animation

Arabian Animation on the Upswing

Saudi 1.jpg

Earlier this week an article made its way online titled "Why animation and storytelling are growing in Saudi Arabia." This draws attention to a rapidly changing marketplace: the Saudi Kingdom. Before we talk about this specific article, a recap is warranted of how Saudi Arabia is transforming. 

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has made headlines the past couple years for the sweeping reforms he's pressed for throughout the nation. It's part of his Saudi Vision 2030, a plan to bolster non-petroleum industries, living standards, and the nation's culture. Last September, the ban on women driving was lifted; several state enterprises have been privatized. Most relevant to this blog though, just this year the ban on cinemas was lifted.

Since the 1980s, the kingdom forbid public cinemas. Hardline clerics warned that it'd lead to immorality and other ills. However, the clerics have watched their political leverage wane over the past few years. Mohammad bin Salman pushed ahead, and in January The Emoji Movie was shown on a makeshift screen, the first public screening in decades. It took a few months for an actual cinema to be built, but last month, an AMC in the capital city of Riyadh screened Black Panther, thus marking a brand new era for Saudi entertainment. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Now that's not to say that the Saudi people have been cut off from entertainment altogether. Out-of-theater distribution, such as DVDs and digital streaming, has been popular for years. Plus, people with the means to do so simply traveled to neighboring nations to visit the cinemas there. It's also worth noting that films entering the country still have to pass certain censorship requirements. At the very least though, it's a step forward - and potentially a lucrative opportunity. More cinemas are being built. If Vision 2030 is successful, and living standards rise, more people will have money to spend on entertainment. That could mean healthy box office takes for any film that manages to get into the country. That's especially good news for animators, who put together effects for the biggest blockbusters and create animated films that already win over global audiences.

Saudi 2.png

It's not just news for international animators though. Saudi Arabia has its own artists, ready and eager to show off to audiences. That leads back to the article mentioned at the beginning of this post. For example, Verve Studios, established in 2015, has thirty "partners" that it works with to deliver animation. At Effat University, an all-female school, a major is now offered in Visual and Digital Production. It's the first filmmaking major to be offered in Saudi Arabia. The article also talks about Samaher Bantan, who mentions companies asking animators for "an ad or a video for their websites." An animation community already exists in the kingdom; the ground is being laid for it to expand even more.

The resources are cropping up, and animation is being given room to breathe and spread its wings. There are still twelve years to go in Saudi Vision 2030, but by the end of those twelve years we may see a country that, among other things, loves and celebrates animation as much as anyone else. It's worth keeping an eye on, to see what else may come next.


Eric Miller Animation Studios is dedicated to crafting heartfelt stories and compelling visuals through 3D computer graphics, offering design and VFX for advertising, gaming, TV & film production.  We work with the best animation talent in the industry to deliver visually stunning imagery. Big or small, we can bring any character or story to life.

CalArts Character Animation Producers’ Show

With so many animations out there, it takes a lot of work to make sure they don't go unnoticed. The annual CalArts Character Animation Producers' Show was hosted by the Directors Guild of America on May 2 this year to show the "Best Of" from the school year.  Students, faculty, friends, family, industry professionals and fans were all invited to attend watch 192 student films that were screened in late April. It was narrowed down to 22 films that were in the running for the following awards: 

 

1. The Peer's Pick Award

Screen Shot 2018-05-07 at 7.28.36 PM.png

Goodbye Galaxy Girl took "The Peers Pick Award", which is voted on by the students themselves.  In this animation, the loneliness of a women becomes a dreamlike, yet heartbreaking, escape into the world of cartoons.  Animation comes a long way for Yden Park in her fourth year at CalArts.  Though her style is similar through the years, her progress is evident to her peers. 

Watch Goodby Galaxy Girl here!

 

2. The Vimeo Award

alex-avagimian-little-bandits-e1525286919143.png

Little Bandits by Alex Avagimain takes home "The Vimeo Award".  This one is juried by Vimeo for Outstanding Student Achievement in Animated Filmmaking.  This animation is a classic "coming of age" film where a young boy is convinced that killing a bird will make him a man.  Based on a true story, this animation shows great development throughout the students years at CalArts. 

Watch Little Bandits here!

 

3. The Walter and Gracie Lantz Animation Prize

"The Walter and Gracie Lantz Animation Prize" is chosen by the CalArts Character Animation Program faculty and how they have noticed the students' progress.  This one was a tie between two animations.  One by Anchi Shen for Barry about a baby goat who goes job hunting. 

Watch Barry here!

Gabby-Capili-Dennis-the-Dinosaur-post.jpg

Gabrielle Capili is also awarded the "The Walter and Gracie Lantz Animation Prize" for Dennis the Dinosaur. The interaction between the animation itself and a live performance shows the humor of a pilot taking the wrong turn for a children's TV animation. 

Watch Dennis the Dinosaur here!

 

Not only did this give students a chance to showcase their work, but they were also able to network with many companies and well respected individuals from the animation industry. Don't worry if you missed the screening, you can check out the list of the animations showcased here

 
ADVERTISEMENT

Eric Miller Animation Studios is dedicated to crafting heartfelt stories and compelling visuals through 3D computer graphics, offering design and VFX for advertising, gaming, TV & film production.  We work with the best animation talent in the industry to deliver visually stunning imagery. Big or small, we can bring any character or story to life.

 

Alita: Battle Angel and the Uncanny Valley

Last weekend, a trailer dropped for a movie called Alita: Battle AngelDirected by Robert Rodriguez, and written and produced by James Cameron,  the movie uses the manga Battle Angel Alita as source material. It focuses on a young cyborg who must, according to iMDB, "discover the truth of who she is and her fight to change the world." The trailer generated a bit of buzz... but not necessarily for an enviable reason. While some viewers did say that they were impressed, many were struck by one feature in particular: Alita's eyes.

Alita Eyes - The Sequel.jpg

Alita's character is brought to life using computer-generated imagery, and the most striking features about her aren't her cybernetic limbs, but the enlarged eyes. Comments have ranged from humorous to outright critical, and several bring up a very important principle of animation: the uncanny valley.

What exactly is the uncanny valley? It's a trick that lies at the intersection of art and human psychology. The best example involves robots: imagine an industrial robot, the mechanical arm that builds cars. It does not appear very human, and so you may not be as attached. But let's add more human features, maybe something like WALL-E or Short Circuit's Johnny Five. You begin to build more of an emotional connection with it. Now make the robot even more humanoid, something like C-3PO from Star Wars. Now he's a real character, a person in his own right, that you would be even more invested in. In general, the more human-ish an object appears, the more we will connect with it.

UncannyValleyChart.png

But there is a drastic exception to this rule. As an object draws near full human likeness, it enters into the "uncanny valley." It's a point where the object appears almost completely human, but not quite fully there. The connection suddenly becomes revulsion, and people may be repelled away from the object. There are competing explanations for the phenomenon. Some say it's an unconscious physical repulsion from a "human" that appears to be ill or sickly. Others argue it's a perceived threat to human identity. Whatever the cause though, the uncanny valley has implications not just for robotic designers, but even more so for digital artists.

Tin Toy.jpg

Computer imagery has developed by leaps and bounds, and we are now nearing the capability to replicate humans on screen. Such an act always has the inherent danger of falling into the uncanny valley though, and undermining the whole effect. Audiences do respond to that, but it isn't always a liability. Sometimes the uncanny valley can be exploited if you WANT to make a character disturbing and unsettling. Case in point, King Ramses from Courage the Cowardly DogAnyone around the age of 20 can testify that he was one of the most truly terrifying villains in cartoons. 

Of course, most of the time the uncanny valley is accidental, and it's plagued digital artists for decades. One excellent example is Tin Toy, a 1988 Pixar short that features a baby that... well, doesn't look or move like any baby I know of! The 2004 movie The Polar Express also faced troubles with its human characters. It was the first film shot entirely on a motion-capture stage, so of course there were some rough edges.  Mars Needs Moms faced similar troubles, and more recently Rogue One caught some flak for their CGI representation of General Tarkin. 

Alita Battle Angel Eyes.jpg

Which leads us back to Alita. The attempt seems to be to recreate the well-known Japanese style of large eyes. Robert Rodriguez confirmed this in an interview with Empire, where he said they wanted "to create a photo-realistic version of the manga eyes that we're so accustomed to seeing." He added that "When it gets to the emotional scenes it's really uncanny and striking." So far fans seem to be split: some are saying that the uncanny valley might fit the story of an android struggling to fit into a human society. Others say that she should look like the other humans, given the manga's style. A lot comes down to the writing of the movie and how it's handled, and we won't see that until July. One thing for sure though, is that everyone's going to be paying attention to those big ol' eyes.

ADVERTISEMENT

Animated Features for Fall of 2017!

This was a big year for animation, but the year isn't over yet! There's still quite a bit that will be released before the end of the year. Here's a list of just a few of the one's coming out this fall!

Happy First Day of Fall! 

The Lego Ninjago Movie 

ninjago.jpeg

Released by Warner Animation Group and animation produced by Animal Logic, The Lego Ninjago Movie will be in theaters today, September 22, 2017!

It's based off the toy line, and a spin-off on 2014’s “The Lego Movie”. Lego Ninjago is an animation about the “Green Ninja”, who is being trained by Master Wu to defeat “The Worst Guy Ever”. All the other secret ninja warriors help “The Green Ninja” plot against his father.

Watch the trailer here!

 

My Little Pony: The Movie 

my little pony.jpg

Lionsgate will release the "My Little Pony" movie on October 6, 2017! It was Directed by Jayson Thiessen from a screenplay written by Megan McCarthy, and produced by Allspark Pictures and DHX Media!

Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy and Rarity, or the Mane 6, use the magic of friendship to help them on their quest to defeat The Dark Force’s threat on Ponyville!

Watch the trailer here!

ADVERTISEMENT

Coco

cocotrailer-1.jpg

Director Lee Unkrich and so many other talented co-directors, producers, voice actors, and more from Disney and Pixar have been working on "Coco" for years! The Día de los Muertos themed animation that will be released a little bit after the holiday on November 22, 2017!

His drive to prove his talent as a musician gets Miguel in a bit of a mix up. But, it does not stop him from undertaking a journey with his two friends to find out about his ancestor’s ban on music.

Watch the trailer here!

 

Ferdinand 

ferdinand.jpg

Based off “The Story of Ferdinand” by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson, 20th Century Fox and Blue Sky Studios bring "Ferdinand" to big screen on December 15, 2017!  

"Ferdinand" is directed Rio helmer Carlos Saldanha, with John Cena as the voice of Ferdinand. We get to follow a giant bull through his adventure in Spain! Don't let his size fool you though, he is actually just trying to get away from his captors and home to his family. A gentle giant that proves that appearances are often misleading!

Watch the trailer here!

ADVERTISEMENT