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Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Guardians Flight

Today I thought I’d talk a little more about the flight design in Legend of the Guardians as I feel this was one of my main areas of influence on the film. Let's start by looking at the flight cycle I created for the character of Soren.

The style of the film was quite realistic so I attempted to create movement that was true to nature. However, I've not sought to copy a barn owl's flight. Barn owls wings are very stiff so I looked at the flight of other birds of prey, like eagles to make Soren's flight a little more dynamic and powerful. I've also tried to make sure it works from all angles so that it can be used as a starting point in any type of shot. The amount of vertical motion is less than you find in nature, this is because many of the flying shots were close-ups or mid shots where the characters were talking so, for this reason the vertical motion has been toned down. In a wide shot the ups and downs needed to be exaggerated. As the hero, Soren's flight cycle is fairly standard, you'd probably call it the 'vanilla' of flight cycles, a quirkier character would have a more distinctive flight.

However, this monotonous and rigid cycle is obviously not how you'd want any real bird to fly but once this cycle has been created, it's fairly straight forward to get something more organic -

This is an early test I did for the character of Nyra taking a similar cycle to the Soren one above. In this animation I've broken up the cycle by adding glides, I've also found opportunities to bank the body. I've done it quite severely here to give the impression she is honing in on some fast moving and erratic prey. As you can see we can start to get something quite naturalistic by just doing this. The head, however remains locked, maybe a little too much, this test was left quite rough, if I were to work into it further I'd probably loosen up the head a little, add further asymmetry to the wings as well as break the tail away from the body and add some flutter to the ends of the feathers.

As I mention in my bird flight notes, smaller birds fly differently to bigger birds in a number of ways but importantly below a certain size, birds will abandon a conventional flap/glide pattern and instead flap in short bursts, then pull their wings in completely for a time. This is called a bounding flight pattern and I was keen to use this to accentuate the small size of Gylfie, a tiny Elf owl character in the film.

The following movie shows the original opening to the film which was completed after production on the film. It is available as an extra on the recently released Blue Ray Disc of the film. It shows the ancient and mythical 'Battle of the Ice Claws' - a hostile encounter between the evil Pure Ones and the Guardians. In case your interested, I animated the shot when the two leaders of the armies - Lyse of Keil and Metalbeak first come together.

As well as making different cycles for the different characters of the film we also wanted to show a difference in the overall flight of the good Guardian owls and the evil Pure Ones. The Pure Ones are the villains, hell bent on enslaving the owl kingdom and see themselves as a master race, there were clear parallels between them and human fascist dictatorships and we wanted to reinforce this where ever possible.

The owls in army of Pure Ones are controlled and heavily suppressed and so fly in rigid formations. The shape of their wings is different to, we kept them higher and more angular, almost suggesting the Eagle motifs of the Nazis.

I also referenced frigate birds who have a reputation for robbing other birds and have a menacing wing shape, and hold their bodies low under their bent wings.

To contrast this we wanted the Guardians to have a more natural owl wing shape that was softer and rounder. The guardians also fly in a more broken formation which subtly symbolises their freedom from suppression.

In case anyone hasn't seen it, most of the details of how I approach flight can be found on my bird tutorial page here.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

More Subtext ... and Top Gun

After my recent subtext post I came across a couple of humorous references to subtext which I though I'd share and talk about to hopefully help clarify what it is and how it applies to acting for anyone still unsure.

The first clip is from The Trip, a recent BBC comedy series in which Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play lose versions of themselves. It's a largely improvised sitcom which follows them on a tour of expensive restaurants in the North of England. The two performers are both actors and impressionists and my favourite parts of the programme are thier impressions and analysis of famous actors their varying techniques. At the end of the following clip Steve Coogan points out an acting technique used by Richard Gere.

"Richard Gere does a very interesting technique he does in a lot of his films, not a lot of people pick him up on it. What he does is he'll listen to what someone says and then he'll smile enigmatically. He'll look away into the middle distance as if remembering something from the past, laugh about it and then return to the dialogue."

He then acts this out -

Looking away, smiling enigmatically ...

... then returning to the dialogue.

He also embellishes this further by adding a head shake and a shrug.

"See? The little look. They thought, ooh, there's a little story, a little subtext there we didn't know about. What's going on there? Why did he look over there? What was that memory?"

Although this is a caricature, it's interesting to study and makes it clear how actors use subtext. It is important to note that the action - the look away and smile before the dialogue is not the subtext, but this implies a subtext. Often the subtext of the dialogue is clear but in this instance the subtext is left purposely unclear. This creates a sense of mystery about the character, we feel like he's not letting on what he's thinking, this potentially will tantalise and engage the audience and want them to find out more about the character.

By the way does anyone know of a scene in a film where Richard Gere does this? I would love to find an example.

This next example is a sound file from a comedy show called The Stand by the British comedian Daniel Kitson, here he talks about the lack of subtext in the film Top Gun (caution swearing!).

"My favourite films of that ilk though really is Top Gun and I'll tell you why .... The reason Top Gun's a great film is because the character in Top Gun who's a bit of a loose cannon, who plays by his own rules, who's a law unto himself, he's actually called Maverick. And his enemy who's a bit cold, a bit stand off-ish, not quite human, he's called called Iceman. There's actually a scene where Iceman says to Maverick "I don't like you because you're dangerous", and Maverick goes "Yeah, that's right, I am dangerous". It's almost like the writers decided to make a whole film without any subtext whatsoever."

This is again an exaggeration of what happens in the film but he makes an interesting point to have your characters named after their personality type - 'Maverick' and 'Iceman' and also having them say exactly what they think with no attempt at subtext would make a rather obvious and uninteresting scene.

So after listening to this I decided to try and find the scene on youtube. What I discovered is what the Top Gun script appears to lack in subtext the actors have made up for with their performance. Although I don't think it's the greatest acting, Tom Cruise's delivery of "That's right, Ice Man, I am Dangerous" has a clear subtext.

Tom Cruise snaps into anger at the start of the line, then stops, smiles and pretends to brush down Iceman's uniform - a friendly and familiar gesture. It's open to interpretation but this is how I read the subtext - The initial snap into anger is false, he's testing Iceman, trying to scare him, like jumping out and someone and shouting "Boo!". Then the subtext of the rest of the line is "I'm not going to let you get to me" and again it's interesting to note that the acting choices have little to do with the text - "That's right, Ice Man, I am Dangerous".

Anger at the start of the line ...

... then he stops, smiles and pretends to brush down Iceman's uniform.

Clearly in this scene the two characters are sizing each other up and testing each other's nerve, it's interesting to see that after this line Val Kilmer bites at Maverick - another pretend attack done in the hope of making him flinch. However, the later part of Maverick's line combines the two differing ideas of argumentative and provocative words said in a restrained and disarming way. This definitely shows that Maverick is not going to shy away from confrontation but also that he will not be so easily provoked. This makes the performance more engaging and Maverick a deeper and more interesting character than if he had just snapped and shouted the line at Iceman.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Legend of the Guardians Showreel

Here's a compilation of some of my shots from Legend of The Guardians, a film I worked on for almost two years.

I'm responsible for all animation although there are a couple of shots where someone else animated the background characters - where Nyra says "Owlet, that one says you're his brother" and also where Ezylryb says "Soren, you did what was right". All cycles used in the flying shots are my own.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

April ReelBarrow Update

We've made our first update to ReelBarrow.

And the excellent reels of -

Aaron Hartline
Nicolas Prothias
Oliver Staphylas
Yannick Honore

can be found at ReelBarrow for your viewing enjoyment.

We're still working out the best way to manage the site but the current plan is to make the updates a monthly thing and aim to have them on, or as close to, the 1st of the month as possible.

Thanks to all those who submitted.