Our minds on media.

Musings on the effects of media on cognition.

Star-telegram of Where?

I’m gonna’ pick on this guy for two reasons. One, his web site has some UI issues. Two, he’s picking on Pixar’s new film, Cars. Christopher Kelly, the movie critic at the Star-telegram has decided that computer animation is a forumla and that he’s had enough. [Note: The review that this link originally went to is down. Strangely enough, the least of previous columns on Christopher Kelly’s profile page is surprisingly brief.]

First thing’s first. The Star-telegram of what? Where? I’ve pointed this out a million times, folks: when building a web site try to keep in mind that your audience is not omniscient. They don’t know where you live, what paper you write for, or most importantly when you wrote something. Now, of course, none of this is Mr. Kelly’s fault! This Star-telegram of [insert city name] is pretty typical of a lot of online papers that are starting to look positively ancient for their lack of understanding about both CSS and their inability to think outside of a box. I’ve just gotten to the point where when I reference another web site, it’s impossible for me not to point out the really obvious mistakes. At least this site puts “posted on” dates on the page. A lot of these little newspaper sites don’t even realize that’s important. But, before I quit the nit-picking, one more thing. Right alongside the article is a list of “related links.” I cannot understand what part of the concept of the hyperlink newspapers and other online publications (CNN is the worst) don’t understand. They must seriously be worried that their content is so useless, so banal, that if they put a hypertext link in the middle of the column we will just click away. And they’re probably right. But that’s no excuse not to use the medium properly.

On to the review! To an extent, he’s right. A lot of computer animated film has taken on the rather droll task of portraying something odd but realistically and have forgotten one of the major tenets of cartooning: cartoons can do things that real people and things cannot. Of course, with special effects that line gets blurred every day. Bugs still has the upper hand though when it comes to stopping a crashing plane because it ran out of fuel. I’d really like to know where the surreal comedies like Bugs and Ren and Stimpy are.

Still though, one thing Pixar understands a lot more than the also-rans (yes, Shrek included) is style. Pixar is the Disney of computer animation and if you look at Disney characters you are going to see a lot of uniformity in style. Their eyes are the same; their body types are the same. Even the older movies’ rotoscopic animation was all the same. Pixar, even throughout major technological shifts has maintained a Pixar-look and I think a certain amount of that is perfectly fine. Nobody would cut down Nick Park for looking “too Nick Park.”

In fact, what bothers me about the also-rans (Shrek, Ice Age, Antz, Sharks Tale) is how blobular and generic they all look. There’s no personality to the character design—or it’s very diluted at any rate. Pixar established it’s look way before Toy Story if you have a look at their shorts and they have some right to look shiny and plastic-y because they’ve been doing computer animation for so long. The others have no excuse other than their lack of talent—that and their driving motivation seems to be crapping out as many as they can for the money. I would trust a guy like Crapzenberg [Katzenberg, Dreakworks Animation Chief drollmaker] to do exactly that. Anyone who let himself get quoted as saying, “‘It’s great,’ Katzenberg says, ‘but what I think you need to do is have her kick him in the nuts.'” Wow. I am in awe of his genius.

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