Sunday, July 6, 2008

From the eyes of a newbie...Martial Arts and Animation

Martial arts have always been one of my interests, not directly as a practice but as a big influence in the development of my tastes. With the advent of Kung Fu Panda, I've been intrigued by how the profound meaning and methodology of these arts could be related to animation somehow. And so I went on to join some classes for a start and, I’ve got to admit, it has played a major role in the way I perceive things.

Firstly I would like to give my insights in Kung Fu Panda. Such an inspirational masterpiece... A lot of things worked so well together and every frame of that film felt like a great painting/photograph you could easily have framed on your wall. From my experience, being a CG film, sometimes this is really hard to achieve. Lots of people I’ve talked to complain about how simple and straight forward the plot is....but that for me is the greatest element of it. Such a classical approach yet innovatively well put together, with really interesting personalities and rich environments. And the choreographies were spectacular, in terms of animation, direction and composition. I've also managed to purchase the "Art of" book and the amount of planning and conceptualisation is vast and rich. Every single element, from why some of the characters are dressed the way they are, to what kind of colours certain locations should convey in order to transmit specific moods and feelings for specific scenarios...everything is so well thought out. Some tend to justify by saying that obviously a lot of talented artists were involved, and that they can afford it with their ridiculous budgets. But even though if that was the case, I believe it's not easy at all have such coordination, vision, agreement, and energy to keep going till the end. If we start being picky we could mention things like how some of the characters remained very much kept in the background of the story and were not given more relevant challenges (i.e. the furious five), or how some gags were kind of predictable and perhaps a tiny little repetitive (i.e. Po’s colloquialisms), but these didn’t bother me at all and I think is a very good example of an analogy with the concept of a hero’s journey in “The Hero with a thousand faces” by Joseph Campbell. I really love this film. I love it.

Now to the martial arts stuff. I started on some classes of "Jeet Kune Do" (JKD) last week. JKD is a martial arts philosophy and discipline invented and introduced by Bruce Lee, so is quite a modern variation of Kung Fu which doesn't deal with any of the traditional routines. From the beginning of the lessons, I instantly felt so familiar with a lot of their principles. I'll mention some of these and I bet animators will be able to draw a lot of analogies that make perfect sense:

- JKD’s fundamental core is nothing but simplicity and effectivity. Quoting the master himself: "My movements are simple, direct and non-classical. The extraordinary part of it lies in its simplicity. Every movement in Jeet Kune-Do is being so of itself. There is nothing artificial about it. I always believe that the easy way is the right way. Jeet Kune-Do is simply the direct expression of one's feelings with the minimum of movements and energy."

- JKD’s training methodology evolves to suit ones needs. You start with what everyone knows by logic: punches and kicks, body mechanics. You pass on to usage of those in practicality (combat), and how the same mechanics can be used for different variations. Then you learn the flow, how some combinations could be entries and how others could be finishing moves; how ones are peaks and others are subtle moves. Finally, you interpret these yourself and you build your own way to get by.

- The essence of JKD relies in the way you develop it's elements further, so that your JKD skills will be enhanced and richer in depth. Such elements are mainly timing, distance and position (anything familiar here fellow animators?)

- Execution of most body mechanics starts from the hips. The bigger the recoil in the root, the bigger the anticipation of the upcoming move and the stronger such move will end up being. Also tension and rigidity must be avoided in order to let ourselves loose and avoid breaking of joints and articulations, and therefore having a smoother and more fluid motion. When executing moves, you should not do them one step after the other but rather let everything flow in an overlapping sequence to develop speed.

-Last but not least, if you listen to this interview there are some key points that Bruce Lee mentioned himself that you will find, although not really innovative, quite well put together and wisely spoken:

These are just a couple of observations I really wanted to share with everyone. I’m not an expert to evaluate these from every martial art’s perspective, hence I kept it to what I’m currently doing which is JKD. But I’m sure at least some of these are applicable on every art, being traditional or modern. Martial arts were created for combat but have evolved into other major forms as well, including dance, theatre, acrobatics and many other…and for me personally, has to do with how we canalise our inherent human aggressivity in a beautiful and healthy expression…an artistic expression, with no restraint in style. And at the same time, animation is not just about how we move things about to put them in motion, but rather how we express ourselves through such art…

Wow…A bit of a philosophical post….blame Dreamworks and the awesomeness of Kung Fu Panda!!

No comments: