Monday, August 06, 2007

Dangerous Opinions

Mark Mayerson has a pretty strong take on the Alvin & the Chipmunks project as well as Fox/Blue Sky’s Horton Hears a Who effort. All I can say to both of his points is- “Dang, it’s hard to argue with that.”. For me I knew the chipmunks thing was going to be a derivation of the Garfield efforts, so there was no surprise or disappointment from me about the thing. I’ve yet to see either Garfield film and I doubt I’ll see the Chipmunks as well. But the Horton trailer… boy. Talk about lost potential. That one left me a little sad. The earliest promo images were so tantalizing. They really did a great job with the production design and art direction, but it seems they totally fumbled the soul. And if there’s anything that always set apart Ted Geisel’s work it was the soul of it all. I began to have my doubts when I saw the first billboard for Horton, the one with Horton doing the shading the eyes scout thing from a tree. I saw that pose and thought “Uh-oh, he doesn’t appear to be acting like the Horton I remember from the book.” So at the risk of outing myself, I have to agree with Mark. Horton doesn’t seem to be working- for a lot of reasons. Speaking of strong opinions…

Over on the Thinking Animation blog there’s a post where Angie Jones (I think it’s Angie, I can never tell who’s posting. They need a by line like Cartoon Brew or Drawn have) anyhow - somebody - posted an anonymous thought about the relative career value for animators of working on a mo-cap film like Beowulf (or Monster House, Polar Express, Happy Feet or any other number of mo-cap-imated films that are popping up like weeds). Go read the whole post, but I offer here a quote…

These films provide work and steady employment, but do nothing for animators creativity or career expansion. There is little to gain in terms of skill set growth, or animation knowledge by working on these films….

Some folks try to rationalize”animating” on these films by figuring that they learn a lot about natural motion. But animation is not about natural motion, it is about caricature…

Bottom line, stay away from this work if you can, and if you must, then make sure to spend your free time actually animating and keeping your skills fresh and sharp. Because, in this fast paced animated world, your skills can quickly sink below the bar within the time you spend working on a mocapped film.

The name of the author of these raw thoughts has been withheld in order to protect their career- a sad but necessary precaution even though this person is not alone in their ideas. These are what you call Dangerous Opinions. Anybody bold enough to express them “on the record” and who is willing to put their name to them will often face a rough road in their career in film production studios- especially in CG. And the truth is that a lot of people in the biz think the same way as this anonymous animator quoted on Angie’s blog. (While I’m being dangerous, I’ll come clean and admit- I totally agree with this anonymous animator). Probably the worst thing you can do for your career (short of maybe punching a director in the throat because they asked for fixes) is to express an honest, real opinion about the merits (or lack thereof) of the work being done in the big film studios these days. There’s a reason this other highly acidic opinion is posted on a blog where the author remains anonymous. But I can tell you the honest truth that a lot of people in the biz hold that exact same opinion about this stuff. Artists are a sensitive lot. Anything short of fawning praise is sure to rankle somebody who has thin skin. (How such people make a living in an industry where your work is torn to shreds every day in dailies is beyond me).

So who are the people who come right out and say what they think- with their names attached? People who aren’t worried about getting another studio job, that’s who. People like Sporn, Mayerson, Amidi, Kricfalusi, Barrier, etc. These guys don’t really care if some sensitive animation supervisor in some big studio doesn’t like what they say about their work- they’re not looking for a job in these studios. Granted I don’t like a site filled with constant harangues about how anything done since 1950 is o good or anything done on a computer is no good or anything done by Dreamworks is no good. A site that is always ripping things down is as much of a cypher as one that does nothing but cheer-lead the industry. I just want some honesty. Some things are honestly really cool. Some things are honestly just a steaming pile. Most things are somewhere in between with a mix of both cool and steaming pile attributes. I’ve always appreciated a balanced view on things. Few things are ever as awesome as everybody says and few things are ever as terrible as people say they are. Anything but the company line is a welcome site to my reading eyes (it’s the tone that I like to keep here).

Folks who know me know I’m not short on opinions. It’s one of my tragic flaws in life- I have opinions and I am terrible at pretending that I don’t have them. I’m not very good at the politics of faking it. If I like something then I like it and it shows. If I don’t, well, then I don’t. And it shows. I’d be a terrible poker player. Much misery has come to me in my days because of this trait. I wish I could change it, but alas, I believe I am doomed to being utterly transparent. Thankfully this blog doesn’t always show my face when I see things and I have the luxury of editing my posts over time to temper my thoughts with some fabric softener. Still on my braver days I venture out into expressing some of my riskier opinions. Even so I’ve never really let loose. Why? Simply because I don’t know if I’ll ever need a studio job again. I’ve been burned by being too honest before- there are studios where I’ll never get hired and I know it. So I keep a lid on my most controversial thoughts and peck around the edges of things. In such an insular industry as film animation feathers ruffle very easily and grudges are carried for a long, long time. I have a number of half written posts in a folder on my hard drive labeled “Career Suicide”. If I ever posted them that’s exactly what I’d be committing. Maybe in time I’ll be in a better position, but since discretion is the better part of valor I think I’ll keep those thoughts to myself and only share them with friends whom I trust. Unfortunately anyone who wants to be sure they can get a job at a CG film studio would be wise to follow the same path. Either that or be sure to remain anonymous when you say what you’re really thinking.

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