Red Stick Strikes Again
The 2010 iteration of the Red Stick International Animation is now history; do I really have to wait 51 weeks for the next one to roll around? Anyway, in the meantime I can talk about what went down since my last check-in, and end by taking a look at the big (cartoon) picture…
Saturday (the 13th) was wrap-up day: not much -- hardly anything -- in the way of festival sessions. Plenty of feature animation, though, what with screenings of Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Mulan and Pocahontas, all worked on by Pres Romanillos (the posthumous recipient of the Festival's Lifetime Achievement Award). Not enough full-length animation for you? The Secret of the Kells, Shrek Forever After and My Dog Tulip unreeled as well.
Stuart Sumida, the animation world's favorite biologist and consultant on animal anatomy, introduced a screening of How to Train Your Dragon. He's helped any number of DreamWorks, Disney and Pixar animators strike a healthy balance between real-life and toony beasts -- but what to do when they're animating fantasy creatures? (To be precise, an octet of flying dragons, each radically different in appearance from the others.)
The short answer: cut and paste, create beasties that look like x but fly like y… "For real-life inspiration we looked at birds, bats, bugs and pterodactyls. We also looked at dinosaurs and alligators. They're cool and have interesting body shapes."
Sumida revealed an interesting factoid about Red Death, the Godzilla-sized monster who rules the dragons, a detail the movie never got around to mentioning: "It was the equivalent of a queen bee, so we knew it was a girl."
And Toothless, the trained dragon of the title? Turns out that his inspiration was a plain old housecat (with an add-on set of batwings). Those awfully big eyes (that had me worried pre-release he and the movie would be overly cutesy) were actually feline in nature. Looking back, it made a lot of sense both in terms of story (Toothless is smarter than the average dragon -- those eyes show a lot of wisdom) and audience relatability. (It's hard to be frightened of a monster who on some level reminds you of Garfield.)
Sumida demonstrated what might have been his biggest kick in working on Dragon when he recreated a character's fall-and-roll maneuver. "I got to do martial arts," one of his favorite hobbies. "I had fun."
And just how did a university biology professor become part of the feature animation community? Turns out in his college days he enjoyed hanging with the school's art students, a much more interesting crowd than his fellow science majors. A few years later Sumida was teaching in Chicago during a particularly frigid winter when one of them phoned. Charles Solomon, now an animation historian asked if he was interested in visiting California to help Disney animators better understand equine anatomy for Beauty and the Beast. Sumida took one look out the window and was on the next plane. (Well, maybe not the next plane, but it sounds better that way.) Then they asked him back to do the same for The Lion King; and there were a lot more animals in that movie…