Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Creating 3-D animation

Creating 3-D animation
Peter Lord & Brian Sibley

I tend not to like non-fiction or reference books, always preferring novels but having recently completed an Honours degree in animation I was very interested in this book when I found it for a bargain price.
I’ve never been a massive fan of Aardman animations but in terms of claymation you don’t get much better, therefore you would think an educational book from them would be a no-brainer, sadly I didn’t find this to be the  case.
The problem I usually have with books designed to educate on a particular topic, is that these books are usually written by people at the top of their fields. These people are able to write in detail to a professional level but often struggle to give basic steps for people with no experience. This is very much the case here, after a few pages of basic exercises the reader is bombarded with tips on how to work at Aardman’s level. Given that Aardman animators have been working since the 70’s to get to their level I find it unlikely that a job from amateur to pro can be made after ten pages of trial and error.

It’s educational value aside, the book does a good job of telling the history of Aardman and the chapters detailing their work are a good read. The highlight, the opening sixty pages that give a detailed history of claymation, listing several obscure films that I will now definitely track down.

While these are a treat to run through I couldn’t help but feel let down that the book doesn’t live up to it’s purpose and I can’t really recommend it for anything else than the opening essay. If you can get it cheap, it’s worth a look, but I’d refrain from getting it at full price.

Tietam Brown

Tietam Brown
Mick Foley

This one must have been a hard sell, a debut novel about a disabled teenager with a sexual abusive father written by a man best known for being thrown twenty feet from the top of a steel cage and knocking a tooth out through his nose. But a troublesome job for the marketing department is nothing but a joy for the reader as Tietam Brown. Is. Fantastic.
Those familiar with Foley will know that prior to this novel he had already completed two autobiographies, Have a nice Day: A tale of blood and sweat socks and Foley is Good: and the real world is faker than wrestling. No stranger then to the graft of writing, but his novel is a much different entity from his non-fiction books. His writing style which, in his autobiographies is incredibly loose, jumping from story to story, occasionally switching from past to present tense, is here replaced by a much more solid style that rivals the output of many established authors.

The book centres around Andy, a young boy who, his whole life, has been shunted from one foster family to another with each pairing ending in tragedy. Here we find him, reunited with his biological father the eponymous Tietam Brown.
Tietam as a character is an interesting one, a hard drinking body builder, obsessed with telling his son every gory detail of his, incredibly prolific, sex life. He is at once a totally abhorrent and oddly loveable man, and as you go through the novel you find yourself continually switching from hatred and pity towards him. One scene finds Tietam turning up drunk in Andy’s room in the middle of the night and giving the boy a photograph of his dead mother. Contrast this with an unforgettable exchange in which Andy, asking his father for advice about girls, is told “Whenever possible, get them to lick your ass. That way you’ve always got something over them”

These contradictions not only create realistic and flawed characters but also showcase Foley’s talent as a writer not afraid to take risks. Indeed there is not a single character in this novel is the kind of two dimensional creation you might expect from a first time writer, especially one from a non-writing background.
Foley’s style is simply wonderful, he perfectly captures that feeling of early teenage passion. And just as he is able to make these lusty moments of youth feel sweet and true, he is also able to write the dark abusive past of Andy in a way that is genuinely horrific, to the point that I found myself needing to take the occasional break from the novel just to get away. The end result is a mix that groups together the explicit sexuality of John Irving with the genuine youthfulness of John Green.

There are occasional slip ups, dialogue is occasionally clunky, one or two lines coming off a little too soap opera but these are few and far between. Over all, Foley does a fantastic job and makes great use of his knowledge base, some wrestling turns up at the end but in a way that doesn’t seem crow barred in like you might expect.
Tietam Brown is a brilliant piece of work, a book that I devoured over the space of three days, genuinely struggling to put it down. Leave your preconceptions at the door. This isn’t a wrestler playing writer. Mick Foley is a bona fide author, albeit one who knows how to sell a chair shot.

Who Censored Roger Rabbit?

Who Censored Roger Rabbit?
A mystery
Gary K Wolf

Let’s start off by saying, I blooming well love Who Framed Roger Rabbit? It’s one of my favourite films of all time and I would recommend it to anybody and everybody. As a piece of filmmaking and as a piece of animation it is simply mind blowing, five stars.
Imagine then, my glee at discovering it was an adaptation of a little known novel, Who censored Roger Rabbit? And imagine my despair when I found the novel out of print and only available at incredibly elevated prices.
Well, fast forward a few years and the novel has been released on the kindle for the bargain price of £1.94. I immediately snapped it up and I’m glad I did.

I should mention up front, this is a totally different beast from the film it spawned, characters and locations being almost unrecognizable. I personally think this is a good thing, most of the time, film adaptations exist as little more than watered down versions of the novel. And though the films may still be fantastic, they can rarely measure up to the original source material.
The film adaptation of Roger Rabbit is almost entirely different to the book, the novel features no Judge Doom, no Benny the Cab, no Weasels and no Toon Town.  In fact, apart from the core cast of Valiant, Roger and Jessica the only character that made it into the film is the cigar smoking, whiskey swigging toddler, Baby Herman.

The novel starts with down on his luck gumshoe Eddie Valiant investigating a contractual complaint made by Roger Rabbit, a character in the newspaper comic strip Baby Herman. Roger believes he was promised his own strip and not the supporting role he was granted. Valiant investigates and is ready to write off the case when suddenly both Roger’s boss Rocco DeGreasy and Roger himself are found murdered in their homes. The police are under the impression that Roger shot DeGreasy then someone else killed Roger but Valiant, believing Roger to be innocent begins an investigation of his own.

The style of the novel is that of the trashiest of trashy pulp novels and each of the characters are deliberately overly stereotyped renditions of those pulp staples, Valiant is the hard drinking, perpetually broke gumshoe detective, Rocco and Dominick Degreasy the shady business tycoons and Jessica the tough as nails femme fatale. The dialogue too is purposely hard boiled with Eddie constantly spurting hilarious one liners that you can imagine Humphrey Bogart saying, lit only by street lamps that leak through the gaps in the window blinds. The locations and plot points are clich├ęd and we’ve seen then a thousand times, but here, re-contextualised, they are simply brilliant, the young Jessica Rabbit getting her first break in the comics business in a seedy porno rag being perhaps the best off all.

There’s a lot to love here but there are a few points where I feel the book could go a little further. One of the main differences between the two versions is that references to other well known characters are much fewer in the novel. Perhaps the author was worried about potential legal troubles that may have followed had he meddled with well known characters but that was one of the things that made the movie so special. The fact that the movie featured characters from Disney, Warner Bros, Harvey and many more made the world seem so rich and oddly believable. Here we are left to make do with occasional references to Bugs Bunny, Kermit and Mickey Mouse. To my recollection the only established character making an appearance is a quick cameo by Dick Tracey. Would it be too much to ask for a couple more of these? Snoopy chasing Garfield around a set perhaps? Dilbert at a coffee machine?

Any complaints I could make would be deliberate nit picks however. Bottom line, this is a smart, well written, loving send up of pulp detective novels. Is it better than the movie? The two are too different to really say, I’d probably still say I like the movie better, but this is a great book. If you’re a cartoon fan, it’s a must read.