Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Tudor, Deborah. “The Eye of the Frog: Questions of Space in Films Using Digital Processes.” Cinema Journal 48.1 (Fall): 90–110.

Deborah Tudor's "The Eye of the Frog: Questions of Space in Films Using Digital Processes" asks how the ways in which filmmakers have utilized digital processing in their own films has changed formal elements of film. She uses an array of films that break away from standard continuity editing--Time Code (2000), The Hulk (2003), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)--to show how “Films using digital processes to recapture approaches to cinema from a ‘classic’ era or to produce a look from another medium construct a form of cinematic nostalgia” (91). Her ultimate goal is to propose that films utilizing digital processing in this way (as opposed to films that use digital processing for special effects) should be considered as using an aesthetic system called ‘array aesthetics,’ which “reorganizes time, space, and narrative” (90).

Because this article never defines it, I will mention that continuity editing is the shooting and arrangement of scenes so that films follow a logical and realistic order that is easy for the audience to follow. An example of this is included in this scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds where we see Melanie looking forward, then we see the dock, we see her expression change, then see Mitch on the dock, then the bird, the bird attack, the bird leaving, her touching her head, and the blood. Even though these scenes were not shot in this order and show more than one perspective, they have been composed to make a narrative the audience can put together. For instance, we assume that when we look at the dock, we are seeing it from Melanie’s perspective.

Tudor then shows how these digitally processed films deny continuity editing for other rhetorical (though she never says the word rhetorical) purposes. The most interesting to me is her evaluation of Ang Lee’s The Hulk because it utilizes multiple windows in its shot composition* that resemble the windows used in comic books. The digital effect reminds us of where the Hulk character started and this new process is used to remind the audience of an older, static format. So, the 2003 film uses cutting edge technology to create something that feels like it’s from the 1960s (92). That’s the way the film plays with time. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this technique is that, while The Hulk did not do well, this digital tool is used in several other comic book films, such as Captain America (2011).
The film plays with continuity editing because these split screens make it unclear as to when many shots begin and end. With a number of screens playing all at once, does a shot begin when a new screen presents itself? When a screen shifts off to the side? Tudor mentions that one reason for this change in aesthetic is that we have become used to viewing multiple screens along with additional media thanks to computers. Our brains are programmed to receive multiple kinds of audio-video information at the same time (101-2). Continuity editing is one of many film elements that may not need as much anymore.

Space is the last element of the array aesthetics triangle and The Hulk uses several digital techniques to play with the sense of realistic space in the film. The multiple frames discussed above is one of them. Often, these multiple frames give the viewer several perspectives of the same scene (99). The Hulk also utilizes a cubing effect to shift between scenes that implies non-space on screen (100). This makes it look as though the ‘shots surround some other non-represented space” (100) and challenge traditional understandings of editing.

While Tudor never mentions rhetoric, she is certainly looking at the ways that these digital processes change the rhetorical space of a film. What we come to expect form these non-narrative elements in narrative film is important. Also, this notion of nostalgia, which is closely connected with imagined memory (92) is important to understanding Waltz With Bashir. Waltz With Bashir is animated in a way similar to how graphic novels are. They are pulling their own kind of nostalgia into the film. How that functions might be different from The Hulk, but this analysis of the process will be useful to my analysis.

*The internet has failed me and provided no good video examples of this phenomenon

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Animation and War

Kornhaber, D. (2007). “Animating the War: The First World War and Children’s Cartoons.” The Lion and the Unicorn31(2), 132–146. doi:10.1353/uni.2007.0021

In “Animating the War: The First World War and Children’s Cartoons,” Kornhaber asks the question of why animated renderings of war during World War I are so different from those that follow in the 1920s and 1930s. Why do animated texts that appear after World War I seem so much more technical? She also wonders if this shift has anything to do with the medium of animation and its relationship to children (132).

Kornhaber takes a cultural/historical approach to analyzing these questions, looking at the histories of major animators during the period and the relationships between animation and children’s animation. Because many have argued that animation was not originally thought of as a children’s media, Kornhaber takes time to defend the role of cartoons for children, claiming that the first animation in 1910, Little Nemo in Slumberland is about “the fantastical dreams of a sleeping boy” (133). She also notes that the connection between animation and non-fiction have always been present, citing Gertie the Dinosaur as a cartoon that wanted to accurately portray the movements of a dinosaur (134).

After establishing cartoons as children’s material and scientifically driven, Kornhaber looks at animation done during and after World War I. She analyzes two cartoons, The Sinking of the Lusitania and A.W.O.L. Lusitania contains “fastidiously detailed depictions of the technologies involved” (135), but in A.W.O.L the setting of France during WWI shows no consequences of war (i.e. guns, soldires or destroyed buildings) (136). During WWI, cartoons seemed to fall into these categories of either realism or abstractionism.

After WWI, however, cartoons took a different approach to depictions of war. Instead of being either realistic or abstract, “American animation would return to interplay of abstraction and mimesis in its treatments of the war” (137). One example is the animation Felix Turns the Tide, which features realistic artillery, but the battle is won when Felix, a butcher clerk calls in anthropomorphic hot dogs to save the day.  It is also a time when animation turned from being more universal to focusing on the audience of children, with tie-in merchandise. One of the reasons for this connection between war cartoons and very realistic depictions of violence (realistic anatomy and guns) was that many animators were employed by studios contracted by the military, including animators that would move on to work for Disney and Warner Brothers (138). Most of them started out drawing cartoons on cleaning and loading guns or basic first aid (138). So, they drew what they knew.

From YouTube

While Kornhaber is not directly relating her research to rhetoric, she is looking at the way that World War I was shown to the public. At the time, newsreels were important, but film quality meant that animation was a new and much needed technology. It also shows a connection between war and animation from a very early on in the media’s development, and can clue me into why Ari Folman chose to present his argument through animation. This interplay between mimesis and abstraction is particularly significant. In considering Waltz With Bashir, many parts of it are scientifically accurate; a scene with dying horses immediately comes to mind. Yet other parts, where interviewees are describing dreams or events they are unclear on, are more abstract and even surreal. This can better represent the feeling of those memories. Memory is key to Waltz With Bashir and in considering Nemo in Slumberland, the idea of dreams and disjointed memories haunts the piece. Animation is certainly a strong rhetorical resource for the film.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Cinema, Television, and New Media

Kiwitt, P. (2012). What is Cinema in a Digital Age? Divergent Definitions From a Production Perspective. Journal of Film and Video , 64 (4), 3-22.

The research question in this article is what does cinematic mean in an age where the cinematic is conflated with cinema-esque television and broadcasting on instant streaming online applications? How should we encourage students along the paths of film, television, and new media production if we do not understand the differences?

Image by miss mass
To understand the differences between film, television and new media, Kiwitt plans to take “a pragmatic approach, built on defining terms, to what can otherwise be a vexing questions the nature of cinema” (4). He does this by first looking at the way that other theorists have defined cinema, then breaks down the differences between form and medium.  Finally, he looks at the history of intertwined cinema and television and then puts that relationship into the context of the digital convergence media.

Kiwitt considers the definitions that cinema greats like Robert Gessner (5) and Lev Manovich (6) have defined cinema and finds those definitions to be wanting. They easily conflate cinema and television and sometimes conflate cinema and painting. He notes that, as academics, we have a tendency to think distinctively about exhibition, when some of the biggest differences between the mediums lie at the production level  (7).  Kiwitt then separates cinema and television into form and medium (9).  Cinema form is “a form of expression composed of edited live-action moving images, ideally emphasizing artistic form or content” (9) though its medium demands that it be shown to an audience in public (11). Television form is “a form of expression composed of switched live-action moving images as well as edited live-action moving images emphasizing communication (11) while its medium is that it is show “separately and simultaneously” (12).  After making these differentiations, he looks at the development of cinema and television and, while cinema came first, the two have utilized and influenced each other for much of history. He then discusses convergence and how it is not new to new media. Film and television have practiced convergence with different levels of success for since their inceptions (16). This continues into new media mediums of distribution. Kiwitt concludes that it will be even more difficult to advise students on the correct discipline to study with new media. Students who want to make films or cinematic television (shows like Lost) should study film; students that want to make other kinds of television should study television; students who want to code movies for the web or produce online content should study new media.  He argues that students who should be studying cinema or television might study new media instead, but that it will not give them what they need to develop good film or television (18) and maybe not even enough skills to provide great productions in new media (19).

To be honest, I thought that this article would have a lot more to do with animation, rhetoric and digital film production, based on the abstract. However, what I learned from it, and what will be useful is the reminder that all these forms work differently and that their mode of production changes the resources and resources change the way rhetorical strategies are used. For instance, television shows are most often shot on three walled sets, with multiple stationary cameras (think about the fact that you never see one wall of most homes in situation comedies). Digital animation has these same limitations based on the engine a production company uses/creates. Considering the limitations will help me in analyzing the visual rhetoric of Waltz with Bashir.