Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Animation tech stuff

Stop-motion coaxes 'Corpse Bride,' 'Gromit' to life
By Scott Bowles, USA TODAY
Stop-motion has the green light again in Hollywood.

Tiny moves: Animator Phil Dale painstakingly adjusts Victor Van Dort, the star character voiced by Johnny Depp in Corpse Bride.
Warner Bros.

The decades-old form of animation, in which models are moved infinitesimally in front of still cameras, is enjoying a high-profile comeback with two movies.

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride opened nationwide Friday, raking in $19.1 million for the largest September opening of any Warner Bros. film. On Oct. 7, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit arrives in theaters.

And the art form, which helped bring the giant ape to life in 1933's King Kong, is thriving on such television shows as Nickelodeon's Bob the Builder and Disney Channel's Koala Brothers.

"I always laugh when I hear that a form of animation is dying," says Mike Johnson, co-director of Corpse Bride. "They've been saying for years that stop-motion is dead. But a few of us are still around."

Indeed, it seemed that traditional animation was on the way out when the computer-generated cartoon Toy Story hit screens in 1995 and took in $191.8 million.

But instead of sounding the death knell for stop-motion, computers have led the resurgence.
Computers helped clear blemishes and flaws in the clay bird puppets that populated 2000's Chicken Run, which grossed $106.8 million.

In Corpse Bride and Gromit, computer-generated animation helped remove rods that suspended models in midair and created starry-skied backdrops.

"We can do things that we never could before," says Wallace director Nick Park. "Stop-motion lets you build tiny little worlds, and computers make that world even more believable."

It's also cheaper. A stop-motion film typically costs $30 million to $50 million, while a big-studio CGI movie costs closer to $80 million. Bride cost about $40 million; Gromit was $30 million.
But even with the help of digital technology, stop-motion is a painstaking process that has gone virtually unchanged over the decades.

Models, typically made of clay or plastic and stretched over metal armatures, are moved fractions of an inch as digital cameras snap time-lapse photos. It typically takes 24 movements and photographs to capture one second of footage.

A full-length movie such as Gromit usually takes more than two years to complete.

"Anyone who does it has to be a bit insane," Park says.

"You need to find things like having your actors move 2 inches in a day pretty exciting." EDITOR’S NOTE: COMPARED TO WHAT SOME OF US DO FOR A LIVING, THIS SOUNDS LIKE A STUNNING IMPROVEMENT.

Peter Curtis, executive producer of Koala Brothers, says that although other forms of animation are less time-consuming, there's a realism to stop-motion that ink or computer graphics can't match.

"Children seem to respond to stop-motion more than other animation," says Curtis, whose show features two koalas that pilot a plane across Australia's Outback to help their friends.

"Because stop-motion characters are three-dimensional, they have a more realistic look to them. I think kids believe that their dolls are coming alive."

Some directors feel the same way, Johnson says.

"Most of us are those nerds who took their G.I. Joes out and moved them around in front of their 8-millimeter cameras," he says. "There's just something magical about seeing a physical object move about with grace. It's an ancient craft, but I think it will be around as long as the movies are." EDITOR’S NOTE: IF “CORPSE BRIDE” IS ANY INDICATION, YES IT WILL. (WONDERFUL, CHARMING, DELIGHTFUL MOVIE).


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