My Feature Favorites: Toy Story

All images © 1995 Walt Disney Pictures / Pixar Animation Studios.

“To infinity and beyond!”

Sound familiar?

Toy Story is the third on my list of my favorite animated feature films. You can see the whole list in that link. If you’ve never seen Toy Story I’d really have to ask where the heck you’ve been. See it already!

What can I say about the first 3D full-length feature film ever made?

That it’s the Snow White of a new generation? Yes, I guess it is.

That it put Pixar on the map? Yes, I suppose it did.

That it was such a success because of all that fancy technology? Uh, no. Sorry.

Some will argue with me, but Toy Story was not a success because of the technology. It was a success because of the storytelling and characters.

Would it have worked in 2D? Yes, I believe it would have. A good story is a good story, no matter the medium. As I’ve said before, you can tell a good story with stick men as far as I’m concerned.

As I go through all my favorite bits from Toy Story, please note that I never mention rigging, lighting or texture mapping. Don’t get me wrong, it looks fabulous (even if the humans are a bit wonky 😉 ). It was freakin’ eye candy all the way when I saw this the first time.

Kids don’t care about eye candy (at least not after the first 10 minutes). Trust me. If the story sucks, a kid will let you know by their lack of interest…technology or not

But 3D worked for telling a story about toys. Period. These days, it’s just gotten a little out of hand. It’s everywhere! Gaa! Use it when it suits the story please.

That’s my two cents. Lecture over.

Let’s roll! Here’s my favorite bits from Toy Story.

The toys. It was a trip back to my childhood. I know the people making this film were from my generation because of the toy selections. I mean Weebles! Stretch Armstrong! Sweet.

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My Feature Favorites: The Iron Giant

All images © 1999 Warner Bros. Feature Animation.

Oh Iron Giant, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

If you’ve never seen The Iron Giant, go now and rent it.

Then buy it.

And love it forevermore.

This is the second film I’m going to gush over from my list of favorite animated films. You can see the whole list here.

Again, I’m not giving a summary of the story. And it’s a given that I love it for the story and the strong characters and stuff. That’s usually why I love the films I love.

Spoiler Alert: I might be giving away a few of the good bits here, so if you haven’t seen it, you’ve been warned.

Here are some of my favorite moments (and other thoughts) of The Iron Giant. With maybe a few lessons thrown in. It was really hard to pick just a few. There so were many more I could have chosen.

Here’s why I love The Iron Giant.

Brad Bird directed it. You know the Simpsons? The Incredibles? Ratatouille? Yeah. That guy. If there’s anyone I’d like to share a beer with and talk about storytelling, this would be the guy.

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My Feature Favorites: The Lion King

All images © 1994 Walt Disney Feature Animation.

After ripping ‘Igor‘ a new one when I reviewed it, I was asked in the comments what some of my all-time favorite animated films were (thanks Steph).

So why not make a series of posts about them?

In the Igor‘ review, I pointed out many of the things they did wrong. With these posts, I’ll point out what they did right. You’ve probably seen most of them, so no boring summary.

I’m just going to dig right in.

These are some of my all time favorite animated films. I’m not saying they are the all time greatest films ever made. They are MY choices and I have my reasons. That’s it. They are:

  • The Lion King (Disney, 1994)
  • The Iron Giant (Warner Bros., 1999)
  • Toy Story (Pixar, 1995)
  • Finding Nemo (Pixar, 2003)
  • South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (Paramount, 1999) (yeah, yeah, I know…)

I loved ‘Wall-E‘ but don’t want to put it on the list yet because it’s so new and I don’t have a DVD to watch and capture images yet. When I can, you’ll be getting my rave review of that movie.

And yes, as an ‘animation professional’ I know I’m supposed to say ‘Snow White‘, ‘Pinocchio‘, ‘Fantasia‘ and all those classics. But I’m going by what I’ve loved and watched the most.

So in that case, The Lion King kicks Snow White‘s ass.

I will start with The Lion King.

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Where ‘Igor’ Went Wrong

© 2008 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

OK, this is my first attempt at a movie review.

Now it won’t be like other movie reviews because:

  1. I’m not going to give you a summary of the plot. I’m too lazy. And you can find that anywhere. Check your local paper.
  2. I’m also too lazy to look up all the names and stuff of the people who worked on it. And honestly…do you really care?
  3. I won’t be getting all animator-snobbish about the whole thing. (Or I’ll try not to.)
  4. I won’t be using words like ‘protagonist’. Ugh.
  5. I’m mostly going to focus on the story. And the problems therein.

And just for kicks I’m going to address the movie as a person. So when I say “Igor” I mean ‘Igor-The Movie’, not the character. It’ll be fun. Really.

OK? Let’s roll.

Alright Igor. I love to give the little guy a chance.

I don’t think Pixar is God. I love ’em but I give props where props are due. I really liked Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda.


So frankly, I don’t care who made you. Just tell me a good story. It’s nice if you look really good while you do it, but I understand you may not have ‘the BIG budget’ of the other guys. That’s OK. You can still entertain me.

And my 9 year-old companion.

I’ll give you the good news first. You looked pretty good. You had some great character designs (even though Tim Burton may have grounds to sue). I had some genuine laughs. Overall you did a pretty damn fine job in the artistic and chuckles department.

But here’s where you went wrong.

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What ‘I Kissed a Girl’ Can Teach You About Cartoons

Probably nothing…on the surface.

But let’s dig a little deeper.

I may go so far into left field with this post you might have to send out a search party. Here it goes anyway, so bear with me.

For my trip to Montreal, I flew Westjet. I dig Westjet because you get your own personal satellite TV that’s embedded in the seat backs. Even better, I got to watch an episode of my guilty pleasure “So You Think You Can Dance” (don’t judge me…yet).

On that show there was a live performance of a singer I’d never heard of, Katy Perry. (Remember, I’m old and don’t get out much.)

I heard this song ‘I Kissed a Girl’ for the first time. The subject matter made my eyes roll. She was all ‘girly-girly’ and that made my eyes roll (I’m so not girly-girly). I like rock songs, not this kind of fluff.

But I had to admit…it was catchy (OK, you can judge me now). Fine. On with my dance show already.

Then during my trip, a strange thing happened.

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“The Beat”: When Silence is Golden

I’m attempting to show two things with this post. And let it be known there are many images ahead.

The first thing is to show how I would have broken down a scene from a TV show (that I didn’t work on). I talked about this at the end of my last post on dealing with dialogue. This is something you can do to practice breaking up dialogue and acting it out.

Why South Park?

Well, I love South Park. It brings out the 20 year old frat boy in me, what can I say? I’ve been a fan since it first aired while I was in animation school. I also have all the DVDs and watch them while I work. Keeps me in a good mood.

Also, it demonstrates that even the ‘simple’ shows can be acted out. South Park is a very ‘wordy’ show too. A lot of the jokes are very dialogue based (as well as visually based). So when I broke this down it got quite long because of all the dialogue, even though it’s only a portion of the actual scene.

It goes to show how much work a TV animation storyboard artist should be doing to pull off the dialogue well.

I would have loved to show the video clip first to go with this. But alas, I have yet to figure out how to easily get that from my DVD onto this blog. Anyone with some advice please offer it in the comments (or email me) and I’ll give you kudos and lots ‘o Karma.

Keep in mind the South Park guys may not have broken down the posing this much. They may have left much more to their animators because they work right there with them. Very different than sending it somewhere else to be animated.

Also keep in mind what I’ve done here is not formatted like a professional storyboard. I’ve just slapped the dialogue under the images, OK?

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Dealing With Dialogue: When the Words Don’t Matter

Now this is not to infuriate the writers out there.

The words *do* matter in many ways. How else would we know what the story was about or what the characters were thinking? And for those very dialogue-based shows (when the gag is verbal, not visual), the words do indeed matter.

But sometimes they don’t.

Please keep in mind I am mainly talking about cartoons here, not live-action. But hopefully the live-action folks can still get something out of this.

I mentioned in a previous post about a show I worked on called ‘The Amazing Adrenalini Brothers!’.

They don’t speak English.

They speak Rendoosian.

Yes, it’s a made-up language. We didn’t get translations to what they were saying in the script either. But it was usually pretty obvious when you read the context of what was going on.

The brothers didn’t talk much and it usually involved their cheer, “Yahzaa!”, so it wasn’t too difficult.

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10 Signs to Know if You’re Reading a Strong Script

Before I get into this, I just want to make one thing clear.

I love writers. I respect writers.

I know how hard it must be to write a script from a blank page. Just as I know how hard it is to draw a storyboard from a blank page. It’s very easy to come in after it’s finished and pick out what could be better.

I just want you (and the writers) to know how artists see their scripts when taking them to the next level in production. I’m writing this from a visual storytelling point of view. And it’s all for the good of the story, right?

Like I mentioned in my previous post, I see myself as the ‘fresh eyes’ when I get a script. Board artists can point out things that may have been overlooked by the writer and director. Sometimes time runs out and it just has to be good enough…because hey, there’s schedule to keep! I get that completely.

I write this out of my experience and opinions of animation scripts.

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