Thursday, September 6, 2007

Running Commentary

I imagine that, like me, most people with an interest in animation will have a pretty good collection of animated feature movies that get a regular viewing. I also imagine that the bonus "behind the scenes" features on these videos have been played and re-played over and over while looking for another tidbit of useful information that might help out in the viewer's own animation projects.

For years I've relished the detailed information on offer on DVDs from companies like Pixar, Dreamworks and Blue Sky but what I hadn't realised is that, for years, I'd actually been missing one of the most interesting bonus features available on almost all of these same DVDs - the commentary. That changed earlier this year when I sat through two commentaries on "The Incredibles" DVD. Now I'm a something of a commentary junkie!

DVD commentaries are more relaxed and clearly less stage-managed than the self-promoting, advertorial-type comments used in many "behind the scenes" featurettes (I seem to recall a time when "behind the scenes" documentaries were informative rather than just a selection of back-slapping comments from voice actors, production staff and industry hangers-on). What makes the movie commentaries of interest to the amateur or upcoming professional animator is the willingness of the various commentators to admit difficulties encountered during production and even point out "faults" in the finished product. The perceived faults quite often relate to story-telling techniques and are probably not really faults as much as areas where, with the benefit of hindsight, things might have been done differently. After viewing these movies through the eyes of the people who worked on them, the do-it-yourself animator or movie-maker can probably be a little more relaxed about their own perceived failings or the difficulties they might encounter on their own projects. It seems that even Pixar has its share of troubles.

In the coming weeks (or months...) I'll be providing a brief summary of some of the commentaries I've listened to. Here's the first:

The Incredibles: Two commentary options are available on disc one of the two-disc collector's edition. They can be accessed from the main menu.

In the first commentary, Writer/Director Brad Bird and Producer John Walker take us through the movie with Bird's larger than life enthusiasm making it a very enjoyable ride. In this commentary we learn about some of the story-telling and film-making devices used to add interest to the movie. These include the slow start of the movie with subdued character interviews jumping immediately to a fast-paced car chase. Other points of interest relate to the choice of colours schemes such as the super-saturated colours in the super heroes' hey-day scenes to the desaturated, clinical colour scheme in the claustrophobic confines of the Insuricare offices where Bob spends his days "in hiding".

CAN we please get back to the issue of the gravy?

Bird and Walker laugh uncontrollably as they talk about "food continuity problems" encountered during the family dinner scene and Bird takes every opportunity throughout the commentary to thank the animators for their efforts. Bird also explains why it wouldn't be wise to ask him how he enjoys working in "the animation genre?" As commentaries go, I'd have to give this one five stars out of five!

IN what animated film am I going to be able to animate two guys just sitting in a car having a conversation?

The second commentary is by animators who worked on the movie and while Bird's enthusiasm is absent here, there is plenty of information for those with an avid interest in animation and some insight as to what it is like working with Brad Bird (including some fairly humorous impersonations of him). One salivating animator asks "In what animated film am I going to be able to animate two guys just sitting in a car having a conversation?" - and that gives us some idea of just what might turn on professional animators looking to sink their teeth into something more than another slapstick toon moment. We're also given some insight into the time spent on individual scenes and the fact that some scenes were shared among multiple animators. If you're into animation, this commentary will hold your interest to the end and for you, I'd give this one a five out five too.

Let me know which are your favourite DVD commentaries and why.


Cubbie said...

Thanks for the reminder... I had the DVD sitting on my shelf for a while and completely forgotten about the commentaries (probably because earlier pixar titles had rather disappointing extras..).
Just watched (and immensely enjoyed) the director commentary and am looking forward to the other one.

Virgilio said...

Yeah... this is indeed a really cool reminder.

I buy all DVDs about animation looking for both, the movie and extras as ways to learn from the big guys. But the commentaries were always an overlooked part.

Now... back to the DVD player!! =)