If you follow this blog, you probably know I don't voice much of my opinions here. I tend to keep it short and sweet. But after almost 10 years in the industry I feel like I do have a couple of valid points/opinions to share, and what better place and time to address this recent wave of "Feminist" flavored films we've been hearing about? Right?
The American animation industry in general is not too keen on seriously addressing the whole “feminism” thing. They claim they are as of lately, they hover around it, they associate themselves with it, but they don’t commit to it. It’s a dangerous idea, but it’s a hot trend, and trends are too lucrative for corporations and STUDIOS to ignore. Even Sony jumped on the bandwagon lately and tried to sell a movie about emojis as some sort of a statement
What I want to talk about here is an excerpt from a passionate conversation I had with a self-proclaimed feminist who was obnoxiously enthused with the release of Disney’s Moana. She gave me the whole “empowering girls and young women by depicting them as Lead Characters in animated films…” argument, which coincidentally is Disney’s whole selling point.
Now this isn’t another “Anti-Disney Rant” type of post, not at all. I’m directing my blame elsewhere. I understand that Disney is merely a corporation, and corporations owe it to their shareholders to make them richer, I get that. Disney -as well as all other studios in the U.S- has figured out a working formula that minimizes the margin of error and turns a medium as unpredictable as film/animation into a solid business. The formula is to tackle trends, and make pleasant films; films for everyone in the family, you know, like Vanilla ice cream. Who doesn’t like that!
Now I don’t have a problem with “socially aware” animated films, in fact I prefer them over other brainless entertainment, but what I do take issue with is the simplicity of the movie-going public! They are the reason why we keep getting the same Vanilla characters over and over. I take major issue with an audience unwilling to ask questions, very easy to fool, and so quick to mindlessly repeat catchy phrases and accept mediocre films as high art just because they sell the suggestion of a progressive idea such as “Empower young girls into becoming the heroines they aspire to be” or because “It depicts a powerful and an independent woman as a lead and that leave a positive mark on the progress of our society.” Shit that you read on a Facebook feed.
Disney’s female leads are NOT females, they’re myths of females. They are merely the contour of a female created by a bunch of males with SOME sort of an idea of how a strong female should be, and some of those male go on record saying things like -and I’m paraphrasing here- females are “Really, really difficult to animate and keep pretty.” Go figure.
Disney’s female leads are NOT relatable. They’re usually Queens or Princesses, they’re girls with some sort of stature; they’re always young and naive which makes their experience limited and their problems trivial. They come face to face with their fears over sappy songs and dance routines. Magic and supernatural powers somehow always make their way into a female led movie, why is that? Is reality not challenging enough for women anymore? Ask any woman out there about her daily challenges and see for yourself; I bet you anything that gender pay gap, traffic and catcalling would most likely be on their top ten list of problems. Too far fetched? Fine, ask any young lady about what occupies her mind, you think she's plotting her retaliatory attack against some black magic to save her nation’s existence? Who are these women? And why do they always have a dead parent with some sort of legacy to live up to? What girls watch this and relate to Princesses and Queens? Do we really want our girls to think of themselves as Princesses? It's 2017 y'all!
We’ve made it easy for Disney -and all other studios for that matter- to ignore and actively avoid creating a realistic and genuinely believable female lead, yet when it comes to their male counterparts, the sky’s the limit. Male leads in animation have been babies, young kids, teenagers, young men, middle aged men, and senior citizens; females on the other hand, young women/teenagers. Male leads have been fathers, inventors, failures, students, travelers, outcasts, and champions, meanwhile females have been the dreamers who ache to achieve what they were told they can’t, which just happens to be the oldest story in history; It’s Eve and the apple! Am I missing something here?
So if by now you’re wondering whether I have ANYTHING positive to say or if I have any favorite animated female characters, then the answer is Yes, I do!
My favorite animated female character -in my opinion- is Disney’s STRONGEST FEMALE character ever. No other female character comes close to her. With a screen time that barely passes the 10 minutes mark and a dialogue that didn’t extend past the subject of fashion design, she told us everything we would possibly need to know about her character. No talking about dreams, no signing about desires, her actions and interactions spoke louder and clearer than any backstory or exposition; That lady is Edna.
If you knew her right away then congrats, we are soul friends. If not, Edna is the fashion designer in the "The Incredibles" -Pixar's best film- She was responsible for designing costumes for all of the golden age superheroes.
Here’s what I learned about Edna:
Edna is a true and a passionate designer, when the light bulb goes off she immediately acts on it. She’s the independent and driven type of woman. She's most likely single. Retirement is non-existent in her lexicon. Edna is a free spirited progressive woman, her old work stays in the past, one might say she detests it, she’s present and she eyes the future. She’s knowledgeable, confident and successful at what she does that even Superheros feel off kilter around her. She’s observant, thoughtful, and easily 10 steps ahead of anyone else around her. This is all I’ve learned about Edna within ten minutes of dialogue with her clients for God sake! Now, who the fuck is Moana? A “Chosen” girl with a desire to do what her father forbade her from doing? Yeah! I’m sure Gloria Steinem is cheering for that progress.
Obviously we can blame the studios for their shortcomings, it's easy to point the finger at the giant, but I throw the blame on us, the general audience that’s easily enamored by substandard films with fake social values and hollow purpose.We don’t question things anymore. Why is it a feminist movie? Who’s dictating the meanings of these movies? And if they really are feminist movies, why do you need to point it out? Doesn’t that negate the purpose?
We are the data studios lean heavily on to make their decisions, what to make next and what to shelve up, what's hot and what's not. It's all about money, trends and data, and the problem with data is it leads us nowhere but downwards, it leads us to redundancy and complacency, and to them redundant and lucrative wins over the original and risky any time of the day.
As Seth Godin puts it and because I couldn’t come up with a better way to phrase it: “They got us hooked on data. Advertisers want more data. Direct marketers want more data. Who saw it? Who clicked? What percentage? What's trending? What's yielding? But there's one group that doesn't need more data... Anyone who's making a long-term commitment. Anyone who seeks to make art, to make a difference, to challenge the status quo. Because when you're chasing that sort of change, data is the cudgel your enemies will use to push you to conform. Data paves the road to the bottom. It is the lazy way to figure out what to do next. It's obsessed with the short-term.
It took a while but I'm more and more convinced this could work. This is a simple Playblast in viewport 2.0 lighting, and some color correction. If you're a lighter, compositor and have any input please feel free to leave a comment. And here are snap shots from the process:
A while ago I started this "favorite short" posting where I post and blog about short films that inspire me and make me angry. Well, it's about time for another one of those posts, and to make up for the wait I decided to post two of my latest favorites; First one is "June", directed by John Khars, and while I HATED his "Paperman", I love what he did with June.
I was very fortunate to be introduced to Chip Kidd. He's a world renowned designer. Book-cover designer to be specific. Some of his work includes the covers of David Sedaris's "When you are engulfed in flames", Dave Gibbons's "Watchmen", and Haruki Murakami's "1Q84."
He is also a Batman fanatic; His apartment is covered floor to ceiling with Batman memorabilia, art, toys, you name it!.. Here's a little sampler:
The one and only William Joyce.
Unexpectedly, he asked me to contribute to his Batman Black and White Project. This was the most humbling, exciting yet frightening request I've ever been asked. As you may expect the other artists that contributed to his show before are utterly the living masters and superstars of illustration. No exaggeration. No pressure!
After hitting a wall I decided to bounce some ideas with the man himself, and what a breath of fresh air that was! It made me hate EVERY "director" I worked with in commercials.
Anyway, without further ado, here's my contribution to Batman Black&White:
I really like the way Viewport 2.0 displays lights, shadows and colors. I was also just introduced to the new ShaderFX in Maya 2015 and this looks like the way I'm going to render out the rest of the short film. I don't know how that will be done yet, but I'm sure it'll be fresh. Here's an example straight out of Maya Viewport.
One thing I will have to figure out a better way to do is the depth of field. It looks real bad in Viewport 2.0.
So I hit a wall working on boards. I just can't come up with my next board, so I switched gears to color scripts, something I've never really done, but what the hell!! the point is forcing myself to think about the story from a different angle; color.
Haven't finished my first pass animatic yet and I already hate some of my shots. You'd think you know what you're going for, you put it together in a timeline and nothing sticks or grabs your attention, and that's really what this phase is all about. Here's a reworked composition from this week:
Still at it. Last week, and with the help of the producer Steve Intrabartola a great progress happened on the character modeling side of work, and I got to revise some of the shots (deleting redundant shots, tightening the timing on some shots). This long Labor Day weekend I had the opportunity to roughly layout the fairground just so I can start planing and figuring out the choreography and the camera angels that go with it.
Now that my thumbnails are all done and the film actually plays out "well enough" in my head, I moved to the computer (TVPaint and Maya) to work on the animatic; and since everything about this film is different than the old film (The type of story, medium and style) then why not a different approach to prerpo too?
Well, to make things a little tighter this time around I roughed out my compositions and cameras in a CG placeholder set, which freed me to further explore and flesh out the acting choices in a very early stage in the process.
It takes me a while to move out of one mental space (old film idea) and jump into an other (coming up with a new short film idea), but I finally did it.
Just last week I finished the first draft storyboards for my next short film. This idea I had for a while, in fact, I planned and shot parts of it in live-action but half way through it I stopped, well, it was more like I failed.
Dealing with untrained kids acting with untrained animals all in one film on a live action shoot proved to be quite the difficult task, and at times an impossible one, so I decided to go the rout I'm more comfortable with, animation.
Here are some of the sketchbook rough boards and first draft CG cameras.