Film Theory · Postgraduate Study

Film Overview – Brave

Year: 2012
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios
Directed by: Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman

Summary: Merida, first-born of clan DunBroch, refuses to be betrothed in order to strengthen family’s alliance with other clans and accidentally turns her mother into a bear while trying to change her fate.

Review: Brave is an animated feature film produced by Pixar that ideologically follows Disney’s tradition of fairy tale feature films, focusing on princesses as their lead characters. Unlike similar films produced by Disney, Brave is not based on one particular classic fairy tale but has its story developed by Brenda Chapman, one of the two directors of the film, who drew inspiration from her relationship with her 6-year-old daughter. Interestingly, Chapman is the first female director to work on Pixar feature film and Brave is the first animation feature to have female protagonist, which resulted in Brenda Chapman bringing a unique approach to female character representation and development in the film as well as story that is different to previous Pixar films. Continue reading “Film Overview – Brave”

Film Theory · Postgraduate Study

Film Overview – Melody Time

Year: 1948
Studio: Walt Disney Productions
Directed by: Jack KinneyClyde GeronimiHamilton LuskeWilfred Jackson
Animated by: Les ClarkOllie JohnstonMilt KahlWard KimballEric LarsonJohn Lounsbery et al.

Summary: Melody Time is an animation feature film that consists of seven segments, or “mini-musicals” (as described by B. Dodge in book “From Screen to Theme”). The segments are Once Upon a Wintertime (a romantic winter-themed story of a young couple), Bumble Boogie (an abstract and fast paced animation inspired by Rimsky’s Korsakov’ Flight of the Bumblebee), The Legend of Johnny Appleseed (an animated poem inspired by life of pioneer John Chapman), Little Toot (animated version of story by Hardie Gramatky), Trees (lyrical animation based on Joyce Kilmer poem), Blame It on the Samba (short musical featuring Donald Duck, Jose Carioca and Aracuan Bird) and Pecos Bill (an animation based on legendary cowboy of the same name). Continue reading “Film Overview – Melody Time”

Film Theory · Postgraduate Study

Film Overview – The Plow Boy

Year: 1929
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
Directed by: Walt Disney
Animated by: Ub Iwerks et al.

Summary: Mickey Mouse is plowing the fields in the farm with his horse Horace when Minnie Mouse comes to milk cow Clarabelle. Mickey and Horace take notice of them and Mickey goes out of his way to impress Minnie.

Review: The Plow Boy is the seventh of Disney earliest monochrome animation comics featuring Mickey Mouse. The cartoon design is similar to previous shorts like Plane Crazy and Mickey’s Follies but both narrative and animation are more crude than the former examples. Continue reading “Film Overview – The Plow Boy”

Film Theory

Cultural Diversity in Mulan

Disney Mulan, released in 1998, is an interesting example in animation in more ways than one. If you haven’t seen it, the film is well worth your time and you can read a professional review by Roger Ebert here. While I disagree with the author about the music (“I’ll Make a Man Out of You” and “A Girl Worth Fighting For” are catchy and well reflect the ideas in the film), I do support the idea that the film was a stepping stone in development of Disney Animation and I believe that one of the most important and least discussed areas that Mulan pioneers is cultural diversity in animation films. Continue reading “Cultural Diversity in Mulan”

Postgraduate Study

Review of “The Art of” books

Yesterday I spend a few hours in the library reading “The Art of” books that I mentioned in the previous post as I hoped to find parts of them relevant to my research. Apart from “The Art of Dreamworks Animation”, “The Art of Disney Pixar Brave”, “The Art of Tangled” and “The Art of Frozen” books, which I all planned to review beforehand, by a lucky chance I also stumbled across “Timing for animation” by Harold Whitaker and John Halas. Even though I have read the book awhile back, I decided to check if there is any relevant information in it as well, to possibly use it later in my research.

My approach for working with these books was rather straightforward – I would find books on films that had horse characters in it, then scan the book to see if there is any chapters dedicated to those characters. If there was not, I would look through the book to see if there is any information or illustrations with horses being supporting characters to one of the main characters in the story (e.g. Hans’ horse Sitron in Frozen). That way I make sure I am able to collect as much of the limited information available to support my research while not having to spend too much time reading through entire book.

At the end of a day I had some worthwhile information gathered from the mentioned books. While overall there was even less data on horse characters than I anticipated, I was still able to collect some details that would give me insight into production process and help me analyse film itself more accurately. I found “The Art of Disney Pixar Brave” and “The Art of Tangled” most useful as it had separate chapter dedicated to the equine characters and, even though they were brief and limited, featured descriptions and comments from the designers (which, at the very least, gave a clear idea of what artists were trying to achieve with particular character design).

Two other books were not as thorough but I was still able to extract some information that I could potentially use to help through my research. “The Art of Dreamworks Animation” had a chapter dedicated to Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, but it mostly focused on use of environment designs throughout the film while not really discussing the characters. However, it did feature some concept art with horses that I found really well captured the essence of the main character as well as the nature of his relationships with others. Finally, “The Art of Frozen” did not have any description or comments concerning horses in the film, but it did present two illustrations of early concept design for Hans’ horse. While the horse’s design evidently been completely redone before the final design featured in the film was created (the concept art shows a light riding horse build while in the final movie Sitron is a draft pony of Norwegian Fjord breed, which is evident of its characteristic two-toned mane), it is fascinating to see how artist intended the horse to be a supporting figure to Hans character – he is introduced as “prince in the shining armor” and his horse shows similar proud and regal features as the rider.

The last book that I managed to scan through yesterday was “Timing for Animators” by Harold Whitaker and John Halas. While the book has a lot of practical information for animating any moving thing or creature, I was pleased to find that it also had a few pages on animating horse walk and gallop. While it only provides a very basic approach, I decided to take a note of it as it might be useful as a starting point when I begin animating.

All in all, while I was disappointed with very limited information available, I was able to gather some data that will be useful in my research. The biggest part of the findings is concept art images and character sketches, but I was also able to find a few comments from artist and producers on what traits where emphasized in character creation and what is character’s role in the story. I believe that this information will not only give me an insight to creating strong equine characters but also help me better understand and more accurately analyse character in the film.

Postgraduate Study

Finding the Right Resources on Horses in Animation

When I decided to start the research into horses in animation, I thought that the best approach would be to see what books and research papers are available on the topic. Having in mind that horses are such an integral part of many animation films from the late 1920s (Horace Horsecollar debut in The Plow Boy (1929)), be it as background characters (e.g. two mares in Once Upon a Wintertime in Melody Time (1948)) or even as main protagonists (e.g. Spirit in Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002)), I was surprised that I could not find any published books or academic thesis on the equine characters in animation. After further investigation I was able to find other kinds of resources that I should be able to use in my research, though it is obvious that this topic lacks large scale research and further analysis.

To overcome the issue of lacking academic material and books on horses in animation, I decided to search for alternative research material. I presumed that since I am unable to find resources exclusively on horses, I should look into books and other material that could possibly feature horses among other characters of an animated film. Based on my past research, I remembered that some of the best ways to get insight into character creation process and well as different stages of production of animated films are through “The Art of” books and videos on making of different animation films. Though this makes information on horse characters rather limited, as these resources focus on entire film creation, and gathering information from parts of book or video that apply to the topic requires time and dedication, it will still allow me to get an understand of character design decisions and creation process which will contribute to more in-depth knowledge than what I would be able to get from just watching the character on screen. Furthermore, this way I will be able to gather information on a variety of equine characters which will hopefully make my research more thorough.

The resources that I am currently investigating include A Brief History of the Animated Horse by Gregory Singer in Animation World Network (which was very useful as a quick overview of a number of different horses in animation), videos and articles on Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and a few articles on Horace Horsecollar in Disney shorts. Furthermore, I am going to borrow “The Art of Dreamworks Animation”, “The Art of Disney Pixar Brave”, “The Art of Tangled” and “The Art of Frozen” from the university library as all these books focus on films featuring horses as animation characters.

Postgraduate Study

Research Blog Inspiration

To give me some ideas on how to use blog for academic purposes, I decided to look at how other people used it to journal their research. While I was unable to find blogs that would specifically relate to my situation (Master’s student blogs that would focus on topics related to animation), I found that blog called The Thesis Whisperer, edited by Dr Inger Mewburn, has a post with a long list of various PhD student blogs. And while the list is way too long for me to properly read through each one of them, I took the liberty investigating several by choosing them randomly.

Luckily enough, I was able to find a couple that really gave me some inspiration for my blog: