Saturday, 19 December 2009

Avatar (A Review)

14 years in the making and the largest budget of a film ever, estimated at $230,000,000 and boasting the greatest CGI effects and animation of all time, does James Cameron's first film in 12 years, 'Avatar' meet our expectations?

My short answer, would be 'yes', but the film has received mixed reviews...

There is absolutely no doubt that the visuals are the best seen in just about any film. And it was worth the wait. It is clear how much our ability to create believable graphics and computer-generated characters has increased ten-fold. I say 'believable' simply because the content is of course fictional and I am leaving doubt as to whether perfectly photo-realistic graphics can actually exist or be accomplished. Certainly, Avatar does a very convincing job, but at the beginning it is obvious the imagery is a complex hybrid of live-action on green screen, matte painting, motion capture, computer-generated imagery and animation.

But saying that, as soon as you see the 'Na'vi' creatures in action, you are immediately drawn in. I was spellbound by how they looked and the way they moved. Seeing the likeness in a Sigourney Weaver Na'vi was particularly stunning. They have real expressions too! Unlike previous realistic computer-generated films such as Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, where characters have stiff movement and blank expression a lot of the time.

Some argue the opposite of course, but I don't see why this level of detail would be ignored so easily.  Of course, nothing like this could perfectly duplicate human life, but the characters are a different species altogether and this is the best example of computer graphics I've ever seen. The lighting and texture is so real and fleshed-out, far better than previous attempts that just look flat, rigid and completely "artificial". The claim that the public won't be able to tell the difference, is far-fetched, but you do read them as real characters as the film progresses and not just puppets. You forget that they are digital.

It's not just the characters however, but also the backgrounds, creatures and effects. The environments in long shots are epic and the glowing scenery at night time is absolutely beautiful. Watching this in 3D is a must, by the way. It has come a long way since those red and green plastic glasses!!

As has been highlighted by many reviewers, with all this money going into visuals, will the story hold it's ground? Thankfully, it does. Though the storyline has been told dozens of times before, (similarities can be drawn even to Disney's Pochontas!) Cameron brings fresh originality to the setting and characters that keeps you gripped for the whole 162 minutes (that's two and a half hours) with fast and punchy pacing that slows down in all the right places.

Like any film of this quality, certain sacrifices have to be made to make it 'safe' so that it will make a profit. And Avatar has a big profit to make! Thus, the story has a tendency to be predictable just before important plot points. Thankfully, these aren't too obvious from the beginning and there is plenty of guessing throughout the film. I do congratulate Cameron for telling this story so expertly so as to keep your attention for the full time, personally I have a tendency to 'space out' on shorter 2 hour films, but this had me for the entire time, whether it was the character interaction, the beautiful visuals/animation or the impact of a particular event in the story; I was gripped.

I loved this film, I consider it the best one I've seen all year and must-see for anyone with an interest in film, animation, Sci-fi and storytelling full of action, suspense and even a little romance and comedy.

For another spoiler-free view of this film that explains it much better than I ever could, please check out this video!

Bye for now! =)

Where The Wild Things Are (A Review)

Where The Wild Things Are is a brand new film directed by Spike Jonze, based on the popular 30-page children's book of the same name by Maurice Sendak. But don't be mistaken by assuming this is a film for kids. Spike Jonze (Director of 'Being John Malkovich' and various music videos) does not patronise the audience and creates a much darker and spookier film like the original book suggests.

We are introduced to a young boy named Max. His world is full of imagination and creativity and he wants nothing more than to live his childhood to the full, but sadly he has no one to share it with. His sister ignores him and his mother has other things to worry about. Sounds typical? But no, the way this subject has been tackled is totally real and unique. The way the characters are filmed, their emotions and what they say is unlike anything I've seen in the beginning of a film before.

An interesting note... The very first shot shows Max chasing his dog around in his 'wolf' costume. I didn't realise this when watching but my friends told me later that he was actually chasing the dog with a fork and you don't see the unfortunate animal in the film after this scene... Hmm...

After falling out with his sister when he is trapped in his own igloo and hurt by her friends, and getting into a row with his mother and biting her in front of her new boyfriend, troubled Max runs away and into the forest. Here he discovers a boat which he sails to the world of the 'Wild Things'. The Wild Things accept him as their 'king' and Max finally has friends to play games with.

The film does not have a specific storyline, if anything it's just a sequence of random events past this point. The characters are set up perfectly, but once we reach the other world, it's all about the characters and their development. Each Wild Thing represents a different part of Max, although the outcast girl creature, KW, represents his relationship with his sister and mother.

This creates fascinating tensions between characters as, in a sense, Max is building friendships and/or rivalries with different aspects of himself and you can see this develop throughout the film. The roles of Carol, Judith, KW and Alexander are particularly important to Max's self-realisation.

Visually the film is beautiful. All of the creatures are played by real people in costumes with some digital effects on the faces to enhance emotions. When these guys cry, you feel sadness with them, and when they are angry and rampaging they are very scary indeed! The film uses wonderful earthy colours and it has a traditional grainy look to it which stays true to the original artwork.

I didn't particularly like how the Wild Things first appeared, I don't know how they were shown in the book, but I prefer how we first see Carol in the trailer, as opposed to the film where they are not left very ambiguous. Speaking of the trailer, the use of music is amazing. The original trailer music, 'Wake Up' by 'Arcade Fire' is a glorious and uplifting song which fits the themes of this film perfectly and has such an independent feel to it. We don't see this song in the film, but the original music orchestrated for it reflects the feelings in this song and is just as superbly written, if not quite as good.

Overall, if you love to see a film with something different to offer with great characters and development, then definitely see Where The Wild Things Are. For a film adapted from such a short book, taking away nothing yet adding so much more, Spike Jonze has done a superb job. I would not recommend it for young viewers as it can be quite scary and upsetting at times, but neither is it adult. It's a lovely feel-good piece that definitely grows on you.

Welcome Home... Paramore!

Got back last Wednesday to spend my holidays at home. I should have a whole month off Uni as my course has an extra two weeks with nothing timetabled until the 25th. Unlike my unfortunate boyfriend who has to return on the 11th. :(

I do however, have a 2500 word essay to write about animation to hand in on the 13th. But I can send this to my friend Rob to hand in for me as he is returning early with his fiance. So all is good!

I came back a little earlier than everyone else to go to Paramore's concert in Manchester. It was epic! I didn't see what all the fuss was about for the last support act, 'You Me At Six'; they sounded completely generic and not memorable whatsoever. Fortunately Paramore were incredible and played most of their hits including, 'Emergency', 'That's What You Get', 'Crushcrushcrush', 'I Caught Myself' a lot of tracks from their new album: 'Ignorance', 'The Only Exception' 'Careful' and followed up with an incredible three-song encore: 'Misguided Ghosts', 'Misery Business' and 'Brick by Boring Brick'.

I missed hearing 'All I Wanted' from their line-up, as it is my favourite from their new album and I would have loved to hear Hayley hit those incredibly high notes live that she does in the song. Overall, great crowd interaction, fantastic performances and improvisation and very lively with a good atmosphere! My sister and I bought a T-Shirt each that were very cool also. =)

If you haven't heard their new album, 'Brand New Eyes', I would suggest you do so as they have definitely come back with a bang!

Since getting back, I have been relaxing and still recovering from my mad week of Uni work! I have a lot planned over the holidays in terms of meeting friends and family, going ice skating, going to the zoo, cinema etc... So I'll only be updating now and again with odd updates and stuff.

Until then, I am about to follow up with journal with two short reviews for 'Where The Wild Things Are' and 'Avatar', so stay tuned!
Love Gemma xxx

Friday, 11 December 2009

A Hectic Week of "Torture" and a "Drug-Laced Salad"

Apologies for not updating too frequently the past few weeks. What was once supposedly a 4-5 week project suddenly became just two weeks and everyone has been working so hard this week to complete our Manifesto project.

The premise is to take an art manifesto/movement, look at it's purpose and intentions and create a 30-60 second animation inspired by those ideas. I went with the surrealist manifesto by Andre Bréton and created a surreal poem from newspaper clippings and re-assembled them in a completely random order to connote a sense of humour and being illogical. The results were quite interesting, it was funny and random but also had thought-provoking messages within it. The title is inspired by one of the lines that appeared in the poem: "Disneyland, you're a drug laced salad".

This took just a few days to complete, but it involved very intense working hours! Monday I came up with my final idea after realising that I could do my animation around the text of the poem, rather than just thinking of visuals inspired by it. Tuesday morning I recorded the voices in the soundbooth at Uni. Tuesday afternoon I did all the under the camera animation, using photocopied sheets of the newspaper poem, splattering paint on glass over it, scrunching it up all sorts. I spent about 4-5 hours doing this alone and finished it with a very bad back indeed. It was enjoyable though as I haven't done any animation with paint before and I hadn't used colour in a Uni animation until now.

Wednesday was spent editing. This literally took all afternoon and all night. I animated the 3D text that flies past the screen in After Effects using a tutorial by Andrew Kramer ( which helped enormously. I then took everything into Adobe Premiere and started putting my audio to the animation from yesterday.

Editing all the voices took far longer than I expected, as I alternated voice every word or couple of words. It reminded me a lot of Radiohead's "Fitter. Happier." ( and was partly inspired by it, but I only realised the similarities afterwards.

Wednesday evening I started exporting--oh the exporting!!! My least favourite part of any project has the potential to take the longest. I have a bad history with exports going wrong (random errors, wrong aspect ratio, no sound or picture, poor quality etc...) and that night was no exception. I hadn't even had any dinner and I was there trying to get an MOV and AVI version of my film from around 6pm until 11pm when I was finally happy with my export! It's madness!

I was up until the early hours making a power point for a presentation on 'The Prestige' the next day, so very little sleep this week also.

Thursday morning I had a good lecture with Caroline and Emily on the second part of Post-Modernism and Post-Humanism which was fascinating. We also got to see a whole episode of SPACED (The episode, "Pain") which was hilarious and I had been looking forward to it for a long time! =]

Thursday afternoon I spent completing my sketchbook for submission today, writing evaluations, finishing my power point and helping Rob and Vikki with their projects. Had an earlier night too which was fortunate.

Zara, Rob and I were also supposed to have our film presentation that afternoon at 4pm, but we had it moved to today (Friday) at 10am in E4. We were just giving the presentation to Caroline, so thank goodness there wasn't a lot of pressure! Just to clarify, everyone has to do a group presentation on a film, I am doing mine earlier as I am going home the day before everyone else is arranged to have theirs!

So it went really well! We basically just talked about The Prestige for half an hour and went really in-depth and we were all really relaxed and talkative (despite being extremely tired--Rob had only had two hours sleep that morning!), we didn't even get told off for going over ten minutes! =D

After that was over, I worked up until 12pm finishing all of my work for submission and burning it to CDs. Rob and I actually submitted our work at the desk several minutes after the deadline, but got away with it as there were a few people submitting on the hour. I am so happy that is over and done with now though, it has been a very stressful week for everyone!

I was going to go to the cinema today with everyone to celebrate, but we've moved it to next Tuesday to give everyone a rest and hardly anyone could go anyway! "Where The Wild Things Are" shall have to wait! XD

And a recap on previous news, I went back home last weekend for my Mum's birthday and to see my very poorly guinea pig, Truffles. But sadly my guinea passed away on the Sunday, aged 6 and a half, so she had a very good life though it was a sad day for all. =[

Well, that's all for now, I'm off to have a weekend of well-deserved sleep and recovery and I'll blog again soon with thoughts on "Where The Wild Things Are". I am also going back home on Wednesday to see Paramore in Manchester--gonna be goooood!!! ^^

Until then, bye-bye!
Love Gemma xxx

Last Life Drawing

A week last Monday was my last Life Drawing session in the studio at Newport. Late report, I know, but the workload this past two weeks has been phenomenal and blogging was rendered impossible.

Being our last session, Elfyn let us experiment with our own mediums for once. We warmed up as usual with some blind self-portraits, though I haven't been able to scan these properly yet. So I'll skip ahead to show you my contour drawing of Juliet along with a half-hour pencil tone study and another half-hour colour paint study...


As normal, please click on the thumbnails to enlarge... I feel these were very successful drawings. The contour drawing is the best one I've done in that style I think and the tone and colour studies are nice and communicate well but would have liked more time on them!

I have my life drawing presentation next Monday, which is just a power point of my favourite work thus far... Should be good, though always a little nervous about talking about my own work...

Next post: my last animation for this semester and general updates!