Sunday, 4 November 2012

A Lack of thought, communication, interaction and Empathy (Sir Billi)

Just checked out the trailer for the Scottish feature of Sir Billi and my first reaction was that this is one hell of an ugly film. This breaks one of the 12 fundamentals of animation - appeal. Once you get over the initial ugly nature - and this is a typical symptom of low budget productions, you realise this could be seen as thinking the biggest part of the iceberg is above the waterline. 


The approach seems to be a focus on producing a natural performance. It appears the whole production staff have only an understanding of the lead character. The affect of this focus has caused severe problems in this teaser (and I'm dreading the movie). 

Firstly, it is a sensitive memory sequence trying to communicate the fond memories of a loved one, so one has to anticipate the softer weighted movements in performance. However, it is apparent the movements have been timed to pace the music, or at least stretched out after the initial blocking passes, causing the movements to feel as though they are moving in slow motion. 

Secondly, the women that he so longs for is actually a puppet. Nope, that wasn't a spoiler! She lacks emotional thought or reaction, but not always, and not always in synch. The worst offending shot is the spaghetti shot. At two stages the male lead thinks and reacts to the situation, she on the other hand doesn't. She doesn't blink, her eyes are static, her eyelids contract, but you really have to pay attention to see this - and the action doesn't playout in a recommended speed to convey such a reaction (and especially one she didn't show any signs of thought about doing). This action has to be clear to the audience. They cannot see that she is as committed to him as he is to her. In the shot where they are looking over a crib there gestures communicate their attachment, their bond, and we can see they are thinking. This creates empathy. The last scene, with the titanic impersonation, (which contradicts what they are trying to convey in terms of narrative to the audience) it is clear they have not animated below the waist on her. Even when his big bulging hands grab her there is no influence and it stays completely static - there should be a pull back at the very least (an exchange of weight). When she opens her eyes surprised she doesn't look behind to acknowledge it is her loving partner and everything is safe. She assumes and casually falls back into him. It's the lack of communication between them in almost every shot that is creating the problems.

Thirdly, if we critique the piece from a narrative and cinematic perspective, we can see in the wider context of performance where these issues arise from. I would like you to watch this scene (if you haven't already) from Pixars UP.



First off the co-ordination and interaction between the characters is clear, concise and is meaningful. Sir Billie has taken popular ideas from successful films (lady and the tramp and titanic for example) and tried to use them in a satirical manner. The problem with this is that neither character acknowledges that they are doing it (satire). They act as though they are the first to do it - this makes it unfunny. It kills the humour. What would make it funny, in the lady and tramp scene for example (the spaghetti shot), would be if the spaghetti split half way through, and they acknowledged it. Lets use Up as an example as to explain why this would work. In Up, Carl is accident prone. When they experience an activity together as a couple (to become close in the initial stages), Carl exposes his flaws. Such as his hand print on the mailbox and the cart that floats away. They are both aware that something satirical has happened - if its real to them its real to us. She accepts him despite these accidents. This creates a bond.  The bond is not the humour itself but the acceptance of each others flaws. The acceptance of flaws creates empathy. This is why reflecting a cultural representation of love and repackaging it as satire does not work on it's own. They are not aware they are performing satire, there is no weakness exposed so no empathy can be gained from the audience. In Up the exposed flaws of Carl in a satirical manner allow the transition into a dramatical acceptance of Ellies flaw - she can't have children. That is the empathic and emotional hook that melts the audiences guts and creates a sense of loss that is the central driving force of the narrative - Carls reason for the journey. This does not happen in Sir Billi - we do not care about the reason for Sir Billi's journey because we do not empathise with their relationship. 

It is hard to make a full and conclusive comment without seeing the completed movie in its complete context. However, Up shows you can have satire and drama in the same sequence and make it progress the narrative, as well as creating empathy with the audience.

If this is a direct scene from the film then the blame surely lands at the feet of the director(s). If it was generated for PR purposes (which i doubt they would have the budget for anyway) they need to establish what they are trying to sell. Any film with a skateboarding Grandpa should surely be sold as a fun and engaging film. (if your read the websites synopsis [here], place that against the teaser and you'd think we are talking about separate films!) So if this has been made for PR purposes then the blames lies with them. However, the animated character performances are equally to blame. This film will be counter productive for British animation. Sylvan Chomets' comments regarding the poor quality in British animation certainly seem just at this moment in time if this is what other continents see as our export.

Overall what the movie lacks on every level from director, producer, animator and the action, narrative and characters themselves are thought, communication, interaction and empathy, and i don't shed a tear!

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