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Lost in Translation? Adapting Existing Stories for Film April 25, 2011

Posted by leskanturek in Animation, Film, Student Blog posts, Student Post, Visual Narrative.
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Post by Arielle Jovellanos

Adaptn. – make fit for, or change to suit a new purpose. (wordnet.princeton.edu)

Caption: (above left and clockwise) How to Train Your Dragon 2010, Alice in Wonderland 2010, X-Men 2000, Scooby Doo 2002, Dragonball Evolution 2009, & The Phantom of the Opera 2004.


Adaptations. In a world full of penny-pinching consumers in a bad economy, adaptations are all the rage in Hollywood where many executives would rather invest their energy, time, and money on adapting proven successes rather than risking it on a new, untested idea. Hence, we get things like Alice in Wonderland, Twilight, Sex and the City, Harry Potter, and Iron Man all up in our movie theaters. (And then there are the sequels, but that’s a whole other discussion…)

Now, just because there are a lot of something-to-film adaptations out there, doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re all good. Adaptations can be tricky. It is much easier said than done to turn a book into a movie or a cartoon into a live-action film. It’s not simply a case of, say, buying a whole bunch of copies of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, handing them out to your cast, and saving money on printing an actual script. There is a lot of work that goes into adapting an existing to work into a film because it is essentially about translating a story into a completely different medium and still keeping its heart intact. What works in one medium may not automatically translate successfully to fit the big screen.

Let’s take a look at these two movies that were adapted from successful source material and try to analyze what makes them work or makes them fail as full-length feature films…

Caption: (above left) Director Henry Selick’s Coraline 2009 (above right) Director M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender 2010


Coraline, a 2009 stop-motion animation film directed by Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach’s Henry Selick was adapted from Neil Gaiman’s critically acclaimed children’s novella of the same name. In this case, save for a few wonderfully disturbing illustrations by Dave McKean interspersed throughout the pages of the book, the film crew had only the story as reference to create the world and define the art direction.

Caption: (above) Dave McKean’s book cover and illustrations for Neil Gaiman’s Coraline 2002


As someone who read the book ages before seeing this film, I admit I was a bit surprised by the changes made to the storyline—most notably, the addition of the new character “Wybie,” a boy who lives in Coraline’s new neighborhood.

Ultimately, while it does stray from the source material, the decision to add Wybie into the movie was a smart one. In the book, though Coraline is alone her thought process is written through the narration and the reader gets a grasp of her personality through their understanding of the text. In the movie, Coraline needed somebody to talk to so the audience could visually understand her personality and motives without the filmmakers having to default to in-head voice-over.

Caption: (above) Screencaps from Selick’s Coraline 2009 film


There are a few other changes made, in regards to setting, pacing, dialogue, and the like, but in the end I feel everything added up to a high-quality film adaptation. What I personally find most successful about Coraline’s adaptation is that the filmmakers did not get themselves caught up in word-for-word accuracy to the book. Instead, they managed to distill the progressively building feelings of disturbing dread the reader experiences while reading, and manifested that same feeling on screen.

For example, art direction-wise, the film literally does become darker as the plot progresses, contrasting sharply to the bright colors Coraline first encounters when entering the Other World. This direction alone tells the story of the book visually in a way that needs no written or narrated explanation for the audience.

Caption: (above) Screencaps from Michael Dante DiMartino & Bryan Konietzko’s animated Nickelodeon series Avatar: The Last Airbender 2005-08.


Moving on to another film adaptation, director M. Night Shyamalan’s live-action movie The Last Airbender (2010) to many critics and fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-08), the original animated TV show, was a disappointing, boring, and over-expository mess which failed to do justice to Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko’s popular and award winning source material.

Caption: (above) Screencaps from Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender


In my opinion, there are tons of reasons as to why this movie failed, but the biggest problems for me were:

1. The movie told what was going on rather than showed what was going on. The movie attempted to squish in the arch of an entire 20-episode season into 103 minutes. To fill in the blanks, Shyamalan decided to employ the use of a narrator to explain away what happened rather than letting the visuals speak for themselves.

For example, to explain the budding romantic relationship between two characters, the narrator blandly says to the audience, “They became very close” instead of actually showing the two characters becoming closer. In this case, voice-over wasn’t used for any artistic purpose; it was used because the visuals of the film weren’t strong enough to carry the storyline without a narrator.

Caption: (above) Map of the Asian-inspired world of TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender


2. The movie’s direction failed to focus on the bigger picture, instead choosing to focus on unnecessary details and losing the actual message of the series in the process.


One of the first things people should ask themselves when considering making an animation is, “Why is it animated?” This is why it is so difficult to transform animation into live action. Through its entire conception, Avatar: The Last Airbender was inherently designed to be an animated series. The realm of animation opened several opportunities to DiMartino and Konietzko in the original show. For example, the fact that it was animated allowed the audience to suspend disbelief immediately concerning the manipulation and “bending” of the elements and the animal hybrids, which populate the Asian-inspired fantasy world.

The filmmakers of The Last Airbender got way too caught up in the little details such as having the animal hybrids show up for ten seconds even though within the script, they ultimately held little importance on the plot, making them seem like random anomalies on screen. There’s a difference between being meticulous with creating a fantasy world, and forcing something into the film just because it worked on TV. Because they were focusing on things like this, they lost focus on the actual story.

Caption: (above left) Original show concept art for character “Katara” by Bryan Konietzko, inspired by Asian & Inuit culture. (center) “Katara” as she appears in the show. (right) “Katara” as she appears in the film, played by Caucasian actress Nicola Peltz.


Yet at the same time, the filmmakers decided to forgo the heavily researched and accurate Asian-inspired art direction, which defined and set the show apart for its respectful and unique homage to Asian cultures in an American-made cartoon. The overarching theme of the series concerned the traditionally Asian concept of finding and maintaining balance and the Asian-inspired world only aided in emphasizing that theme.

In Shyamalan’s adaptation, he completely lost the spirit of the cartoon when he decided to turn the film into a generic good-versus-evil story and subsequently threw in some European-based, Lord of the Rings-esque elements along with vaguely Asian-ish inspirations into the art direction; this made for a very confusing fantasy world that seemed like it didn’t quite know what it was trying to be and therefore prevented the audience from really understanding what this world was about.

It is bizarre that—of all things—the largest and most dramatic changes they made from TV-to-film were in the Asian-inspired, art direction, which already came from real world influences and could have easily been adapted to live-action. In giving up this aspect of the world, they lost the entire heart of the story and changed it into something else entirely. Unlike Coraline, The Last Airbender failed to capture the feeling of the source material or concentrate on the most important elements of the story, resulting in an incredibly poor film adaptation.


Hayao Miyazaki, The Great Japanese Animator April 15, 2011

Posted by leskanturek in Animation, Art History, Movable Illustration, Political and Social Art, Student Blog posts, Student Post, Visual Narrative.
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Post by Emily Ho


Anime and manga artists from Japan are known world-wide for produ­cing extraordinary work. One famous and considered legendary Japanese animator is Hayao Miyazaki. He is internationally renowned in the field of animation and his history of projects shows how well the audience receives his work. An example would be his sales for the film Princess Mononoke, in 1997, which was known as the highest-grossing film in Japan. Even though Titanic cast a shadow on Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away brought Miyazaki back to the top spot when it was released in 2001.

(above) Hayao Miyazaki


Hayao Miyazaki was born in Akebono-cho Japan on January 5, 1941. He is a film director, animator, storyboard artist, character designer, screenwriter, and a manga artist. With his multiple skills, he and Isao Takahata co-founded Studio Ghibli, which still runs to this day.

Miyazaki’s animation films all consider a large variety of things such as the research, storyline, quality and detail of art, compositions, perspectives and the development of characters for the film to be successful. He is also known to mainly create his animations in the traditional way, which is by hand. It is remarkable how immensely detailed and accurate in depicting reality in the fantasy world is like in his films.

(above) Two stills from the film Princess Mononoke


Princess Mononoke is an animation where Miyazaki produced very vibrant, full of perspective and detailed artwork. Many of his films are “reflective about the human condition” such as Princess Mononoke, where the film questions about how humans destroy and pollute nature. Miyazaki conveyed that idea by showing if nature had a voice and was personified with animals, how would people confront and interact with them. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind shows the destruction that bugs can bring when humans pollute their environment. Castle in the Sky is also another animation where it illustrates how greed can bring destruction.

(aboveNausicaä of the Valley of the Wind


(above) Castle in the Sky


A couple of Miyazaki’s films are playful and fun, dealing with confidence, finding oneself, independence, and interactions with nature. The examples of movies are Spirited Away, Ponyo, Howl’s Moving Castle, and My Neighbor Totoro.

(above) Two stills from Spirited Away


(above) Two stills from Howl’s Moving Castle 


(above) A scene from Ponyo

(above) My Neighbor Totoro

Anime Transformation March 4, 2011

Posted by leskanturek in Animation, Art History, Comics, Film, Student Blog posts, Student Post, Visual Narrative.
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Post by Sarah Ding


Anime is a distinct art style that originated in Japan during the 20th century, in which Japanese filmmakers first became influenced by Western animation techniques. The highly successful Disney 1937 animated film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” became a huge influence on manga artists, who simplified many of the techniques and styles of Walt Disney’s animations due to low budget and labor. Throughout time, the distinct look of anime has transformed significantly, and although there are numerous different styles of anime, they all  have common stylistic elements  typical to the anime style.


So what exactly is the anime style? Although the features of the face and proportions of anime characters are exaggerated, they are not necessarily classified as cartoons. The most distinct feature of anime characters is their overly large eyes, in order to express their emotions through to the viewer.

However, recently anime has started to become extraordinarily more realistic in terms of the facial features. Even body proportions are beginning to fit the standard human proportions we would normally recognize. The most familiar form of anime could arguably be Sailor Moon, created by manga artist Naoko Takeuchi.

(above) Sailor Moon, A team of magical cute girls who are in reality magical warriors destined to save the Earth, and later the entire galaxy. Their features and proportions embody the look of anime girls.


Anime might on the surface appear to all look very similar but is in fact quite varied. The anime style of Sailor Moon is remarkably different than the style the viewer sees in  Death Note, a well-known manga created by writer Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by manga artist Takeshi Obata.

(above) Two of the characters in Deathnote , Light Yagami, and “L” .


The art and possibly even the story line has taken on a more realistic approach.  Here, the manga artist is deviating from the usual large eyes and small mouth characteristics that are typical of anime and drawing features more in proportion.

(above) Death Note illustrated by Takeshi Obata


Although there will always be different variations of anime (from very generic to semi-realistic), I feel that this style in general is starting to become much more realistic by opening itself up to different influences and styles.

Noir: Andrew S. Allen’s “The Thomas Beale Cipher” January 28, 2011

Posted by leskanturek in Animation, Class Discussions, Film, Narrative, Noir.
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Instructor Peter Hamlin e-mailed me about a wonderful piece of noir animation by Andrew S. Allen,  ” The Thomas Beale Cipher“. Take a look .

Two Awesome Worlds Collide April 19, 2010

Posted by leskanturek in 3-D work, Animation, Film, Music, Student Blog posts, Student Post, Surreal.
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Post by Grace Lang


In recent months, I have been watching a lot of music videos, specifically ones that feature dope-ass animation. It was sensational to realize that there are so many places for illustration within the music realm because jams, tunes, and diddies inspire most of us in some way or another.   SO…I wanna share what I’ve found!

Chad Vangaalen is a musician from Canada whose music I got into during high school. A few months ago, a friend showed me one of his music videos and I realized that he is actually an incredible illustrator and animator as well.  I think its pretty amazing when a person can master music and visual art. TOUGH STUFF. Here is a still from that video…it is called “Molten Light” and the song is off his album, “Soft Airplane.” The link to watch it on youtube is below the photo.



In 2009, Chad released an album under the alias, Black Mold, called “Snow Blindness is Crystal Antz.” It doesn’t feature lyrics like his other stuff, but is effin incredible anyway. Here is a still and link to a video for the song, “Metal Spiderwebs.”



Seriously, y’al. All his videos are phenomenal and totally worth checking out, SO DO IT.

NEXT UP is a bitchin claymation video for the Grizzly Bear (a Brooklyn-based folk rock group) song, “Ready, Able,” off the album, “Veckatimest.” The guys in the band didn’t make the video, as they aren’t animators like Mr. Vangaalen . This video is unbelievable and inspiring. I like it because it seems like a new approach to a somewhat common form of animation (claymation). The way it mixes media is especially fresh. Again, here is a still and a link:



The last video I want to share is from a band called Ramona Falls and it’s for their song, “I Say Fever.” Ciara, another  student in the illustration Dept., showed me this video and I am infinitely grateful because not only is it one of the best things I have EVER seen, but it also exposed me to a great new band. (I bought the album. SO GOOD.) The band is based in Portland, Oregon and their first/only album is titled, “Intuit.” This video is super different from the others. It doesn’t have as much of a hand-drawn feeling as Chad Vangaalen’s stuff, but there’s no disputing that it’s an insane and beautiful concept. I am drawn (PUN SO INTENDED) to it mostly because it fuses so many things that I like together: intricate line-work, bizarre imagery, good color choices, and ANIMALS. It’s also really nice to see something that was clearly manifested on the computer, but doesn’t feel super technology-y.




Oh, and another thing. When I got this album, I was overjoyed to realize that one of my long-time favorite illustrators, Theo Ellsworth, did the album artwork. This made me really happy because he’s beyond brilliant and I am glad to see he is getting such cool jobs. Here is the album cover and I highly suggest looking up more of his work. His book, “Capacity,” is especially inspiring.

Illustration Lives- The Artist’s Personal Touch March 17, 2010

Posted by leskanturek in Animation, Events, Student Blog posts, Student Post.
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Post by a Class Member

There is a subdued underground anxiety these days about the future of traditional Illustration.  Digital media is slowly suffocating print journalism as society embraces all things pixel-ed.  Will video and RGB-doodles crush the conventional beauty of watercolors and oils?  I do not believe so and my chance meeting with Peter de Sève supported the idea that Illustrators need not worry.

It was Friday, March 5, and I was attending the opening reception at the Society of Illustrator’s, “Annual Exhibition:  Illustrators 52”.  Peter de Sève, the character developer for Mulan, Walt Disney Home Entertainment (my personal fave); Finding Nemo, Disney Enterprises, Inc./Pixar; and Ice Age, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, was there in full animated glory.  He was gracious, humorous, and above all – genuine.  How refreshing to meet a grounded, yet famed Illustrator.


(above  left) This was me talking to Peter  during  Cocktail Hour, Sketch by Peter de Sève.


Of course, upon learning that Peter illustrated the much-loved characters of Ice Age, I rapidly searched the bowels of my brain to come up with something brilliant about the intellectual relationship of the wooly mammoth and sloth characters.  Naturally, the only beast I could recall from the series was the ill-fated dodo bird.

“Brilliant”, I thought, that the space in my head could only conjure up a brainless feathered species.  It would be like telling Audrey Hepburn that her rendition of Moon River inspired me to become a song artist.  Lame.

After a lot of dull “Wow!” and “Interesting!” exclamations on my part, I  managed to garner some very inspiring thoughts from Peter.  Namely, that he found his commissioned illustrations to BE his art.  Often, we-students are trained that client work is not art that will fulfill us rather it is a necessary evil in the labyrinth of competition among artists.  Peter debunked this thought; specifically, with his passion for his New Yorker covers.

The laughter we shared inspired me to “amazon” his book, A Sketchy Past, which is a delicious volume of his sketches and finished watercolors.  The book details Peter’s continuing passion for his work and his stubbornness in ensuring the yummy flourishes he adds to commissions remain in tact.  The satiated pictures included here demonstrate this illustrative execution.

(above) Two of three naked butts to be on the cover of The New Yorker Magazine (left) Beach Bum, The New Yorker, 2005,  (right) Through the Wringer, The New Yorker, 2008


(above) an Illustration from a new children’s book after Peter’s own family – his father and mother-in-law pictured here .  The Duchess of Whimsy, Penguin Philomel Books, 2009


(above) Self-Portrait with Art Director, Art Direction magazine, 1994


Peter declares his illustrations to be personal assignments and finds satisfaction by adding his own commentary to The New Yorker covers.  He manages to turn even a bland business commuter into a scrumptious plump beast daintily prancing through our soot-covered subway system.  And it is through this transformation that Peter finds peace with his art.

Alas, that is why Illustration will never die.  Illustrators bring rainbows, ruffles and renaissance to an otherwise loud and rushing world.  It was a pleasure meeting Peter de Sève, a talent who captures the glint of love and the furrow of doubt in any beast and implores personal flair to every creature he creates.  Bravo.

Peter is a 1980 graduate of the Parsons School of Design Illustration Dept.

Moving Paper March 3, 2010

Posted by leskanturek in 3-D work, Animation, Movable Illustration, Music, Student work.
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The Museum of Arts and Design located at 2 Columbus circle in NYC, collects and documents craft, art and design. Presently MAD is hosting Moving Paper, the cut-paper animation film festival  and competition. Inspired by the exhibition Slash: Paper under the KnifeMoving Paper celebrates the use of cut paper in animation,
Two  videos made by Illustration major (and class member) Brianne Bowers have been accepted  on the Moving Paper site. Take a look :