Category Archives: Unsolicited Comments

Unsolicited Comment: Why Are Animated Films Cartoony Nowadays?

In this video, AniMat explains how he believes family movies also suffer from experimentation in the young art form of full-CGI, feature-length films. The latest trend in family movies has been to create what he calls “cartoony movies” instead of “animated films.” He claims that cartoony movies try to mimic seven-minute-long skit cartoons from the 1930s and 40s. Cartoony movies focus on animation, visuals, humor, and pop culture references over the script while animated films focus on the script.

I’m not sure about his cartoony movie category. For one, what could be placed in this category is as open to interpretation as what makes a movie bad. AniMat classifies Angry Birds as cartoony, but considering that Stefan Molyneux defended Angry Birds as a metaphor for today’s political climate, it could just as easily be an animated film. While it has pop culture references, its script apparently has a meaningful message. AniMat classifies Sausage Party as an animated film, but his own viewers place it in the cartoony category. And while AniMat praises Zootopia as an animated film, it’s also a formulaic Disney film in part powered by Frozen references and clichés.

Second, most of the films AniMat cites as cartoony are sequels, based on pre-existing franchises, or rip-offs. Even the films not easily classified as one of these are in an oversaturated market where everything looks like everything else. I’d say these films are bad, not because they’re experimenting, but because they rely too heavily on their audience’s knowledge of the world and characters, rely too heavily on current trends and pop culture, or don’t understand what made the base material they’re copying popular. The sequel trend isn’t unique to CGI movies. It’s a trend in many movies, franchises, and video games these days because of the economic climate. It’s easier to get an audience from a pre-existing fan base than to attract a new audience to an original concept. If these films really wanted to take risks and experiment, then they would get out of the family movie market.

Overall, I’m just not sure why these animated films need different labels for movies with “good” scripts and movies with “bad” scripts.

Unsolicited Comment: The Definition of “Style Over Substance”

I rediscovered Red Letter Media recently. In one of their recent episodes, Jay defines “style over substance,” something that I assumed I knew what people meant when they said it and never thought to formally define. “Style over substance,” according to Jay, means the way the story is told makes a simple story interesting, or more simply, “style over substance” is filmmaking.

I’ve always thought of “style over substance” meaning purposeless action scenes that mean nothing to the characters, films with artistic styles that detract from or don’t compliment the story, or films that look cool but don’t have a thoughtful take-away message. It’s a phrase I’ve fought against a lot recently in my defense of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, which is accused of being all these things. Jay’s definition just gave me a different way to look at the phrase.

Essentially, when people use “style over substance” with Jay’s definition, they’re saying a story is so simple that the way it’s told is the only reason it’s interesting. Probably any story out there, however, could be condensed into a single sentence and claimed to be simple. “A boy becomes a man,” “a man rediscovers his identity,” “a girl embraces her destiny”: these are all stories that could be horribly boring or enthralling, depending on the world and characters it’s told with and the skill of the author(s). The way any story is told is exactly what makes it interesting in any storytelling medium. “Style over substance” is storytelling.

What I’m saying is, if you’ve ever used this phrase in this context with Advent Children… you’re an idiot. 😛

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children – What We Had To Watch Response

(To those of you who stumble across this, I realized belatedly that my response to this video wasn’t a YouTube comment. Now I’m too lazy to change it. 😛 Normally, I don’t do comments or responses, but I really appreciated this video’s insight.)

Hi, Il Neige! Thanks for the thoughtful review of Advent Children! People don’t examine this movie’s merits and flaws enough. I’m a CGI movie enthusiast, and I really appreciated your insight. There are a few things I want to point out though. I apologize for the novel, but I like talking about this stuff.

It seems some of your complaints come from the idea that Advent Children is supposed to be something that it’s not. You say that Advent Children doesn’t expand the lore of Final Fantasy VII. Does it have to? I feel like Advent Children serves multiple purposes. It has fan service, but it also just tells a weird story about a guy struggling to accept his past and find his place in the present. While it services fans of the games and maybe sells Dirge of Cerberus, it tells a complete, character-driven story that I think anyone can watch, analyze, and pull meaning from. You spend a lot of time in this video simply talking about Advent Children’s themes and characters but go on to say that you wish it were something else when I think what you described is a really interesting story that’s worth telling. Who cares that it doesn’t expand on the universe that it takes place in? Final Fantasy VII is simply the medium that this story is told through.

You say the problem that plagues all video game movies is that they’re not interactive. Does this make all action movies boring because you can’t tell the characters to attack one another? The fact that they’re not interactive is a weakness of the movie medium, not of Advent Children or of video game movies in particular.

You also say that Advent Children looks realistic but simultaneously defies physics akin to live-action anime. Does anyone in this movie actually look like a real person though? I would argue, no. Nobody looks real. They’re a bit too perfect and alien to be real, and I don’t think the goal was photorealism. The look and style of the film doesn’t stray that far from the look and feel of Final Fantasy cut scenes. It just looks a little nicer.

I would also say that Advent Children isn’t anime though. Do you think of video game cut scenes as cartoons? Where is the line between acceptably realistic and cartoon CGI, and why are there categories? CGI is a different art form that, while it can take inspiration from other mediums such as video games, live-action movies, and cartoons, has its own strengths and weaknesses. For example, making something explode in CG is extremely easy while making characters hold hands is extremely difficult. Making something explode with 2D animation is very difficult, but making characters hold hands is trivial. We can forgive the poofy explosions in 2D animation and guns that jump from a table to a character’s hands in video games because they get the idea across. Putting blood and dirt on a character may not be as simple with CGI as it is to put makeup on an actor or paint on a cell, but Advent Children still shows the impact of violence in other ways.

A lot of your complaints come from the idea that most of Advent Children’s fight scenes are just visual spectacles, but I don’t think this is the case. They build the physical limitations of the world and its characters. The first fight scene introduces motorcycle chase scenes and gravity defying action, which we see for the rest of the film. Cloud getting his goggles shot off shows that the characters can withstand a lot of damage, and they do for the rest of the movie, but it also implies that they can be hurt. The fight between Loz and Tifa shows that the characters can also jump really high and have super human strength. This fight scene and the next one between Cloud and Kadaj’s gang shows that the bad guys pose a threat, even to the people who saved the world two years ago and have super human abilities. The fight with Bahamut shows that together, Cloud and his friends can defeat the bad guys. The motorcycle chase scene between Cloud, Kadaj, Loz, and Yazoo uses every single element that we’ve learned about from all previous fight scenes: high jumping, motorcycle chases, sword fighting, super strength, etc. The final battle with Sephiroth places itself on an even higher level by giving Sephiroth the ability to outright fly. He doesn’t need to high jump.

The fight scenes also one up each other by heightening the stakes. In the first fight scene, Cloud is only fighting to save himself. In the next scene, Tifa is fighting to save herself and Marlene. In the scene after that, Cloud fights to save a bunch of children. In the scene after that, Cloud and his friends fight to protect the citizens of the city. After that, Cloud fights Kadaj, Loz, and Yazoo to prevent the resurrection of Sephiroth, which could lead to the destruction of the world. Finally, Cloud fights Sephiroth, a god-like being, to save the world.

You mention that the camera work defies basic filmmaking techniques. I’d argue that the movie actually follows the 180 degree rule really well, and for the most part, the shots are wide to show the action and where the characters are located in relation to one another and in the scene. Its camera shots are interesting and would be very difficult to recreate in a live-action movie or anime, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad. This isn’t a terrible action movie that uses shaking camera angles, two-second-long shots, and closeups to hide its crappy choreography. Advent Children’s use of disorienting camera angles, mostly during Cloud’s fight with Sephiroth, seem to be used to show Cloud’s emotional state: frantic, confused, and scared.

There’s also reason to emotionally invest in every fight scene, even before Vincent reveals the details about Sephiroth and geostigma. While we don’t understand why Cloud is attacked in the first fight scene, neither does Cloud. He’s just trying to survive and figure out what the hell is going on. He’s immediately a character we can sympathize with and root for because we don’t know what’s going on either. We can care about Tifa and Loz’s fight because Tifa is a friend of Cloud’s, she doesn’t know what’s going on, and she needs to protect an innocent child from this creepy guy in black leather. In Cloud’s fight with Kadaj, Loz, and Yazoo, he’s weakened and caught off balance from the moment he enters the fight. He came to save the kids from creepy guys in black leather, but his own memories and fears get in his way. We don’t need to know about geostigma’s origins or Shinra or Kadaj’s motivations in order to sympathize with these needs to survive and save children from creepy dudes. The movie simply hasn’t explained the more abstract concepts yet.

You argue that there aren’t any stakes because there aren’t implications that the characters can be hurt. For example, how can we believe that Cloud will die of a gunshot after surviving rocks falling on top of him? Keep in mind that Cloud saved the world two years ago only to be struck down by an incurable disease. Despite all the strength these characters have, they’re still human. Cloud doesn’t actually receive an injury from rocks falling on top of him, but it does drain his energy and fill him with fear. This moment, where he must fight a god-like being while trying not to be crushed by large falling rocks, actually begins Cloud’s downfall in the fight. When he escapes the falling rock pile, he collapses and doesn’t regain strength until the memories of his friends re-empower him. Shots of his face during and before the rocks fall shows his desperation and fear.

Most of the implications that characters can be severely hurt or die comes from their emotional and physical reactions. For me personally, I find this much more powerful than movies that kill the majority of the supporting cast and thousands of civilians to try to convince me that its emotionally sterile and apparently invincible protagonist is somehow in physical danger. Cloud’s never stabbed, shot (without protection from sturdy glasses), or exploded until the end of the movie, but he does tire quite easily and is controlled by his emotions and illness. This means that for most of the movie, we’re left in suspense as to what his physical limits are until it reveals that he’s vulnerable to stabbing, bullets, and explosions. The only reason he survives these things is because his friends, particularly Aerith, help him.

Sure, maybe more people could die of geostigma to show that it’s more of a threat. And maybe having Loz, Yazoo, Reno, and Rude survive an explosion for the sake of visual flair was a bad idea. But how would killing Cloud or anyone else in the movie serve its themes? Cloud is already lamenting the deaths of two people. Why should he need to lament anyone else’s? At the end of the movie, Cloud chooses his friends and life over his memories of Aerith and Zack and acceptance of death. Sephiroth’s survival symbolizes that the Lifestream’s cycle of life and death, peace and peril will continue as it always has.

Finally, you say that the final fight scenes contradict the movie’s themes and ideas. Cloud’s friends disappear after the fight with Bahamut despite their presence being an important part of Cloud’s strength. The reason for this is probably because choreography is hard. As is, it’s stunning that so many characters fight Bahamut at once while still looking awesome and not degenerating into a confusing punching, stabbing, and sword swinging fest. One of the reasons that it works is probably because Bahamut is so large. The movie’s solution to needing to keep Cloud’s friends around without pouring time and effort into creating the circumstances and choreography for them to continue to fight is as elegant as it could be. Ultimately, the movie is about Cloud, and the majority of the film’s effort focuses on that. His friends are still with him on the sidelines during his fight with Kadaj, and when they completely disappear during his fight with Sephiroth, it heightens the danger because Cloud is apparently by himself again.

Considering how thematic this movie is, what we see on screen sometimes seems more representative of its ideas rather than of what is actually occurring. While it doesn’t make sense that Cloud’s friends would leave him to fight Sephiroth on his own, the final fight scene represents the idea that Cloud overcomes his doubts and saves the world with the help of his friends (i.e. his memories of them). As another example, what happens in the final scene of the movie is objectively ridiculous, but it perfectly conveys the idea that Cloud and the world have healed.

Anyway, if you made it this far, thank you for reading! Again, I really appreciated your treatment of this film and thought I would just bring another perspective. I think the fact that we can even argue about themes, characters, and filmmaking techniques with an action movie, video game-based movie, and fan service film is impressive. I’m looking forward to your Advent Children Complete review!

Unsolicited Comment: Why do action scenes suck?

Kingsglaive’s lack of conflict won as the subject of my latest Extra Life article, but a close runner up was its un-Final Fantasy-like visuals/art style and atrocious visual storytelling. Its fight scenes in particular are visually confusing and even contradictory to the audio and story. I know I’m just throwing out empty claims with no evidence here, but that’s because I’d still really like to write or vlog about it someday. At that time, I’ll back it up! In the meantime, I think this video on action scenes in general sums up at least part of the reason why Kingsglaive’s fights confuse, obscure, and bore. The same could probably be said for a lot of CGI, action movies actually.

Unsolicited Comment: Lessons Learned from Berserk 2016

I haven’t seen much of any Berserk series (maybe an episode or a movie or something a long time ago), but apparently, the new 2016 series is a bit of a hot topic for its use of CG. I watched a few fan videos produced in the fallout. The commentators analyze why they feel the series failed as well as why most anime fail to use CG in an effective way. Some of the points in a couple of videos I felt weren’t just applicable to anime but to all CGI movies and series, so I thought I’d expand on them a little.

In “The Mismanagement of CG in Anime,” BriHard discusses how anime that fail to use CG in an effective way are typically trying to imitate 2D animation as opposed to being inspired by it. Shadow Skill: Secret of the Kurudan Style, which I wrote about in a previous post, is a perfect example of a CGI anime series that attempts to imitate 2D animation and fails to draw on the strengths of 3D animation. Viewers who watch a lot of anime will naturally compare it to the 2D animation that they know. From there, picking out its flaws and differences and discarding it as a rip-off is easy to do. Films with styles that are inspired by animation such as Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, however, are much less prone to this comparison and critique and show off the full power of what 3D animation can do. The characters in Advent Children have an anime-like “feel” to them in how they are designed, the shape of their eyes, and the way they act, but while the film draws inspiration from anime, it doesn’t attempt to mimic 2D animation with cell shading or stilted animation.

In the west, full CGI movies, when they aren’t targeted at children, seem to more often imitate reality rather than 2D animation. This may be because it is so often used as a tool in live-action films where it must fit in with the real objects and characters in the scene. Like many CG anime series, full CGI films like The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol can be off-putting or unsatisfying because they don’t quite live up to the reality that they imitate. The graphics in video games, however, usually don’t receive this criticism even though many of them portray humans in a realistic environment. People may say that the graphics in a game are ugly, that the characters are ugly, or that the graphics are pixelated, but I’ve never heard anyone complain that the characters don’t look like real people. Of course they don’t look like real people. They’re composed of visible blocky polygons, sheets for hair and clothes, and pixelated textures. Even though modern games look better than ever, these artifacts are still visible. The characters and environments are clearly inspired by reality in how they are designed, feel, and behave, but they don’t imitate it so closely that they are scrutinized for how different they are from it. CGI films like Advent Children also avoid this scrutiny by stylizing the character and environment designs but still represent reality in a satisfying way.

Super Eyepatch Wolf in “Berserk 2016: What The HELL happened” relays a quote said by the lead animator of Double Negative: “When animators start to use 3D, the first thing they forget is everything they learned from 2D.” In relation to this quote, he discussed how even fundamental film-making techniques like the 180 degree rule are sacrificed for the sake of having cool-looking shots in Berserk 2016. This is a problem that I’ve observed in the CGI films that I’ve studied as well, but I feel that goes down to the level of the script. So often, the goal of CGI films that mimic reality or target adults seems to be to only create something that looks cool. The stories are often mediocre (Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within); based on existing properties, no matter how ancient (Beowulf); or completely ridiculous (Appleseed: Alpha). While the end product looks beautiful, it often lacks a satisfying story that gives anything it in purpose. This may be another side effect of how CGI is used in live action films targeted at adults. Often CGI enhances or portrays action-packed events or amazing environments while mimicing reality. When all that’s in the movie is CGI though, that doesn’t mean it can be all action, amazing wonders, and ridiculous camera angles all the time.

While these videos examine slightly different content that I do, they concur that CGI seems to be so new that filmmakers are still enamored with it and learning how to use it effectively even in 2016.

A passionate speech to DreamWorks Animation that no one asked for

DreamWorks Animation is apparently in financial trouble partly because of the highly competitive animated-film market. Well, you know what, DreamWorks? Other people exist on this planet other than than young children and their parents. No one said you had to target them. There’s an entire market of teenagers and young adults that you and near every other animation studio have ignored for the past twenty years. Return to your roots! The first CGI film you ever made was Antz, a film that in retrospect should not have even tried to target children at all, a strangely philosophical and gritty film full of death, political satire, and dark comedy. Absolutely no one is making films like that regularly using CGI. There’s no competition! You could show what else CGI could be for, what it could do, what it could show when it doesn’t have to first and foremost entertain children.

I don’t need a photorealistic recreation of golden Angelina Jolie. I don’t need 60,000 strands of hair. Just because I’m over 12 years old doesn’t mean that the only way 3D animation will entertain me is if it features guns, stupid headstrong women, zombies, the police, a military, or a creepy, muscular man cutting his own arm off. I want to know what the space race in a binary planet system or on several inhabited moons, orbiting a gas giant is like. I want to see an unlikely hero, who looks very different from us but acts much the same, liberate his enslaved and ignorant species from an oppressive corporation. I want to see how a person’s acceptance of their differences and strengths that derive from them can save themselves and the people close to them. I miss the story about that ant who was disgusted with the oppressive world he lived in and succeeded in changing it.

There’s millions of teenagers and young adults out there playing video games composed of 3D graphics and dark stories or watching anime about psychopaths, depression, equivalency and fairness, the existence of god, notebooks that can kill people, pornography, and a multitude of other adult and challenging topics. CGI can tell stories as complex and dark as those found in video games and anime, too! DreamWorks Animation, step forth and embrace a brave new target audience! Nobody asked you for Shrek the Third or Penguins of Madagascar! I’m asking you for Antz! Millions of people don’t know it yet, but it’s what they want, too!

…Yup. That’s the story of what I do at 3:30 in the morning: write a passionate speech about stuff that will probably never happen. And I’ve been watching Antz… a lot.