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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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” .

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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

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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 .

NOIR- Assignment January 26, 2011

Posted by leskanturek in Class Assignments, Film, Noir, Visual Narrative.
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(above) Left- Man Ray’s Cadeau 1921 (center) The Black Swan (right) Journey into Mystery

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You are going to  create/draw/paint etc. a Black & White narrative based on your 420 character story that we started in class. (For examples of 420 Character stories  look at illustrator Lou Beach’s wonderful site  http://www.420characters.com/     (420 characters is the maximum length of a facebook status update).

The length of your visual narrative is up to you and dependant on your  story.  It might be possible to create a great narrative in one drawing, you might need 2, 3 or 10 consecutive pieces or panels. It really depends on what will do your concept/story justice.     Don’t forget the possibility of working  in 3-D.

(above)  The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of  Mr. Punch Art by Dave McKean Writeen by Neil Gaiman

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Your finished piece is going to be submitted to faculty member Ben Katchor who is creating an  11″ X 17″  4 page newsprint tabloid. There are going to be 7 different tabloids all together. One to be distributed each day of the New school’s Noir Festival which will take place Friday, April 1, 2011 – Friday, April 8, 2011. This  is a judged submission situation — only about 26 strips and drawings will be used over the seven tabloids.

Your work can be designed to fill an entire 11 x 17 page or any portion of that size. It must be all in black and white (or grey tones)

Think of what we saw in class and the adjectives you wrote down to describe Noir.

  • Moral ambiguity
  • Personal viewpoints
  • Anti-hero
  • An innocent being accused
  • Surrealism

Try and distill the basic ideas away from the icon of a detective.

The visual clichés of 1940-50s film noir should be avoided. Think about work that expands upon the conventional idea of what “noir” imagery might be. The “noir” impulse can include cynical attitudes, absurd and dark situations,  extreme psychological conditions, quasi-documentary authenticity, and amoral or alienated behavior.

Good Luck  -Les

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

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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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwrIRhw4Z6Y

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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.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fUdKAYg84nQ

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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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Puph1hejMQE

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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.

ONCE MORE, A STILL AND A VIDEO.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ga0ohgZFVqc

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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.

Film & Graphic Novels, Twin Sons of Different Mothers December 8, 2009

Posted by leskanturek in Books, Comics, Film, Story Boards, Visual Narrative.
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Since the advent of photography there has been a cross fertilization between the camera and the canvas. Early silent filmmakers were inspired by Gustave Dorés book illustrations (L’inferno 1911 by Francesco Bertolini). Film pioneer George Melies was influenced by illustrator Henri de Montaut’s work for Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon, inspiration has see-sawed back and forth many times. Film noir influenced pulp images and early comics. Presently we’re seeing the trend of graphic novels being adapted to film. it makes perfect sense, The mediums are closely related and share a common visual vocabulary. Animation has long bridged (and blurred) the line between film and drawing.

Any one  interested in visual story telling; Comic books, graphic novels, story boards should include in their education a critical eye on film and a reading of  books that describe the visual narrative tools of film.  How to compose shots, visual sequence and how it affects a narrative, point of view, this is all the common vocabulary of telling a story visually whether it be in print or film.

Below are a few film books that I think bear looking at for your narrative education. Especially for those of you interested in storyboards. It then becomes extremely important to understand and speak in the language of film photography.

Setting Up Your Shots: Great Camera Moves Every Filmmaker Should Know By Jeremy Vineyard

This is a basic book that describes different shots in film with an accompanying illustration and a suggestion of a film that employs an example of the shot. It’s written by a non-professional which has  strengths and weaknesses.

I like the book because it is so basic and written for someone who knows nothing about film. It will get you thinking along film lines very quickly. I have read criticism of the book that the names of shots in some cases is inaccurate and some of the examples of where you can see the shot are general which can be frustrating.

(Above) Film Directing Shot by Shot: Visualizing from Concept to Screen:  by Stephen Katz

(Above) Master Shots: 100 Advanced Camera Techniques to Get an Expensive Look on Your Low-Budget Movie by Christopher Kenworthy.  Master Shots has an example of the shot in a film and different views of the shot using poser figures.

(Above) Storyboard Design Course: Principles, Practice, and Techniques by Giuseppe Cristiano

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The above is by no means all the books out there just a couple to start you thinking from the film side vs. the graphic novel/comic book side.

(Above) Comics and Sequential Art by Will Eisner is a fantastic book my a master story teller. One of the things that impresses me about this book is that Eisner addresses the concept of time in the narrative. How to depict a finite amount of time passing which i think is very much akin to film.

In the above panel Eisner has linked 2 simultaneous actions, the dripping faucet in the extreme foreground and the character entering.  The slow drip is the reference point for time. Looking at only 3 panels you can tell it has taken the character a long time to enter. That’s an understanding of visual narrative.  There is a wonderful Hamlet soliloquy drawn by Eisner in the book as well as other gems  that really show why he is considered  a master storyteller.   The book I’d say is an absolute to pick up.