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Ryan Woodward; the Added Value of Animation

Ryan Woodward's film "Thought of you" offers a great look at what hand animation has to offer, and what an animator and his audience can expect from the medium.

 

Ryan Woodward's film "Thought of you" is an animator's film... it glows with the energies of a very capable animator who lets himself loose to do flowing, beautiful lines. Woodward is an industry veteran who works with many static formats (storyboards and such), and also has penned some wonderful Polynesian idents - check them at his site. This film is a definitive argument for more fluid assignments. You can smell the graphite and light bulb. Its refreshing, great stuff.

fluid effects

fluid effects

It's also a great case study for the use of animation in a creative, small-team film. The foundation of the film is a choreographed dance. Woodward makes no effort to disguise this. To the contrary, he restricts the visuals to simple line tracings, crisply fitted to the very physical graceful forms. No clean-up or coloring here. Also, a good portion of respect for the creative input of the dance team is apparent. The dancers remain very solid, the bodies practically revered. I often go to see modern dance theater and share the awe. It does create an interesting conflict of authorship, however. On the one hand, the animated medium doesn't come up short. The lines are coupled with fanciful effects that layer over the dancers and add to the film's topic of longing and remembrance. On the other, there is a feeling that too much respect has held back the discovery of that elusive step beyond.

motion blur

It seems to be embodied by the artist's treatment of motion blur. The character is dead on character, but then he moves, and as he does so his limbs stretch out into graceful forms that would be abstract if not for the frames before and after. Its a beautiful interpretation of what I suspect is inspired by video stills.  Then, the girl pulls on the mann and this effect becomes the story line...  his arm is dragged out like taffy.This is a key moment in the film... a world rule that says this is the conflict. An emotion blur, so to speak. But then its over. He dances on, all back to normal and the girl does the same, dissipating in to and out of vapor, exploding into a splash of water and landing solid to dance once more.

For me, this is where the film both achieves its goals as a successful animation and loses sight of its potential as a film. The figure's emotional drama has been tagged to the transformational ability of animation. That's a promise. Its an animator's film and as an animator, I celebrate. As an audience, however, I want more. I want to go for the ride... to experience the transformations get wilder, more encompassing, until the forelorn dancer is forced to confront this nostalgic energy and the promise is fulfilled.

I asked Ryan about his intentions:

"There were times I really just wanted to stick to the dance and not push it too far into the abstract. In rough passes, I noticed that when I went too far that way, it watered down those moments when the characters do slip into that iconic symbolistic animation. A good balance was needed in order to allow the viewer to appreciate both the beautiful technique of the dancers and the creative surreal moments."

I suspect that this is a case where respect dampened the boldness necessary to go all the way. The film resists climbing the dramatic ladder towards a cumulative transformation that encompasses the story line and character as well as the lines, and is content to explore itself.

Is this a good film? I'd say its a great animation. And while mildly disappointed, I can't stop enjoying it; the animation, the choreography and the dancers - so Ryan certainly seems to have been successful.

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