Last week I was fortunate enough to listen to Nina Gantz talk about her film Edmond which won a BAFTA in 2016.
Edmond is a story about a man who has trouble expressing his love for people in a way that is socially acceptable or normal. In an attempt to get closer to the people he loves he actually tries to eat them.
Nina said she wanted people to understand the character of Edmond, which I think was a difficult task to achieve, how do you empathise with someone who eats people? But one she managed to do very effectively. The way Nina has achieved this is by presenting Edmond’s intentions of love clearly. We empathise with Edmond because we know that the reason he attempts to eat people is because he loves them and wants to be closer to them. It’s as though he gets carried away with that emotion and before he realises it, he has hurt someone. Because he doesn’t understand what he is doing and how to control this urge to eat people, it gives his character a childlike naivety that causes us to also feel sympathy for Edmond.
Another way Nina achieves empathy for the character is through Edmond’s horrified reactions to his own actions. We can understand that he is still a moral character because Nina shows us that he is upset by what he does. For example, we can see by his reaction to the incident at the school play that he does not want to be this way, he is upset by his own actions and for this we can empathise and even feel sympathy for Edmond. The fact that Edmond had cordoned himself off, not even opening the door to see his mother, shows us that he cares very much about the people he loves and does not want to hurt them.
The film has a soft nature to it, which helps to dial down the gore of the film and enhances the feeling of love and nurture. The feeling of softness is created by the material wool, which the characters are made from. The audience knows what wool feels like and therefore the characters are tangible, which reinforces the idea of touch and having contact with people who are close to you. And enhances the tragedy that Edmond cannot be close to those he loves because he is a danger to them.
The characters are beautifully made, Nina created them from wool and a friend made the garments. The difficulty Nina faced was animating the character’s faces, as using wool to animate the facial features would be far too fiddly and laborious a task, it was simply not practical. As a solution to this problem she decided to create the faces using Photoshop, that way she had more control on the subtle movements of the face. Nina experimented with different brushes and colours to get the right line thickness and tone, to ensure the facial features were in keeping with the woollen puppets.
I would thoroughly recommend watching Edmond if you haven’t already and have a look at Nina’s website https://www.ninagantz.com/ to see more of her work.
Geri’s Game begins with an elderly man setting up a chess board in a park in Autumn. He then proceeds to play a ruthless game of chess against himself. There is a comical dynamic between the two persona’s, one is the arrogant alter-ego whilst the other is timid and contemplative. (Spoiler alert!) The short has a humorous ending when the weaker character wins the game by feigning a heart attack and switching the chess board around so that he has the winning side.
This is one of my favourite 3D animations because it is so simple, but so impressive. As a drawing exercise for myself I watched the animation frame by frame, purely to see how they made things move so convincingly. Looking at it closely made me realise just what an amazing job they had done, when Geri moves a chess piece the cuff of his jacket moves so believably, just as a cuff would in real life. The close attention they paid to acting is also something that jumps out, at the beginning of the film Geri pulls out a chair and sits down, but the way he does it is exactly how you would imagine an elderly person to sit down- he fumbles his hands around trying to feel for the back of the chair and carefully sits down.
The short was released in the US on 25 November 1997 and was attached to the start of A Bug’s Life in 1998. The film won nine awards including an Oscar. Pixar is well known for their shorts, which helps them to develop and progress as a leading 3D animation studio. The main reason for creating these shorts was to improve their technology and to encourage their team to experiment creatively in a way that they couldn’t on a feature film.
Jan Pinkava was the director on this short. Ed Catmull says in his book Creativity inc. (2014, p.509) ‘Our only directive to Jan before he made it was that it had to include a human character. Why? Because we needed to get better at them. We needed to work on rendering not only the smoothly irregular surfaces of faces and hands but also the clothes that people wear. At this point remember, because of our inability to render skin and hair and certain curved surfaces to our satisfaction, humans had only been ancillary characters in our movies.’ This is one of the reasons that I am so inspired by Pixar Studios. They are constantly questioning and challenging themselves, even though they had won many awards by this time they were still striving to develop themselves and become better.
I would like to share some of my drawings from our Life drawing classes on a Thursday evening. The class usually begins with a series of 1 minute poses, which are very useful for warming up and also good at forcing you to focus on gesture rather than getting too caught up in the detail.
The longest pose we do is usually 6-8 minutes, which feels like a very long time after doing what feels like hundreds of 1 minute poses. At the Academy I attended, before St. Martins, we would usually draw a single pose for 2 or 3 hours! So going from that to 1 minute drawings is quite a challenge, but I can see how beneficial these short poses are for animation. In animation gesture is everything, each drawing in an action will only flash up for 1 frame (1/24th of a second) so adding lots of detail is usually unnecessary and can sometimes even distract from the action.
Below are a mixture of 1, 2 and 3 minute drawings from our Thursday class and I have also added a few of my 2 hour drawings completed at The Florence Academy of Art.
I recently gave a presentation on one of my favourite animators and would like to share it with you.
Today I will be talking about an animator who had his film The Secret of Kells nominated for an Oscar in 2010. His name is Tomm Moore and he is an Irish Animator, Illustrator, Director and Co-founder of the animation studio Cartoon Saloon.
In 1999 along with Nora Twomey and Paul Young,Tomm co-founded an animation studio in Kilkenny, Ireland. The studio creates feature films, shorts and TV series, and has recently created the film The breadwinner. The studio has achieved great success winning many awards and has even received nominations from BAFTA and the Oscars.
Today I will be focusing on the film The Secret of Kells, which Tomm Moore directed, and I will be asking the question how does an independent traditional Irish film achieve universal appeal and success?
But before going into this I think it would be best to take you back in time to the year 800 when the ‘Book of Kells’ is said to have been created. The exact date and origin of the text is unknown and has been the source of much dispute amongst scholars.It is thought that the writing of the book began in a Monastery in Iona and as Vikings began to raid Iona it was transported for safety to Kells. It is an important text that contains the Four Gospels of the New Testament in Latin based on a text St. Jerome created in 384 AD. A Gospel is the teaching or revelation of Christ and the Four Gospels are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The reason that this book is so important and has received so much attention is mainly due to the lavish and intricate illustrations that fill the pages. The Chi Rho page (folio 34r), for example, is supposedly the most famous page in Medieval art.
Tomm Moore was inspired to make the film The Secret of Kells because he had been captivated by the work of Richard Williams in The Thief and the Cobbler and Disney’s Mulan, he liked the way the style of the film reflected the story and culture of the characters and believed a similar thing could be achieved with Irish artwork. As ‘The Book of Kells’ is a famous text, especially in Ireland, he was naturally drawn to researching the artwork from the book and during his research he learnt about the book and thought that the history surrounding the making of the book could be an interesting story to tell.
The Secret of Kells is a 2D animation that was created using TVPaint and other 2D mediums such as watercolour paints, which were largely used for the backgrounds.
The Secret of Kells tells the tale of a young boy named Brendan who lives in the Kells Monastery which is under siege from Viking raids. Brendan’s uncle, Abbot Cellach, is building a wall to fortify the Monastery. Brendan is given the opportunity to work in the Monastery’s Scriptorium to help the acclaimed illustrator Aidan complete the famous book.Brendan is sent on various tasks by Aidan, one of which takes him to the enchanted forest, a place he is forbidden to go, where he meetsa fairy named Aisling.
Now that you know a little bit about the film, I would like to go back to the question I mentioned at the start, how did an independent Irish film achieve universal appeal and success?
Chiefly I believe it began with technology, the internet was not very old by the time Tomm Moore began reaching out to other Studios and collaborators in Europe. Without the internet it would have been near impossible to forge connections and relationships with the like of Fabrice Ziolkowski, a French-American screenwriter who helped to shape the story Tomm wanted to tell. Or the French producer Didier Bruner (produced The Triplets of Belleville) who offered to help produce The Secret of Kells and also introduced Tomm to fellow producer, Viviane Van Fleteren.
Together they managed to raise the 6 million euros, largely through European grants, needed to create the film. Because of those grants it meant that the work had to be split between the three countries Belgium, Germany and Ireland.
The outsourcing of work did not stop there however, other studios such as Walking the Dog Studio in Berlin, Blue Spirit in France, Lightstar Studios in Brazil, and Kecskemet Film Studios in Hungary are just some of the names that had a hand in helping to create the final film, whether it be compositing, animating in 2D or 3D, creating backgrounds or designing and editing the sound for the film. This collaboration could be a reason for the film’s universal appeal.
This collaboration prompts another question, how does a film that is created by so many different cultures maintain such a strong Celtic aesthetic? This brings us on to the style of the film. For a moment I would like you to imagine that we are in Ireland, it is the year 2000, and you and I are walking along the road and decide that we are both pretty thirsty and need a drink. Off to the Pub we go! Stepping into the pub we are aware of the decoration; shamrocks & Celtic Knot-work on it’s walls. You order a Guinness and as you go to pay I would like you to be aware of the money you have in your wallet…it is the Irish Pound (the currency in Ireland before the Euro in 2002) and the coins look something like this:
The stylised bird on the 1p coin is taken from an illustration in ‘The Book of Kells’, which firstly goes to show what a famous book Kells is, but secondly and most importantly demonstrates how immersed in the Celtic illustrative style Tomm Moore was living in Ireland. Moore says in an interview with Karl Cohen ‘I remember a French artist, who came to work on the film, taking a photo of a manhole cover that had some Gaelic writing on it which was spelled in a “Book of Kells” style font. He was amazed how it was everywhere, and yet we hardly notice it.’
Here are some images of the character design for the film. You can see how the character’s have evolved from the year 1999 when the idea of this film was first conceived. Also note how the illustrations from ‘The Book of Kells’ have influenced the character design, the similarities between the eagle in ‘The Book of Kells’ and the goose in The Secret of Kells, for example, are very strong, even the worried expression of the eagle carries through to the goose in the film.
In conclusion I think the main reasons for this films universal appeal and success lies in the style of the film and the collaboration Tomm Moore had with other studios in Europe. Moore remained true to the traditional Celtic aesthetic and as a result created a film that had a unique and original feel, that I believe excited people. At the same time he created characters that I think anyone could identify with, in particular Brendan, he is an example of a young and curious boy that has good intentions but also has a habit of going against what he is told. Another feature of character design that helped with the universal appeal is that of the Vikings, we cannot see their faces, they are almost like shadow puppets and therefore are mere symbols of evil rather than a representation of a specific group.