Movie critic Roger Ebert got a letter last month from film editor Walter Murch that explains why he thinks the use of 3D in movies simply doesn't work for us. It's not a case of how much a pair of glasses enhances the story or how wild the visuals may look, but a case of evolution. Murch argues that our eyes can't focus on all the levels that 3D gives us, hence why some people claim to get headaches if they see a movie in 3D.

Read Ebert's article with Murch's letter here

It's an interesting debate and I highly recommend reading this. I've personally never caught on to the 3D craze as I find it doesn't plus the film for me or make the story any better.
Stills 31/01/2011
Color test and production stills for one scene.
Super quick character+background test using good ol' paintbucket tool for scene 20 over one of Sarah's backgrounds. I'm wondering if adding a shadow underneath the character will add to it - something to think about!
I grew up in Sonoma and was surrounded by incredible amounts of history - I thought I knew all the basics on Californian history, but researching for this film introduced me to things I never learned in school there. Learning that California was once its own country for barely a month was surprising, especially when California could technically be its own country from the economy alone. It could be part of the G8 if separated!
I loved growing up in Sonoma and the mixed Mediterranean culture always made it interesting. It's quiet and slow, but I think it's a strong resemblance to how Sonoma was when California was having its first signs of separation. Despite having barely 9,000 people (tiny for US city standards!), the amount of artistic achievements are incredible. In the Sebastiani Theater next to the plaza, Toy Story had its first premiere. Farmers' Markets are held every week to support local growers, and the summer is packed with art and film festivals, which brings in many people from LucasFilm and Pixar.
I took these pictures over summer to get a sense of the closest resemblace of Spanish/Mexican California around. It made me realize that the colors here reflect the colors I prefer - simple, bold, but detailed with textures and other scattered bits. The plaza and its surrounding buildings are old for US standards - between 1800 and 1900. The house I grew up in was built in 1904. Going to Europe makes all of this seem so young!
I've placed my new character colors on top of one of Sarah's new backgrounds. As I previously thought, they're probably too light and could use some extra saturation. I've sent it off to Sarah and Georgina for their thoughts, and new tests will follow after that.
Credits draft 08/01/2011
I created a single template that could be used for the background in the credits, mixing up similar tones and brushes to make a crinkled paper effect. I'm debating on whether to have the credits scroll, or to add bits of ink/text to make it look like an old newspaper (though that would look more Western than Spanish Californian). Several things could be done, but this is a good starting point!
Colors update 04/01/2011
Here is an updated sheet of new possible colors for the main characters. It's important for these characters to stand out against both the background and other characters, but still match with the colors in the background without losing any action. I feel these might be too light, so Sarah and I will compare them against her backgrounds and then do more changes until we find what palette works best.
It wasn't until fellow students mentioned in January that I realized I was leaning towards an Eric Goldberg-style of drawing. Goldberg lead Fantasia 2000's Rhapsody in Blue sequence, which immediately captivated me when I first saw the film. I loved the simple style and curvy lines, but never thought to look deeper into it until I started on this project.
Copyright Walt Disney Animation Studios
It's uniquely 2-dimensional with lots of curves in unexpected places. Backgrounds and extra characters consist of single colors, while the main characters have a few colors to keep focus on their stories. Even the thickness of lines show action and expression. While I loved this sequence when I first saw it, I never thought I would be taking inspiration from it for my own drawings.
Here is an outline of how the main characters developed from the initial pitch to now, what things have changed, and why they look the way they do now. The current overall look is still similar to the original designs, but the small changes that have been made are extremely important to when we start animating. Here are what the first designs looked like (click on the images for a bigger picture):
And here are the updated designs:
Can you spot the main changes? They are subtle but critical. One of the most important changes was giving the characters actual legs. Early on we realized that knees would be very helpful if we wanted to animate walking and running realistically, so all the characters were given legs. They're still short legs, but long enough to include all the necessary joints.

Another change occurred when we started storyboarding. Georgina had instant trouble with the stick-like and volume-less hands, particularly when characters were holding onto an object. Thus, the fingers were thickened to give the hands an actual shape. To match with the feet, they are still kept thin.

Those details aside, another key issue for me was the overall shapes and sizes of the characters so that the audience has an idea of what the characters are like when they first see them. With a three-minute film, you don't have much time to tell the viewers the characters' personalities. The Hero has an average build at 4.5 heads, making him the main shape and size. To make the Villain seem more sinister, he stands at 5 heads tall - bigger than the Hero but not outrageously so - and with a slender head, ears, mustache, and torso. I didn't want to make the Girl look smaller and weaker, as she is more a fighter than a damsel in distress. For that, she is also 4.5 heads but stands on her toes to make her the same height as the Hero. If she were on her heels, she would be 4 heads.

Other personality traits include their noses, ears, and tails as signs of their personalities and roles. See the differences between them? While all the characters in the film share the same body type, little changes make a massive difference.
I went to see Dreamworks' latest film last week and found myself very pleased. Not as pleasantly surprised as I was after seeing Kung Fu Panda, but still very pleased. Dreamworks' storytelling department seems to be on the rise, if with a few bumps here and there, but nevertheless full of touching moments.

One of the biggest things that surprised me in How to Train Your Dragon is how the dragons were portrayed. Once main lead Hiccup starts observing dragons' characteristics, they reveal to be very cat-like instead of violent beasts. It's a clever and familiar approach for the audience to realize with Hiccup that dragons can be quite docile when treated right, just as for pet cats. Hiccup is anything but a hero, though his dorky way of talking and curiosity keeps us hoping the best for him.

However, while the personalities of Hiccup and his dragon companion Toothless are strongly developed, many other characters are either left behind or dragged along. The other young teens in the town are all unique but don't feel as deeply rooted despite important roles. While the story is charming and fun to watch unfold, it is packed with cliches and occasionally predictable, which loses a bit of the story's magic. Dreamworks did stray a lot from the original Dragon books to make the script work as an animated film, and understandably so, but their efforts for originality ended up leaning towards generic Hollywood movie material.

Still, few animated films have an ending like this one. The subtly is incredible and immediately sold me to Hiccup and Toothless. Seeing all the events and struggles come together is a good reason enough to see this, and maybe twice.

Crossposted onto Cafe Cochon.