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Saturday, May 31, 2014

How Animated Advertising Should Look and Sound

Coke Spot

Animation comes in many different forms, and advertising is one of them.

This is brilliant animation from the Coca-Cola Company. Just because it is an ad spot does not mean it's not worth looking at unless, you know, you seek to overthrow the bond of the capitalist corporate patriarchy that enslaves us and unleash the true power of the People and all that. Quality is quality, and we can learn from and enjoy advertising spots just as much as we can from Disney animation or anything else. Coke, in fact, has some of the best and most enduring television ads - many will remember the "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" ads from the early '70s, quite possibly the best ad of all time.

Some of the greatest talent out there began working on commercials. That includes animators and singers. It's pretty well-known that Barry Manilow, for instance, started out his career as an ad man in the 1960s and came up with advertising jingles that incredibly are still used to this day ("Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there" is just one of many - the company must have thought it had died and gone to heaven when he started singing it in his concerts).

The singer in this ad is Wendy Colonna of Austin, Texas. I think you'll agree that she has a great voice with a heartfelt feel. She reminds of some other, very famous singers, and that suggests she may get there herself someday, too. Presenting this animation is worthwhile just to bring her to your attention by itself, let alone that it is a brilliant, vibrant and highly detailed piece of animation.

Coke Spot

Preserving Animation Cels

Alice in Wonderland cel preservation
Detailed "Alice in Wonderland" cel showing early signs of delamination of the paint

Here's a short primer on what Disney does with old films. If you truly want to understand more about the films you love and what has happened to them over time, read on.

Ever wonder what happens to the original animation cels to classic films such as "Cinderella" and "Pinocchio"? Well, if you do, you're very rare. Most folks probably think they get stuck in a museum somewhere, or maybe a numbered vault underneath Disneyland.

Actually, that latter idea is pretty close to what actually used to happen. Until 1990, nobody really thought much about what happened to old animation cels. Each cel from the old days was hand-painted and inked. Outlines of the character were meticulously and painstakingly drawn in ink on the front of the sheet, and paint was added to the reverse side. This is what the "paint and ink" girls did, and they did it very well.

Walt Disney did want to keep the original materials around - who can blame him, they cost an awful lot of money to prepare - but his intent was simply to keep them in storage somewhere, not do anything special to preserve them. So, Disney set aside what everybody called "the Morgue," a basement beneath the studio where the old films went to die and lay in rest forever, or at least until a reissue was called for. This "morgue," which aside from being a basement was nothing special, remained the resting ground of the classics until 1990, when a state-of-the-art, climate controlled research facility called the Disney Animation Research Library (ARL) was built. It now houses some 65 million pieces of Disney art, from the 1920s onward.

Pinocchio cel preservation
Original "Pinocchio" cel showing signs of buckling of the film

Back in Walt's day, even film pros didn't reckon on film deteriorating. Film was film, and presumably would endure for centuries like papyrus or something. Turns out that is not the case at all - the paint and ink on the film cracks and flakes off, and the film itself corrodes. Extreme (or simply less than ideal) temperatures hasten both of these processes. The ideal temperature for film preservation is from 62°F and 65°F and at 50 percent relative humidity, depending on the film stock, and that is how the originals now are stored.

Preservation is complicated by the fact that the studio used different types of film through the years, and even different types of film stock for the same motion picture. The best temperature and other conditions for preserving one type of film stock isn't necessarily the best for preserving another. Only by closely studying the film itself with advanced techniques such as gas chromatography and mass spectrometry can the ARL staff know how to store the film so that it lasts for another generation.

For instance, cellulose nitrate was used from the 1920s to 1942, while cellulose diacetate use began in 1929. The early films sometimes used both kinds. Cellulose diacetate then gave way to cellulose triacetate between "The Fox and the Hound" in 1981 and "Mickey's Christmas Carol" in 1983. There also was some polyester film thrown in along the way for good measure. Clearly, the studio would run through its old stocks of the previous generation of film before moving on to the new generation. All of these types of film age different, deteriorate at different rates, and require different preservation conditions.

Those with an interest in film history likely have heard that the films of old Hollywood were made on cellulose nitrate, which was combustible and degraded quickly. Many classic films were lost forever because of this, either because they started fires that burned through entire collections, or they simply degraded - in fact, only a tiny fraction of 1920s films survive at all. Even major blockbusters have been lost. The switch to cellulose acetate was thought to end these problems, but in fact cellulose acetate also degrades over time via hydrolysis (and which makes large collections of ageing film smell like vinegar). Cellulose acetate film will lose its color due to degradation of the plastics used in its manufacture. All of these problems are now behind us because of digital film, but anything made during the last century is subject to these conditions.

Thus, there is a lot going on behind the scenes at Disney to keep the original films and related materials in existence, so that new media (Blu-ray and so forth) versions can be created from the earliest and best sources. This is why it requires a massive effort to bring out something that fans think is easy to do, such as a new Diamond Edition of their favorite classic. Knowing all this helps us to appreciate that animation films really are true art, and unlike all other films.

Animation of Asteroid Discoveries 1980-2011

Asteroid discoveries

This is an extraordinary animation from Scott Manley that visualizes the asteroids that were discovered year by year by astronomers between 1980 and 2011. Something on the order of half a million asteroids were discovered during that time.

To orient you, the balls spinning around the bright light in the center (the Sun) are the inner planets. You can tell which one is earth because it is the one that the light follows as it spins, that is, the the light that shows the asteroids that were being discovered at that time. Another way to orient yourself is to remember that we are on the third rock from the Sun. The year in question is shown in the lower left, and obviously we complete roughly 30 revolutions in those roughly thirty years (he did not begin and end on January 1).

Those asteroids were invariably in the area of Space closest to earth, in a rectangular region opposite to the rays of the sun.  The video also shows each individual asteroid's orbit after they were discovered, but you have to have the video on high resolution to see that.

Videos such as this show how animation can synthesize enormous data sets down to something understandable. Just imagine all the research it took to identify all those asteroids, and how difficult it would be to make any sense out of them at all without seeing them portrayed graphically in this manner.

Besides the immense data collection that this video must have entailed, it also is cool in showing how astronomers are like sailers on a ship flashing their flashlights out into the void and looking for debris. Who knows what might be happening on the other side of the sun - all the astronomers can see is what it beside us at the moment. It shows the limits of earth-based telemetry.

Things changed around the end of the '90s as NASA got its act together with Hubble and various other hardware systems.

All else aside, this is a pretty video! For a science video (I know, ugh!) this is fun to watch, with a good soundtrack, even if you're not a science geek like me all those other guys. Watch fullscreen in 1080p for the maximum effect, a detailed animation like this has a lot to offer, and what you take out of it depends on what you bring to it. Let me just say that this animation is easily understandable by just about anyone, and the same cannot be said for all astronomy videos.

Of course, the asteroids are tiny and space is huge, so the way the animation colors in empty space is highly misleading. But you already knew that.

From the youtube page:
New version with data up to the end of May 2011. Rendered at more HD than HD resolution - 2048 lines - if you have gear that can play this in original format then I'm jealous. (and I have a 4096x4096 resolution version if you happen to have a planetarium and a hundred thousand dollars in projection gear)
Science & Technology


Upcoming Diamond Edition Releases

Walt Disney logo

Disney is rumored to be releasing the following Diamond Edition packages over upcoming months/years. This is completely unofficial, these are from information that folks spotted on semi-official Disney sites, so take it for what it is worth. If the date comes and goes and no release, well, we apologize for the misinformation. We'll try to keep information updated for upcoming releases with new posts, this is "state of the moment" information as of the date of this post.

Even if the dates are correct as of this time, Disney changes release dates all the time for a variety of reasons. So, check back every so often and we'll try to post any changes that we see.

These are scheduled US releases of Diamond Edition Blu-ray animated titles, to the best of our knowledge at the current time, with both Blu-ray and DVD discs and bonus features/material in each package:

Hercules (6/10/14)
Tarzan (6/10/14)
A Goofy Movie & An Extremely Goofy Movie (2-Movie Collection – 6/24/14)
Mickey, Donald and Goofy: The Three Musketeers (Summer 2014)
The Black Cauldron: Special Edition (8/19/14)
Bears (8/26/14)
Fun and Fancy Free (9/30/14)
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (9/30/14)
Sleeping Beauty (10/7/14)
Saludos Amigos & The Three Caballeros (2-Movie Collection, Blu-ray and DVD – 12/2/14)
Make Mine Music & Melody Time (2-Movie Collection – 12/2/14)
Planes: Fire & Rescue (12/9/14)

101 Dalmatians (2/3/15)
Aladdin (10/6/15)

Pinocchio (2/2/16)


Sony Moving Animation to Canada

Sony Smurfs
The Smurfs are leaving LA

Strikingly confirming what we said recently, Sony Pictures Imageworks has announced that it is joining the exodus of animation shops out of Los Angeles and heading to the financially sunnier climes of Vancouver. The move, of course, is to take advantage of generous tax credits provided by the Canadian government that neither Los Angeles nor California matches.

Thus, even if California takes action to give animation companies tax breaks, it's too little and too late for this major outfit. That bird has flown. To Canada.

Imageworks produces the animation for Sony Pictures Animation (SPA) films such as "The Smurfs" and its sequels. It also does the special effects for many live action films such as Disney/Marvel's upcoming "Guardians of the Galaxy." The company is a major player in the industry.

There currently are 270 Imageworks employees in Los Angeles. Those are good, well-paying jobs for talented artists. The new facility that Imageworks is moving to in Vancouver, above a shopping mall, will be able to accomodate up to 800 employees. There is no word on what will happen to Imageworks' current California employees or if there will be additional new hiring of Canadians.

The Los Angeles/California tax structure is slowly but surely strangling the film industry that remains in Hollywood, the golden film goose that laid the golden egg in the Golden State exactly 100 years ago after leaving New York and now is getting increasingly restless for a new home.


Friday, May 30, 2014

Growth of US Shopping Malls Animation

Growth of Shopping Malls in the US

Shopping mall growth

This is an interesting animation from Sravani Vadlamani of Arizona State University, a doctoral student in transportation engineering. It shows the spread of shopping malls across the American landscape throughout the 20th Century up until the present day. This includes the numbers of strip, outlet, indoor and outdoor malls. Growth really starts to pick up in the 1950s.

As you can see, the malls began far further back than you might have realized, back in the earliest days of the 20th Century. (In fact, some would say they go all the way back to ancient Rome and then the early Industrial Revolution with covered shopping arcades, but we are talking here about the modern, suburban shopping mall.) Malls took off in the 1950s, and then exploded in popularity a few decades later with the 1960 creation of REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts) which favored large shopping projects. Originating in the Northeast, the malls spread to the West Coast and Florida. The Rocky Mountain region was and remains the most resistant area to malls.

Those of us with long-enough memories know that the heyday of the shopping mall was the late '70s through the 1980s. Malls became such a huge part of life that motion pictures were made about people interacting in them, fleeing to them from zombies, driving cars through them, and tripping over them after a weather apocalypse.

However, nothing stays the same forever. After the malls destroyed many a downtown shopping area and became their own practically virtual downtowns, the big box stores - the really big aloof ones, not the department stores that anchored most malls - really started moving in. The big box chains created their own space, oftentimes far from everything else, not needing (or wanting, for that matter) any other small retailers around. With 100,000 items of their own for sale, why would they need any other retailers around to grab some of their business? More recently, the Internet has been carving its own slice out of both the big box stores' domain and also what is left to the shopping malls. Sic transit gloria mundo and all that.

Mall themselves have changed over the years. They used to be rather dark and dreary places with low ceilings and Muzak. More recently, they have added soaring atriums and the sound of trickling water. Malls remain very much in business, though it is fashionable to look at them as ageing dinosaurs on their last legs. They're not, but they have lost some ground recently during the recession and the rapid growth of alternatives.

The animation is a bit clunky to use, but once you get the hang of it, you will find that it gives you a lot of control over what you are seeing. Zoom in any particular state or region, if you leave it so that you can see the entire country, the map fills up the by '70s and you won't see the nuances of mall development.

Roosevelt Field Shopping Mall
Roosevelt Field Shopping Mall on Long Island

From Vladimani's page:
This map depicts the growth of shopping malls in the United States over time. The data covers all kinds of malls including strip malls, outlet malls etc. both indoor and outdoors. The information is obtained from ASU GIS Spatial data repository

SpaceX Dragon V2 Animation

SpaceX Dragon
Docking with the ISS

Space animations (see also this slick one about Copernicus) are all about the professional pacing and electronic background music these days, and here we have another good space animation. Elon Musk of Tesla and PayPal fame has lots of money to burn, and some of it is going into orbit and back. SpaceX is the company (Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX), based in Hawthorne, California, that Musk founded back in 2002. This video shows a just-announced proposal for a human transport vehicle.

It would be very cool if this works. If we're ever going to get off this rock, something like this will be the means to do it.

SpaceX Falcon Vs. Dragon

The SpaceX Falcon line of craft are the cargo rockets. The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft is the craft designed for human transport. They complement each other. The SpaceX Falcon 9, capable of bringing 23k lbs of cargo into orbit, already has successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS). The SpaceX Falcon Heavy, with heavier payload capacity, is supposedly ready to go on its first demonstration flight very soon.

The Dragon is nowhere near the flying-into-space stage yet. It is projected to fly within "a few years." That they are only now releasing a concept video shows it is still far off, how far off nobody really can say with any certainty, it's all subject to testing and successful flights. If you are thinking, "Well, Elon Musk knows," well, perhaps, but he's been saying since about 2010 that this Dragon craft was only a few years away. Apparently, it's still a few years away. We all know how that goes. Complex, ground-breaking things often take much longer than we think or wish.

I just want to thank Mr. Musk for not naming one of them "Enterprise." Yes, I loved the show too, but every other US craft these days seems to have to be called that.

SpaceX Dragon
Separation. The crew would be in the part to the right, which would return to Earth later.

How SpaceX Dragon Would Work

As you can see in the animation, this Dragon rocket would act like a VSTOL aircraft, landing on a runway by firing its jets. If it works, it would be the first spacecraft with that capability. That seems to be its most unique feature.

One has to wonder at the efficiency of this - that's a lot of fuel to do all that counter-firing - but Musk is the one with billions of dollars and the rooms-full of rocket scientists, so we'll have to see how this plays out. There has to be a lot of science behind this, perhaps some kind of passive automatic braking mechanism built into the capsule itself. That method of landing certainly would have its advantages, including not landing at sea and requiring a fleet of ships on alert, and not even requiring a runway. Theoretically, the craft could land on the White House lawn or in Yankee Stadium during the 7th Inning Stretch.

Another potential problem is the moving parts. Notice how when the craft disengages from the ISS, it has to close a front hatch. What if that got stuck or warped and didn't close properly? Hey, stranger things have happened, there's a lot of heat involved in launches and landings. That would be "not so good" for the human cargo. So, they have a lot of critical parts.

That's the thing about animations that we always have to remember - they're always precise and pretty and everything works as it should. Hatches don't be balky and not want to close, hinges don't just "break" or get mis-aligned, that sort of thing. Sometimes real life isn't like that, especially on, say, the 75th re-use.

The craft is designed to carry up to seven astronauts at a time. In the animation, we see the SpaceX Dragon attaching to the International Space Station, then coming back down to earth. Part of the capsule's plan is to have as few disposable parts as possible in order to keep expenses down, which is contrary to everything NASA and everyone else have done to date.

This craft can carry around 3 tons of cargo total. It does not replace the cargo-carrying craft, but rather supplements it. If this Dragon craft works within a reasonable time frame, it would come in quite handy, as the Russians say they will stop providing launch services to the ISS in 2020. The SpaceX Dragon would be a welcome replacement - if it's ready and it works. Carrying people is a lot different than carrying cargo, it's going to require quite a bit of testing to satisfy everyone that it is safe to fly.

SpaceX Dragon
Human quarters inside the Dragon

From the youtube page:

Meet SpaceX's Dragon V2 spacecraft, the next generation spacecraft designed to carry astronauts to Earth orbit and beyond.

Paperman (2012) - Combining 2D and 3D


Paperman - Short Film by John Kahrs by Flixgr

This is a romantic little animation that's actually been around for a while, running before "Wreck-It Ralph." It won both the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film at the 85th Academy Awards and the Annie Award for Best Animated Short Subject at the 40th Annie Awards.

It is is kind of unusual animation, being a short film from Disney that has all scenes, character models and props modelled in 3-D and afterwards rendered mostly into 2-D visuals. It looks like 3D, but it really isn't, so calling it 3D would be a misnomer. Basically, they rendered the whole thing in Black-and-White 3D models and textures and then they went back frame by frame and drew the traditional Disney animation. The sofware created to make Paperman was created specifically to make 2-D out of 3-D animation and models, so it is an experimental video in a format called "final line advection."

John Kahrs is George, Kari Wahlgren is Meg, Jeff Turley is the boss.

The short was produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios and directed by John Kahrs, who claims it stemmed from his own experiences commuting into Grand Central Station in New York City. Having done the same into Penn Station, I can verify that this is the kind of thing you kind of wish would happen at some point, though it never does. You see someone and wonder if you should go say hello, and then you figure you'll see them again the next day or some other time and you never do. Perhaps it's an old friend from high school or just someone who strikes your fancy. Naturally, when you have time to think about it later you realize you should have just gone over and said something. Call it a "commuter fantasy." Everyone who spends enough time taking the train into the city has a story or two like that....

Incidentally, the standard way to try and hook up between buildings like that isn't the paper airplane method, that would never work because of the wind and distance and, well, it's just too small a target. Besides, windows in the city are almost always closed, especially on the avenue side. Instead, you get the biggest piece of paper or cardboard that you can find and you write your phone number on it in as big and dark a manner as you can, then you hold it up to the window and jump up and down like an orangutan until the other person sees you. Then, she laughs and closes the blind.

Now, how would I know this.

Anyway, it's a cute video and well worth a look.

There are various copies of this floating around of varying quality. Here's another version if the one above doesn't work:


Children's Animation "Wayne the Stegosaurus"

Wayne the Stegosaurus
Wayne the Stegosaurus

Wayne the Stegosaurus: A Motionpoems Animated Short from The Mill on Vimeo.

All kids love dinosaurs, that's kind of a given. Combine dinosaurs with some really kid-friendly animation and you usually have a winner. That's what "Wayne the Stegosaurus" looks like. It is the product of an outfit that is sort of an artists collective.

It is a cute and lovely piece of animation that you or your child might find fun, and of course it has a nice message as well.

Wayne the Stegosaurus

From the web page:
The Mill artists adapted the children’s poem "Wayne the Stegosaurus" by Kenn Nesbitt into a delightful animated film for the 5th Season of Motionpoems, a non profit bringing poets and filmmakers together to create short films. Find out more about creating the film from the artists:
Co-Directors: Aran Quinn, Jeff Dates
3D Lead Aritsts: Rob Petrie, Jeff Dates
Producer: Jason Bartnett
EP: Danielle Amaral

"The Book of Life" - First Look

The Book of Life

Guillermo del Toro, the producer behind "Kung Fu Panda 2," "Rise of the Guardians" and "Puss in Boots" among many other films, is currently working on "The Book of Life," directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez. Here is the first trailer:

The film is being produced by Twentieth Century Fox Animation working with Reel FX Creative Studios.

The Book of Life

In "The Book of Life," Manolo (Diego Luna) is a young man who faces that eternal movie dilemma: doing what his father (Hector Elizondo) and grandfather (Danny Trejo) expect and becoming a bullfighter, or pursuing his dreams of becoming a musician.

The Book of Life

Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Christina Applegate, Ron Perlman and Opera legend Placido Domingo all contribute voices. "The Book of Life" premiers in the US on October 17, 2014 and in the UK on the 24th October 2014.

The Book of Life

The official synopsis from the studio:
From producer Guillermo del Toro and director Jorge Gutierrez comes an animated comedy with a unique visual style. THE BOOK OF LIFE is the journey of Manolo, a young man who is torn between fulfilling the expectations of his family and following his heart. Before choosing which path to follow, he embarks on an incredible adventure that spans three fantastical worlds where he must face his greatest fears. Rich with a fresh take on pop music favorites, THE BOOK OF LIFE encourages us to celebrate the past while looking forward to the future.
The Book of Life

The stills make the animation appear to be softer than much of the current CGI films on the market. It may not be hand-drawn, but it has a smoother look to it than many of the blockbusters, with colors that are not quite so glaring. It might be a nice change of pace this fall.

The Book of Life


DreamWorks Rearranges the Deck Chairs

DreamWorks Animation is dancing as fast as it can - with Penguins.

There's no question that DreamWorks Animation is going through a difficult period. It has had three out of four flops recently - "Rise of the Guardians" at the end of 2012, "Turbo" in 2013, and "Mr. Peabody and Sherman" this year. "The Croods" did well last year, so expect a sequel from that as soon as they can crank one out. But a 25% success rate is not good, and those flop films collectively lost a lot of money. Many think that DreamWorks spent too much  ($180 million) on "Mr. Peabody," a sign of over-confidence. With Hollywood accounting, you can never be sure exactly what is going on, but DreamWorks had to take huge charges for its film failures that really hurt its stock price, so that money that it isn't seeing is important.

The common denominator of those three under-performing films, aside from the fact that they were all from DreamWorks and greenlighted by legendary studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg, is that they were not sequels. Now, that might not seem like something out of the ordinary or even something to mention - for instance, Disney almost never does theatrical sequels to its major hits, though that may be changing - but these days the most popular word in Hollywood is, you got it, "sequel."

To a large extent, DreamWorks has built its empire on sequels. "Shrek" begat "Shrek 2" and "