Daily post 29 May 2009 07:48 am

Hubley answer

For some inspiration let me give another Hubley answer in the Halas book, The Technique of Film Animation:

    Do you think cartoon is capable of handling realistic subjects, especially involving the human figure?

    JOHN HUBLEY : Yes, provided animators master fundamentals of drawing form and volume, and then combine this with fresh, personal expressions of human action. The mechanics of moving the human figure cannot be isolated from the motivational drives and dramatic meaning of any action, without rendering it empty and useless. It is primarily the emotional content of an action that is of interest to an audience, and the goal of animators must be to express this in graphic motion; not merely to move arms, legs, and bodies around in space. At this point it will become possible to deal with “realistic subjects” and make them exciting and believable.

For some reason, the response makes me think immediately of Glen Keane’s Tarzan. Glen was on to something for whole stretches of that film, but the skateboarding through the trees destroyed any illusion of reality for me.
In fact, for me, the best and best observed human animation has always been the work in 101 Dalmatians. All of it.


The reviews are out, and the clearest and most articulate of the ones I’ve seen is by Manohla Dargis in the NYTimes. She’s fast becoming my favorite current reviewer. I urge you to read the whole thing, though I can’t resist quoting one or two phrases:

    In its opening stretch the new Pixar movie “Up” flies high, borne aloft by a sense of creative flight and a flawlessly realized love story.

    Though the initial images of flight are wonderfully rendered — the house shudders and creaks and splinters and groans as it’s ripped from its foundation by the balloons — the movie remains bound by convention, despite even its modest 3-D depth. This has become the Pixar way. Passages of glorious imagination are invariably matched by stock characters and banal story choices, as each new movie becomes another manifestation of the movie-industry divide between art and the bottom line.

    … an adult relationship that the director Pete Docter brilliantly compresses into some four wordless minutes during which the couple dream together, face crushing disappointment and grow happily old side by side. Like the opener of “Wall-E” and the critic’s Proustian reminiscence of childhood in “Ratatouille,” this is filmmaking at its purest.

    But much like Russell, the little boy with father problems, and much like Dug, the dog with master issues, the story starts to feel ingratiating enough to warrant a kick. O.K., O.K., not a kick, just some gently expressed regret.

I’m looking forward to seeing it tomorrow.

9 Responses to “Hubley answer”

  1. on 29 May 2009 at 9:47 am 1.Scott Harpel said …

    Devin over at CHUD.com has the best I have read so far, unfortunately I am in England at present and for some stupid reason Disney is releasing it October 16th here.


  2. on 29 May 2009 at 10:29 am 2.Ignacio Carlos Ochoa said …

    I am completely in agreement with you about the human animation in Tarzan and 101 Dalmatians (The Best). I think that storyboard is very important in this case. The sequence when Tarzan meet Jane, and both join the hands is amazing (this is Glen Keen). And all the Bill Peet work for 101 Dalmatians from storyboard contributed a lot to show the human acting.

  3. on 29 May 2009 at 12:04 pm 3.David said …

    Great answer from John Hubley . I have that book, but have not looked at it for a while. I will go read that section again.

    Yes, the ill-conceived schtick like “skateboarding” through the trees ruined my enjoyment of the otherwise excellent animation on Tarzan. (that and the horrible songs) . It’s the same way they killed the impact of the dramatic opening sequence and several other fine dramatic moments in their “Hunchback of Notre Dame” with the cornball comedy schtick from the gargoyle characters (expertly animated , but totally wrong for the movie.)

  4. on 29 May 2009 at 6:47 pm 4.Kellie Strøm said …

    I agree on the figure animation in 101 Dalmations, but if I think of animated films with realistic subjects, the two which impressed me most were the Ghibli films Whisper of the Heart and Only Yesterday, especially the latter, and yet I can’t remember any stand-out virtuoso figure animation in them. As I remember it, Only Yesterday was almost like a storyboard with added movement.

    There’s a scene in Only Yesterday that seems like a little lesson about minimalism in storytelling. The main character is recalling her childhood, in particular a time when she had a part in the school play. She attempted to expand her part, adding a line of dialogue, and was scolded by her teacher, so instead she added a little gesture that gave the same meaning, and was more effective.

    The first time I saw Whisper of the Heart, I at first wondered what the point of drawing the film was, as the style was so realistic and understated, with so little of the range of the medium’s potential brought to bear, but as I watched I came to feel that this simplicity and clarity was actually giving me a generous amount of space in which to enjoy the story.

    Particularly with an emotionally sensitive story, I sometimes get snapped out of a live action film by the sense that an actor is up there showing off, doing their award-winning artistic schtick, and the more emotional and sensitive they try to be the more I disbelieve them.

    In these two Japanese animated stories nothing was being shoved in my face, no actors were showing off their dramatic skill, and now that I think of it, no animators were either. I think it would be a mistake to think that the look of these films is just the product of financial constraints, or lack of character animation ability. I think they’re the result of artistic choices to allow a certain distance between the audience and the story, a space for contemplation, something that would be disturbed by an individual virtuoso performance.

  5. on 30 May 2009 at 6:13 am 5.Cameron said …

    Up was a fabulous film, one of the best of the past few years. Then again, WALL-E is my number one Pixar film, and I think the second half is even greater than the first, since it moved me more. So, Michael, you needn’t trust my opinion.

  6. on 30 May 2009 at 9:50 am 6.Michael said …

    I’m glad you liked both UP and WALL-E. I’ve learned not to trust anyone’s opinion. Some professional writers can peak my interest, but I have to judge anything for myself. I hope the same is true for you.

  7. on 30 May 2009 at 10:43 pm 7.Cameron said …

    Actually, some of my favorite professional writers are those I disagree with frequently. Jonathan Rosenbaum is one. He and I have serious differences when it comes to mainstream releases (especially when he starts moralizing). However, his insight often provokes me to take another look at films or give a chance to ones I planned on skipping. I may find his praise for Track of the Cat undeserved, but I’m glad I saw it. It’s so much more interesting to agree some times and disagree others than to constantly agree with one person.

    Just to clarify, I love WALL-E, but I prefer The King and the Mockingbird to Bambi and Snow White and POSSIBLY Pinocchio. I’m not always with the majority, though I usually am when it comes to Pixar.

    As for the part on John Hubley, I agree completely with his words. Let me throw in a mention for an often overlooked subject: Hair. Oh, how I hate it when otherwise talented animators make their hair floppy and distracting. Tony Fucile and his animators showed in The Iron Giant how hair can move while conveying emotion as opposed to physics. Hayao Miyazaki, of course, is a master at using hair to communicate. If only there were more animators who could make hair useful instead of baggage.

  8. on 30 May 2009 at 11:24 pm 8.Michael said …

    Jonathan Rosenbaum is an excellent writer – an extension of the auteurist theory. His book about the “Movie Palaces’ is wonderful.

  9. on 31 May 2009 at 1:15 am 9.Thad said …

    I second the Rosenbaum comments!!

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