The Case of Stop-Motion Part 2: What I LAIKA ‘Bout You

LAIKA

Welcome back to yet another week about animation! Last week, we covered the history of the stop-motion from The Humpty Dumpty Circus all the way to Wallace and Gromit. This week, we’re taking a look at a studio that stands on its own as the leader in stop-motion animation. 

Since its founding in 2005, Laika has been making a name for itself among the animation elite. Though stop-motion is not the most popular or cost-effective form of animation, they continue to stun audiences with their technical mastery with each new film they produce. 

Last week we talked about Will Vinton, the father of “Clay-mation.” This week we are picking up with the end of his story and the beginning of Laika. We will touch on each of their five movies, and what we “Laika” about them. 

  • Will Vinton

    • As you might remember from last week, Will Vinton was the Oscar-winning animator that created the singing California Raisins and “The Adventures of Mark Twain” in his signature Clay-mation style. Vinton helped popularize claymation in the late 1970’s and 1980’s, and without his influence we likely wouldn’t have films such as “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” 
    • When his short “Closed Mondays” won an oscar, it proved the credibility of animation as an art form for adults as well as the viability of claymation
      • He was only 26 at the time, and it was the first time a stop-motion film won an oscar for best animated short.
        • Vinton was quoted saying, “After being completely rejected at a local level, we were validated. It’s exactly what I had set out to do — prove that clay animation was still viable. Back then, 99% of animation was for children and families, or two-dimensional; this was neither — it was for adults, it wasn’t a kiddie film. So many people told us it wasn’t going to happen, just forget it. We validated the medium, and it opened doors.”
          • It’s important to remember how Vinton sought to make animation that was different from mainstream studios.
      • When Vinton brought on more people to his business, they made it their mission to push claymation as far as they could. They didn’t even want to pursue a project if it seemed too easy, and this led to some strange and beautiful animation.
    • Vinton spent 30 years building his studio and creating memorable characters. At one point, it was worth almost 30 million dollars
      • In the mid-1980’s, his studio was hired by California Raisins to animate their new commercial campaign. Vinton’s commercials were so successful, the company saw a 20% increase in sales, and suddenly ad agencies were contacting the studio left and right to produce more ads like it.
      • The studio grew to handle the volume of projects for M&Ms, Domino’s Pizza, KFC and more. They were also hired to animate two TV series, one produced by Eddie Murphy called, “The PJs.” 

        • As their project list lengthened, the studio incorporated CGI to keep up with the popular trends and also to quicken some processes. Vinton didn’t enjoy CGI as much, since computers weren’t as hands-on and he felt more like a programmer than an animator.
        • Vinton noticed that his veteran claymation animators were taking to CGI, since it also operated in a 3D space. Together they created a groundbreaking Chips Ahoy commercial that combined the techniques; It was CG that LOOKED like clay.

        • While Vinton worked on “The PJs,” he started to use foam and latex over ball-in-socket joints to make the characters move more freely; He called this technique foam-ation.
    • After all this success, the studio was forced to expand into a full company to take on the many projects coming their way. The only problem was that Vinton was more of an animator than a businessman, so they hired a new CEO named Tom Turpin.
      • Turpin sought outside funding, and Vinton’s legal counsel pointed them in the direction of Phil Knight, the co-founder of Nike. Knight invested 5 million dollars into Vinton’s studio.
      • Now owning 15% of the company, Knight approached Turpin and requested that they give his son a job as an intern. Knight’s son, Travis had been trying to make a career as a rapper named Chilly T. 
        • Even with his own record studio and his dad’s connections, Chilly just didn’t seem to find footing as a rap artist. 
        • Vinton Studios welcomed Knight’s son, even though he had no experience with animation. They started him off in the CGI department, teaching him how to render details on characters.
    • In 2001, the company took a few financial hits. First, the two shows that they were working on both were cancelled. Then, events of 9/11 caused a downturn in advertising. The company was in trouble and they hired a new CEO. This came with massive layoffs and a cultural shift in the company. The new CEO asked Phil Knight for more money, and Knight agreed. This time, though, he bought the company and brought in Nike coworkers as board members.
    • Phil Knight’s son, Travis had grown into an incredible animator after only a few years of production experience. Knight appointed him to the board. Six months later, Will Vinton stepped down and was fired from his office position. 
    • In his severance, Vinton lost the rights to his entire body of work including the trademark for Claymation. Later he sued Phil Knight. Vinton felt that he got pushed out of his studio solely because Knight wanted to give his son a company. The case was thrown out, even though Knight admitted that he bought the company with his son in mind. 
    • Will Vinton spent the last few years of his life working on independent projects and teaching at the Art Institute of Portland. He is still revered by animators today for breathing life into clay and stop-motion animation. 
    • His New York Times obituary quoted a 1987 People magazine interview, “There is a point in Claymation, where you can almost fool yourself into thinking that these things are manipulating themselves — that they’re alive.” Vinton passed away in October of 2018. 
  • Founding of Laika

    • In the years after Phil Knight acquired Vinton’s studio, he poured 180 million dollars into it. He used his influence to bring in animators from other successful studios like Walt Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks. The company was rebranded to Laika. 
    • On July 20th, 2005, Laika was officially founded. 
      • In the beginning, there were two divisions. Laika House for commercial work, and Laika Entertainment to focus on feature films.
      • Both of these divisions existed until 2014, when Laika House broke off and created “House Special.”
        • They are an independent studio focused on creating art for any medium (according to their website.) 
      • In 2008, Laika ran into trouble when a planned animation feature fell through and they had to scale back their staff. Luckily though, their next planned feature did not fall through and Laika broke onto the scene with a major hit in 2009. 
    • On their website, they quote Travis Knight: “We’re an outlier. We work in an industry that is dominated by franchises and sequels and prequels and remakes and reboots, but we’re devoted to telling new and original stories. We live in a modern, glossy, high-tech digital world. But we make movies in the most moth-eaten, anachronistic way possible. By using our hands.”
        • It’s amazing that even though Vinton lost the studio, Laika still seems to hold onto the values that he placed in his works. Remember how he wanted to make films different from the mainstream? 
  • The Movies

    • Coraline

      • When Travis Knight was asked to reflect on Laika’s beginning, he chose to speak about their first film Coraline. He recalled how excited he and the team were because; 1. it was a solid team (they brought in Henry Selick, an acclaimed producer and director of Nightmare Before Christmas to direct), 2. an imaginative idea (best selling book by Neil Gaiman), and 3. a process that had room to grow in the future. 
        • His optimism was well placed but in the practical sense was difficult to portray as a winner to film studios. They all had their doubts and Travis Knight heard them all.
          • ‘Stop-motion is not a viable filmmaking medium.’
          • ‘Everyone knows you can’t have an animated film with a female protagonist, unless she’s a princess or a fairy, of course.’
          • ‘No boy’s gonna go see a film with a girl’s name in the title. No girls will see it either. The damn thing’s too scary.’
          • ‘Teens aren’t interested in animation.’
          • ‘Adults see animation as a babysitter. They don’t want their kids to be challenged.’
        • After hearing all of these sentiments on what stop-motion can and cannot be they finally found Focus Features and Universal to produce and distribute the movie.  
      • Coraline follows the story of an eleven-year-old girl  who discovers a door in her new house that leads to an alternate world. This world is much like the one she comes from, but the differences are fantastical. Coraline finds herself enjoying this new world, and returns often until the alternate version of her mother “The other mother” tries to get her to stay there forever. She must find a way to escape back through the door, and save the souls of other children who have been trapped there as well. 
          • It stars: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Keith David, John Hodgman, Robert Bailey Jr, and Ian McShane.
      • Each character within the film had multiple puppets which were 3-D printed. Coraline’s character had 28 copies.  The facial features alone added up to 200,000 possible expressions. 
      • Coraline was shot in 3-D which typically calls for two cameras. One to shoot for the left eye and one for the right.  Since the scale in films such as Coraline are much smaller scale than that of Spy Kids 3-D or Avatar the team had to come up with a way to get two shots.  To resolve this they created an automatic slide mount for the camera that would allow them to take the shot for one eye, slide to take for the other eye, and then slide back to the original position.
      • Althea Crome
        • Althea hand knitted each of Coraline’s sweaters. She is a knitter that specializes in tiny knitted clothing, in this case to fit a doll that was not even ten inches tall. Each sweater took about two weeks to create 

      • This film took almost 4 years to create from script to screen with 150 stages/sets.
      • With a budget of 60 million, Coraline brought in a whopping 124.6 million dollars at the box office. In that respect, it is still Laika’s most successful film to date. 
        • The combination of Gaiman’s strong storytelling and the medium’s complex realism worked incredibly well for the film. The dark subject matter is perfect for clay, a material that can cover every range of emotion. The stranger moments of the film hearken back to Will Vinton’s “Adventures of Mark Twain” and we can see how the studios are related.
      • After the success of Coraline, the studio scaled back once again and decided to solely focus on stop-motion. With the next four major releases, Laika has continued to prove that it is an innovating leader in stop-motion. 
      • That same year, Travis (the artist formerly known as Chilly T) was promoted to CEO of Laika and has remained in the position ever since.
    • ParaNorman

      • Laika followed up Coraline with another hit, ParaNorman in 2012
        • It was Laika’s first original film, which was brought to life by co-director and writer Chris Butler. It follows a young, compassionate boy with the ability to talk to the dead. Norman learns that his town is under a curse, and that the dead will rise from their graves and wreak havoc on the town. Because of his unique ability, he is the only one that can stop it and he must summon his courage and save his friends and neighbors. 
          • It stars: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, and Elaine Stritch.
        • This was the first film where a color 3D printer was used in order to reduce human error and the amount of time it would take to hand paint facial expressions. Laika continued to use this technology with all their later films.
        • It took 3 years from script to screen.
        • There were 60 cameras that captured 400,000 frames of animation.
        • 178 puppets were used, and compared to Coraline’s 200,000 expressions Norman had 1.5 million different expressions.
      • Grossing 107 million, it made less than Coraline, but earned an Oscar nomination.   
    • BoxTrolls

      • Boxtrolls is based on “Here be Monsters!” by Alan Snow which is an adventure book about magic, trolls, and various creatures. 
        • An orphan boy named Eggs lives with The Boxtrolls, a group of mischievous and unique creatures that live beneath the city. When an evil man devises a plan to exterminate the creatures, Eggs heads above ground where he meets a girl named Winnefred and they team up to save the trolls.
        • It stars Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning, Ben Kingsley, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan, Dee Bradley Baker, and Steve Blum.
      • 20,000 props were hand made along with 70 sets. 
      • The main characters had just over 1 million facial expressions.

      • The 2 minute dance sequence took 18 months to animate. 
      • This movie contained 185 handmade puppets with interchangeable faces.
    • Technology Increased yet again
      • In an article by Dave Trumbore he states that, “the meeting point between practical stop-motion animation and computer-aided effects came ever nearer in The Boxtrolls. For example, one of Laika’s texture painters, Tory Bryant, used her traditional painting techniques to tweak the painting software into layering the available colors in order to produce blended finished pieces that were far beyond what the printer designers thought the software and their machines could do.”
      • The 1:5 scale puppet was 3D scanned and the expressions tweaked using a Computer Aided Design (CAD) Software before the new face is printed using a modified 3D systems printer.
    • A little tension rose when it was one of the films nominated for the Oscar for best animated feature over The Lego Movie.
    • Boxtrolls made just a little more than ParaNorman worldwide, grossing 109 Million.
    • Kubo and the Two Strings

      • It seems there is a pattern here, because with Kubo and the Two Strings we return to an original story idea by their character designer Shannon Tindle.  It was strengthened and enriched with the help of screenwriters Marc Haimes and Chris Butler.
        • Kubo is a young boy who loves to play his magical instrument and tell stories to the people in his town, while looking after his mother. After accidentally summoning a vengeful spirit, he must go on the run and join forces with Monkey and Beetle to help him unlock a secret legacy and battle The Moon King to save his family and discover the truth about what happened to his father, a great samurai warrior. 
        • It stars: Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Brenda Vaccaro, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Matthew McConaughey, George Takei, Rooney Mara, and Ralph Fiennes.
      • This is the first movie that Travis Knight makes his directorial debut.
      • Kubo and the Two Strings contains the largest creation that Laika has made, a skeleton character that stands 16 feet tall, wingspan of 23 feet, and weighs 400 lbs.

      • It took 5 years from script to screen.
      • Despite its critical acclaim, masterful storytelling, and stunning visuals, Kubo and the Two Strings grossed only 70 million dollars worldwide. 
        • RogerEbert.com lauded the film for giving its young audience credit and gave the film 3.5 out of four stars saying, Above all else, ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ is fittingly about storytelling and its capacity to transform and connect us. The timelessness of the film gives it an overall feeling of cinematic grace, with obvious nods to greats ranging from Kurosawa and Miyazaki to Spielberg and Lucas. The resonance of the performances from its excellent voice cast gives it an immediate emotional punch.”
    • Missing Link

      • Mr. Link is an 8 foot tall friendly fur covered mammal who enlists the help of Sir Lionel Frost to escort him safely to his rumored relatives. He pursues the journey to the mystical Shangri-La trying to combat the loneliness of being the only one of his kind in the Pacific Northwest.  Joined by Adelina Fortnight the three travel together and find family where it is least expected. 
        • It stars: Hugh Jackman, Zoe Saldana, Zach Galifianakis, Timothy Olyphant, Emma Thompson, and Stephen Fry.
      • Often with stop motion animation the direction taken is dark because of art aspects like the rigid movements of puppets. Missing Link is the first film where Laika truly deviates from this formula, opting for a more colorful film and Sherlock Holmes meets Indiana Jones feel using the advances in technology, skill, and expertise picked up since Coraline.

      • There were 110 sets and the VFX team supervised by Steve Emerson used CG to increase believability in scenes.
        • When Chris Butler was asked about CG and its combination with stop motion for Missing link he said  “The innovations that we’ve come up with on the last four movies have enabled us to come up with solutions for the challenge of making a much bigger movie here. Everything comes from a physical asset and I think that’s how we maintain a believable co-existence of digital and practical.”
      • From script to screen this film took about 5 years.

Sources:

The Historical Case of Pixar

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Welcome back to our month of Animation! So far we have covered animation history, the Disney Exodus, and the beginnings of some of our favorite animation studios. But today we are going to focus on one particular studio that hopped into the animation world back in the mid-1980’s, and completely changed the game. 

Since its first feature film in 1995, Pixar has been a symbol of animation excellence. Not only that, it became known for rich, original storytelling that engaged audiences while pulling on their heartstrings. Although Pixar has been owned by Disney since the mid-2000’s, for the most part it still stands on its own under the mouse-ear umbrella.

Today we’re taking a long look at Pixar Animation Studios; and we’ll start, as always, from the beginning. 

Humble Beginnings

    • Our story begins in 1979, when director George Lucas had an idea.  He wanted to create a company that would work on creating new digital tools.  Among these goals were nonlinear film and sound editing systems, a laser film printer, and further advances within computer graphics.
    • His solution was to create a Computer Division of LucasFilm, dedicated to making these advancements in film technology. He hired Ed Catmull to head the team. 
  • Key Players

    • Ed Catmull
      • Ed wanted to be an animator so he drew a lot but he didn’t believe that he had enough talent. As a young man he went to The University of Utah School of Computing where he took a class.  It was Physics and Computer Science and he fell in love. It married everything he wanted; science, art, and programming all together. Here he would create a short computer animated film of his left hand which would be later featured as the very first use of 3D animation in a live action film.  The film was Futureworld, a science fiction film from 1976.
          • Futureworld is the sequel to Michael Crichton’s Westworld

        • After graduating he was hired by New York Tech to be the leader of a new computer graphics department.  Their goal was to create art using new computer tools and techniques. This is where he developed “Tween,” which gave the ability to draw and paint straight into the computer.
    • Alvy Ray Smith
      • Smith graduated with an M.S.E.E. and P.h.D. in computer science at Stanford University.  In the years 1975-1979 he would be the senior scientist at New York Institute of Science. 
      • In 1980 he was hired on to be the Director of Computer Graphics for the computer division of Lucasfilm.
  • Computer Division’s Graphics Group 

    • In 1982 the Computer Division’s  Graphics Group got to finally show what it was made of.  In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan they put the first completely animated sequence in a feature film.

      • Each new project was a chance to challenge each other. To make both better art and better technology.
        • Lasseter in the 2007 Netflix documentary “The Pixar Story” says “The art Challenges Technology, the technology inspires the art.” 
    • John Lasseter
      • John Lasseter was attending CalArts (founded by Disney) where the teachers were those who came out of retirement to teach- yes some of “The Nine old men” such as Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas.  Some of his classmates were greats like Tim Burton, John Musker, and Brad Bird. The atmosphere was collaborative, fun, and creative. After graduating CalArts in 1979 he was immediately hired by Disney and helped with such films as The Fox and the Hound.  
      • Although there was a big opportunity for computer graphics within film at this time there was also a little bit of fear in it.  Would animators lose their jobs? Would this take away jobs? Lasseter was willing to take the risk and pushed forward to make it happen.
      • He was given the chance to put together (with his team) a storyboard for The Brave Little Toaster in which he would finally get to be a director.  In this movie he would also be able to show off the blending of traditional animation style with that of computer generation. As we talked about last week and before this would not come to be.  After pitching the movie to the head of the studio (Ed Hansen) and being asked how much it would cost, he was told there was no reason to do computer animation unless it cost less than their current methods or was faster.  Approximately 5 minutes after the pitch he was called into Ed Hansen’s office and let go, for his project had been completed. 
      • In 1983 he was asked to do freelance work for Lucas Films’ Computer Graphics Group.  By the following year he was hired full time as an Interface Designer. This title was meant to be looked over and to not draw attention.  He would be their key to character animation.
    • Early Achievements 

      • The Adventures of Andre and Wally B
        • Directed by Alvy Ray Smith, this was the first use of character animation within the computer animation realm. This new type of animation lent itself well to complex characters, hand painted textures, and motion blur.  Motion blur had not been a possibility with traditional animation, which made this computer graphics animation special.
        • When Lasseter conceived  this particular animation he remembered how geometric Mickey Mouse is and realized how well geometric characters would work within computer generated shorts.

          • Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) -Available on Prime Video
            • In this scene a stained glass man comes to life and readies a sword meant to murder the character of Vicar within a church.
            • This scene took a total of a year and a half to make a 31 second scene.
            • It’s Visual Effects were nominated for an Academy Award and many did not know how it was accomplished

    • In order to improve speed and resolution they created the Pixar Image Computer.  This was, at the time, the most powerful graphics computer of its day. It had the ability to convert high resolution imagery into 3D and because of this was implemented in medical imaging and satellite photo analysis.  
      • The team tried to sell this technology in limited markets to stay afloat but ultimately it did not sustain their needs or George Lucas’s attention.
      • Lasseter and Catmull were set on the ultimate goal of making animated films but the budget was just not there.
        • In order to keep the team together Catmull and Alvy Smith convinced Lucas to allow them to branch off from the graphics division and create a new department named after their graphics machine, Pixar.
          • What they needed now was an investor. 
  • Steve Jobs

      • Steve Jobs had been 21 when he co-founded the Apple Computer. By 30 he was a multimillionaire.  While he was still with Apple he met Alan Kay, who told him about Pixar– their history and potential.  They hopped in a limousine and went for a visit to Lucas Film. Jobs met Ed Catmull and believed in him and his dream.   
        • He was Pixar’s financial savior in 1986.  He invested $10 million to launch Pixar.  

PIXAR

    • Now that the team finally had the funding they needed, Lasseter suggested that they make a short film introducing themselves to the world. This manifested into what would become their mascot and symbol of optimism and determination.  It was of course “Luxo Jr.” 
      • Lasseter wanted to build upon the geometric ideas of The Adventures of Andre and Wally B and keep the integrity of an object’s movement.  As he was staring at a traditional Luxo lamp, he began to play around with it and thus the idea came.   
        • It was the first three dimensional computer animated film to be nominated for an Oscar and John Lasseter’s directorial debut.
        • After success with Luxo Jr the team starts to produce more shorts such as…
          • “Red’s Dream” about a unicycle that wanted to perform in the circus.
          • 1988’s “Tin Toy” where a wind up toy is victimized by a baby.
            • In 1989, it became the first 3D animated short film to win an Oscar
          • 1989’s “Knick Knack” about a snow globe snowman who essentially just wants to party.
      • Disney attempted to hire Lasseter back after each new short film he made. Lasseter suggested that he could just make a film for Disney while at Pixar, but Disney insisted that all Disney animated films will always be made at Disney.
        • What changed their mind was Tim Burton. Burton (while employed at Disney) developed an idea for The Nightmare Before Christmas. Burton went on to become a successful live-action director and tried to buy the idea back from Disney. They eventually asked him to simply make the film for them. This opened the door for John and Pixar to show what these niche animated films could really do.
    • Commercials
      • During the 1990’s in order for Pixar to make money they started to do what anyone would. Commercials.  Not for themselves but for companies such as Trident, Listerine, and Tropicana. In order to streamline this process they hired two recent graduates from CalArt: Pete Docter and Andrew Stanton, who would later go on to direct some of Pixar’s later films.
      • As they continued to produce commercials, they got their first agreement with Disney in 1991.  The agreement stated that they were “to make and distribute at least one computer-generated animated movie.”  Pixar then began to work on what would eventually become Toy Story.
        • Toy Story went on to be a huge hit, making over $363 million worldwide. As traditional hand-drawn animation was becoming less profitable, attention would quickly turn to Pixar as the future of the industry.
          • The next big step would be to figure out how often they needed to produce a film in order to sustain the studio. Lawrence Levy, whom Steve Jobs had hired as the Chief Financial Officer, said in his 2016 book that  “Another option was to release a film every eighteen months. We could still hit the two big release windows, a summer release one year, a winter release the next, although the financial numbers did not work as well as they would if we released a film every year. We would need big hits, and any disappointment would hurt more. But we could make a case that a film every eighteen months might work, and this is where we compromised.”
      • In 1996 after putting out Toy Story, Pixar announced that it would cease making commercials in order to focus on making feature length films. 

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  • The Lunch

    • In 1994, Pixar was finishing up Toy Story. As the question of what would come next loomed above their heads, director John Lasseter and writers Pete Docter, Joe Ranft, and Andrew Stanton went out to lunch for a brainstorming session.
    • During this meeting, the men came up with the rough ideas and sketches for the Pixar films that would astound audiences for years to come: A Bug’s Life, Monster’s Inc, Finding Nemo, and WALL-E.
      • Those four movies made nearly 1 billion dollars, and were together nominated for 15 Oscars.
    • Andrew Stanton was quoted saying, “There was something special that happened when John, Joe, Pete and I would get in a room. Whether it was furthering an idea or coming up with something, we just brought out the best in each other.”
    • A Bug’s Life
      • Pixar’s follow-up to Toy Story was meant to be an epic about a small world; they specifically wanted a new story instead of a Toy Story sequel, because they wanted to be inspired by new characters and ideas.
      • It borrowed from the Aesop fable: The Ant and the Grasshopper. 
      • The movie was a critical and box office success and cemented Pixar’s status as an animation giant.
    • Monster’s Inc
      • In 2001, Monsters Inc brought storytelling at Pixar to a new level. They had shown audiences the perspective of our toys, and the point of view from the ants on the ground. Now, audiences got to see the world through the eyes of the monsters that hide in our closets.
      • The creator’s behind Monsters Inc were tasked with creating an entirely different world. This was the first Pixar movie to do this! 
      • Directed by Pete Docter, Monsters Inc also seemed to hold a new level of emotion that the other films had just touched on. When you ask someone who grew up with Monsters Inc, they often cite it as a movie that makes them emotional, something Pixar is now known for. 
    • Finding Nemo                   
      • Released in 2005 it included a re-mastered version of “Knick-Knack” at the beginning and was directed by Andrew Stanton.
      • The supporting characters were drawn with inspiration from classic movies.  Examples would be Gil had Clint Eastwood’s squint, Bloat was based on George Kennedy’s character in Cool Hand Luke, and the Tank Gang borrowed the neuroses of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. 
      • The drop off was both metaphorical and real.  It required Nemo’s dad to brave the unknown outside his home and the terrifying reality of how deep the ocean truly is.
    • WALL-E
      • Wall-E performs the entire first act of the film alone, a feat that no other Pixar character has been tasked with. The filmmakers gave him enough personality through pantomime that audiences fell in love with the little robot by the time more characters were introduced. 
      • Filmmakers used a Star Wars film veteran Ben Burtt to help with the sound design, because every noise was part of Wall-E’s language. 

Conclusion

  • We will cover more about Pixar and its evolution as a film studio some other time. Heck, we might even do some episodes about their specific films! *hint hint* 
  • But, until then, just remember that with hard work and 10 million dollars, you can make anything happen!

Sources

The Case of the Disney Exodus

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Hey everyone, welcome back to our series on Animation! Last week, we ended on a high (ho) note with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This week, we’re continuing to look at the development of other major animated film studios. 

There was a time when Walt Disney Studios ruled over all others in terms of animation. Even as other studios created valuable work, Disney was constantly thought of as the leader in animation techniques and innovation. It was THE studio to work for as an animator, and no other seemed to rival it. 

But, all fairy-tales must end, even for Disney. Today, we are talking about The Disney Exodus; an event that took place over the course of a few decades, but ultimately occured in the late-70’s and early 80’s, when animators left the studio to pursue other projects–taking their skills and ideas with them. Before we start discussing the Exodus, let’s take a look at The Disney Era. 

The time period of 1928 – 1941 is often known as The Golden Age of animation. To some, it’s also called “The Disney Era.” During this time, there were more technological advancements in animation than any other time period. To put this into perspective, this era starts with Steamboat Willie and ends with the breathtaking “Fantasia.” It only took Disney’s studio 12 years to make these advancements, and the world took notice. 

It’s important to recognize that part of this achievement came from Disney’s willingness to sacrifice profit to make his films the best they could be. 

  • One example of this is “The Skeleton Dance.” Disney could have easily stuck to making Mickey cartoons, but his ambition led him to show audiences a glimpse of what animated storytelling could be. This was a mood piece, vastly different from the thousands of cartoons that audiences were used to, and it planted the seeds for Fantasia and other films to come.     

While Disney was focusing on realism, other studios continued to animate in a more cartoonish style. Because animation is an incredibly broad topic, we will talk about the Studio cartoons some other time! 

Disney’s Silver Age

Throughout the 40’s & 50’s, Disney’s studio experienced its silver age, with classics such as Peter Pan, The Lady and the Tramp, and of course Sleeping Beauty. Even if the stories or characters seemed flat at times, it was the animation that lifted them up. In Charles Solomon’s book, “Enchanted Drawings,” he describes the scene of Maleficent’s dragon: 

  • “Maleficent hurls herself across the sky as a glittering pinwheel of fire, landing before him in a burst of flame. She shouts a wrathful invocation in her commanding voice, and the chartreuse fires that surround her explode into a mighty column of flame, higher than the turrets of the castle. The black form of the sorceress, darkly silhouetted against the fire, twists and elongates. The shadow waxes and solidifies, as if evil itself were coalescing in that inferno, and becomes an enormous dragon with a terrible horned head and glowing yellow eyes.”  
  • The mastery that Disney’s animators demonstrated in scenes like this is the reason that the studio became synonymous with animation over all the other projects they were attempting at the time.
  • Disney is responsible for elevating the standard of draftsmanship, and their realism in animation was unparalleled. No other studio came close to having their influence. For a while, Walt Disney Studios was the king of animation. 

The Disney Strike of 1941 & UPA

  • When we talk about The Disney Exodus, we often mean what happened with the studio in the early 1980’s. But, more studios were born from disgruntled Disney animators than we might realize.
  • Remember how we said that no one rivaled Disney’s influence? Well, one studio came very close. 
    • United Productions of America or UPA challenged Disney’s realism and incorporated social commentary. Not to mention, they infused experimental graphics in their work
    • Today we know of UPA for its most popular character–Mr Quincy Magoo. In the early 1960’s, UPA created the first animated Christmas special, “Mr Magoo’s Christmas Carol.”
    • In 1941, there was a strike at Disney among young men that were interested in the graphic arts, and they thought that animation could be used as a tool for social reform. They were unhappy with the restrictive, Academic style of drawing at Disney, with familiar fairy tales and an emphasis on humor. One member of this group–Bill Melendez–would one day be responsible for bringing Charlie Brown to life in A Charlie Brown Christmas! 
      • These animators eventually formed or joined UPA, which won an oscar for Gerald McBoing-Boing.
      • Cultural critic Gilbert Seldes described UPA, “Every time you see one of their animated cartoons you are likely to recapture the sensation you had when you first saw, ‘Steamboat Willie,’ the early Silly Symphonies, ‘The Band Concert’–the feeling that something new and wonderful has happened, something almost too good to be true.” 
      • UPA had its own style, but it’s important to note that it wasn’t as uniform as Disney. You could see the different influences from individual animators, and the varying degrees of light to heavy subject matter. They even did a short of The Tell-tale Heart!
      • Columbia shut down the animation house in 1949, and sold it to producer Henry Saperstein. He turned it into an TV studio.

The Death of Disney–an abrupt end to the Silver Age

  • The death of Disney caused a shift in the studio, as it would be expected. The films made by Disney leading up to that point were the work of many different creative people, but they all stemmed from Disney’s vision. The films were somewhat uniform, with a signature style and storytelling that animators were not able to vary from drastically. Variances started to appear in the following years, known as the bronze age or the dark age. 
  • Disney’s death ushered in new leadership that struggled to fill his shoes; the company and its films would never be the same. 
    • Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966.
    • Walt left behind future plans that carried the company for a few years under the supervision of Roy Disney. The Jungle Book and  The Aristocats showed that the company could still make great animation. However it was not the same dynamic company it once was. 
      • The Jungle book is considered to be the end of the Silver Age, mostly because it was the last film that Disney touched before he passed away 
    • Roy did make sure that Walt’s “Florida Project” would come to fruition in 1971, but EPCOT (Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow) never came to be. EPCOT as we know it is not what Walt had in mind.
      • As for the movie business, from the late 60’s on, Disney survived in a lackluster way. There were even rumors that the company would be broken up and sold. 
      • Because the company had leaned so heavily into theme parks and live action films, when Walt’s creativity was gone, there was little “magic” left. This was the feeling for many for almost 20 years.

Don Bluth

  • In 1971, Don Bluth was hired as an animator at Disney. Disney had been gone for 5 years, and the studio had been putting animation on the back-burner so to speak. Live-action films were financially successful, and animation cost a lot of money to produce. Gone was the fearless leader that didn’t mind losing money for quality and new advancements.
    • Many of the animators didn’t question their work, but because he actually first started working for Disney in 1955, he had seen the way the studio worked before Walt had died, and longed for that leadership. 
      • Bluth said in an interview with Steve Henderson that  “Everyone was asking ‘What would Walt have done?’ Which is a strange thing for an artist to say.”  
      • Bluth worked on Robin Hood and The Rescuers and stayed on at Disney for 8 years. One detail that bothered Bluth while animating The Rescuers was that they were instructed not to paint the whites of their eyes because it would cost too much money. 
        • In the 1970’s, the 9 Old Men–the men known for animating Disney’s Golden Age films–were beginning to retire. There was no mentorship, and as these men left, so did their secrets of creating beautiful animation. 
          • This loss in trade secrets bothered Bluth, as the studio didn’t seem interested in re-learning them. Bluth and a fellow animator named Gary Goldman, knew that they would be expected to take leadership roles in the coming years. So, in order to get directing experience, they started their own project in Bluth’s garage called, “Banjo the Woodpile Cat.” 
          • Don Bluth described it, We would look at the old stuff, such as the beautiful water in Fantasia and ask Frank Thomas (one of the “Nine Old Men”) “How did you do that?” and he’d say “I can’t remember, did anyone write it down?” Little things like that would keep happening and we realized we were losing the war with art so we went out and pioneered again to see if we could discover what they had forgotten to tell us.
          • The men used their own equipment, and Bluth pulled animators from Disney for help. Some claim that this project caused a division between the animators at the studio, while Bluth maintains that the atmosphere at Disney was already toxic. He says that no matter how much he tried to bring the heart back to Disney Studios, the corporate side only wanted to make money. 
  • We left because the corporate structure was just too calcified and we couldn’t fix it, we knew they would be angry when we left, and call us traitors and everything else but we knew we had to, to try to resurrect what was beautiful and what Walt believed in and so that is why we left.”-Bluth
    • In September of 1979, Bluth and Goldman left Disney. They took 16 animators with them, delaying the animated studio’s current projects by a year. Their goal was to create a studio that rivaled Disney animation in such a way, that Disney would work harder to bring heart and soul back to their animated films
    • Bluth and Goldman’s first full-length animated film was The Secret of NIMH, an animated treasure that was tonally and visually darker than anything Disney had produced at the time. This film was a major success for the studio because it showed critics that this small, rival studio could compete with an animation giant such as Disney. It was, however, a commercial failure. 
      • A New York Times article said of the film: It’s just this ”old-fashioned” look -rich, fully detailed, opulent and painstakingly achieved – that Messrs. Bluth, Goldman and Pomeroy have sought to recreate, and in this respect, ”The Secret of N.I.M.H.” is something of a technical and stylistic triumph.
      • In the mid-1980s, Bluth teamed up with a man named Morris Sullivan who stepped in just as the studio went bankrupt, and they formed Sullivan Bluth Studios.
        • Sullivan saved the day by investing in the studio. Without him, we wouldn’t have films like The Land Before Time or Anastasia. 
      • Just as Sullivan Bluth was surging back, famed film director Stephen Spielberg approached the studio in the hopes that they could make an animated film. This was even worse news for Disney, as they were losing their place as the leader in animation. 
        • Together, Sullivan Bluth and Steven Spielberg made An American Tale, the highest grossing non-Disney animated film at the time. It even beat Disney’s current release, “The Great Mouse Detective”! 
      • Disney started working to get their footing back with animation, but nothing could stop Bluth and Goldman from making more successful films throughout the 80’s and 90’s. 
        • Spielberg’s success with Bluth also led him to create his own animation studio, Amblin, with releases like “We’re Back,” and “Balto.”

The Mouse-dom Strikes Back 

  • When we last left Disney, their animation studio was falling apart. Some of their best animators had quit, production was delayed, and some feared that this was the end. 
  • In came Michael Eisner (CEO)  and his partner Frank Wells (President)
    • They could see the untapped potential that Disney still had and set about revitalizing the company. 
    • Despite their initial efforts, Disney saw one of its darkest moments with “The Black Cauldron.” It was a financial and critical failure. Not only had the studio lost respect in the animation world, average movie-goers were looking at Disney a little differently.
      • Imagine how we feel right now about Disney animation. When we see a Disney movie is coming out, we all expect good reviews and box office records. This was not the case in the 1980s. 
  • While the studio was staging its comeback, a new film was set to go into production with animator John Lasseter to direct. Lasseter approached the powers in charge and pitched for a film that was a combination of computer and hand-drawn animation. According to Lasseter, they were not interested in this idea since it would not cost any less. They seemed to only want to use a new process if it increased the cost-efficiency of the project. 
    • After that meeting, Lasseter was fired. He was then hired full time at The Computer Division Graphics Group–an early name for PIXAR.
    • Much of the team that worked on The Brave Little Toaster would go on to work at PIXAR as well–some consider it to be a spiritual prequel to Toy Story.

Lack of Teamwork Makes the Dreamworks

    • In 1984, Michael Eisner hired Jeffrey Katzenberg to run the animation studios. During his tenure, Katzenberg put Disney animation back on the map and created what is known as the “disney Renaissance.” 
      • It’s important to note that animation was not the only thing that made the films of the renaissance so successful, but it appeared that the studio was returning to its roots. Before the release of The Little Mermaid, the studio was closer than ever to shutting down.
    • Producing what some call the best Disney movies of all time, such as The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), and The Lion King (1994). 
      • During this time Frank Wells kept the peace between Eisner and Katzenberg, being essentially their counselor as well as colleague.  
        • Disney was doing so well that Katzenberg naturally wanted to advance his career within the company. There was a back and forth as to whether Katzenberg would be leaving the company before the end of his contract or not. There was also a lot of discussion about the amount of money he would be given or giving up if he left.
        • Katzenberg has said that Eisner promised him the position of President if Wells ever left the position in pursuit of another job. According to Katzenberg he said “If for any reason Frank is not here … you are the number-two person and I want you to have the job.”
      • When Wells tragically passed away due to a helicopter accident, tension came to a boil between Katzenberg and Eisner.  
        • Eisner made the decision to eliminate the position of President and force Katzenberg into resignation. He hired two people to take his place; Joe Roth and Richard Frank.
        • Katzenberg later sued the DIsney company and cost them $270 million dollars.
      • Once he was let go from Disney he formed a studio called Dreamworks SKG  with David Geffen and Steven Spielberg. All of whom called Eisner “Machiavellian.” 
        • This is where the story gets interesting.  According to Steve Jobs and John Lasseter, of Pixar, they had pitched the movie concept for “A Bug’s Life” before Katzenberg left Disney. Katzenberg still claims today that he knew nothing about their pitch. His claim is a little hard to believe since Dreamworks’ first movie was “Antz” which had a very similar storyline and name. Recently some new light was shed by Chris Weitz, a writer behind Antz. In an interview with Huffpost he said “We didn’t know that there was that much of a race [to the box office] until late in the process,” he explained, “when it turned out there had even been a fake schedule, which had us completing after ‘Bug’s Life’ was going to be released. We’d been working on this accelerated pace without really knowing exactly why.”
          • Antz ended up beating A Bug’s life to theaters by just over a month in 1998 but made less in ticket sales worldwide.
        • While working on Antz, Dreamworks had also been working on what we would say is their crown jewel.  Released just a few months after Antz, The Prince of Egypt was a project Katzenberg had wanted to do for a long time but had not been able to undertake with Eisner at Disney. We discussed this amazing movie in our Top 10 Non-Disney Animated Classics.
        • Since its beginning Dreamworks has shown that it can and will compete with the Disney machine. They have produced such memorable movies such as Shrek, The Road to El Dorado, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, and Madagascar. 
          • Katzenberg  said in an interview that their mission statement is that they “make movies for adults, and the adult that exists in every child.”

If the Disney Exodus teaches us anything, it’s to recognize our own talent and worth. Imagine if these people never spoke out about their ideas? These men picked a battle with a giant, and because of that, we have a much more diverse catalog of animation today. 

In the fight of Disney VS Bluth or Katzenberg, neither side could be declared triumphant. Instead, the audiences that get to share in animation and storytelling are the winners. 

Sources:

Shaun of the Case

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Love them or hate them, zombie movies have their place in cinematic history. These films featuring the living dead have been around as early as the 1930’s. Not long after that, however, a new genre appeared: The Zombie Comedy. Zombies themselves are often thought of as political commentary, which makes them a perfect vehicle for satire. 

In 2004, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg utilized the zombie concept and created Shaun of the Dead: a modern Zom-Rom-Com about an uninspired man leading an uneventful life until he’s faced with a zombie apocalypse. Shaun of the Dead became an instant classic, developing its own zombie-like following that has stayed strong for the last 16 years! It introduced American audiences to Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright and they have managed to stay fairly prominent ever since. 

So this week come join us at the Winchester where we will have a nice cold pint and discuss how Shaun of the Dead will never blow over. 

History

  • Directed by Edgar Wright
    • Now considered one of the most original filmmakers of the 21st century, this movie made Edgar Wright a household name. Later on he directed classics like “Scott Pilgrim VS The World,” “Baby Driver,” and the other two films in the Cornetto trilogy: “Hot Fuzz” and “The World’s End” 
    • Before Shaun of the Dead, he directed “Spaced,” a UK comedy that also featured Simon Pegg and Nick Frost 
  • Written by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg
    • They met while working on the British TV series Asylum.  They soon bonded over their love for films such as Dawn of the Dead, An American Werewolf in London(1981), and Invasion of the Body Snatchers(1978.)  These would later be used as inspiration for Shaun of the Dead.
    • They said that the hardest scenes to write were the relationship scenes between Shaun and Liz. This was because they had to keep Liz as a strong character that was responsible but not seem like she was nagging or annoying.  They thought Kate Ashfield did an awesome job with keeping a balance.

Summary

  • Shaun is a salesman at an electronic supply store. He lives somewhat of a boring life, has commitment issues, and enjoys the occasional pint with his best mate at The Winchester (a local pub). 
  • Shaun isn’t very invested in everyone around him. So, he manages to not immediately notice when the world suddenly plunges into a zombie apocalypse. Terrified for his life and family, Shaun devises a full-proof plan to get him, his girlfriend, his friends, and his mum through the end of the world. 

Starring

  • Simon Pegg/ Shaun
    • Cornetto Trilogy
    • Star Trek as Scotty in the 2009 Reboot
    • Ready Player 1
  • Kate Ashfield/ Liz
    • In the 2019 Sanditon 
  • Nick Frost/ Ed
    • Cornetto Trilogy
    • Into the Badlands
    • Fighting With my Family 
    • Tintin (2011)
    • Pirate Radio
  • Lucy Davis/ Dianne
    • Wonder Woman
    • The Office (The British one)
  • Dylan Moran/ David
    • Black Books
  • Peter Serafinowicz/ Pete
    • The Tick
    • Rick and Morty
  • Bill Nighy/ Phillip
    • Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
    • Love Actually 
    • Pirates of the Caribbean 
  • Penelope Wilton/ Mum-Barbara
    • Dr. Who as Harriet Jones MP for Flydale North
    • Downton Abbey

Making of

  • After Pegg and Wright pitched the movie to Film4 Productions, the company cut back on its budget which left the movie without a production company. Wright believed in the film and wanted it to get made, so he didn’t take other directing jobs while he focused on getting financing. He had to borrow money from friends, including Simon Pegg. 
  • The movie borrows the film style from George Romero’s Dead movies (Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead.) 
    • Because of this, Pegg and Wright reached out to the legendary director for his blessing, which he gave! He even had Pegg and Wright in one of his movies in 2005! 
  • The ambiance of the film was not meant to be the nighttime scary horror movie.  They were going for more of a hungover Sunday morning vibe.
    • But they did have all the zombies in muted colors and no primary colors.
    • Simon Pegg however was to wear the same uniform the entire movie and said that he pretty much quote, “Ended up having one shirt that was held together by Febreze.” This was of course for continuity.
    • Fun fact is that the Cornetto ice cream was included because Edgar Wright in college had used Cornetto ice cream as a hangover cure and so he thought it would be funny for Ed to use it as such after their drunken escapade the night before getting over Liz.
  • Some of the scenes such as in The Winchester, were shot in Ealing Studios where things like the 1930’s Birds of Prey and a lot of Doctor Who was shot as well.
  • In the scene when Shaun walks in and you just see feet and his shadow it is a small nod to the end credits of Day of the Dead.
  • Simple callbacks such as Pete in the bathroom mirror before/after being a zombie is what makes this movie so great.
  • The first scene at Shaun’s there is an ash-tray on the coffee table that they ended up deciding was a bit racist and not PC so it is only in that scene.  It was a black baby with a sombrero on it’s back. Supposedly when it was released in America it may have been CGI’d out according to Pegg and Wright. 
  • After Shaun and Liz split up Ed consoles him at the bar by saying, “We’ll have a Bloody Mary first thing, have a bite at the King’s Head, couple at the Little Princess, stagger back here. Bang! Back at the bar for shots.”  This parallels what happens the rest of the movie. Bloody Mary ends up being the shop worker Mary who is a zombie the next morning, bite at the King’s head is going to kill Phillip, picking up Liz and the others, stagger as zombies back to the bar, and then “shots” refer to the gunshots at the bar at the end.
  • The shop scene where Phillip comes in to talk to Shaun was one of the few scenes done in one take and so they had to time the army trucks going by perfectly which was difficult but they achieved it!
  • In the scene with the zombie Mary, and who Pegg and Wright refer to as “The Hulk,”  some of the records that were “thrown” at the zombies were CG and some were rubber.
  • In the scene where Phillip transforms in the car and they are surrounded by zombies Simon Pegg actually punches Nick Frost in the shoulder and legit hurts him.
  • Actual tears were shed on set for the death of one character.  Barbara’s death caused Pegg and Frost to tear up as if it was their own mom’s death.  When this scene was shot over half the movie had been done and so everyone was already tired and emotional which brought an even bigger charge to the scene.
  • When Liz, Ed, and Shaun are trapped in the cellar it is meant to be dark and depressing in order to make it seem that this is the ending.

Received/ Impact/ Thoughts

  • The film has a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, 7.9 on IMDB, and 76% on Metacritic. 
  • “Instead of focusing on the Undead and trying to get the laughs there, it treats the living characters as sitcom regulars whose conflicts and arguments keep getting interrupted by annoying flesh-eaters.” – Roger Ebert
  • The movie has an opening of 1.6 million pounds in the UK. It made 3.3 million USD opening weekend and over 30 million worldwide during its run. 

Special Covid-19 Plan

Sources

The Case of the Princess Bride

 

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Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles.  Doesn’t sound too bad right?

Today we’re talking about the greatest love story ever told. It tells of a love so pure it can be simplified to three words: As You Wish. “The Princess Bride” galloped, soared, and lept into theatres in the fall of 1987 and has left a lasting mark on American culture ever since. So gather close and get ready for some adventure–and don’t worry–this isn’t a kissing movie. 

History

The Book

  • Yes believe it or not the movie is based on William Goldman’s book of the same name. He luckily also supplied us with the screenplay for the film as well.
  • Goldman was a master story-teller. His range varied from dramas, westerns, war, fantasy, horror, and much more. 
  • Movies such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid(1969) and  All the President’s Men(1976) won him best original screenplay and best adapted screenplay.
    • Surprisingly his first try at writing screenplays was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid.  It was bought by Twentieth Century Fox for (at the time) a record breaking $400,000.
    • In an NPR article he reportedly told the New York Times back in 1979 that “I’m not a screenwriter, I’m a novelist who writes screenplays.”  This of course was after he had already written and adapted a whopping 10 screenplays including The Stepford Wives(1975) and Marathon Man(1976).  He would later go on to adapt Stephen King’s novel Misery in 1990 and co-wrote Chaplin starring Robert Downey Jr. in 1992.
    • When writing his book about the Hollywood industry titled Adventures in the Screen Trade it came with a quote in the beginning that simply said “Nobody knows anything.” Now isn’t that the truth? 

In his original forward to the book he discusses how his father read S. Morgenstern’s book when he was sick in bed from Pneumonia. He describes himself as a boy that loved sports and not books, so when his father wanted to read him the Princess Bride he naturally asked if it had any good sports in it.  His father replied; “Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad Men. Good men. Beautifulest ladies. Snakes. Spiders. Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passions. Miracles.”

Goldman was able to fool a lot of people into thinking that this was actually an abridgment of a book by S. Morgenstern (who does not exist.) He had so many people fooled that there is a scene that he does not include in the book that tens of thousands of people wrote to him asking him for it.  He had a reply that he would send saying that Morgenstern’s lawyers would not allow it. The scene was the reunion between Buttercup and Westley.

The letter to readers can be found here…..  https://www.hmhco.com/~/media/sites/princessbride/goldman-princess-bride-response-letter.pdf?la=en

Goldman had such a way that he was able to blend making fun of stories such as these while also reveling in the story.

He didn’t know how to rescue Westley when he was writing the book.  When Goldman realized he could not save Westley and wrote the words that he lay dead next to the machine Goldman cried and couldn’t believe what he had done.  This book is very special to him.

Making of

Rob Reiner after doing the Spinal Tap and The Sure Thing realized that people make movies from books and so he thought about ones that he enjoyed and called Goldman hoping to make his and found out that Goldman had been trying for years to make this movie a reality.  Goldman had thought it would never be made into a movie.

When at the first table read which was when Mandy and Andre met and were going over their lines for the scene when Inigo is being nursed back to health Andre was saying his lines really slow. Mandy would tell “Fezzik” faster! But each time he would say it at the same slow pace.  Finally Mandy shouted “faster Fezzik!”and slapped Andre. It worked because Andre got better at his lines and was able to concentrate more.

The entire movie was really shot in England with their base being Sheffield. The one shot that was filmed in LA was the close-up of the grandfather played by Peter Faulk saying “As you wish” at the end.

  • Scenes:

    • The Shrieking Eels
      •  This scene was done in a tank where they used forced perspective to create the illusion of the boat that was gaining on them.
    • Cliffs of Insanity
      • These were done using a combination of a matte painting, a sound stage for close-ups when they climb, and the actual Cliffs of Moore in Ireland.
    • The Duel Sequence
      •  Not only is this an awesome scene to watch because you have Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black fighting but also because in all the sword fighting shots it is the actual actors of Carey Elwes and Mandy Patinkin. The only instances it is stunt doubles is when they do their flips or jumps.  Anytime there was down-time on set these two would practice.
    • Battle of Wits
      • “You’ve fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well known is this; never go in against a Sicilian, when death is on the line!” Is a small jab at the Vietnam war.
    • Fire Swamp- 
      • The swamp was the most expensive.  When her dress caught fire, even though he knew it was going to happen, William Goldman screamed her dress was on Fire!
      • Always a discussion about how much blood there should be. You need it to be good for adults and kids. There was a lot of talk before shooting the swamp scenes about this.
      • The voices of the ROUS’s were done by Rob Reiner with added technical changes.
      • One of the guys in the rat suit had been pulled over and booked and so they had to go and get him out to shoot the scene. (Took inspiration from Douglas Fairbanks movies)
      • After the fire swamp Chris Guest actually does hit Elwes on the head so they had to stop shooting and take him to the hospital
    • Mawwiage Scene
      • Mawiaage is what bwings us togever twoday. It came from a very famous Chicago Rabbi that Goldman could not remember the name of. He was at a wedding when he was a boy and got the giggles because the Rabbi said “A Dweam within a Dweam.”
    • Inigo Montoya Famous line
      • Mandy Patinkin did not think that this line would be as big as it is today.  The line at the time did strike a chord with Mandy Patinkin because he lost his father to cancer. So in that scene it was like he killed the cancer that got his dad.
    • The Ending Credits 
      • Reiner thought that with the kind of movie that it was the best kind of credits to go along with the movie are what is called Curtain Call Credits where they clip from the movie with the actor and then a close-up with their name credit and character name.

Starring

  • Cary Elwes/ Westley and the Man in Black
    • His idea to have the little mustache
  • Robin Wright/ Buttercup
  • Mandy Patinkin/ Inigo Montoya you killed my father….sorry habit lol
  • Wallace Shawn/ Vizzini
    • The Iocane Powder Scene was the first one shot with Wally Shawn.  He was convinced after that first day that they were going to fire him but Reiner loved his performance.
  • Andre the Giant/ Fezzik
    • He didn’t really read so Rob Reiner recorded his lines on a tape so that Andre could memorize them that way.
    • Andre’s back was not in good condition which made scenes like where he fights the man in black and catching the pretty lady difficult.  They had to have doubles, boards, and rigs to help with the weight.
  • Billy Crystal/ Miracle Max
  • Carol Kane/Valerie
  • Chris Sarandon/ Prince Humperdinck
  • Christopher Guest/ Count Rugen
  • Fred Savage/ The Grandson
  • Peter Falk/ The Grandfather

How it was received/ Impact it had on us and others

  • Money
    • The estimated budget for the film was 16 million.
    • They weren’t sure how to sell it because it includes so many genres so…
      • The opening weekend was only about $206,000 and the gross in the USA was almost 31 million dollars.  So overall the film did OK in sales.
    • It really hit it’s stride when it came onto home video and took off like a rocket.

Sources

Todd and Pitts

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I’ve heard it my whole life, from people I know and those I don’t. It’s a short phrase, one that ignites a fire in me every time I hear it: Women aren’t funny. 

Every once in a while, a movie will come out that “proves” the hilarity of women. Bridesmaids, Mean Girls, Girls Trip, and Booksmart all made it to the top of the list in terms of groundbreaking female-led comedies. These movies did not only showcase women in comedic roles, they were written by women as well (although Girls Trip was co-written by a man). 

But, women have been making audiences laugh for a long time, even if it doesn’t seem that way. In the silent film era, female comedians like Mabel Normand wrote and directed comedic films and starred alongside Charlie Chaplin and the Keystone Cops. Some of the comedic women from this era made a successful transition to talkies, such as the innovative and hilarious duo Zasu Pitts and Thelma Todd. 

Today we are going to discuss how this duo came to be, the lives of the individual women, and their lasting impact.  

https://www.amazon.com/Roach-Comedy-Shorts-Thelma-Pitts/dp/1476672555

History

  • Zasu Pitts and Thelma Todd were the first major female comedy team, with shorts produced by Hal Roach Studios.
    • Hal Roach Studios was a Television and Motion Picture studio
      • It was the greatest comedy studio of the 1930s, though people tended to look down on comedy shorts as not real cinema.
      • Patsy Kelly, who worked for Hal Roach, said that he was the best boss she had ever had.
    • It was known for teaming up Laurel and Hardy, as well as the group of children that would become known as The Little Rascals. 
    • Ever since Hal Roach struck gold with Laurel and Hardy, he wanted to create a female counterpart. He had had success with female comedians in the past, and it seemed like a no-brainer that audiences would embrace two funny leading ladies.
      • The issue with the male-led comedies was that women weren’t finding their slapstick antics very funny. In the 1930s, the majority of women felt that  their job was to keep order in households and in daily lives.
      • Film critic Leonard Maltin pointed out, “Comediennes cannot use the same material as comedians and get the same results.” Whether or not you agree with this sentiment, it seems to be a prevailing belief in the film industry, especially since the time of Pitts and Todd.
    • Pitts and Todd weren’t the first women that Roach teamed up, but they were the first ones that got the attention of the masses. 
    • Together they made 17 two-reel comedies before Pitts left the studio and was replaced by Patsy Kelly.

Before we talk about the shorts themselves, let’s take a look at their lives

  • Zasu Pitts
    • Zazu Pitts’ name was Eliza Susan Pitts. Her nickname came from the last syllable of her first name and the first syllable of her middle name. I’ve heard it many different ways, but she insisted that it was pronounced (Say-Soo) and that is how Thelma pronounces it in the shorts.
    • Zasu was a shy child, but she was encouraged to join the theatre to overcome her shyness. She learned quickly that her nervous facial expressions and mannerisms would be great for comedy!
    • At age 21, she went to Hollywood and made a name for herself in comedy and drama. Her forlorn expression was especially helpful in dramatic productions, though her drama career did not last. 
      • Some, even Zasu herself, thought that her shy demeanor and “unglamorous” looks were negative qualities. Zasu took those parts of herself and used them to advance her career in comedy.
    • By the mid 1920’s, Zasu was a well-established  actress. In 1924, she appeared in 10 films alone. One of them was “Greed” an epic drama. The director of that film believed she was the greatest dramatic actress at the time and claimed it was a tragedy every time she was cast in a comedy. 
    • But, when movies made the transition to sound, Pitts couldn’t seem to continue as a dramatic actress. She was even replaced in “All Quiet on the Western Front” when she unintentionally made the audience laugh.
    • Pitts leaned in to comedy, and made the best of a bad situation. She appeared in shorts and comedic features until 1931 when she got paired with the bombshell comedian Thelma Todd.
  • Thelma Todd
    • After the death of her brother when she was just four-years-old, Thelma Alice Todd wanted to be one of the boys to replace the son her parents lost. She was naturally funny and wanted to become a teacher, but after she won Miss Massachusetts in 1925, she was discovered by a talent scout and invited to study acting at The Paramount School in New York.
    • After appearing in an Ed Wynn comedy in 1927, she made her first Hollywood film. 
    • Her career was jeopardized when she was propositioned at a Hollywood party, and fired from a movie because she said no. (#metoo?) 
    • Just as silent films became talkies, the freelancing Todd found her way to Hal Roach Studio where she was cast in the first Laurel and Hardy talkie “Unaccustomed As We Are.” 
    • Over the next few years, Todd found success alongside other comedians like Charley Chase and Harry Langdon until Zasu Pitts found her way to Hal Roach in 1931.
  • Pitts & Todd
    • Hal Roach believed that Thelma’s brash, confident demeanor would play well off the shy Zasu. When the actresses met, they immediately became friends and filming was easy-going on the sets. By the time these women worked together, Pitts was a screen veteran and Todd an established comedian. Both knew what their skills were, both knew their characters as well as themselves. 
    • Thelma played the wise girl, often finding a way to get them out of trouble. Zasu was the less intelligent, innocent woman who often got them into trouble. 
    • Both women wanted the freedom to be in other projects, and Hal Roach granted that for them.
    • In an era of The Three Stooges and Marx Brothers, these two women broke new ground in comedy. Audiences saw these women in a new way. Remember when we said that women of the 1930s didn’t appreciate slapstick? Well, these two presented physical comedy in service of the female narrative. Although the shorts were still written by men, it was really the female leads that made them successful. 
    • The storylines may seem dated today, but by and large they are still relatable. Thelma and Zasu are two “modern” women just trying to survive in the big city. They have jobs, troubles with men, and almost never troubles with each other. They support each other, and they aren’t overly sexual or ditzy. These are women that could be living today. 
    • So, let’s talk about three of our favorite shorts from these two: Let’s Do Things (1931) On The Loose (1931) and Bargain of the Century (1933)
      • Let’s Do Things
        • Directed by Hal Roach himself, this was their first short.
        • This is a great example of how the women were there for each other. Thelma urges Zasu to find out what her boyfriend intends for her. She ultimately stands up for Zasu after being treated horribly by men.
      • On the Loose
        • Also directed by Hal Roach, this short had a cameo appearance from Laurel and Hardy!
        • This is an example of the women as a team, collectively agreeing that they are both tired of Coney Island. This short has great lines that poke fun at the attention that Todd gets over Pitts for her looks. The women both fulfill the wise woman role, getting the best of the men that take them to Coney Island. They are in this together, Pitts didn’t get them into trouble this time. 
      • Bargain of the Century 
        • Directed by Charley Chase, in this short the girls get a cop fired and spend the rest of the short trying to get him re-hired so he will stop living with them. 

After 17 shorts together, Zasu left Hal Roach studio. She was soon replaced with Patsy Kelly who in her own right was very funny alongside Thelma Todd. They continued to make shorts until 1935. 

Thelma Todd’s Death

  • In 1935, Thelma Todd was incredibly successful as an actress. She had a cafe, and was still starring in shorts alongside Patsy Kelly. 
  • She had recently been divorced from Pat DiCicco, a movie producer and alleged mobster connected to Lucky Luciano. 
    • Luciano was a notorious 1930’s mobster. 
  • On December 16th, 1935, she was found dead by her employee Mae Whitehead. She was only 29 years old. 
  • “Because Miss Todd within the past few months had been the recipient of several extortion notes threatening her with death unless she paid $10,000, and because no apparent reason existed for her taking her own life, investigating officers desperately sought an answer to the mystery of her death. Coagulated blood marred the screen comedienne’s features and stained her mauve and silver evening gown and her expensive mink coat when she was found. Her blonde locks pathetically awry, in the front seat of her automobile in the garage of Roland West, film producer and director, in front of West’s residence at 17531 Pasetano Road, less than 500 yards from Miss Todd’s cafe on the Roosevelt Highway.”
  • Suspects
    • Pat DiCicco
    • Roland West
    • Stalker
    • West’s estranged wife 
  • Over her career she appeared in 120 features until her death.

 

Today we have Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and Broad City’s Abby and Ilanna. Before that, there was Laverne and Shirley, and of course Lucy and Ethel. But, none of that might have been possible without Pitts and Todd. 

Zasu Pitts

 

Watch their shorts here: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GLUliI0e8k&list=PLIrWJQzxB8BseeC3FeutO5nG4HdME7HWX

 

https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2018/11/thelma-todd-zasu-pitts-female-comedy-team-old-hollywood

 

Monty Python and the Holy Case

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Today we are going to talk about a very famous and influential group of comedians. The impact that they had is still felt today by those like Lorne Michaels of SNL which started in 1975 and even movies such as the recent Jojo Rabbit where the director Taika said he feels that when he had the Gestapo salute with “Heil Hitler” to each and every person in the room it is something that this troupe would do. We are talking of course about the Pythons and Monty Python and the Holy Grail!     

We will discuss a little history on how John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, and Michael Palin became the Pythons,  followed by the making of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and finally we will share how it was received and what it meant to us.

History

  • Radio
    • Although the Pythons all had many influences, one of the greatest was that of an old radio show called the Goon Show.  It starred Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, and Harry Secombe. It changed British comedy. It was unlike any other show because it was very ridiculous and silly. As thegoonshow.net says   “They burst onto the radio with surreal storylines, absurd logic, puns, catchphrases and groundbreaking sound effects. They ridiculed the pomposity of those in authority and laughed at the stupidity of mankind.”
  • Flying Circus
    • Cleese and Graham had been working together for a while and they enjoyed watching this kids show called “Do Not Adjust Your Set” which had Idle, Jones, Palin, and Gilliam in it.  Cleese and Graham decided to approach them to do a show together. They all thought it was a great idea and approached the British tv producer Michael Mills. None of them knew what they were going to do, just that they were going to have a humorous show. Michael Mills at the time trusted his gut and gave them 13 episodes without having any idea what they would come up with. 
    • This 1969 show would become known as Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It was the beginning of the Pythons and would have 45 episodes over 4 seasons. 
    • The name took a while to come up with. It was the result of a prolonged brainstorming.  The BBC seemed to like Flying Circus and in all their memos called it “The Circus.” Finally however they needed a concrete name for the show and Michael Mills told them to call it ‘something Flying Circus.’  So Cleese and Palin came up with the nonsense name Monty Python.  
    • The brilliant aspect of what they came up with was that the cast was able to play many different characters without one particular person standing out above the rest.  This was very unlike other comedies of the time where there was one star with a supporting cast. 
    • Another aspect that set it apart was that the sketches were not done to music.
    • The sketches lampooned issues of classicism and social mores, but are more dated when it comes to topics of race and gender. There was one recurring female actress, Carol Cleveland, who played the “straight woman” in many of their silly sketches. Cleveland has been referred to as the 7th Python due to her frequent appearances. Outside of her performances, most female characters were sexualized or “ditzy.” 
    • Many famous aspects of the show are considered timeless and have made a mark on modern pop culture.
      • The show was popular because it was different! It shows a disruption with authority by breaking the rules of TV at the time. It makes fun of bureaucracy, something we all still can relate to today
        • Characters constantly broke the fourth wall, sometimes a character from a previous sketch may walk into a current one and ask everyone how the show is going. 
        • Sketches rarely ended, either. Usually they flowed directly into another sketch or would end with an interruption from another character like The Colonel–he frequently dropped in to shut down a sketch for being “too silly.” 
      • One favorite sketch that all the Pythons mentioned was the Fish Slapping Dance which will be included in our blog because everyone should see it.

      • The Dead Parrot Sketch
      • The Cheese Shop
      • The Ministry of Silly Walks
    • In order to save money the BBC would often erase tapes but thanks to Terry Gilliam for buying them from the BBC before they could be erased!
    • After Season 3 Cleese called it. He was essentially getting bored and did not want to continue doing the same thing forever. The BBC therefore continued with a Season 4 without John Cleese but it only had 7 episodes and was just called “Monty Python.” It was clear that it just wasn’t the same without Cleese and so after season 4 the Circus ended.
  • Now For Something Completely Different
    • This movie was an attempt to bring in an American audience and consisted of reshot skits from the show done without a studio audience. Since it was not really the Pythons who decided to put this movie together they did not have much say in how it was made.  It ended up not being a very big box office hit. The estimated budget was $100,000 and the cumulative Worldwide Gross was only $6,979. 

Making of the Movie 

  • The budget was fairly low to begin with (only £150,000)  for the movie. They had to raise the money themselves but they were luckily able to secure some supportive donations from some famous bands such as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Charisma.
    • On top of a low budget about two weeks before filming they were told by the Dept. of the Environment of Scotland that they could not use their castles for shooting because it may be “inconsistent with the dignity of the fabric of the building.”  This meant that they had to find privately owned castles. They found one which was Doune Castle which stands for most of the castles in the movie. For the ending thankfully they were able to find Castle Stalker. This all ended up working in their favor with time as then they did not have to run around from castle to castle filming.
  • In order for the team to get what they wanted out of it, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones directed the film.  Neither of them had any experience in directing and so it was a struggle and learning experience for all. Gilliam being the one who had done all the illustrations for the tv show was accustomed to looking closely at visuals, while Jones was good at getting the jokes to flow well and keep things going in a timely manner.
    • At times the actors would become a bit annoyed by the two directors.  Cleese gave a great example of this when he said they had hit gold with the Lancelot “Message for you, Sir!” scene.  However, when “Cut” was called Gilliam said there needed to be more smoke for the visual. 
    • Having two directors with different views caused some confusion but overall it seemed to work because the balance of visual and the whole experience was achieved.
  • The difficulty even started the first day when the camera broke on slate one take one.  It’s gears literally stripped, the only other camera had to be used because it was not an easy fix.  The problem however is that the audio did not automatically sync with the camera.
  • Lighting 
    • The lighting was minimal for the film.  Terry Bedford, the Director of Photography, said that quote “We had a couple of what we call red-heads and a small generator that you could stick 300 yards away and cover with blankets to cut the noise.”  
    • And for the cave scene they used real burning torches.
  • Black Knight Scene
    • The stand-in for Cleese was a man with one leg so he was already able to balance with one leg and an arm to his back.  The second leg was a dummy rigged by wires. The final piece was when they dug a hole for him when he was just a stump.
  • The first script 90% of it was thrown out
    • They did lots of research about the legends of KIng Arthur.
    • There were probably about 13 edits and screenings before the final finished product.  One of those changes was that they changed the music to a lot of library music and only kept new written pieces for the singing portions such as the Camelot Scene.

Starring

All the guys except Terry Gilliam graduated from Cambridge or Oxford. So basically they were all incredibly smart but just loved being silly!

  • John Cleese
    • Always the most well known because he was a tv star first in things like “The Frost Report” and “Fawlty Towers.”
    • Fun fact: HIs last name would have been Cheese but his grandfather changed the last name when he became a member of the British Army in 1915.
  • Terry Gilliam
    • The only American of the group, he was the one to do all the illustrations.
    • After directing for Monty Python Gilliam went on to direct films such as Time Bandits, Brazil, Twelve Monkeys, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
  • Eric Idle
    • He is said to be manager-like. He was not usually a writer of the jokes so he was able to judge it and change it as needed. He was also very good with songs and was why there were musical numbers in the show and movies.
    • He was also in Nuns on the Run and Casper.
  • Graham Chapman
    • Known for being late all the time
    • The first of the group to pass away in 1989.
    • He played the Colonel!! 
    • Lead in the Grail.
  • Terry Jones 
    • He is said to care about everything and was supposedly the most likely to be wearing drag for the sketches.
    • He is a major history buff who has done documentaries such as Ancient Inventions and The Crusades.
    • The second to pass away, very recently in January of 2020.
  • Michael Palin
    • Is known for his niceness and came up with the best ideas for sketches.
    • After being a Python he did world travel shows such as Around the World in 80 days, Pole to Pole, and Full Circle.
  • Carol Cleveland
    • Carol was their go to when they themselves could not play the character. She was only supposed to be in a few sketches but was quickly recruited to work with them whenever possible because she was so great at what she did.
    • She also appeared in The Avengers, The Persuaders, and Are You Being Served? 

Final Thoughts/ How it was received

  • Received very well!
  • Elvis Presley loved it and reportedly saw it about 45 times in the cinema and quoted it often!
  • To help promote Monty Python and the Holy Grail  there was a full page ad taken out offering the first 100 people at the cinema coconuts.

Sources

The Case of Movie Dinosaurs

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This week we dive into a subject Adam has been waiting to discuss… Dinosaurs!!!! We know Adam has been periodically inserting facts about Jurassic Park in many of our other episodes, but this time we discuss the history of dinosaurs in film. We also talk about some of the most well known and loved dinosaurs in these movies by ranking the top five.

History of Dinosaurs in Movies

The word “dinosaur” was coined by Victorian naturalist Sir Richard Owen in 1841, and means “terrible lizard”. The modern meaning is more along the lines of, humongous monster that tramples the getaway car and eats all the supporting actors. Dinosaurs fit perfectly into the role of movie monsters. Many of them were huge, or had good monster characteristics such as spikes, horns, claws and big teeth. It’s not surprising that the history of movies featuring dinosaurs goes back more than 100 years.

  • The first dinosaur movie ever was Prehistoric Peeps in 1905. However Prehistoric Peeps unfortunately is now lost to history much like the dinosaurs it portrayed. Then came Gertie the Dinosaur, in 1914. Gertie is far more famous, and she has the honor of being history’s first dinosaur cartoon.

  • But the real origin of dinos in the spotlight is Brute Force, also from 1914. Brute Force debuted just two months after Gertie did, but Brute Force is live-action, and it contains the origins of every dinosaur special effect to be implemented for the next 60 years. The movie is a short silent drama directed by D. W. Griffith. The film was shot in Chatsworth Park, in California. It is a story of cavemen and dinosaurs, and is a sequel to Griffith’s earlier film, “Man’s Genesis” (1912).
  • It took all the way until 1925 for the first full-length movie to feature dinosaurs to hit theatres. The Lost World. Based on the 1912 book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, it tells the story of dinosaurs that survived the mass extinction 65 million years ago. Sculptor Marcel Delgado made dinosaur models for the film based on the work of a leading paleontologist of the time. Stop-motion pioneer Willis O’Brien brought these extinct animals back to life using animation. After that, dinosaurs rampaged through popular culture, and for nearly forty years, stop motion remained the technique of choice for bringing extinct creatures to life.
  • So stop motion may have been king of the dinosaur world, but moving a puppet frame by frame is very time-consuming and expensive. Movie producers were looking for ways to cut corners so along came the “slurpasaur” (AKA a lizard in a dinosaur suit).
  • One of the earliest slurpasaurs appears in “The Mysterious Island”, made just four years after The Lost World. Slurpasaurs continued to offer a low-cost alternative to stop motion into the ’50s and ’60s. Even Willis O’Brien consulted on costumed iguanas for the 1960 remake of The Lost World.

  • Dinosaurs are the beginning DNA of the much broader subject of creature effects. Almost every technique for movie effects that we discussed in a previous episode have been used to make dinosaurs; people in suits, puppetry and animatronics, computer generated images, and more. To top them all it was Stan Winston who finally achieved the impossible when he created full-scale dinosaurs that not only looked incredible, but delivered great performances too.
  • With the addition of truly convincing CGS creatures, Jurassic Park set a new bar for movies as well as visual and special effects. By the time the T. Rex brought the house down, literally and figuratively, at the climax of the film, audiences could believe that dinosaurs really do rule the Earth.

Top 5 Dinosaurs

  1.       Tyrannosaurus Rex (Jurassic Park)
  • The Tyrannosaurus rex of Jurassic Park was nicknamed Roberta in Phil Tippett’s storyboards for the first film, but most fans call her by her novel nickname Rexy.
  • Rexy has made three appearances in the franchise. Debuting in Jurassic Park, then reprising her role in Jurassic World, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. She is also rumored (basically confirmed) to return in the final Jurassic World film in 2021.
  • She is most well-known for saving the main characters at the end of the first film and Jurassic World, although inadvertently. This makes her something of an anti-heroine.
  • Mark McCreery created the design of the T. rex that was used in the film. Before the film was greenlit, McCreery was working on Terminator 2. Stan Winston moved him from that project to create sketches of the T. rex in order to generate interest in Jurassic Park from Universal Studios.
  • (We talked about the animatronic two weeks ago in our Special Effects episode)
  1.       Littlefoot (Land Before Time)
  • Littlefoot, originally voiced by Gabriel Damon, (and many others since) is the main character in the Land Before Time film and television series. He is the main protagonist in the series and is one of only three characters to appear in every piece of media. The other two being Ducky and Petrie.
  • He is an Apatosaurus, (aka “Brontosaurus”) which are referred to as “Longnecks” by the other dinosaurs in the Land Before Time universe.
  • He can easily make friends with other creatures, however his friendships with other animals outside his species is often viewed as a taboo, as many of the dinosaurs practice racial, or species based, segregation. (Mainly in the first movie)
  • Littlefoot is intelligent, playful, and adventurous. He acts as a leader to the other main characters. Pushing them to move forward in difficult times, (most notably in the original The Land Before Time) and is their voice of reason.
  • According to a blog post by Mark Pudleiner, an animator who worked on the original film, Littlefoot was originally going to be called “Thunderfoot”. But it turned out that there was a Triceratops in a children’s book with the same name. His name was Thunderfoot all throughout production, only changing after the movie was finished and had to be dubbed over! If you look closely you can see that whenever a character says “Littlefoot” the animation doesn’t quite match!
  1.       Rex (Toy Story)
  • Rex is a supporting character in the Toy Story franchise. He is a plastic Tyrannosaurus Rex who is voiced by Wallace Shawn.
  • A running gag throughout the Toy Story movies is that Rex is insecure about his lack of ferociousness.  Rex’s worst fear is that Andy may want another, scarier dinosaur to replace him. “But what if Andy gets another dinosaur, a mean one? I just don’t think I could take that kind of rejection!”
  • In the original story pitch for Toy Story, Rex’s personality was mostly the same as in the final film, except that he also was to get very angry and even vengeful when it’s revealed Woody threw Buzz out of the window on purpose. All the toys do this to some degree in the final film.
  1.       Arlo (The Good Dinosaur)
  • Arlo, voiced by Raymond Ochoa, is the protagonist of the 2015 Pixar animated feature, The Good Dinosaur.

  • He is a young Apatosaurus living with his parents and older siblings, Buck and Libby. He is the last and the smallest of the three children to hatch out of his egg. Despite hatching from an egg bigger than the first two.
  • In this universe, the asteroid that is believed to have led to the extinction of the dinosaurs, never struck Earth. So, over the course of the movie, Arlo makes an unlikely human friend. While travelling through a harsh and mysterious landscape, Arlo learns the power of confronting his fears and discovers what he is truly capable of.
  • In terms of animating Arlo, animators Rob Thompson and Kevin O’Hara went to a zoo and shot video of elephants in motion. Thompson stated: “One of the most intimidating things to animate is a quadruped, because there’s so much to them and there’s so much to manage. Locomotion is all about efficiency, a lot of times you think, ‘We’re animating a big, heavy character. We should slam those feet. That’ll make it feel heavy.’ The truth is, that’s not efficient.”
  • Just some cool trivia, Arlo is the youngest Pixar protagonist to date. And in total The Good Dinosaur took up 300TB of server space.
  1.       Aladar (Dinosaur)
    • Voiced by D.B. Sweeney, Aladar is an Iguanodon that is first shown as an egg. The opening of the movie shows a ridiculously lucky egg traveling across the ocean where the lemur inhabitants find him, and he soon hatches.
    • Throughout the movie, Aladar butts heads with Kron, the leader of a large herd. In the herd, “only the strongest survive.” So Aladar does everything he can to help weaker dinosaurs. He later falls in love with Neera, Kron’s younger sister, who is considerably more compassionate than her brother. Aladar also seems to be a natural leader, which fueled his rivalry with Kron who feared he was trying to take his place.
    • In an early concept for Dinosaur, Aladar was going to have grandparents and be called Noah, but this was changed due to some similarities to The Land Before Time.
    • Aladar’s story is very similar to Tarzan’s story. Both have adopted families, and both lose their biological mothers to a predator. However, both end up killing their enemies during their adulthood, where they meet their love interest. They even go as far as to both have male figures in the family who initially don’t want them.
    • Just an extra bit, the film score was composed by James Newton Howard and he was nominated for an Annie Award and a Saturn Award for Dinosaur in 2000.

Honorable mentions:

  • Butch, Ramsey, and Nash (The Good Dinosaur)
  • Barney (Barney)
  • Unknown dinosaur (T.rex?) (Fantasia)
  • Big Al (The Ballad of Big Al)
  • Blue (Jurassic World)
  • Indominus Rex (Jurassic World)
  • Spinosaurus (Jurassic Park 3)
  • The Big One (Jurassic Park)
  • Carnotaurus (Dinosaur)
  • Momma (Ice Age)
  • Tiny (Meet the Robinsons)
  • Rex (We’re Back)
  • VRex (King Kong)
  • Red Ranger DinoZord (Power Rangers)
  • The rest of the Land Before Time crew

Sources

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