Sunday, 27 March 2016

Cutting Edges- Film Review: Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Fig 1: Poster for Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Starting life as a meteor shower that Speilburg saw with his father when he was a child, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" is a Sci-Fi film written and directed by Speilburg in 1977. While the first 100 minutes of the film might drag on according to some audiences, the final minutes is a spectacular feat, showcasing some of the greatest special effects of the 70's along with Star Wars which debut in the same year.
“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is a daring film concept which in its special and technical effects has been superbly realized." (A.D. Murphy, Variety 4/11/1977)
It delves into the unknown realm of space as UFOs start to be spotted across the middle of America, including the abduction of an entire crew of a ship. These sightings start off a high scale investigation as to find out the cause of these encounters.
An expert scientist involved in the project, David Laughlin, recognises that the musical scale that the UFO produces as it travels along is actually a co-ordinate on the Earth which lead to the Devil's Tower in Wyoming.
As these events occur, father of three Roy Neary becomes obsessed with the alien objects after he comes into a close encounter of his own with them while out driving. The obsession leads to him leaving his family behind as he goes to Devil's Tower with Jillian, a young mother whose son Barry is abducted by the UFOs. Here they lay witness to something completely otherworldly, that will change how both they and audiences alike will think of other life out there.

Fig 2: The Stranded Ship in the Desert
Speilburg was able to create a Sci-fi film completely different from others in the genre. The alien creatures aren't there is kill and exploit humans and the humans don't want to harm the aliens. The two species just want contact with each other. The escape from this formula, from the usual violence between the two races, is refreshing to see; even if it can be seen as boring or underwhelming for all of the build up to that point where the aliens finally reveal themselves. The film leads into the idea of what the unknown could be, with the aliens never being seen for the majority of the film, they are only hinted at through the shape of their ships and the 5 note melody that they play.

Fig 3: Barry and the UFO
Close Encounters isn't a film to focus on this encounter of unknown creatures, it's focus is more around family and a man's dream to be something different than being a generic man stuck in a family life style. Roy Neary leaves his family behind in pursuit of the dream of returning to the single life where no one depends on him for support or look to him as a paternal role model. His pursuit for this life leads him to leave his family to go to the Devil's Tower. His goals aren't as concrete when compared to Jillian and her plot point of trying to find her abducted son. While he is willing to assist her in her quest, he has no real reason to go, other than because he wants to meet an alien. His goal and reasons for his goal can just be simplified to "I want to see these alien creatures", he doesn't learn or grow through the film, in fact he seems to diminish at the end from the ordinary family man that he was at the start of the film. He becomes a dishevelled, driven entity who is solely obsessed with the idea of meeting these creatures. He has no plan as to how he wants to achieve this goal other then the noises in his head.
On the other hand however, Jillian's storyline is much more serious then Roy's, her only son Barry is abducted by these aliens, from her own home. She's a single mother, on her own in a secluded place in a field in the middle of no where. She lives for her son, so the abduction is a traumatic experience for her, especially with the way that they took him. The film seems to change genre,  from sci-fi to horror, filled with the right amount of suspense that would make Alfred Hitchcock beam with pride. This scene is terrifying, especially for young single parents, as the thought of losing a child, in their own house, to an unknown, unseen force is a very scary thought.
Speilburg implemented the elements of tension and fear of the unknown as seen in his previous film "Jaws" but adds to it with spectacular visual effects and a better understanding of his own style of directing and writing, adding in humour even in the most terrifying scenes, such as Roy's first viewing of the UFOs and the abduction of Barry from his own home. "The most amusing and likable specialist in terror since Alfred Hitchcock in his prime, Spielberg knows instinctively how humor and reassurance may simultaneously relieve and intensify apprehension." (Washington Post, Gary Arnold, 14/12/1997)
Fig 4: The Greys emerge from the white abyss of their Mother Ship

The ending of the film is left ambiguous, while the aliens aren't there as a violent force against humanity they did abduct members of our species and subjected them to who knows what on the ship. Due to this, who knows if the aliens were just trying to gain information for a potential invasion in a later date and the way the movie ended, with a hint of maybe there being a sequel, who knows what these space creatures actual goal is. The way that they only take Roy when they could of taken all of the scientists and used there knowledge to gain more information on the planet, yet instead they take a man who left his old life behind him to pursue this new one amongst the cosmos.
Overall its better to not overthink the ending of "Close Encounters", as while it is very questionable and weak compared to the rest of the film, it is excellently well executed. The way that ending segment was filmed, full of suspense and tension, the way that the first elongated alien beckons the abducted humans off the ship, descending from the white light back to their home planet, and how the grey aliens look and act with as much intrigue as the scientists. While the film is mainly lead by the build up of going to the Devil's Tower, the pay off of finally seeing the creatures the characters have been chasing all this time is a very welcome pay off.

Fig 5: Inside the Ship as shown from the Special Edition of Close Encounters

To wrap things up, Spielburg has shown yet again that he is a formidable director and script writing in his own right. While there are some aspects to the film that are problematic, like Roy leaving his family behind, a decision that even Spielburg himself dislikes looking back on it. So he came back to the film and edited it to change and removed scenes, changing these things helped the special edition of the film in tightening up the story, tying up loose plot points and enhancing the finale by showing the inside of the ship to the joy or dismay of fans who either preferred the mystery of whats inside the mother ship and others who think that it helps in the enjoyment of that segment, praising the special effects of that final scene.
Even without these changes, Close Encounters is a film displaying how good a director and writer Speilburg is. The film showcases common tropes featured in the majority of his movies, from character types (every-day man as the hero, a single mother, an innocent young boy and an organisation that is portrayed as untrustworthy), a sense of journey that changes the hero in a phenomenal way and the mystery and tension that Speilburg is able to create, something that has been on par with the king of suspense himself Alfred Hitchcock
"Watching Close Encounters is like an entertaining study guide to the filmmaker and his body of work. Not just a signature film, Close Encounters — the only one of his movies before A.I. written as well as directed by him — encompasses all the major themes, concerns and elements that recur throughout Spielberg's career."(Angie Errigo, Empire Magazine, 1/1/2000)
Close Encounters is a very influential film, airing on scene at the same time a George Lucas' Star Wars, it was not overshadowed and is classed as a classic sci-fi film on its own merit, exploring the excitement of discovery rather then the fear of invasion or war in space that other films of the type are known for. The pacing of the film slows at parts that lead to potentially boring scenes but the visual effects and the spectacular ending scene would make you want to continue watching and the 5 note theme will be stuck in your head for weeks after watching.


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A.D. Murphy from Variety:
Gary Arnold from the Washington Post:
Angie Errigo from the Empire Magazine:

Friday, 25 March 2016

Story and Commission Fantastic Voyage: Storyboard Update

Fig 1: Frame 1- Frame 16

Fig 2: Frame 17- Frame 33

Fig 3: Frame 34- Frame 50

Fig 4: Frame 51- Frame 67

Fig 5: Frame 68- Frame 84

I've updated my storyboard a little to implement some more of the scientific aspect to the animation, adding more flips between the science form of the characters and the characters themselves so that the audience will be able to understand the connection between the two forms for each character. I also tried to achieve some more establishing shot for the "body is a city" metaphor that I am going for.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Story and Commission Fantastic Voyage: Additional Concepts and Sketches- Bacteria and T-cell

Fig 1: Bacteria Concept

Fig 2: T-Cell Concept
Fig 3: Additional Sketches demonstrating the size difference between the two
I'm trying to finalise my designs for my characters so that I can start getting to the modelling phase for them. I experimented with the size difference, the T-Cell being larger and more stockier then the shorter and leaner Bacteria. I was also having the idea for the Bacteria to have a backpack that resembles it's "scientific form".

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Story and Commission: Fantastic Voyage- Antibody Dog Concept

Fig 1: Concepts of Antibody as a Doberman or German Shepherd breed of dogs
From my feedback of my Antibody dogs looking a bit too deer like I went back to look at references of dogs used as police dogs, such as the Doberman Pinscher and the German Shepherd. I still wanted the design to have a "Y" shape, similar to how antibodies are drawn in scientific diagrams.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Storytelling and Commission: Fantastic Voyage Post-Pitch

Priorities following the Pitch:

1. Figure out how to implement a way to make the jump between the science form and the character form for my characters and neaten up the designs some more, such as with the dog design and think about looping the scene but having the first and last frames to be the same/ similar.

2. Work on the Narration and how to put across the hard-boiled detective from the 1940s narrative in a way for my target audience to understand.

3. Use Soundscape to portray the city as a lively place by using environmental sounds along with the Jazz a compliment to the action in the animation.

Overall I feel as though the feedback I received at the pitch was very positive and constructive. It's nice to know that my concept ideas are good and that the only things I really need to do is to go in a tweak a few parts of my storyline so that the science elements aren't jarring compared to the characters.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Fantastic Voyage: Animatic WIP

At this point in time I am just inserting the frames for the animatic, animating all of this in photoshop using the layering method. Some of the timing is a bit off but I will try and sort out the pacing when all of the frames are inserted and the subtitles that will introduce the characters (Bacteria, Lymphocyte B and T, as well as the Antibodies) will be done in either Premiere or in another layer as so to not interfere with the frames already there.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Fantastic Voyage: Storyboard Draft

Fig 1: Frames 1-16

Fig 2: Frame 17- 32

Fig 3: Frame 33- 48

Fig 4: 49- 64
This is an Draft Storyboard that I will continue to work upon, adding scenes, fleshing out scenes.
Feedback would be very welcome.

Monday, 7 March 2016

OGR Feedback: Fantastic Voyage

From the feedback received from Phil on my OGR, the majority of it was very positive and the ideas and concepts he has linked me have me very influential. While I still have a few things I need to flesh out like how the story of the film will be and how keep the scientific terminology and the process the Immune system uses to get rid of antigen/bacteria. I can now focus on that aspect now that the design and feel for my piece as been approved.

Regarding how to do the animation, I want to use mix media and try to incorporate the majority of what I learnt in this year into the video. I have decided that I'll use Maya for the character animation and maybe for some of the foreground pieces. Using a surface shader onto the model's materials i would be able to achieve the effect of a 2D looking 3D character, keeping the influence to Saul Bass intact. For the backgrounds and additional effects that I wouldn't be able to achieve in Maya,  I'd like to use Aftereffects and Flash, this includes, cityscapes, secondary actions on the characters and the characters in their scientific form.

I would like to go for that film noir, hard-bitten detective narration while also mixing in text as from my market research the audience I have chosen prefer to have both to help in their understanding and learning. Originally these texts where going to appear in a rather default way but Phil's idea in incorporating them into the city life such as neon signs or as graffiti seems like the right way to go in keeping the immersion there while also learning.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Animation: Animating on Photoshop

Due to me leaving my memory stick at home, I wasn't able to do my lip sync animation. So instead I looked at the work of Alex Grigg, the maker of the short film Phantom Limb, and watched his tutorial for animating in Photoshop. I like the results of animating in Photoshop as the limitations and the way that it is like a hybrid between Flash, Aftereffects and Photoshop makes it very interesting and fun to use.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

@Phil The Fantastic Voyage OGR 1

Target Market Research:

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Storytelling and Commission- Blog Submission: Project 1 Soundscape

Image 1- Sounds Used: Fountain, Tap Running, Recording of a Silvery Cheeked Hornbill Cry

Image 2- Sounds Used: Casino Machines, Bus at a Stand Still, Water Running and Train Stopping

Image 3: Sounds Used: Busy Carpark, and Dog Walking on Lino Flooring

Soundscape: Sound Designer-Koji Kondo