Nothing Fishy about Ponyo

28-Aug-09 10:38 AM by
Filed under Reviews; 1 comment.

It's been a good year for animation. Early in 2009, we had the phenomenal Coraline, a technically brilliant stop-motion that provided a chilling horror experience without being inappropriate for its target audience. Later, we received Up, a melancholy but still excellent movie that lives up to the high standard that past Pixar productions have set. Now, we have the wonderful Ponyo, the newest title from the most respected animator in the world today, Hayao Miyazaki.

Ponyo's plot is very heavily influenced on the classic tale of The Little Mermaid. It's a simple tale: the fish, Ponyo, meets a human boy, falls in love, and becomes a human. There are a few complications — Ponyo's father dislikes humanity, Ponyo's transformation upsets the balance of nature — but on the whole, the plot never gets much more complicated than the simple friendship of two children that forms its base.

Ponyo is geared towards smaller children — my 8-year old and 20-month old daughters both greatly enjoyed it — but there's much to be enjoyed by older viewers as well. The animation quality is phenomenal, with a heavy storm providing many especially spectacular moments. Characterization is well done and the film is filled with gentle humor that does not rely on awkwardly inserted pop culture humor like so many lesser animated films use.

The English localization of this originally Japanese movie is respectable. Of all of the voice actors, the only one I had any issues with Liam Neeson, not because he did a bad job but because his voice seemed at odds with his character's appearance. That's the only minor quibble I had; the rest of the cast fits perfectly and does an excellent job with the voices.

All in all, I highly recommend Ponyo to children as well as adults who appreciate beautiful artwork and simple but cute stories. Audiences looking for something darker and deeper like some of Miyazaki's earlier work such as Princess Mononoke may wish to look elsewhere. If you're still not sure, see the trailer after the break.

(more…)

Now for Some Real User Power

10-Jul-07 6:13 PM by
Filed under Celebrities, Films; 5 comments.

Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of Tron, a film that is so many things to so many people: a milestone of computer animation; a staple of any geek's library; an element in the film studies curriculum I developed; another Jeff Bridges box office bomb. My love affair with this film spans multiple media:

I had to commemorate the anniversary of this cult hit with more than just a marathon session of lightcycling. After reading IGN's interview with Steven Lisberger, Tron's creator, I felt there must be better interview subjects out there.

So I instead got ahold of John Knoll, visual effects supervisor at Industrial Light and Magic. ILM was created by George Lucas for the original Star Wars films and has since gone on to become a powerhouse in visual effects. Mr. Knoll has worked on several of their best films, including Willow, The Abyss, Mission: Impossible, Star Trek: First Contact, the Star Wars prequel trilogy, and the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. And somehow, during all that, he found time to invent Photoshop.

On very short notice, Mr. Knoll generously donated a half-hour of his time to speak with me on the subject of Tron, computer graphics, and the industry's evolution over the last quarter of a century. The end result is a very satisfying transcript, even if some notable, general observations didn't make the final cut:

"Even today … filmmakers rely on the special effects to be the only appeal in the movie, and they don't try so hard on the movie because they figure the visuals will carry the film … For those of us who work in the industry, that's not something we encourage. It's just as hard to do the effects on a bad movie as it is the effects on a good movie, and we'd all rather have worked on a good movie."

Continue on to Computerworld.com to read the full interview.

A huge thanks to old LucasArts and ILM colleagues Tom Sarris and Ellen Pasternack, without whom this interview would not have been possible.

Update: the above article has been Slashdotted!