I took my girls to see Brave over the weekend. Pixar has another home run on their hands. As I expected, the film features a wonderful story with lovable characters and a sound, moral lesson. There’s just enough threat to keep things interesting and a healthy helping of humor. The score is also quite good, if you like music of Celtic origin. I already purchased the soundtrack.
As I said, that’s what I’ve come to expect from Pixar, and they don’t disappoint. What really impressed me with Brave are the technical achievements in both hair and water effects. Merida’s hair is an impressive bit of work. Imagining the logic that went into its behavior blows my mind. Knowing how far we’ve come with computer animation in the past ten years, I know we’re going to see some truly amazing stuff in the next decade. Obviously, Pixar was not trying for photorealism, but the hair seemed natural. Blizzard’s cinematics for Diablo III contain the most realistic looking CG humans I’ve seen. The quality of Leah’s skin (you can see pores) and the subtleness of her facial expressions have come close to spanning that uncanny valley.
A few more notes from the film:
Back in the Spring, I taught a course on game design. By the end of the semester, my students had conceived a Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MORPG) in which middle school students become park rangers, defending Canaan Valley from invasive species. Actually, the concept for the game was larger in scope, dealing with many environmental issues facing Appalachian wetlands, but for a proof of concept, they focused on invasive species. They developed characters, storyboards, and mechanics for three quest lines, designed a UI, and created concept art. They modeled a small part of the valley and some of the plants, animals, and objects that would be featured in the game. However, there wasn’t enough time in the semester to actually have the prototype playable. One of my students took on an independent study this past semester to take everything that had been created and produce an animated demo of the gameplay that can be used by the customer to seek more funding for the project. Here are the results of Kofi’s work, building on the work of his classmates. I think it’s a fine piece, considering that only one of the students had ever done this type of work before.
Something rather amazing is coming from Andy Clarke, Naomi Atkinson, Dan Rubin, and Mircea Piturca. But first, a little background:
Andy Clarke is a member of the Web Standards Project and author of two books: Transcending CSS: The Fine Art Of Web Design and Hardboiled Web Design. He also runs Stuff and Nonsense, a web design studio. Naomi Atkinson has been doing great web design for a long time and now runs her own firm. Dan Rubin is another designer/programmer with many years of web work and a couple of books under his belt. Mircea Piturca is, you guessed it, a web designer and creator of Type Folly.
With talent like that, you should expect something amazing. Animatable is a web application that will allow you to create multi-scene CSS3 animations without knowing much about CSS or animation either one. The tool looks and behaves more as one would expect a desktop application to, and what it does is quite impressive. Check out their introductory video and the Madmanimation demo that was created with it.
If you know JibJab, it’s probably because of their political animation parody titled This Land, which featured President George W. Bush and Senator Kerry back in 2004. Or, it could be one of many other such animated shorts they have produced. What you may not know is that they have turned their comedic and artistic talents into a web-based service that allows you to place your own photos into their animations. Trademarked Sendables, their website facilitates uploading of photos, manipulation of said photos to fit properly within a mask, and jaw specification, allowing them to animate the mouth nutcracker-style. Then you are able to share the resulting video in a multitude of ways. Typically, they charge for this service, but right now, they are partnering with Lucasfilm in celebration of the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back. You can try it for free.
It’s a well-conceived and brilliantly executed user interface, but I found their history to be even more inspiring.
I took my girls to see WALL•E yesterday. The movie lives up to Pixar’s reputation. I quite enjoyed it. It’s amazing the amount of expression—of deeply felt emotion—communicated with so very little dialog. It’s no surprise that Ben Burtt, who, with Kenny Baker, brought R2-D2 to life in the Star Wars films, also gave voice to our new little robot who could.
Also of interest from a design perspective is the fact that Jonathan Ive, Apple’s Senior VP of Industrial Design, consulted on the design of WALL•E’s love, Eve. The movie’s director, Andrew Stanton, was quoted by Fortune:
“I wanted Eve to be high-end technology—no expense spared—and I wanted it to be seamless and for the technology to be sort of hidden and subcutaneous. The more I started describing it, the more I realized I was pretty much describing the Apple playbook for design.”
Eve certainly does resemble Apple’s products, from the smooth, curvaceous, white surface, to the softly pulsing lights underneath. She isn’t the only reference to Apple. We get a quick glimpse of a video iPod in WALL•E’s truck, and the sound confirming a full power charge of his batteries is the familiar start-up chime from our dear old Mac. Of course, this is Steve’s other company we’re talking about.
Finally, I thought the end credits were sheer genius. SPOILER ALERT! The end of the film finds the human race returning to Earth uneducated and lazy, but determined to start fresh. The credit sequence, then, begins in the style of Egyptian art as the people begin the process of learning how to sustain and advance their civilization. The visual style quickly progresses through the movements of art history, touching on impressionism, pointilism, and others before finally ending in the pixelated artwork of early video games.