I generally enjoy a good pun but some of the comedy got me laughing. However what was somewhat disappointing though was that the only ones laughing seemed mainly to be the older audience, such as those who I went with. There were quite a number of children in the audience but they seemed to be generally silent through the movie. Maybe it's the Sunday morning crowd but most of the time I didn't hear them laughing and usually kids love slapstick.

Pixar had a Dia de la Muerte movie in the works but any news of it seems to have fallen silent. I don't know if it's still in the works or not as Inside Out and Good Dinosaur seems to be their current main focus or if it has fallen to the wayside and may end up similar to Newt that was ultimately cut and then got taken by Blue Sky to be remade into Rio.

The Boxtrolls Review

This was going to be about the Animation Show of Shows since I was planning on going to that but I had a last minute invitation to see The Boxtrolls, hosted by ASIFA, and there was a great Q&A with the directors, Graham Annable and  Anthony Stacchi, and producer/animator Travis Knight after. Loved it! The animation was ridiculously amazing and the movie itself was deep yet with all the right elements of comedy.

boxtrolls-banner-sept2014

The Boxtrolls is a heartfelt story about finding out who you are and making yourself to be who you are. Amid all that is an adventure of Egg saving his family and stopping the villain, Snatcher, from obtaining power all for the sake of cheese. From the trailer, the original beginning seemed to be about The Boxtrolls finding an unwanted child in the trash but that's changed somewhat and I really like the change as it gives the characters more association and relation with each other.

The animation is ridiculous. In stop motion, everything that moves have to be manually moved frame by frame by an animator. There were a lot of little inflection in the face and auxiliary acting choices which just means more frames that the animator would have to animate through. Just as impressive is that animators are assigned to scenes instead of characters so there is a whole ballroom dance sequence that was done by a single animator. There is a giant robot with detailed pistons and cogs that all had to be animated on top of having a character giving a full performance.

Loved the artistic style of the film. It was interesting to hear that various oil painting artists such as Lucian Freud. They really liked the various contrasting colors that would be used on skin. One thing that I would be interested in if Laika could develop is accurate specular highlights on eyes. Currently the eyes are doll-like with everything painted on instead of having an actual cornea to catch the highlight on. It may be strange, as the shape of a cornea and the iris may look strange in certain angles and unlike in CG a bump map can't just be used to cheat the effect.

The Q&A after was great. There was getting to know about the behind the scenes process which was neat but I loved hearing about how Laika is evolving their workflow and keeping up with the current technology.  Rapid prototyping has been used since Coraline but the way it's used has evolved. First of all, rapid prototyping is typically used for quick concepts that someone can print out, look at, and throw away; however, Laika is using it to print their thousands of faces to create the facial replacement animation. Back in Coraline, the faces were printed to be plain gray and an artist would have to go and paint each one. In Paranorman, Laika was able to get color into the prints. Now in Boxtrolls, not only were they able to advance the colors but they found out, through an accident, that they could print on top of prints and create what would look like a classic 2D animated smear frame. Also, make sure to keep a close eye on the ballroom sequence as Laika was able to get a capillary system under the face so the characters actually blush!

Make sure to stay through the credits. As per usual, there's a small sequence at the end as the movie makes a nod towards animators and stop motion animation. It really gives an idea to how stop motion is "an obscene way to make a film" as every little movement has to be created manually from hand gestures to a single blink and since the movie was shot in stereoscope the vfx artists would have to paint out rigs and facial seams twice.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Review

Thanks to Gofobo I got tickets to an early screening of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! This wasn't a movie that I was particularly excited for or was planning to go see in the theaters but hey, if I'm getting free tickets why not. I don't have any real attachment to TMNT as I've never read the comics, watched the TV show, or seen any of the previous movies. I only know of them through popular culture and I watched the very first episode of the new Nickelodeon version once as I was curious to what the CG style looks like. Which is good in a way, I suppose, as I can go into the movie with no preconception and can judge this movie by in itself.

The movie starts and I immediately cringe. It starts off with a shaky cam which I felt was unmotivated and looked terrible. Additionally, maybe because I had just put on my 3D glasses so my eyes haven't adjusted, but the stereoscope also felt off and it was really difficult to focus on anything on screen along with the shaky cam.

I know people like to hate on Megan Fox ever since Transformers, and were all up in a rage when she was cast as April O'Neil but I didn't really mind her in the role. What I did have a problem with is the blatant female objectification sexism repeated throughout the movie and Vernon (Will Arnett) continuously being a creeper. It felt really tiring.

Another thing that people like to hate on in this movie are those turtle faces. I don't like them much either as I find them unappealing. There's a flashback in the movie to the turtles when they were children but unfortunately I don't find those appealing either and just as creepy. What I do enjoy though is that their head shapes are all different and reflect quite well upon their personalities, such as Donatello having a larger forehead and Mikey with a wider face. In the above image, their face masks are quite bright and colorful but in the movie they were a bit more darker and dirtier, which makes sense since they live in a sewer, but I would have still liked the colors to be a bit more vibrant for easier differentiation, particularly in the battle scenes. I don't particularly care for the Chinese characters/Kanji that shows up on their headbands though as it reminds me of bad tattoos that people get thinking that it looks cool but instead reads "idiot" or "chicken noodle soup".

There was some extremely blatant product placement in the movie which made me roll my eyes. From the very beginning we have a video call and a Skype logo branded across the phone's screen. Then there's Mikey's very specific Orange Crush Soda and I believe I saw some Dre Beats headphones on Donatello.

The plot though. At first I thought the movie wasn't too bad but then I just felt it slipping as the movie went on as there were various discrepancies. I felt that there was a lot of pointless dialogue that happens throughout the movie. They were probably inserted to get a laugh out of the audience but at least half the time the theater was indifferent with no reaction. One of the main ones that I didn't understand is how Splinter knew of the entire history between Sachs and Shredder when he has been a rat living in the sewers all the years. In this storyline, Splinter is a rat who mutated and not a human who mutated into a rat so it makes no sense of how he would have this knowledge. I found it extremely confusing as to the relationship between characters, such as Sachs and Shredder. Shredder is Sachs sensei so they would have a pretty close relationship but it felt extremely odd that Shredder would speak in Japanese but Sachs would reply back in English; being fluently bilingual if someone speaks to me in Chinese I would reply back in kind and not in a different language. Young April's actions were extremely confusing. First, why was she in her father's lab all the time? April's father works in a top security research lab on a private project and I doubt one would just bring your daughter to work repeatedly. The fire that happened was just as confusing. Why was April even at the company at that time to be able to save the animals? She was in the lab with the fire, did she not see her father at all as he was supposedly there and killed? Then, April's action of dumping the animals into a sewer was just as baffling. I assume Splinter was also injected with the Mutant-Gen same as the turtles although it was never explicitly mentioned. However, if that's the case why does Shredder go so far as to nearly killing Splinter and not attempting to capture him? Instead, the Foot Clan only takes the turtles. If that's not the case then how did Splinter even mutate in the first place? Do they have to be alive for the Mutant-Gen to be extracted? The Foot Clan assumed Raphael died so they just leave him even though he still has perfectly good blood but they just leave him behind. The Foot Clan captures the turtles and begins extracting the Mutant-Gen. What gets me is that they then immediately begin their plan to poison the entire city. They haven't even finished extracting the Mutant-Gen yet and they are jumping the gun. They don't know if they have enough, if the Mutant-Gen is the antidote in it's raw form are has to be further processed, or if they are able to successfully duplicated it. Not to mention, the Foot Clan didn't even inoculate themselves first. While I was watching the movie I saw the characters 家門 which is explained to mean family in Japanese and it struck me as very odd. First, to me the characters read "house door" and the term I'm familiar with is "kazoku" or 家族. According to Google Translate the characters can mean family or clan and is more probably to be "kamon" which means house crest or emblem. Still odd and especially strange that the turtles would leave behind evidence that they've been somewhere since they are trying to keep themselves as a secret, and even more so since there was no explanation as to why they would tag with those characters. So many cliches in the movie. For example, there is the "no I'm not crying, it's just dusty", awkward elevator scene, or April shouting for no apparent reason other than to notify Shredder that she's in the vicinity. Some people laughed but I more or less just rolled my eyes. Maybe it's from watching to much CinemaSins. I don't know too much about medical technology but I don't think blood transfusion machines have an option to inject adrenaline. Even more ridiculous is not only do the turtles know that the machine they are hooked up to is able to inject them with adrenaline but also that there is also a giant button on the screen on the machine for April to push. When this scene happened with the button the theater erupted in laughter at how ridiculous it was. Also, it does not seem safe to inject adrenaline to get their blood pumping while being hooked up to a machine which is drawing out their blood. While on the topic of blood drawing, it also makes no sense that Sachs wants to drain the turtles dry in one go. To me it would make more sense to draw as much as possible without killing the turtles, let them recover, and repeat. That way Sachs would have an unlimited supply of Mutant-Gen and not a one time deal. I did not understand how the turtles survived the fall towards the end. They fell from the top of a building and tumbled all the way down. The camera does a closeup on the turtles and they just somehow magically survived the fall. Yay mutant powers and being main characters I guess?

CG and VFX wise were great. I loved the details on the turtles with their dirt and grim and the various nicks and cuts. The lighting and rendering were beautiful and spot-on. While I didn't particularly care for the scene with the turtles waiting awkwardly in an elevator, I did enjoy it visually as the turtles are all shown in light and there were some nice reflections going on in the elevator's metal walls. Shredder's suit was badass. The snow was amazing. The animation was really well done, particularly liked the fighting scenes and how Splinter used his tail. I do find it curious though as to why Leonardo has a separate cast for the character and voice actor while all the other turtles had just a single actor.

I wish that the movie would have referenced the Ninja Turtles opening song somewhere in the movie, such as towards the end when the turtles pull up in their new car, or at least in the credits. Unfortunately not.

I went into the movie with no real attachment to TMNT and left the theater still feeling the same. It wasn't a waste though since I got to see some nice CG and VFX work.

Guardians of the Galaxy Preview

In order to promote the movie, Guardians of the Galaxy was giving out free tickets to a special 17 minute preview on their Facebook page and I was able to snag one. I was slightly hesitant about going to see a preview since I didn't want to ruin the movie but I really want the special poster. I was not disappointed in what I saw and it was beautiful in 3D IMAX. The 17 minute preview consisted of a small foreward, a section of the movie, and a new extended trailer.

What was really great of watching the preview was that we get to see characters other than Peter Quill/Starlord (Chris Pratt) talk and we really got a sense of their characters as they never had any dialogue in the trailer (at least the first one which is the only one that I watched). Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper) is hilarious and I can't wait to watch the full movie to see more of him.

Rocket Racoon looks amazing; great job to Tippett Studios, but most amazing is Groot (Vin Diesel). Groot doesn't say much but there was a nice fight scene in the preview and we see why he is Rocket's muscle. Groot is able to change/grow his body like a real tree either creating a massive shield of vines and branches or extending his arms out to whip at his foes.

Interestingly we don't see much of Drax (Dave Bautista). He doesn't show up until later in the preview during the fight scene unlike the trailer where we see the four main characters all lined up together. He doesn't talk much and if I hadn't watched the initial trailer at all I would not know his backstory at all.

I wish Gamora (Zoe Saldana) was more visually interesting as she mainly just looks like a green person. She does have some silver markings on her face but they tend to be unnoticeable from a distance and especially when her hair is down and loose. I do love the green tone, particularly how light and shadow falls across it and interacts to sculpt her face.

I was initially apathetic towards this movie as just another Marvel superhero movie (come on DC, time to step up!) and after X-Men the only other movie that I was really looking forward to anytime soon was Laika's Boxtrolls in September but I will most likely be putting on Guardians of the Galaxy on my to watch list!

The House of Magic Review

It's always great to see what other countries are producing in the animated feature film department and while they don't tend to become a huge blockbuster in the US, they tend to garner moderate success and respectable recognition in the animation industry, such as Zambezia and Monster in Paris. Hailing from Belgium and France, House of Magic has been on my to watch list for awhile and I finally got my hands on an English copy of the movie.

House of Magic is about an abandoned cat named Thunder who wanders his way into the house of a magician and befriends the inhabitants, with the exceptions of Jack the rabbit and Maggie the mouse. The magician is well on into his years and the magician's nephew, a real estate agent, seeks to take the house to be sold for a profit. While the magician is incapacitated from an accident, the nephew makes his move and so Thunder and the other inhabitants of the house must work together and learn to get along to save the house.

Plot-wise, the story doesn't do anything extremely innovative or evokes deep provocative thoughts, reminds me somewhat of Home Alone or Night at the Museum, but otherwise is decently solid, funny, and I found the movie as a whole was quite enjoyable. There were only two parts that I felt were somewhat off and the first was at the very beginning of the film. While it does set up some backstory of Thunder being abandoned by his previous owners in the middle of a move, the first ten minutes of the movie was a bunch of running and racing around with yells and yelps and the Thunder was never given an identity until the magician finds him and bestows a new one on him. The second part is towards the end of the film when Jack was stuck in the doggy door. We get an change in Maggie when she is saved by Thunder and thinks of him differently but Jack never experiences any event with Thunder that would make him decide to change his mind and like the cat.

What drew me to this movie was the character designs, particularly that of Thunder. I like cats and he is adorable. I wonder if more movies could make appealing animal characters with animalistic eyes instead of humanizing them with all the eyewhite. Animals don't tend to show eyewhite. The few movies that do animalistic eyes unfortunately aren't consistent with it either, such as Puss has nice eyes but Donkey from Shrek has humanized eyes and some of the characters in Rango also go humanized, too.

I felt that the animation was quite strong. The only part that had me questioning was when Thunder walks. I watch documentaries on tigers for fun and the most recent one that I saw was Tigers About the House and I noticed that when tigers walk they turn their front paws inward before planting on the ground. I had already known that animals plant their toes first than their heels, which is what allows them to move so quietly, but not the part of turning the paw inward. Curious to see if domestic cats also have this behaviour I turned to Youtube. Unfortunately the videos were inconclusive as the cats seemed to turn the paws inward sometimes but sometimes not, and when they do it was very slight. The movie had various scenes made specifically for stereoscope and is apparent with camera moves and action happening directly at the screen but as I didn't watch it in stereoscope it just felt somewhat awkward to me. As stated previously, I like stereoscope but particularly when it is used to create atmosphere and environment, but not as a gimmick to pretend that the audience is on a rollercoaster or have things coming out of the screen. Even though I watched this movie dubbed in English, I didn't have any real issues with the facial animation. The words seem to match up decently well with the mouthshapes and the voice acting fit so I wasn't cringing as if I would when watching dubbed Japanese anime.

The textures were all really pretty and detailed but I loved Thunder's fur, particularly how well it responds to animation. Thunder can look soft, smooth, and cuddly or when he hunches up his back you can see the hair standing up just like on an actual cat. The backscattering on the animal ears were really nice. Somewhat awkward that it always seems to be there as if there's a light shinning through their ears all the time, but really pretty.

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!.