Sunday, February 14, 2010

Brad Bird Guest Lecture

On Saturday, CalArts was extremely lucky/fortunate enough to have Brad Bird visit!My notes are unfortunately pretty short, but that doesn't mean the lecture was anything but awesome! The majority of his lecture focused on various openings from his films and listening to him describe what worked, what didn't--basically how the final opening in films like Iron Giant and Ratatouille came to be. Anyways, onto what I did write down:

A quick history, Brad was apart of the first character animation class at CalArts, he later worked at Disney for a little bit before moving onto directing the first episode for, "Family Dog." He later became involved with other TV shows like The Simpsons and later directed Iron Giant before heading over to Pixar to direct The Incredibles and Ratatouille. And on a very fun note, he's the voice of Edna "E" from The Incredibles, darling!

"Breaking the rules of film making are really only broken by those who have a full understanding of them." One of the advantages of CalArts is being able to make films, gain knowledge of these rules and hopefully break them in a way that's successful. An example he shared was about Family Dog. In TV, it was the norm to have pretty standard cuts, flat eye-line, etc. An example being Flinstones---standard establishing shot of the location, and when a character talks you cut to them, then cut back to the listener's response. Just cutting back and forth, not pushing the perspective of the shot, or even leaving the camera on the listener as the other character talks. This was mostly due to budget and time restraints of course. TV shows definitely didn't have the budget feature films did. When Family Dog got under way, Brad and his team essentially "broke these commonly used rules," wanting to push the idea that animation can be like live-action. That shots can be long and uninterrupted and have crazy camera angles, but still within the limited budget/time of TV. He also continued to use elements like skewed angles, shadows, etc. during the time he worked on The Simpsons.

Brad then went onto talking about his experiences directing feature films and the kinds of things he learned. When developing an idea and something he learned from TV is the importance to explore quickly, commit early(don't change your mind, be open, but don't count on changing your mind), be specific(what do we see, and in CG what do we need to build to avoid over-building a set).
Going into detail on the "What do we see? And how much do we need to build for a CG world?" notion. This applied when Brad started on The Incredibles, he figured out the level of detail in a shot by asking,"how good does it have to be?" Does this shot fly-by the camera, or is there a long, slow pan where the audience will see every last pixel? This way the crew avoids putting in more than what will be on the screen. By identifying "How good does this have to be?" you focus the energy and maximize your time and resources. The scene Brad shared was actually the segment I posted earlier---Dash's race against the villains. He showed the animatic of this part and the boards were gorgeous. All the thinking about detail and how the camera would be handled had all been thought out in the boards so the CG set-builders could go in and only build what the camera/audience would see. I really wish the animatic of that section would appear on a DVD or something, it was amazing to see because as far as timing(some of the shots changed ever-so slightly in the final), camera moves, series of events--it was all right there.

Next was Openings. How it's crucial to create the strongest opening possible for a film. The comparison Brad gave was how film is a strange medium, like cement. Cement is wet for about 20 minutes and in that time, it's fairly flexible and can be sculpted in various ways. After 20 minutes it's solid and can't be manipulated any further or it all falls to pieces. Now in the context of film, audiences are willing to give about 20 minutes of their focus towards whatever the film's world has to offer. Those first 20 minutes, the audience goes for anything, however once that time has passed--if you add more(overwhelm) or "break" a pre-established idea the audience gets mad/frustrated and hates the movie.

The opening to Ratatouille was shown and everything you need to know about this film and the "rules of this particular world" were established. At this point I stopped taking notes, Brad was talking over the film and it was easier to watch/listen then watch/listen and try to write it all down. Basically, we establish that Remy loves cooking/good-food, his relationship with his family, how different he is from the other rats, and humans are extremely dangerous and are out to kill rats(Granny with the gun).

After discussing the openings to both Iron Giant and Ratatouille(showing the various versions etc.), Brad quickly discussed a unique challenge on a certain part of Ratatouille---how, in the medium of animation, do you create spontaneity? Everything is meticulously planned/controlled when it comes to creating how do you inject those fun, in the heat of the moment, type of scenes? This type of creativity was needed in a particular scene from Ratatouille---when Linguini is being controlled by Remy for the first time in the kitchen. Creating the "Special Order" and the duo starts to experiment. Linguini is weaving around the room, freaking out his co-workers, and grabbing various ingredients that Remy is picking out. The best way to handle this is to throw the system, itself, off-balance.

The conventional way to start a scene is script, then go into storyboards, record dialog, edit the dialog, plan the layouts, animate everything, and then you have the final. With trying to create spontaneity---the scene started with storyboards(mainly figuring out the action of the character(s)), write up the script improvised as a reaction to the boards, record the dialog, edit the dialog, go into rough animation, then layout(camera), edit it together, go back in and now refine the animation based on the camera, and then arriving with final scene. It was very cool seeing this particular scene come together with this new approach, and ultimately the scene really benefited from it. Very interesting and something I might try with my current short film(as far as camera work...I don't have any dialog or script.)

And to wrap everything up a Q&A(just the parts I could catch)---I also just put some key quotes that stuck out to me the most that came up during the session.

Q: Artists who arn't quite sure what they're good at yet, or interested in so many aspects but haven't figure out their niche quite yet in the industry:
A: Don't stress it. Proceed with whatever interests you, "just eat it all up and see what you want seconds on and that'll guide you with where you want to go". Along the way, it's important to catalog all kinds of experiences/influences--not just from film, but from real-life(someone doing something interesting in the grocery store. etc).

"Animators need to bring stuff from their own lives(looking at old work, new work, theater, paintings, sculpture, etc.)---anything that fires you up should be good fodder for animation." You're keeping it fresh by bringing in these "outside" influences.

Q: How much of the script do you write yourself?
A: All of it. A couple lines might be added based on feedback.But for the most part it was on my own(Ratatouille being a bit of an exception since it was developed before Brad came on board).

Q: Was Edna ever a super-hero and if so what was her super power?
A: And yes, he answered in E's voice, "Her super-power is self-evident, darling. To look fabulous...all da time."

"One of the problems that animators have is that they get so focused on making the movement beautiful that they don't focus on making it specific. " Everyone has an individual way of responding to an emotion/movement....that's the kind of thinking an character animator needs to keep with them. "How do they move and how is it specific?"

"Try to organize the information in a scene/story, so you're revealing it at the best possible point to reveal it." He used the example of poker, or even the idea of a stripper. You don't what to give away everything/show your whole hand right at the beginning. You want to give the audience opportunities to ask questions(and what DO I want them to ask), keep them interested, etc. before giving it all away. You don't want to just dazzle people just in the opening and explain everything right away. The audience gets the thrill, but then they're done.

Anyways, that just about wraps it up. To end I'll share some "Family Dog," enjoy:

The pilot for Family Dog(take note of the unique camera shots on top of so many things that make this so brilliantly entertaining). Part 1:

Part 2(look for the one scene where the camera appears to be rotating 360 degrees in the living room. Going from the dog, to the clock, to the door. Brad shared this scene with us--that's all one looonnnggg sheet of paper!):

On an different note: I've gotten a couple requests about posting videos or something from a previous lecture. Unfortunately, as great as it'd be to be able to re-watch the various lectures I've attended, I just carry a notebook with me and write as fast as I can. :) Sorry.


Bobby Pontillas said...

Great read! Thanks for sharing.

Hammy said...

Thank you for sharing! This is a really awesome read!!

Miles Inada said...

Cool, Jen--thanks for doing this!

Amanda said...

That was great to read, thanks a bunch Jen 8)