Day 85: It's all about story, story, story, and story. Did I mention story?

Well it has been an exciting 200 hours! The Pixar Story Intensive was kicked off three weeks ago with a trip to the Walt Disney Family Museum, where I meet everyone selected for the 2nd. Annual Pixar@CCA Story class. It ended today with everyone at Pixar for a information tour and lunch. What are great experience in learning what it takes to become a story artist, all of which aides in getting ready for my student lead Animation Workshop to make my film; that I'll be teaching as a student next month. It was great to run ideas by Jim Capobianco, concerning storyboarding and directing notes for my film.

The course was lead by Jim Capobianco, co-writer of Ratatouille and director of Your Friend the Rat, Wall-e end credits and Jo Rivers in partnership with Pixar University. There's too much for me to mention nor do I wish to out all the goodies Jim and Jo imparted on me. What I can do is focus on the root of what was taught and as usual everything goes back to Uncle Walt. But, first I want talk about Jim's impact on me during the past three-weeks.

I admit that I knew little of what Jim has contributed to what we know of Pixar Films today. Jim Capobianco is a writer, director, and storyboard artist. A graduate of the California Institute of the Arts, Jim started in the story department at Walt Disney Feature Animation on The Lion King. After five years of storyboarding films, Jim relocated to Pixar Animation Studios where he contributed to the stories of many Pixar’s films like A Bug’s LifeToy Story 2Monsters Inc., and Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, WALL-E, Inside Out, Finding Dory .

In 2008, Jim was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Ratatouille. He went on to write and direct the short film Your Friend The Rat, found on the Ratatouille DVD, winning the 2008 ASIFA-Hollywood Annie Award for short films. He followed YFtR up by directing the critically acclaimed end titles for Wall•E. In 2009, he finished  Leonardo, his first independent film, now in the permanent collection of the MoMA NYC, and incorporated Aerial Contrivance Workshop, an animation think-tank. 

The overall learning moments of clarity during the three week intensive from Jim:

  •  Get your work up as soon as possible, in order to get notes on improvements.
  • It's about character development. We must create a reason for strangers to follow these characters.
  • Using the camera's motivation (what the audience is directed to) based on the story.

Jim's knowledge of story is vast, yet his approach to critiquing is subtle, as not to box in ones creativity. I wish I had more time to work with Jim and collaborate ideas with him. Here's a look at two of Jim's works:

Your Friend The Rat Short

Wall-E End Credits Sequence

Now, commonly known as storyboarding. Take your thoughts and those of others and spread them out on a wall as you work on a project or attempt to solve a problem. When you put ideas on storyboards, you begin to see interconnections – you see how one idea relates to another, how all the pieces fit together. Storyboards are graphic organizers such as a series of illustrations or images displayed in sequence for the purpose of pre-visualizing. it assists in all stages of the creative problem solving process but especially in generating Brainstorming and deciding on alternatives Decision Making.

Walt Disney and his staff devised a forerunner of the storyboard technique in 1928 as a method to build, track, and modify scenes of their feature animations

  1. From Meta Position select three physical locations and label them (1) 'Dreamer', (2) 'Realist' and (3) 'Critic'
  2. Anchor the appropriate strategy to each physical location:
    1. Think of a time you were able to creatively dream up or fantasize new ideas without any inhibitions; step into location (1) and relive that experience.
    2. Identify a time you were able to think very realistically and devise a specific plan to put an idea effectively into action; step into position (2) and relive that experience.
    3. Think of a time you were able to constructively criticize an plan - that is, to offer positive and constructive criticism as well as to find problems.Make sure the location is far enough away from the others that it doesn’t interfere. Step into location (3) and relive that experience.
  3. Pick an outcome you want to achieve and step into the dreamer location. Visualize yourself accomplishing this goal as if you were a character in a movie. Allow yourself to think about it in a free and uninhibited manner.
  5. Step into the realist location, associate into the "dream" and feel yourself in the positions of all of the relevant characters. Then, see the process as if it were a 'storyboard' (a sequence of images). 
  7. Step into the critic position and find out if anything is missing or needed. Then, turn the criticisms into questions for the dreamer.
  9. Step back into the dreamer position to creatively come up with solutions, alternatives and additions to address the questions posed by the critic. 
  11. After you have repeated this cycle several times, consciously think of something else that you really enjoy and are good at but continue to walk through the dreamer, realist and critic locations.
  13. Continue to cycle through steps 4, 5 and 6 until and your plan congruently fits each position.

Here are a few books on storyboarding, that can be purchased on Amazon. - Enjoy!

Also, as part of the three-week intensive, we had the opportunity to meet Nate Stanton, story artist at Pixar Animation Studio. 

Here's a great tutorial from featuring Pixar's Andrew Gordon and Nate Staton.

Once again I want to thank everyone who played a part in this enrichment opportunity Jo Rivers, Nina, Rick, Ian P., GE and the staff at Meyer Library.  

Here are a few storyboards I completed during the three-week intensive for my senior film

Day 67: The Class That Roared

7:07 AM: It's the first day of the three-week intensive and I'm excited to begin this next chapter. I had a fair amount of vivid dreams last, I suppose its just nerves. I advise my team to have faith in what the Pixar program will shed light on, towards making the film grander! In the meantime please read this periodical from Vanity Fair, reposted as an educational tool in advice. I'll be posting my own adventures at CalArts, and how it relates to building a strong network in the coming weeks.

Day 66: What Would Walt Do? part 1

The photo above comes from the Disney Animated App which I had been using for the past three-years, as a reader for my now completed film theory course. The caption for the image states:

This early diagram on how the production process worked illustrates that story has always been first and foremost at Disney animation Studios.Story is at the very top of the circle, and the arrows show how story drives all of the other processes.

Which reiterates the entry posted a month ago that Brad Bird gave on Andrew Gordon's Spline Cast, back in 2007 as he was working on Ratatouille. Here Bird highlights why he's A-listed withthe Academy, talking precisely about the importance of crafting a great story and its development throughout the project in. 

This method of thinking I believe is encouraging within the framework of the Pixar BrainTrust, evident by the record 14 number one hits the studio has achieved up to this point in history. Much of this "magic" is due largely in part to the mentorship John Lasseter has established the studio. You can take any film they have crafted, locate and summarize its sensibilities into basically two sentences. This act of getting to the heart of the feature is something I noticed continually during my two Summer Sessions at Lasseter's Alma-mater CalArts while viewing the archives of student shorts know as Producer Shows. Short after short is perfectly timed for 4-6 minutes worth of high-level storytelling, truncating and tailoring the overall storytelling to its best-appropriate pace. It's no accident that since Lasseter was named CCO of Disney Animated Features back in 2006, the studio has seen a renaissance in its approach to filmmaking. 

In the featured article To The Rescue of last November's Wired Magazine, Senior Editor Caitlin Roper spotlights how the purchase of Pixar 8 years ago, ushered in the present state of Disney Featured Animation. At that time, Disney had been going through a decade-long drought and at times seemed not even relevant in the medium which made the studio such an icon in the first place. Roper reports, that "When Lasseter and Catmull came aboard, they were encouraged to consider shutting down Disney Animation altogether and replacing it with the ascendant Pixar. "there was so much pressure on us to close these doors," Lasseter says. "Ed and I absolutely could not do that." The Ed in that conversation is Ed Catmull, who's book Creativity Inc. I posted about last April when it was released, covers the merger between Disney and Pixar creatives. 

My question is how did Disney even come to such an idea? An answer to this can be found in the work that Roy Disney spearheaded during the mid-1980s, which brought in Michael Eisner and Frank Wells to replace Ron Miller as president and CEO. This partnership whether Eisner proved very useful in the beginning, restructuring the way in which the studio operated opening the door for what has been deemed the renaissance of the studio; due to the success of Roy's department. But by the early 2000s, the "magic" of Eisner's efforts had begun to waver. Which led to the second "Save Disney" campaign, leading Eisner to be replaced by the current CEO Bob Iger. Igor is featured in this month Fortune magazine cover story, I'm still reviewing this but, will cover the subject later this month.

But, back to Walt's vision for the studio and the way in which the studio would succeed after his death, is not an easy midday Google search. I'll be exploring my contacts and reaching out to various animation historians, in an effort to provide some real heft to the conversation. So, I'll be revisiting the "What Would Walt Do" subject in installments and frequently. For now I would encourage readers who are interested in the way technology has aided the storytelling of animated features, to read Catmull's book Creativity Inc., review Igor's Empire of Tech, and The Wired interview To The Rescue with John Lasseter. Which cover in-depth the system in which Disnay Featured Animation is implementing now under the leadership of these three inspiring figures.

Day 60: Had to go to the High Plains for a visit...

For the past three weeks I've been on a journey to consolidate all my notes into one clear vision, on paper, of my thoughts on constructing this film. With one week left before beginning the Pixar Story Intensive, I've decided to keep my posts to once a week. I've also started an essay entitled: Vision, Intention, and Invention: The Art of Poly-Viewing. To quote Martha "It's a Good Thing!"

Day 35-40: The Structure of Feelings of the Present Moments: Environmental Visualization of TRAD culture in the film Her


When Spike Jonze says the words “Jamba Juice”in his skittish, half-splintered voice, it sounds less like an international smoothie chain and more like a local hangout at some featureless strip mall where teenagers flock to flirt and gab, and gulp down flavors like Mango Mojo or Raspberry Razzmatazz, pulling faces from the brain freeze as their entire selves exist in the droop of their backpacks or the back and forth whir of skateboards grinding on parking lot pavement.

But last November in New York, at a Q&A screening I attended for his latest film, Her (which opens in wide release this Friday), when Jonze cited Jamba Juice as an unlikely influence for his vision of a near-future Los Angeles, he did in fact mean the wood-paneled franchise with its biohazard-green typeface and psychedelic logo. “I think our movie is much more beautiful than Jamba Juice,” he later told the Wall Street Journal, “but the colorfulness and the cleanness of [it] was one starting point.”

What mostly comes to mind when I think of Her, though, is how the movie uses colors (in setting, costume, and temper), deploying them with a manipulative brilliance—as if I were a teenager once again and the film my mood ring. Pale purples and caramel browns. Sage. Putty and ecru. O’Keeffe reds and Michael Mann blues. Rothko Raspberry. Creamy whites like blanched almonds. Pastels the shade of sea urchins and sand dollars, as if L.A. in the future is Atlantis—washed-up and sun-speckled. And yet, Her never appears too tailored or too dear. It does not champion specificity, but, rather, seems strung together with bashful “me too” moments, emerging as a warm recognition of that pang with which we are all acquainted but are experts at disguising: loneliness. More than most films, the chromatic design of Heraccommodates the side of us that indulges in sad songs, or that familiar and melancholic scenario we play over and over in our heads when, say, sitting shotgun in a car on our way to the airport.

Her tells the story of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a glum, soon-to-be divorced writer for the company—which, as the name suggests, produces personalized, outsourced notes—who falls in love with an operating system named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Technology plays a central role in their connection, or rather, the widening gap of their connection, but the ubiquity of screens and buttons and dings and beeps is not the film’s most immediate feature. Rather, it’s Johansson’s signature rasp—the manner in which her words curl into questions, and how her sentences resemble the hushed, marshmallowy exchange of secrets. She’s an idealized AI girlfriend, her voice the nostalgic alloy of a ‘60s Pan Am stewardess and the girl from camp who smelled all summer like Hawaiian Tropic.

Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore is a man-child whose entire posture is concave, as if he’s always just been punched in the gut. He’s the guy who doesn’t readily accept compliments, fumbling with them like a movie-nerd trying to catch a football. His smile wrinkles like Charlie Brown’s smile wrinkles.

That “cleanness” Jonze speaks of, then, seems born of a distinct doziness; the entire film looks like it was shot under a bed sheet and lit with nothing more than the idle glow of Sunday afternoon. Jonze, whose proclivity for napping has been noted in magazines such as Fantastic Man, has made a movie swathed in a nap-ish mien: dust particles and disorienting hues of familiar colors, all dulled, redolent and translucent, existing as if in the deep yet restful recess between each slam of a snooze button. Now, when I think of Her, I mostly see blush pink—the pale ruddiness that ripens when you close your eyes and arch your neck toward the sun.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Her’s production designer, K.K. Barrett, spoke of the (loose) rules he, Jonze, and costume designer Casey Storm agreed upon before production:

“When Spike and I worked on Where The Wild Things Are we banned green, then we slipped some in. Hoyte [van Hoytema, the cinematographer] wanted to avoid blue, then we said ‘OK, let’s do one scene with blue.’ We didn’t want it to seem too dystopian or foreboding. And there was so much blue sky we wanted to avoid it on the ground. We were all really enamored with red. If you look closely there’s a little bit of red in every frame. It just gave it all a warmer feeling. But these decisions are all a little whimsical.”

Jonze’s expression of despondency—of a failed relationship and one that is waning—is portrayed evermore palpably because his world is one that looks trapped in the past, yet seems impatient to move forward. Technology in Jonze’s near-future is a mix of mid-century modern and Mac products, of Eames, The Jetsons, and Etsy. Computer screens are framed in wood, as are phones, and call to mind Don Draper-type cigarette cases or retro wood-laminate business card holders. Gadgets in Her appear to have the solemn (and satisfying) weight of an expensive pen. “We wanted it to feel handcrafted,” Barrett said. “What feels better in your hand than a Zippo lighter? We wanted things to have that feel that way.” History in Her has retained its signifiers in the same way an ex might claim emotional tenancy over a specific film, director, city, or pop song.

The day I attended that November screening of Her, my friend Katherine tweeted a mini-kernel that corresponded nicely. “If you think of ‘cray’ as a cross between cream and gray,” she wrote, “pop culture is suddenly so serene.” I feel like this reimagined almost-portmanteau typifies Jonze’s palette: life’s dramas, a few shades more placid than usual. Bliss looks achy; sex is a blank screen; and when Samantha calls, Theodore’s phone radiates red like E.T.’s flickering heart. Jonze does melancholy during magic hour so precisely that one gets the impression the sun never fully rises or sets.

The film lacks teeth, and, despite an insistence on the color red in nearly every frame, there is an unsaid bloodlessness. Scarlett Johansson’s disembodied voice possesses more attitude than any person we encounter in the film. Her “Hello” is at once a greeting and a challenge.

Then there’s Amy Adams, who plays Theodore’s best friend—a game designer and aspiring documentary filmmaker—and who looks like a discouraged cherub. Her bouncy curls offset by a pair of deeply fraught eyes, she is the film’s heart, if only because her capacity to be a friend rarely presumes give-and-take. She understands that silent companionship is supreme. Like the friend who sits on your floor and observes as you pack a suitcase. Like the friend who slackens the speed of her fingers hitting her keyboard to sync up with yours. Like the friend who moderates eye contact and speaks at a thoughtful pace, and says, “I see your point.” Two heartbeats, one room, little to no exchange.

Phoenix as Theodore, meanwhile, is a man-child whose entire posture is concave, as if he’s always just been punched in the gut. He’s the guy who doesn’t readily accept compliments, fumbling with them like a movie-nerd trying to catch a football. His smile wrinkles like Charlie Brown’s smile wrinkles, and on the poster for Her, Phoenix’s greyish malachite stare brings to mind a sulking, mustachioed Wegman Weimaraner.

Every character in Her—there aren’t many—is uniformed with an offish appearance. All the women in Her wear collared shirts buttoned up to their necks. A messenger bag slung across Adams’ chest gives the impression of perpetual confinement, or a child zoning out in the backseat of a car. High-waisted pants on Theodore’s square-built coworker, Paul (Chris Pratt), make him look like a retired boxer from the ‘50s who hasn’t yet come to terms with his cubicle job. Olivia Wilde, who plays Theodore’s blind date, sets aside her trademark cat-eye in favor of a softer, velvety gaze. The film lacks teeth; despite an insistence on the color red in nearly every frame, there is an unsaid bloodlessness. Johansson’s disembodied voice possesses more attitude than any person we encounter in the film. Her “Hello” is at once a greeting and a challenge.

While some might mention Malick as an obvious reference, perhaps because of the film’s gauzy flashback scenes where Theodore and his ex-wife (played by Rooney Mara) waltz through the spangled everyday of first love, my first point of reference was Wim Wenders. So much so, in fact, that when I initially heard Samantha’s voice, despite identifying Johansson, I could only picture Paris, Texas-era Nastassja Kinski—her pout and bottle blonde bob, that bright pink, fuzzy sweater. In that film’s beachfront Super 8 flashback scenes, Harry Dean Stanton is a slimmer Phoenix—both men in red collared shirts, scruffy mustaches, and stupid-happy grins. The film’s famous monologue that Stanton recites to Kinski through a one-way mirror gets, in many ways, at the crux of Her:

I used to make long speeches to you after you left. I used to talk to you all the time, even though I was alone. I walked around for months talking to you. Now I don’t know what to say. It was easier when I just imagined you. I even imagined you talking back to me. We’d have long conversations, the two of us. It was almost like you were there. I could hear you, I could see you, smell you. I could hear your voice.

Near the beginning of Samantha and Theodore’s relationship, she asks if she can watch him sleep. The request is sweet and he obliges, but again, my thoughts turned quickly Wenders’ film: “Sometimes your voice would wake me up,” Stanton says to Kinski. “It would wake me up in the middle of the night, just like you were in the room with me.” In both films, there’s the sentiment of a long-distance relationship, and even more so, the sentiment of a continued relationship with an ex. After all, as time passes, an ex can embody a youthful version of love and of one’s self. With exes, there’s an implicit downiness. “Comfort,” as Barrett told the Los Angeles Times, “was the underlying guide” when designing Her. I get it: comfort is my primary motivation for staying in touch with my ex, too. Emotional shorthand, I’ve learned, is the ultimate luxury, and Barrett’s blueprint for a dopy, threadbare palette is a perfect stand-in for that paper-thin T-shirt we keep forever, that was likely first someone else’s—in my case, His.


A few months ago, I Instagrammed a picture of my bedroom where I’d recently hung a poster of Cassavetes’ 1971 masterwork, Minnie and Moskowitz. On the poster there’s a quote from NBCTVthat reads, “Human and funny…go see ‘Minnie and Moskowitz.’” My friend Josh commented: “always find it weird when a movie is described as ‘human,’ it’s not a sci-fi.”

Ever since that comment, and after seeing Jonze’s film, I’ve felt a funny itch, or rather, an unexpected nearness between both films. Maybe it just has to do with their swatches: both share those muted hues, some chance lavender, wheat-y L.A. yellows. Mostly, though, it’s the notion that Her is technically sci-fi, while Minnie and Moskowitz is, per the poster, so profoundly human. And yet, I experienced the former with Josh’s assessment of both so-called “human” and so-called “sci-fi” in mind. One of the most memorable lines in Minnie and Moskowitz occurs when Seymour Moskowitz (Seymour Cassel) says to Minnie Moore (Gena Rowlands), “I think about you so much, I forget to go to the bathroom!” His love for Minnie near-exasperates him, maddens him, and compels him to rashly chop off his mustache. Their love is an exquisite mess. It’s wild. It’s beyond, and bubbles over, and comes undone, over and over. It somersaults. It’s infinite. It’s science fiction, sort of.

A couple weeks after seeing Her, I visited old family friends in Ithaca for Thanksgiving. One evening while I was washing dishes and Mark, now in his seventies, was drying them, he turned to me and said, “Low battery, Darling.” I wasn’t sure what he was talking about until Deirdre, his wife, explained that a woman’s voice warns Mark when his hearing aid is running low on battery power. My first thought was, of course, Samantha—her husky sometimes sigh-of-a-voice cautioning Mark the way she wooed and then fell for Theodore. While his hearing aid—a different woman’s voice in each ear—obviously doesn’t use such terms of endearment, Mark’s jokey add-on struck me as familiar, and reminded me of our certain need to personify gadgets and gizmos. Like Siri. Or the backgrounds of our lock-screens. Or how, in my case, my richest relationships (this past year at least) have been, for the most part, epistolary—a constant swapping of emails and texts. Everyone real is also, I guess, my Samantha, too.


Day 30-34: Imagine Your Life As A Twelve Hour Day Series: John Hughes part 1

Well, well, here we are! We are going to try something a little different today. We are going to write an essay. No less than a thousand words, describing to me who you think you are...

                                                                                                Richard Vernon - The Breakfast Club

I was in the third grade when I knew that I would grow up. Some people struggle with lifeʼs big decisions, like how long to wait before getting married and having children. For others, itʼs the small decisions, like how much longer sleep before that snooze button sounds off again. The rest are like you and me, explorers who wants to see whatʼs out there before buying into the standard way of life. As my third-grade teacher Ms. Byrd once said to me about my artwork “radical ideas sometimes spring from unlikely places.”

Like the summer of 1984 when my parents enrolled me in the Boys Club of Greenwich, CT. It was here that I learned about acceptance. I would say that itʼs natural for people to form opinions at first meetings, but that summer I found out that itʼs not who you are. But who you are and where youʼre from. As it turned out, I was the right person, from the right place, just with a permanent tan. We were all different yet the same–and it felt totally normal. The ultimate common thread was Boy Scouts. Whether it was a camp out/ fishing trip to Sheffield Island, backpacking on the Ives Trail in Redding, CT or the annual Connecticut Yankee Councilʼs Pine Box Derby held in New Canaan. The same faces continued to show up in my life throughout my wonder years.

Or take, for instance, the Glass House, Philip Johnsonʼs avant-garde weekend lair in the leafy banlieue of New Canaan, Connecticut, home of WASP family values, the Ice Storm, and, improbably, the Harvard Five. A group of mid-century architects, who, after studying under Bauhaus master Walter Gropius in the late 1930s, landing in Fairfield County. My father, who was a plasterer during the 1980s and 90s, would take me along with him to these finer homes throughout the Tri-State Area; as a way of teaching me to adapt to the environment I was in at the moment. I would discover twenty-years later, that what he was saying is the old Japanese Proverb "A man is whatever room he is in right now", a lesson he instilled as tradition into my life other than the New York Times.

When I was thirteen, I began taking little day trips to towns along the Metro-North railroad lines. One of those trips was up to Purdys, NY (North Salem). My father and I had done some work for a family there and I remembered it had a great hoagie deli. I'll never forgot that day, it was the the second week in October. Dressed in a Ralph Lauren Shetland sweater, Nike Air Pressures, my Jan Sports backpack and a three homemade PBJʼs, I found myself on a train headed 50 miles north to get sandwiches as a means of adventure. It wasn't so much the fact that I was visiting a place anyone was welcomed to visit, it was the fact that I was doing
something none of my peers would ever think of doing.

If I could have bottled the smells, recorded the sounds, and captured the images on Kodak; and share it with my daughters now. Which brings me out of nostagia and back to this post. Last week I re-read Carl Lennertz' Cursed By A Happy Childhood (2004). In it there a phrase I've been reminding Oates of every time we FaceTime:

Look at the little moments as big moments, and that we can and should enjoy our
own stories and take heart in the magic way they have of helping us feel a little closer, a little stronger and a little happier to face each day.

The research for this post was a bit more time consuming due and a little more on the academic side mainly because of the subject matter. With the dog days of summer just setting in, I have decided to pay homage to one of the most gifted writer/directors to ever compete in Hollywood, John Hughes. Need I say more?

Why Do I Feel Like I'm at Summer Camp?

"When I was a boy, just about every summer we'd take a vacation..." scripted words from National Lampoon's Vacation, which never rang true in my household. With parents who put career over family at times, a film was a method of escaping the reality of being alone during those long days of development. The summer of 1984 revolved around drawing, eating Pizza Hut, and making sure I didn't miss a moment of what was aired through Cablevision. 

Diagnosed with a severe case of reoccurring migraine attacks at the age of eight, I spent many days indoors away from the traditional childhood of playing outside. Instead of participation in Pop Warner, I would watch Transformers and sought to impress my friends with my drafting skills. In many ways growing up as a black child in Shippan Pointe, a beach community in Stamford, Connecticut, film encouraged me to escape the feelings of obscurity and being isolation. 

It was at this time that Hollywood began ushering in a new era of films. Whether it was a horror, science fiction, action, or a thriller, these genres created heroes and villains that developed a life of their own in American culture. Consider the character of Indian Jones from The Temple of Doom, Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Daniel LaRusso from The Karate Kid, each existing within and outside of the film context. 

Filmmakers like Spielberg, Lucas, Landis, Donner, Reiner and Cronenberg replaced household names like Kubrick, Coppola, and Friedkin by moving from just telling original stories to favoring sequels, causing an enormous shift in the film artistry expected in Hollywood. Among this new guard emerged a gifted writer and director named John Hughes, who preferred to work in the isolation of snowy Lake Forest, Illinois over the competitiveness of sunny Hollywood, California.  
What separated Hughes' approach to filmmaking from the other directors of that decade, was his ability to keep with the idea of original stories, while capturing the coming of age storyline of teens. Hughes also found a way to repackage the over hyper, subversive sexually crass comedic natives that prevailed in teen movies, by electing to craft his stories with a more romantic sensibility, subsequently, crafting it into a sub-genre that revolved around his theories of filmmaking. 

Since first viewing National Lampoon Vacation some 30 years ago, the debate over Hughes' legacy as an writer and director has begun to be championed by the Generation X demographic, who believe he never got the acknowledgement from Hollywood or the Academy that he deserved, as someone whose films transformed teen cinema drafting the framework that's used to this day. 
He created an A list of teen actors, that played teens and put out great movies consecutively for six years, all while being separated physically from the Hollywood system. A nomination for his ingenuity would only seem fitting if the Academy could only see past that it's a comedy. However, even with such efforts, no approbation was regarded during his lifetime.

So what makes a John Hughes film? The unique skill Hughes possessed as a writer/director combo, was his ability to make his films seem more sophisticated than his competitors. By capturing that youthful, urgent vulnerability that seems undeniably meaningful, Hughes' approach to writing looks like it was written by a teenager, instead of someone trying to think like one. 

He decisively focused on removing the immature rebellious components that are featured in films like Revenge of the Nerds, Fast Time at Ridgemont High, and Porky's; replacing it with an untapped observation of teen humor and life's quirks. Leading to many of the teen films that followed "the Hughes format" of featuring a more adult tone in the mid to late 80s, are often attributed to him. 

Even though his directorial style is conservative, the filmmaking is not the most pivotal aspect of his films. It is his ability to focus on the comedic sensibilities in his writings that make them work. Whether it's his use of music, his use of character, the slapstick elements, or the duality of friendship, his words connect in a way that's realistic. Films like Pretty In Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful, exposes how synonyms his writing are to him because, many people believed he had directed them, when he had not.

Hughes does demonstrate within the eight films he directed that he is a competent director and that his work is not sloppy but, it does play secondary to his writing. His direction is there to drive the thematic elements of the story and perhaps that's how he captivated his audience. The music selections, editing style, and conventional filmmaking process are there in order not to distract

from the youthful qualities present on the screen.
When asked by William Ham, in an interview for Backstory 5, about his stumbling into the "teen angst" genre and his plan to get a footing in the Hollywood system, Hughes response reflects that DIY spirit that collimated at that time:

I had a very particular strategy for the timing of those movies, which I kind of had to educate the studios about. I told them, "I'm gonna grow an audience,"  which they didn't think I could do, but I did it. First of all, I tried to line up the release of each new movie with the video release of the previous one. That way, the the first one might not do so well at the box office, but people would become familiar with it by the time the second came out, and so on. That's why my movies would come out every six months or so, and if you look, you'll see that grosses steadily increased with each one. So I grew an audience, and tried to be as true to that audience as possible, play to what they liked and appreciate. You know how, when you're a kid, you love it when you get mail? You feel important, like someone's paying attention to you. Well, we used to do that every time someone wrote a fan letter to one of our cast members, every piece of mail that came in, we'd put their names on our mailing list and mail out huge packages every time a new movie was about to come out; kind of like what Disney does now...(64-65).

For example, his soundtracks may be the most recognizable elements of his films to fans, since many of the songs reflect the youth culture of the 80s, as well as helped in creating it. But, hearing the song selections within the context of it becomes apparent that song choices are one with the scenes, and have been carefully placed to help move the story along. Unlike the films Footloose, Top Gun, and The Lost Boys that thrived on songs written specifically to promote the soundtrack, Hughes with the scoring of Ira Newborn were able to weave original music into the films, combined with other elements of the current media that reflected the conventions of that era's MTV culture.

Again in Backstory 5, Hughes provides insight into this why his process of music selection was not meant as a tool to make his films popular: 

The only official soundtrack that Ferris Bueller's Bueller's Day Off ever had was for the mailing list. A&M was very angry with me over that, they begged me to put one out, but I thought, "Who'd want all of these songs?" I mean, would kids want "Dankenschöen" [performed by Wayne Newton] and "Oh Yeah" [performed by Yello] on the same record? They probably already had "Twist and Shout," or their parents did, and to put all of those together with more contemporary stuff... I just didn't think anybody would like it (65).

Looking over John Hughes' filmography, it becomes evident that his directing career can be separated into two categories. The adult-centered films like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, She's Having My Baby, and Curley Sue and the teen-centered films like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Weird Science, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, which I'll  be discussed in my analysis.

In these five films you have all the themes that are essential to a John Hughes film, the hierarchy issues of teen culture such as cliques, teachers, parents, and the settings of the world of the teenager, high schools, malls, and "away for the weekend" parentless homes. Instead of providing the viewpoint of someone who is rebelling against the outside world, Hughes invites the audience to see the outside world from the teen perspective. An excellent example of this is in Sixteen Candles, Hughes first film as a director, and my favorite piece of writing by him next to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Sixteen Candles is a well crafted, adept snapshot of an era and ideal that I was raised in; that may have never existed if not for the Reagan-ized America of the 80s. Hughes' portrayal of middle-class America is evocative of the spirit of that era, complete with the narrative of commemorating the moral victory of the once underdog character over championing the causes of the underprivileged. However, America's dualistic attitude had become one of good versus evil; traditional television consisted of formulaic themes the created a hodgepodge of violence and family values. While Hollywood capitalized on this trend with films like Red Dawn and Rocky IV, aimed at fostering patriotism to the United States of America.

In an interview with, Gil Troy author of Morning In America: How Ronald Reagan Invented the 80s reflects on the atmosphere of the era:

The most prevalent myth about the 1980s is that Ronald Reagan somehow turned back the clock to the age of Ozzie and Harriet. Reagan in fact led Americans "Back to the Future," as the popular movies from the 1980s suggested. Reagan's brand of easy listening nationalism and feel good consumerist libertinism reassured many Americans, and conjured up warm nostalgic feelings while pushing the nation forward politically and culturally, for better and worse (Troy).
Like George Lucas' conception of the 1960s in American Graffiti, Sixteen Candles is a stylized, glimpse into the types and roles lived by many Americans in the 80s. Though it's a romanticized view of teens coming of age in an era filled with consumption and greed, it still contains moments of inspiration, but if looking for depth or pure emotion, it's not there unless you remember it being there. 

What John Hughes did accomplish was he gave a voice to teens with serious issues, without pandering to them. More so, he took liberty in expressing those concerns from both a male and female aspect.  Up until then most teen features revolved around basic "how to" male prototypes: how to get the girl, how to be the star of the team, how to beat the other guy. But, in  Sixteen Candles, Molly Ringwald's character Samantha Baker revolves around a "why" narrative. The film deals with the role of women in Hollywood in an abstract but direct way, by establishing at the beginning of this film that her life story is irrelevant. 

Samantha wakes up on her sixteenth birthday to find that her family, including both sets of grandparents, have completely forgotten about the most significant birthday for teenage girls. Her life continues as it did yesterday, rather than driving to school in a new black TransAm with a bow on top, Samantha continues to ride the geek-filled school bus.

Her birthday happens to coincide with three events, the marriage of her older sister, a school dance, and a house party. Of course, she's not invited to the party; such an honor is saved for the popular segment of the high school hierarchy. She has to remain at the dance forced to socialize within the quirky lower-class cliques, fawning over the day in which she'll join the likes of the privileged preppy order.

Her entry into this world lies in her attraction to a guy with two first names, Jake Ryan. Unfortunately, for our would-be heiress, her options are slim. However, she does have a interested suitor by the name of Farmer Ted, the ultimate in testosterone driven lust. Farmer Ted is perhaps the most charismatic nerd I've ever seen on screen. Unlike the characters of Louis and Gilbert from Revenge of the Nerds, who battle with promising elements of their nerd-dom, Farmer Ted's awkward self-assurance, mixed with a bit of delusion, and comedic timing brings a freshness to the film's plot. Hughes strategically places him as link between Samantha and Jake. 

The character of Jack Ryan in many ways is treated by Hughes as if he's the Porsche 944 the character drives in the film. A combination of looks, style, and handling, that's easy on the eyes, masculine, and can be colored anything you project him to be. He's the guy who rows singles on the crew team, dresses in this season's line of privileged, and he just so happens to be coupled with the perfect girl, tho the passion is gone. Jakes character is contrary to other lead roles in the "teen angst" genre, in that he respects other groups in the high school for their individuality, even if they don't have the luxuries of being wealthy.

Overall, Hughes direction is solid in Sixteen Candles though at times predictable in its attempt to be noticed as a comedy. He relays on the combination of long takes, quick television jokes, unexpected circumstances, exaggerated characters, and yes, certain plot elements may be conventional. It remains intensely popular and is influential thanks in part to its ambiguity of the central characters, allowing the audience to apply their expectations into this world of fantasy. The film still has an originality that hasn't lost it's sentimental qualities and once again, doesn't pander to its audience.

It's simple to characterize Hughes work as transient but, with each new hit comedy, there is a heavy does of his theories being applied. His films satisfy the audience without sacrificing his artistic decisions. At his best, Hughes balanced the role of a consummate entertainer's relentless pursuit of applause, with an artist's appreciation for diversity of the human carnival that unfolds before our eyes, on screens an in life. 

In August of 2009, shortly after Hughes had passed away from a heart-attack, Los Angeles Times reporters Patrick Goldstein, interviewed director Judd Apatow, who many have considered the second coming of Hughes, about his relationship with John in his work:

John Hughes wrote some of the great outsider characters of all time. It's pretty ridiculous to hear people talk about the movies we've been doing, with outrageous humor and sweetness all combined, as if they were an original idea. I mean, it was all there first in John Hughes' films. Whether it's Freak and Geeks or Superbad, the whole idea of having outsiders as lead characters, that all started with Hughes.

The question that remains consistent on the tongues of the Hughes devotees is, "what if Hughes stuck it out?" Would that sense of a wonder displayed in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, have continued? Or maybe, just maybe could he have found his own Fortress of Solitude in Northern Chicago? These questions will never be answered by a man that I consider could have been this generations version of the great Frank Carpa.

In conclusion, Hughes films are at best noteworthy for their memorable lines of dialog, an avant-guard approach to fusing cultural prompt with the ambiance of an affluent Northern Chicago town, and a heaping dollop of sentiment. His work will continue to be researched and developed by many filmmakers, for generations to come.

Work Cited
Goldstein, Patrick. "John Hughes, candle-lighter." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 25 Mar. 2008. Web. 14 June 2011.
Ham,William., Backstory 5: interviews with Screenwriters of the 1990s. California: UC Press, 2009. Print.
Troy, Gil. "Morning In America: HowRonald Reagan Invented the 80s." interview. Web. 11 Jun. 2011.
"John Hughes." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Apr. 201. Web. 10 Jun. 2011.

One is only a bright as their library afforded. -  Pride and Prejudice

One is only a bright as their library afforded. - Pride and Prejudice

Day 28-29: Imagine Your Life As A Twelve Hour Day Series: Wes Anderson part 2

The fictional worlds evoked in film by director Wes Anderson have such a precise colouration – the very particular pastel-hues that paint the skies, drench the buildings and dress the characters, render Anderson’s microcosms almost dream-like. The hazy-hued lens through which we peer into the director’s unique world has a retro quality that casts his films in a nostalgia for a time that could have been. The muted pink of The Grand Budapest Hotel that makes the hotel itself the biggest character in the movie; the very particular French mustard that comes to define Gwyneth Paltrow’s Margot Tenenbaum in The Royal Tenenbaums; the vintage boy-scout green in Moonrise Kingdom – all of these hues are captured in the Wes Anderson Colour Palettes Tumblr, which breaks down the shades that colour Wes’s world scene by scene with precise accuracy, and also the Movies in Color site, which considers individual frames of many films, including Anderson's, distililng them down to their myriad different shades.

Artist and Wes Anderson enthusiast Hamish Robertson says, “Anderson's colour palettes are integral to his cinematic ‘world-building’. His eye for art direction and fantastic attention to detail creates the appropriate space and tone for his characters to exist in – and for the viewer to lose themselves in. They ultimately become their own visual language, the way character themes are elaborated in cinematic scores, allowing an immersive visual experience whether the sound is on or not.”

As a bonus I found this BBC Documentary Do You See What I See, while I was doing research for this post. Enjoy!

Day 24-27: The Plotted

The year is 1935, five years into the Great Depression the tiny Great Plains' Township of Johnson Mesa prepares to commemorate 52 years as a homestead. Strange things begin to occur in this section when a traveling salesman arrives offering a miracle soil additive. He pledges that given one month of his treatment, the most barren of their fields will yield results. Over the course of the month of March objects spring eerily to life; yet a young woman stumbles upon a dark secret about the visitor. On the second Sunday of April, a mysterious blizzard of dust descends upon the town, turning a sunny afternoon into a horrible blackness that's darker than the darkest night and the salesman is now faced with the past he thought he had outrun.

            - The Sunken Forest  

After a month of studying Robert Mckee's Story I feel comfortable releasing the plot to my Group Project Animated Short Feature. I encourage anyone who's thinking about making a film to read Mckee's book, its a must.

Robert McKee is a world-renowned lecturer in screenwriting, best known for the four day Story Seminar he developed whilst a professor at the University of Southern California. His former students include 63 Academy Award winners and 164 Emmy winners; the likes of Kirk Douglas, John Cleese and Peter Jackson, director of Lord of the Rings, have attended his seminar. His services have been employed by 20th Century Fox, Disney, Nickelodeon, Paramount…

McKee lays out the principles of how to achieve this – it’s not about writing by numbers or to a formula, it’s about developing your craft, showing you how to do it in the most effective way. We’re all surrounded by story – movies, novels, TV, theatre, the news, gossip, our own lives – and are hard-wired to expect it to evolve and deliver in a reasonably predictable format: think how you feel about a disappointing ending, a story where nothing happens for ages in the middle or even a high-profile crime that remains unsolved.

Anyway, you get the picture. He’s good.

Day 23: The Cry For Myth

Alex Ross.

Alex Ross.

“Myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation. Regions, philosophies, arts, the social forms of primitive and historic man, prime discoveries in science and technology, the very dreams that blister sleep, boil up from the basic magic ring of myth.”  -Joseph Campbell The Hero with a Thousand Faces

While doing research for this post, I came across an essay by Lane Wallace in April 27, 2010 issue of the Atlantic entitled Changing Our Cultural Myths. In it was a paragraph that stood out, as a testament to the power of myth:

 "Life offered the comforting image of a nation united behind a shared, if contrived, vision of the 'American Dream.' ... Part of his considerable achievement was his ability to provide an image of American life that helped a generation of readers believe in an alluring, consensual image of the nation's culture." 

 Working on this first endeavor in my career, as a storyteller, I had to do my research, research which continues even as I write this post. Finding my voice has been an eye-opening experience, aside from the views I have shared with co-workers on my opinions. For those that have taken the time to get to know me over the past year and a half, I confess that I don't fit in. I more like a light post that shines above the flat pavement below. 

I'm one who believes in doing as much research as time allows before applying it to the work. Which is why I've been tweaking, and rewriting the script so much as of late. Looking at various sources to package a product, in this case, a film, to the widest target audience. Over the past month, I've read books on Spielberg's approach, Kubrick's approach, the Pixar Method, Robert Mckee's Story structuring, and yet I keep coming back to my gut instincts. I guess I've always been guarded about expressing my thoughts to strangers regarding what's lacking in American culture since I was a young boy. Throughout those reading and countless articles, there seems to be a thread that connects everything. American films are in dire need of mythology. I had learned about Joseph Campbell back when I was 11, through my father who was an avid PBS supporter. Campbell was on talking about Star Wars and the hero.Over the years as I've gotten older I began to move beyond Campbell, on to Theodore Roszak, John W. Perry, Colin Wilson which is why when I stumbled upon Rollo May's The Cry For Myth at Meyer Library last March; I immediately became enamored with reading it and asking myself, why had I not heard of this man before?

I advise everyone to take a look at the videos above and below, to help better understand some of my approaches towards storytelling and dealing with mythology. 

Day 21 & 22: Imagine Your Life As A Twelve Hour Day Series: Wes Anderson part 1

I'm a big fan of Wes Anderson's movies for those who don't know me. I discovered Wes during a visit to the local video rental place on an early date night with my wife back in 1998; the movie Rushmore. We ate Chinese food and talked about how funny the film was in telling the story of adolescent love. The next day I re-watched the film alone and discovered that the film was more than just a coming-of-age love story, but an experience similar to going to the theater.

Over the past 18 years since that date, I've gotten married and grown in my knowledge of cinema. However, I'm always impressed... scratch that dazzled by what Wes comes up with. I love the quirky characters and stories, the distinctive cinematography, and the unique visual style. Most of all are his abilities to transport the viewer directly into the worlds that he imagines. 

I can go on for days talking about his body of work so far, so I plan on covering his films during the first month of classes this autumn; because I feel there's a lot we as animators can learn for the worlds Wes has created in his films. As a result I hope to bring some of the same magic to the screen in my own films.

In the meantime, below are a series of video essay's by Matt Zoller Seitz. He gives viewers an in-depth looks into Wes' process and should be used as motivation for those working on this group project.

A hardcover of Seitz book The Wes Anderson Collection is available in Meyer Library. I also have donated a paperback version to the library and purchased the Grand Budapest Hotel hardcover, so there's no excuse not to check it out.