The Case of Film FX

Today we are talking about Effects in film-making! There is a lot of ground to cover, so today we will focus on the history of Special and Visual Effects, and discuss our favorite examples of practical effects! We plan on having a part 2 where we will dive into digital effects, as well as discuss some of the best effects artists of all time. 

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In film, there are Special Effects or SFX and there are Visual Effects VFX. Special effects happen on set in real time while filming, like make-up, or fake blood. Visual effects are shot separately and added to the film through editing later on. 

When we talk about effects, we generally break it up into two kinds: practical and digital. Practical effects are used making real-life materials and can be either Special or Visual, but digital effects are ONLY visual. Did we lose you? 

So let’s use an example like Star Wars (1977). R2D2 is a special effect that is also practical. But, the miniatures that were created for scenes in space are visual effects that are also practical. In the Star Wars prequels, digital effects were used in place of practical effects and all are considered visual because they were added in post. 

Here at The Black Case Diaries, we are big fans of practical effects. But, it’s fair to say that digital effects are often a good option. In pretty much every movie that is released today, there is a mixture of practical and digital effects. Digital effects are becoming much cheaper and easier to create, and the studios have been favoring them over practical for much of the last decade. 

Today, we are going to cover the history of film effects, and discuss some of our favorite techniques! We will be focusing on practical effects today, and we plan on discussing great digital effects an a future episode. 

History

  • We’ve already talked about the birth of film, the Lumiere brothers and Edison’s Kinetograph (This can be found in our episode about cinematography.)  It turns out, special effects are about as old as film itself!
    • In 1895, Thomas Edison produced a re-enactment of the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots. Directed by Alfred Clark, the movie was only 18 seconds long and featured the first death scene in film! It was also one of the first to have trained actors, and to utilize a special effect. Just when the executioner’s axe rises, there is a cut, and the actor playing Mary is replaced with a mannequin. 
  • We have people like Edison and the Lumiere Brothers to thank for figuring out how to technically create film and even early effects, but it was George Méliès that elevated special effects into an artform. 
    • Méliès attended a Lumiere Brothers show, and developed his own prototype camera with the help of two engineers in this theater workshop. He brought his illusions to the screen and today is considered to be the father of film effects.
      • He popularized substitution splices, time lapse, multiple exposures, dissolves, and hand-painted color; so he was a pioneer in both special and visual effects.
    • Some of his films that really showcase his abilities are: Cinderella (1899), The Man With the Rubber Head (1901), and quite possibly his most famous film, A Trip to the Moon (1902) 

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      • In an AV Club article they say: “Méliès brought a stage magician’s know-how and sense of wonder to the new art of film, creating a cinema of the impossible, filled with alchemists and Jules Verne-ian contraptions, imps and wayward body parts.”
  • Other Pioneers and Techniques
    • G. A. Smith patented the double exposure in England, using the technique to create a ghost in his film “The Corsican Brothers” (1909)
      • Double exposure; exposing film twice with two different images. Generally the second image is translucent and has ghost-like qualities.
    • Some filmmakers would film tragic events as they were occurring, and would recreate them with miniatures and paintings. For example, Albert Smith and Stuart Blackton made films about the tragic Windsor Hotel Fire and Edison mimicked the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.
    • Edwin S Porter gave the world a great early example of Special Effects in “The Great Train Robbery” in 1903. This was one of the first times that effects were used in service to the plot, rather than as a spectacle.
  • Even though effects had been around since the beginning of film, they didn’t get any screen credits until the 1920’s.
  • In the 1930s, films like King Kong and Frankenstein were enthralling audiences with stop-motion, miniatures, rear-projection, and paintings. The first Oscar for visual effects was given in 1939 to a film called, “The Rains Came” over “The Wizard of Oz.” 

Since then, Hollywood has continued to use similar techniques for big budget films. Although it may seem that every action or fantasy film today is nothing but computer generation, almost every film uses both practical and digital effects. In fact, effects like fire or explosions are almost always practical, because matching the randomness of fire or the correct amount of light reflection can be a huge challenge. We’re going to discuss some of our favorite kinds of Special and Visual effects, using in-camera techniques or physical materials. In other words: practical. 

Favorite Practical Techniques

  • SFX Make-up
    • Jack Pierce
      • During Universal’s classic horror period, Jack Pierce innovated special effects make-up. His hideous creations from Frankenstein’s Monster to the Wolfman terrified and amazed generations of movie-goers.
      • Although he worked on Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster was his first true masterpiece. He read medical journals to find out exactly how a head would look if it were split open and then stitched back together. 
      • The head was made of layers of collodion and cotton, and took four hours to apply.
    • Latex
      • Liquid latex is used in many different ways to create different looks.
      • Liquid latex typically is made of latex, water, and a tiny amount of ammonia.
        • It can be used to resemble cuts, burns, or lacerations.
        • It also has the ability to be used as an adhesive to attach prosthetics.  For example a bald cap does this for wigs.
      • An American Werewolf in London
        • Winner 1982 Oscar for Make-up
    • Prosthetics 
      • Typically before a prosthetic for an actor is made, a “life-cast” is made first. This is where a cast or mold of the body is formed in order for the prosthetic to be made to fit a particular actor.
        • To make a mold of the prosthetic Gypsum cement is used. The materials for the prosthetic tend to be: Foam Latex, Gelatin, and silicone. 
      • Examples
        • Dark Knight with Heath Ledger’s scarred mouth
        • Harry Potter characters
        • The Chronicles of Narnia won An Oscar for their silicone prosthetics in 2006
  • Forced Perspective
    • The use of techniques to build an optical illusion for the viewer so characters or items appear closer, farther, bigger, or smaller than in reality.
    • Lord of the Rings
      • An example of this is In the scene where Frodo and Gandalf are riding in the carriage together.  Gandalf looks large on the right while Frodo looks small to his left. To accomplish this Gandalf’s side of the carriage was built to be smaller and closer to the camera.  With a little help of direction as to where the actors should look from the directors, and Voila Gandalf is bigger!
    • Darby O’Gill and the Little People 
      • The set for the Leprechauns needed to be four times larger than that of the set for humans.
  • Animatronics (Animation and Electronics)
    • Where you electronically animate three-dimensional characters.  They may be remotely controlled or have been pre-programmed to do certain actions.
    • Even though it has become more popular to use computer graphics in film, it still isn’t a suitable replacement for animatronics in terms of realism.
    • Although animatronics did not technically exist until later, we could consider mechanical clocks to be so because of the little characters that would pop out on the hour.
    • At the 1939 World’s Fair a robot named Elektro made his debut and in 1940 his dog Sparko. 
    • In 1961, Walt Disney’s Imagineers developed a dancing animatronic man that caught a lot of attention! They were developing the technology to use in film and in his booth at the World’s Fair. 
      • The Tiki Birds at Disneyland were the first ever animatronic robots
    • In 1964, the first ever animatronic used in film appeared in Mary Poppins! 
    • Stan Winston
      • Animatronic designs are behind some of the most iconic robot animals and monsters in movie history!
        • The Alien queen in Aliens, the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, and the T1000 from Terminator 2.
        • From his obituary: Although he created some of the most famous special effects in movie history, Mr. Winston insisted that he cared less about technical wizardry than he did about storytelling. “It’s not about technology,” he once said. “It’s about writers writing wonderful stories with fantastic characters and me being able to create a visual image that’s beyond what you would expect.”
    • Jurassic Park
      • Won the 1994 Visual Effects Oscar
      • Even though the hydraulics were tested many times the crew was still scared of Rexy because of her gigantic size.
        • The final step was to put the foam rubber skin on, which had to be sewn and glued.  This was done by a team in which Alan Scott was a part of. You had to glue from the inside and Alan volunteered.  The worry was that because the dinosaur had to be powered on and fully extended that something would go wrong and crush him.  Their worst fear happened when the power went out for the studio. Alan pulled himself together and luckily was safe when the head lowered and four others were able to pry the jaw open and pull him out.
        • The T-Rex was the last largest head to tail animatronic to be produced for film. No animatronic that large has ever been featured in film since.
      • We discuss the use of stop-motion puppets to map out the movements of the raptors for CG artists. Here is the test video:
  • Miniatures & Models
    • Even today, this is the most cost-effective way to create landscapes
    • Created for Star Wars and Godzilla.
    • Used in films such as:
      • Blade Runner, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Back to the Future Part 2, Independence Day, Titanic, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,  The Dark Knight, Inception
    • The trick is to slow the camera’s speed to the smaller scale

Sources:

http://content.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,2055255,00.html

https://film.avclub.com/the-50-greatest-special-effects-movies-of-all-time-1827830379

http://people.uncw.edu/pattersone/resources/notes/DSFX_History.pdf

https://www.filmsite.org/visualeffects.html

https://www.britannica.com/art/special-effects

https://publicdomainreview.org/collection/the-execution-of-mary-queen-of-scots-1895

https://www.projectorcentral.com/Front-vs-Rear-Projection.htm

https://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/special-effects-artist1.htm

https://www.azom.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=8136

https://www.sanfordbrown.edu/Student-Life/blog/August-2014/Forced-Perspective

http://www.theatrecrafts.com/pages/home/topics/animatronics/

https://www.stanwinstonschool.com/blog/jurassic-park-t-rex-robot-almost-eats-crewmember

https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-history/dawn-of-electronics/elektro-the-motoman-had-the-biggest-brain-at-the-1939-worlds-fair

https://www.metv.com/lists/a-brief-history-of-animatronics-in-pop-culture

https://www.starwars.com/news/paul-huston-on-making-models-and-history-for-star-wars-a-new-hope

The Case of Saturday Morning Cartoons

Picture it: You’re in second grade, coming off a rigorous school week. You open your eyes to a quiet house on a Saturday morning, and sneak downstairs. No one else is awake, and the TV is all yours. You have a seat with a bowl of cereal and turn on your favorite Saturday Morning Cartoon…

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If you grew up in the 1960s, maybe you watched Magilla Gorilla, the Flintstones, or Johnny Quest. If you were a 90s kid, maybe you watched Captain Planet, Recess, or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. No matter the programming, Saturday Morning Cartoons was a tradition that spanned nearly 6 decades. It’s a shared experience had by children of multiple generations, which makes it pretty special. Today, we will discuss the history of the Saturday Morning Cartoon, and highlight some of our favorites from our childhood. We will not be able to cover many shows from other decades, but maybe we will do another episode down the line!

What do we mean by Saturday Morning Cartoon? Pretty self explanatory. Cartoons that aired on Saturday mornings, usually during time slot of 8am to 12pm. This tradition would flourish from the late 1950’s to the late 1990’s. There are still a few remaining cartoon shows on the major networks on Saturday mornings, but not many.

 

History:

  • The first cartoon produced for television aired in 1950 and was called Crusader Rabbit. It consisted of 5 minute long episodes and ran for three seasons. Created by Alexander Anderson and Jay Ward, its main characters were Crusader Rabbit and his sidekick Ragland T. Tiger, or “Rags”
    • In the late 1940’s, a producer named Jerry Fairbanks sold NBC on a new concept: a TV show meant solely for TV. Networks were looking for kid-friendly content to show on Saturday mornings, but no cartoons had been created specifically for this purpose
    • Since the days of radio broadcasts, the peak time for children to tune in, was between 10am and noon on Saturdays.
    • Even though Crusader Rabbit was moderately successful, many networks stuck with kid-friendly live-action programs instead.
  • The success of Crusader Rabbit inspired many more television cartoon character packages. And Jay Ward would even go on to produce The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.
  • Until the late 1960s, a number of Saturday-morning cartoons were reruns of animated series originally made for prime time. The first true “Saturday morning cartoon” was Mighty Mouse Playhouse. We all know who Mighty Mouse is, a cartoon version of Super Man (was even originally called Super Mouse)
    • Mighty Mouse was a gamble for CBS back when they brought it to their Saturday Morning line-up in 1955, but it was the incredible success of this show that ushered in a new era of made-for-TV cartoons.
  • The character first appeared in 1942 in many theatrical films, however,  what really brought the character into the mainstream was television. Mighty Mouse Playhouse ran on CBS for 12 very successful seasons.

In order to cut costs, animators made sure to use cost-cutting techniques that would also save a lot of time. Hanna-Barbara was well-known for these techniques. They would often use similar character models for shows.  They designed characters with wide collars so they could easily animate them turning their heads, would only move characters’ mouths when they were talking and nothing else in the frame, and so on. The Jetsons, The Flintstones, and Johnny Quest all come to mind when we think about these techniques. 

Where animation might have been lacking, the shows would make up for with wit! The shows were well-written with some adult humor to appeal to the whole family. 

The Shows:

  • Pepper Ann (ABC, 1997-2001)
    • Created by Sue Rose and aired on Disney’s One Saturday Morning on ABC. New episodes ran until 2000 and reruns ran for another year after.
    • Pepper Ann was the very first animated television series for Disney to be created by a woman and would be until 2015!!
    • Tom Warburton served as lead character designer for the series. He would later go one to create Codename: Kids Next Door.
    • The show is a comedy about a 12-year-old Pepper Ann who manages to put other kids off by her slightly-nerdy behavior, constant bad timing, and insistence on trying to be cool. And to make matters worse, she’s just started middle school. Which we all know is a nightmare!
      • Pepper Ann voiced by Kathleen Wilhoite.
        • Twin Peaks
        • Family Guy
        • 24
        • Gilmore Girls
  • Recess (ABC, 1997-2001)
    • The show was created by Paul Germain and Joe Ansolabehere.
    • Recess premiered in 1997 on ABC, as part of the One Saturday Morning block, and ran for 6 seasons. The show was successful enough to be syndicated to other channels including Toon Disney (now Disney XD) and the Disney Channel.
    • Recess follows the lives of six fourth graders, Theodore Jasper “T.J.” Detweiler, Vince LaSalle, Ashley Spinelli, Mikey Blumberg, Gretchen Grundler, and Gus Griswald, as they go about their days at Third Street Elementary School.
      • TJ voiced by Andrew Lawrence
      • Vince voiced by Rickey D’Shon Collins         
      • Spinelli voiced by Pamela Adlon
      • Mikey voiced by Jason Davis
      • Gretchen voiced by Ashley Johnson
      • Gus voiced by Courtland Mead
    • A major point of the show is that the students at school represent a microcosm of our society complete with its own government, class system, and even a monarchy. They are ruled by a sixth grader named King Bob, and the society has a long list of rigid values and social norms.
  • Animaniacs (Fox, 1993-1995; The WB, 1995-1999)
    • Animaniacs was created by Tom Ruegger. It is the second animated series produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment in association with Warner Bros. Animation, after Tiny Toon Adventures.
    • The show first aired on Fox as part of its Fox Kids before moving to The WB. It initially ran a total of 99 episodes and one movie.
    • Most episodes were composed of three short mini-episodes, each starring a different set of characters. (Think Saturday Night Live style).
    • Hallmarks of the series included its music, memorable catchphrases, celebrity caricatures, and humor directed at an adult audience.
    • A reboot of the series was announced by Hulu in January 2018, with two seasons to be produced and are expected to air starting in 2020.
      • Yakko voiced by Rob Paulsen
      • Wakko voiced by Jess Harnell
      • Dot voiced by  Tress MacNeille
  • The Bugs Bunny Show (CBS, 1978-1985) AKA Looney Tunes
    • This went by many names over the years
      • The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour
      • The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show
      • The Bugs Bunny/Looney Tunes Comedy Hour
      • The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show
    • The show was originally broadcast as a primetime half-hour on ABC in 1960, featuring theatrical Looney Tunes cartoons with new linking sequences hosted by Bugs Bunny, produced by Warner Bros.
    • After two seasons, The Bugs Bunny Show moved to Saturday mornings, where it remained for nearly forty years.
    • In 2000, the series at the time (The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show) was canceled after the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies television rights became exclusive to Cartoon Network.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (syndication, 1987-1990; CBS, 1987-1996)
    • The initial motivation behind the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series came from wanting to make toys based on the characters. However, because the comic-book characters only had a small following, the company Playmates Toys was uneasy about moving forward. They requested that a television deal be acquired first, and after the initial five-episode series debuted, the toy company released their first series of Ninja Turtles action figures 1988.
    • The show was in Saturday morning syndication from 1988 to 1989 and became an instant hit. The show was expanded to five days a week and aired weekday afternoons until 1991. Starting in 1990 (with a different opening sequence), the show began its secondary run on CBS’s Saturday morning lineup. The full series ran until 1996, when it aired its final episode.
    • The show helped skyrocket the characters into the mainstream and became one of the most popular animated series in television history. By 1990, the cartoon series was being shown daily on more than 125 television stations, and the comic books sold 125,000 copies a month.
  • Captain Planet (TBS 1990)
    • Captain Planet and the Planeteers is an animated television program created by Ted Turner and Barbara Pyle that focuses on friendship and environmentalism. 
    • The show aired on TBS in 1990 and ran for two years, then came back under the title, “The New Adventures of Captain Planet”. This version aired from 1993 to 1996. 
    • Pyle cites that the inspiration for the five Planeteers came from real people that she met during the show’s pre-production. 
    • The show’s intro theme was composed by Tom Worrall. “Captain Planet, he’s our hero, gonna take pollution down to zero!”
    • The show may have only lasted 6 years, but the impact it had on society has lasted much longer. The Captain Planet Foundation (CPF) was founded in 1991, when series producer Barbara Pyle negotiated a percentage of the show’s merchandising revenue to empower young people.
      • Captain Planet voiced by David Coburn
      • Kwame voiced by LeVar Burton (earth)
      • Wheeler voiced by Joey Dedio (fire)
      • Linka voiced by Kath Soucie (wind)
      • Gi voiced by Janice Kawaye
      • Ma-Ti voiced by Scott Menville

Honorable Mentions:

Proud Family

Little Bear

Babar

Berenstain Bears- Michael Cera voiced Brother bear

Voltron

Sources:

IMDB

History of Saturday Morning Cartoons

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/09/30/saturday-morning-cartoons-are-no-more/

https://www.complex.com/pop-culture/the-greatest-saturday-morning-cartoons/

The Case That Never Ends

Back in 2013, we gathered together to record our very first episode of The Black Case Diaries. We were all still in college, and we didn’t even edit the audio! We placed the episode on SoundCloud and there is sat for 5 years before we started the show for real. 

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So, to kick off our second year of podcasting, we decided to give ourselves a chance to do it over! Today we will talk about the same topic as we did 6 years ago. We are going to re-release the original episode to our patrons so they will get to hear how far we’ve come. 

Six years ago, the three of us sat down and watched a movie. One of us had seen it many times, one had seen it once or twice, and one of us had never seen it at all. It was called, “The Neverending Story”! After we watched the movie, we went into the sewing room of Robin’s mother to record our thoughts. 

Movie Beginnings:

The Neverending Story is based on a novel: Die unendliche Geschichte – (dee oonend-liha ge-shishta) by German author Michael Ende. The book was originally written in German and released in September of 1979, but translated to English in 1983 – one year before the movie. 

  • The book remained on the best-seller list in Germany for three years!
  • There are a few key differences between the book and the movie. 
    • The movie only covers half of the book! The sequel film is loosely based on the second half, and the third movie is an original plot.
    • The name of the world that Bastian is meant to save is called “Fantastica” instead of “Fantasia” 
  • Michael Ende was not happy with the film and didn’t think it reflected the message of his book. According to a 1984 People Magazine article, he held a press conference in which he demanded his name be taken from the credits. He called the movie “revolting” and said, “the makers of the film simply did not understand the book at all.” 

 

The Making of the Movie:

  • The Neverending story was directed by Wolfgang Peterson, and written by Herman Weigel and Wolfgang Peterson.
    • According to some of the actors, Peterson was a perfectionist and required sometimes as many as forty takes for a scene.
    • The scenes in the swamp of sadness and with the giant tortoise took two months to shoot.
  • Most of the film was shot in Bavaria Studios in Germany, with outside filming done in Vancouver and Spain. 
  • The music was written by Klaus Goldinger and Giorgio Moroder.
    • It also included a very special song performed by Limahl 
  • Colin Arthur was the special effects supervisor, but he had a huge team!
  • Rolf Zehetbauer designed the set decoration 
    • But the designs for the creatures was a collaboration between an Italian artist named UI De Rico, the set designer, and a professional mime named Caprice Roth.
  • The movie cost 27 million dollars to make, which adjusted to today would be about 65 million! It was the most expensive film in German history. It made 100 Million! 
  • Many attribute the magic of the movie to its incredible effects.
    • According to Wolfgang Peterson, digital effects hadn’t advanced to the point of even a green screen yet. They were using blue screens for the flying scenes in the movie, but practical effects for everything else.
    • Each puppet was operated by a team of trained puppeteers; as many as 25 people were in charge of operating Falcor!
      • In order to get the puppet to move as one cohesive unit, the team had to train together for several weeks
      • One person was assigned to each of his facial features, including one person responsible for his eyebrow
        • The dialogue was also recorded before-hand and the puppeteers had to try to sync up movements with the words.
      • No matter how many times they practiced or did a scene over, they could never eliminate the error behind the puppet. There was always something out of place, but Peterson believed that this made it true art.

 

Starring: 

  • Barret Oliver as Bastian
    • Oliver also starred in the original Frankenweenie in the 80’s.
    • He no longer acts, but is an accomplished photographer and specializes in the wet-plate process. He also teaches photography in Los Angeles. 
  • Noah Hathaway as Atreyu 
    • Hathaway played Boxey in the original Battlestar Galactica. 
    • He was also in the 1986 film “Troll” as Harry Potter Jr. 
    • Hathaway was seriously injured twice while making the movie and still has health problems today because of it.
      • While preparing for the horse-back riding scenes, a horse actually fell on top of him and cracked two of his vertebrae. 
      • The other injury came at the end of the movie, when he fights G’mork. The robot malfunctioned and cut Hathaway next to his eye. G’mork was also very heavy and caused him to lose his breath. Because of this, they could only get one shot!
  • Alan Oppenheimer as Falkor
    • Oppenheimer is an accomplished voice actor who narrated the movie, voiced Falkor, the rock-biter, and G’Mork!
    • He is probably most well-known for voicing Skeletor in the He-Man animated series.
  • Tami Stronach as The Childlike Empress 
    • She has been in very few things since the Neverending Story. Two are films from the Czech Republic.
    • The director saw 3000 young girls before choosing Stronach as the empress. 
    • She has since focused mostly on her dancing and being a choreographer.
  • Gerald McRaney as Bastian’s father
    • He has been acting since about 1969 and been in many different roles including things like Chips, The Rockford Files, and Diagnosis Murder. He is still acting today and plays a small part in the new Netflix show called Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings.

 

Summary:

As a young boy named Bastian is heading to school he is chased by three bullies. In order to escape the bullies he dashes into an old bookstore.  There he is tempted to take a book that he is told he is not ready for. In order to read it he steals away into the school attic and begins the book called “The Neverending Story.”  It is about the land of Fantasia where the creatures have been threatened by a force called “The Nothing.” It destroys all that it touches. In order for Fantasia to survive it needs the help of a human boy.

  • The film was fairly well-received and was a box-office hit! Roger Ebert gave it three out of four stars. I think he summed up the meaning of the film with the end of his review: “But ‘The NeverEnding Story’ is about the unfolding of a story, and so the framing device of the kid hidden in his school attic, breathlessly turning the pages, is interesting. It lets kids know that the story isn’t just somehow happening, that storytelling is a neverending act of the imagination.”
    • I found a Huffington Post article about the film, and there was a quote from Wolfgang Peterson 
      • “It has very dark and scary moments, but life is like that. It educates you and a reader like Bastian how to go through that and pass these sort of dark moments, to achieve something at the end. I think it empowers kids to — as the Childlike Empress says in that goose-bumpy moment at the end of the film — do what you want.”

 

As a bonus here is one of the pictures from Marci’s college years taken with the wet plate Collodion process!

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Sources:

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/neverending-story_n_5589126

https://www.thenewstribune.com/entertainment/article29910505.html

https://screenrant.com/neverending-story-movie-behind-scenes-details-trivia/

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088323/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv

https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-neverending-story-1984

 

The Case of the Sequel was Better

Hey Cassettes, it’s 2020 and we have a clear vision of the year ahead! Welcome back to another episode of The Black Case Diaries Podcast. 

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So for the past few months, we have been doing a lot of what we call, “focus” episodes where we talk about one movie or show at a time. But, we like to shake things up here, so we’re starting off 2020 with something a little different. 

Today we are talking about movie sequels! On Twitter a while back, we asked people to name a sequel that they thought was better than the original. We got a lot of feedback and some really great ideas, so thank you! We are going to highlight some of these movies and discuss what it takes to make a great sequel, and whether or not a sequel is ever “necessary.”

What We Mean By a Sequel

Really quick, we want to clarify what we mean when we say “sequel”. A sequel is a continuation of an earlier story that takes place in the same universe. Sometimes it takes place directly after the original, or maybe a long time after. This is different from a reboot, which is a re-telling of the same or similar story and it may take place in a universe where the original events did not occur. 

  • For example, Ghostbusters 2 is a sequel; but Ghostbusters (2016) is a reboot. Ghostbuster 3 will be a sequel to the original Ghostbusters films, but not a sequel to the 2016 reboot of the franchise. Confused? Don’t worry, so is everyone. 

 

Where do sequels come from? 

  • Since the ability to mass produce any kind of story has existed, so has sequels. If something is popular, why not use it to make more money? It’s a simple model that has been around for centuries. 
  • Even in the silent film era, directors were making follow-up films to their original pieces. For example, the famous film “A Trip to the Moon” (1902) by George Méliès  was soon followed by “The Impossible Voyage” 
  • As long as sequels have been around, they haven’t had the best reputation. In some instances, filmmakers relied too much on the popularity of the first movie, and didn’t put in the same amount of time and effort for the sequel. This continues to happen today, and more often than not, the sequel is inferior to the first film in the franchise. 

But, why do studios make so many sequels? Well, it’s because audiences want them. Jurassic World, The Force Awakens, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel; no matter how “bad” these movies seem, they make money! If audiences didn’t really want them, we wouldn’t pay to see them. We as a capitalist country vote with our money every day, and that’s a vote that really counts. 

Bad Sequels

Before we look at sequels that could be the exception to this rule, we need to find an example of a “bad” sequel. We looked at lists curated by Business Insider and USA Today to find some sequels with the worst reputations. Now, movies are subjective, so we will try our best to look at the technical aspects of these films and take into account the general consensus from audiences and critics

  • Home Alone 3
  • A Good Day to Die Hard
  • Son of the Mask 

 

What makes a good sequel?

To answer this question, we looked all over the internet and read lots of lists about the good qualities of movie sequels. We used them as a reference to compile our own list of what makes a sequel worth watching: 

  • Is it necessary? 
    • Now what we mean is: Does this story need to be told? Did the first film warrant a sequel? 
    • Some, including Jessica Firpi from Always the Critic Movie Podcast, would argue that no sequel is ever necessary or worthy. This is not that crazy of an idea! 
    • But if a writer creates a story with a sequel in mind, who’s to say that the sequel story isn’t as important as the original? There is no law stating that sequels are automatically of less artistic value, so why do we automatically assume that a sequel won’t live up to an original? 
  • Is it a new story, or the same story told again? 
    • Audiences go see sequels because they like feeling confident that they will enjoy what they are paying for. But this is where studios make the mistake of trying to give the audience the exact same movie. 
  • Did the actors/characters return, and if they didn’t, were they replaced with equally well-written characters? 
    • Are all the characters important to the plot? Were characters kept around for fan service or do they serve the story? 
    • If these characters return, do they develop? Have they changed or will they change in this continuing story? 
    • Does it recognize the original and the accomplishments of its characters? 
  • Did the unique and iconic elements of the first film return? 
    • This can be as simple as a line or an outfit. Imagine Terminator 2 without “I’ll be Back” or any Indiana Jones film without the fedora? It just wouldn’t be the same
  • Does the sequel change the lore or rules of the first film’s universe? Has the genre changed? 
    • This can be a pro or a con, depending on how well it’s done
  • Does the villain return OR does this villain stand on its own as a character? 

Most of these points could be boiled down to one key concept: If you must make a sequel, figure out what made the original so special and build off of it! Don’t rewrite it, and don’t leave it out!

Best Sequels Consensus

Twitter Suggestions: 

We got SO MANY suggestions for sequels that were better than the original on Twitter, we can’t name them all. But, it was nice to see how passionate everyone was about this topic! We made a list of movies that came up again and again, and we are going to examine what makes them good sequels!

The best sequels according to Twitter were: 

  • Aliens
    • Ridley Scott’s original Alien hit theatres in June of 1979 and introduced the world to Sigourney Weaver’s heroic Ellen Ripley and the doomed crew of the Nostromo. It was sci-fi horror film that made history, so it wasn’t a surprise when a sequel was in the works. 
    • Directed by James Cameron instead of Ridley Scott, Aliens takes place 57 years after the first film. James Cameron also wrote the screenplay. 
      • Was this sequel warranted? 
        • This is a tough question for this particular franchise, because the first Alien could have been a one-off from a story perspective with the question of whether Ripley will awake from hyper sleep.
        • But the second plot goes well with the first, using a rescue mission as the main motive of the characters, similar to the original motive of the crew in the first Alien film.
      • Is it a new story?
        • Absolutely. Even though we see the return of a lead character and villain, this film feels like a continuation of a franchise, not a repeat. Without the knowledge of the Xenomorph, it makes sense that eventually humans would colonize the moon inhabited by the creatures and watching Ripley express these horrors to a disbelieving audience builds on her character arch.
      • Did the actors/characters return? 
        • As the sole survivor of the Nostromo, Ripley’s return in Aliens is instrumental to the plot of the film and connects the movie to the original. If Sigourney Weaver did not return, this film would not have been nearly as successful as a sequel
          • Because of the nature of the first film, no unnecessary characters returned for Aliens. 
          • Ripley is a strong, intelligent, and resourceful character in both films. But in the second film, we see her step forth as a natural hero and leader, and with the introduction of Newt, we see her compassionate side.
        • The other characters in the original Alien are replaced with a larger group of Marines. Some of these characters stand out, like Bill Paxton’s Hudson or Jeanette Goldstein’s Vasquez, but ultimately more people means more room for bloodshed.
        • Aliens recognizes Ripley’s experiences and how her character would have been affected by them. We see her get ignored just like the first film, but her past experiences put her in a place that allows her to take charge and help her shipmates survive.
      • Did the unique/iconic elements of the first film return? 
        • The most iconic parts of Alien were the Xenomorphs, and they return in full force. We see the face-huggers and chest-bursters along with full-body aliens.
          • The look and feel of the sets are similar, with the futuristic setting.
      • Does the sequel change the lore of the original or change genre?
        • Alien is a unique sequel, in that it sits in a different genre than the original movie. The first film was an all-out thriller set in space. The second film is a sci-fi action film and strays from its horror roots. Aliens takes on more of a Jurassic Park feel, humans trying to survive against an animal force. 
        • The sequel Aliens does not change the rules of the universe, it doesn’t suddenly reveal the Xenomorphs to be anything but soulless beasts that kill to survive and take over whenever possible. 
      • Does the villain return?
        • It depends on what you mean by villain. In the first Alien film, Ash the android is a stand-out villain that does not return for Aliens. But, as we said before, the Xenomorphs do return for this movie and stand alone as their own terrifying villains.  
    • Aliens could not have existed without the iconic Alien. Although many may consider it to be better than the original, it certainly stands on the shoulders of a film giant. 
    • How is Aliens BETTER? 
  • The Godfather Part II
    • Was the sequel warranted? 
      • The Godfather is regarded as one of the greatest films in cinematic history, so a sequel was inevitable. Every family has a history, and the Coreleone’s are no exception! The second film explores Vito Coreleone’s origin as an Italian immigrant and juxtaposes this against his son Michael taking over for him in present day.
    • Is it a new story? 
      • Yes, this is a new component to the story that brings more depth to the characters and performances of the first film.
    • Did the characters return? 
      • Yes! The Godfather Part 2 brought back the infamous Vito Corleone and his son.
      • While it turns the clock back on Vito, we see a progression of Michael. Michael’s character moves forward and adapts to his surroundings.
      • Michael assumes the role of The Godfather, and goes through a metamorphosis to do so.
    • Did the unique/iconic elements of the first film return? 
      • The iconic characters, the film score, and the cinematography continue a signature feeling from the first movie 
    • What makes The Godfather Part 2 BETTER?
  • Terminator 2
    • Did the first warrant a sequel?
      • This again is a very hard question to answer.  Could they have stopped after the first movie? Yes.  But….Would it have been a disservice to the character of Sarah Connor? Yes.  In the second installment we get to see a much more confident and strong woman who is willing to do anything to not only save her son but also the fate of the world, even when there is nobody that believes her.
    • Is it a new story?
    • Did the characters return?
    • Did the unique/iconic elements of the first film return? 
    • Does the sequel change the lore of the original or change genre?
    • Does the villain return?
    • What makes Terminator 2 BETTER?
  • Kill Bill Vol 2
    • Was the sequel warranted?
      • In this special case it was definitely warranted because it is a two part story.
    • Is it a new story?
      • No it is the same story continued.
    • Did the characters return?
      • Yes
    • Did the unique/iconic elements of the first film return? 
      • Quentin Tarantino’s unique storytelling is kept throughout both films.
    • Does the sequel change the lore of the original or change genre?
    • Does the villain return?
    • What makes Kill Bill Vol 2 BETTER?
  • Empire Strikes Back 
  • The Dark Knight
    • Was the sequel warranted?
    • Is it a new story?
    • Did the characters return?
      • We of course get Batman and Alfred.  We also have the return of Batman’s love interest Rachel. The actress, however, was changed from Katie Holmes to Maggie Gyllenhaal. The decision to keep the character was wise in order to keep consistency because otherwise the audience would have wondered what had happened to Rachel.
    • Did the unique/iconic elements of the first film return? 
    • Does the sequel change the lore of the original or change genre?
    • Does the villain return?
      • The villain of The Scarecrow returns but we also get an amazing performance from a new villain, The Joker.
    • What makes The Dark Knight BETTER?

 

Sources:

https://screencraft.org/2015/10/02/the-ten-commandments-of-writing-a-great-sequel/

https://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/7-rules-writing-sequels

A (Brief) Case in the Snow

In December of 2018, our show premiered with an episode about the many versions of A Christmas Carol. It was a short episode, recorded on one microphone in Robin’s living room. We did our research an hour before recording, and there was no drink of the week. 

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Now, our episodes are longer, we each have our own mics, our research is done days ahead, and we record in a small room that we call a studio. Christmas is a crazy time for all of us, so we have decided to close out 2019 with a very special Black Case Diaries Christmas Briefcase! 

About a month ago, we asked our patrons and Instagram followers what holiday special they would like us to cover this month. They voted for Frosty the Snowman! Since it just snowed here in Ohio, we decided to head out and record this episode in the snow! 

Frosty the Snowman

In 1949, country singer Gene Autry had a number one hit at Christmas. It was a song written by Johnny Marks and based on a story called, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” 

One year later, Jack Rollins and Steve Nelson came up with a new holiday song and sent it to Gene Autry, who was hoping for another Christmas hit. Not sure if Autry would take the song, they also brought a back-up to sell him: “Here Comes Peter Cottontail!”

This song was, “Frosty the Snowman!” Autry’s version made the top 40 in 1950, but was never quite as successful as Rudolph. It did well though, as covers by Nat King Cole and Guy Lombardo soon followed. Frosty became a character on merchandise, in parades, and even in a Little Golden Book! 

I found many sources that speculated that Frosty was based on a snowman that appeared in a children’s book five years before the song. The book was, “Snowy the Traveling Snowman” by Ruth Burman. The book features a snowman with coal eyes, a silk hat, and a yellow (possibly corncob) pipe. He sings and dances with the children of the town, and at the end promises to return. One of the biggest similarities to the song is that Snowy makes the sound, “bumpity-bump bump” while Frosty’s running feet sound like, “Thumpity-thump-thump.” 

Many people also believe that the song takes place in Armonk, NY, a town that one of the songwriters, Steve Nelson, lived in. Every year, the town celebrates Frosty Day. According to the Frosty Day website, Nelson’s widow confirmed that the song was written in the town. 

Patty Fenwick, the step-granddaughter of Jack Rollins, inspired him to write the song. According to the story, when Patty was a young girl, she was excited to build the first snowman of the season. The snow melted overnight, and Patty was distraught to find that the snowman was gone. Her grandpa said to her, “please don’t cry, I promise you he will be back someday soon.” When Rollins told his songwriting partner about the story, they created Frosty the Snowman. 

The song was covered by so many artists, we’re not going to spend time naming them all! Some of them include: Jimmy Durante, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Fats Domino, Perry Como, The Jackson Five, and Loretta Lynn. 

In 1954, United Productions of America produced a three minute animated short put to the song “Frosty the Snowman.” It was directed by Robert Cannon and was filmed in black and white. UPA is also known for creating Mr. Magoo, so you might notice some animation similarities between Mr Magoo’s Christmas Carol and this short. The short is provided below!

In 1969, almost 20 years after the world first met Frosty, Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass created an animated Christmas special about the snowman. 

  • Written by Romeo Muller, the same person that adapted the story of Rudolph for the animated special
    • He was also a writer for Thundercats and the animated Hobbit
  • The characters were created by Paul Coker Jr, who was a greeting card artist and illustrator for Mad Magazine.
    • The animation style is very different from Rudolph, and Rankin & Bass reportedly wanted something that looked more like a greeting card for Frosty
  • Just like with Rudolph, the animation was produced in Japan.
  • The special starred Jimmy Durante, an actor and singer that had covered the song years earlier. He re-recorded his version for the special, since it had slightly different lyrics. 
    • The song originally had no mention of Christmas, but since they wanted it to be a Christmas special, they changed a line to “I’ll be back on Christmas Day” instead of “I’ll be back again someday”
    • Several sources claim that this was his last film performance, although he is credited in the TV movie “Howdy” in 1970.

Starring

  • We already said that Jimmy Durante starred in the special, but let’s talk about the other voices that brought Frosty the Snowman to life!
    • Jackie Vernon was a well-known stand-up comic and the voice of Frosty 
      • He voiced Frosty again in “Frosty’s Winter Wonderland” (1976) and in “Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July” (1979) 
    • Film and TV actor Billy De Wolfe voiced Professor Hinkle the magician 
      • He was known for a show called Good Morning World and The Doris Day Show. 
    • Paul Frees did several voices for the special including Santa Claus
      • Frees had very many voice credits to his name, including: The Pillsbury Doughboy and Boris from Rocky and Bullwinkle. Much of his voice work was uncredited, and his voice was often used to dub over or fix recordings from other actors.
    • June Foray did the voice of Karen, along with additional voices as well
      • In later versions of the special, her voice was replaced by voices of actual children, though the credits still name her.
      • June also voiced Natasha and Rocky the Squirrel in Rocky and Bullwinkle, so she and Paul Frees probably worked together often. 

https://www.armonkfrosty.com/about-frosty

2019 Recap and THANK YOU

Before we go, let’s talk about 2019. On Twitter, we asked what your favorite episodes of ours have been. Bang Average Movie Podcast responded, letting us know that they enjoyed our cinematography and Top 10 Non-Disney animated movies episodes! Thanks so much, guys. We try to do as many different things as we can! The Cinematography episode is what we call a “concept” episode, where we talk about something that involves movies and TV, but not any specific movies or shows. The Non-Disney episode is one of our list episodes. Those are by far the hardest to do, because we always want a balanced amount of research for each movie that we talk about. That episode in particular was probably the most rewarding of the year, because we got a lot of positive feedback on it. 

What were our favorite episodes? 

  • Disney Scores
    • God this was a masterpiece of research, if I do say so myself. I generally spend hours working on each episode, but this was a whole day. At this point, we weren’t as research heavy as we are now, so I wasn’t used to it yet. I had to scour IMDB for details about each movie, making connections between names and piecing together research from multiple places. 
  • Anne of Green Gables
    • This episode came out the week of my mom’s birthday, so that was a little tough. I planned it that way, but it was still tough for me to talk about it. I cried  A LOT while editing.
  • Case Around the Campfire

What were our most difficult episodes? 

  • Veronica Mars

What are our favorite memories from the past year? 

  • The Google Home Hub
  • Siobhan’s Book 

Who did we enjoy connecting with this year?

  • Bang Average
  • Em from Verbal Diorama
  • Brett Wilson
  • Arjun from Deep Into History
  • Andy from 90s Court
  • Siobhan from Myth, Legends, and Lore
  • Always the Critic movie podcast
  • All the people that constantly include us in Follow Fridays: Toys Were Us, Re-solved Mysteries, Bodice Tipplers, Ocho Duro Parlay Hour

 

And again THANK YOU for an amazing 2019!!!