Shot Analysis: Jungle Book Sequence Part 2

As a continuation of our analysis of The Jungle Book, we now look at scenes 4 and 5 from the first meeting of Mowgli and Baloo.

Scene #4:  A lesson in creativity and contrast

Seen at 50% speed we can see both the poses and movement with greater clarity. Here, the consistency of his physical mannerisms aligns with that seen in the earlier shots of Baloo, allowing Ollie to emphasize the easy going charm of his character. The familiar yet creative use of squash and stretch of the nose gives him the pliability that is visually enjoyable to witness.

Notice the wonderful change of shapes and gestures here, as he first moves up to “absorb” the irritation caused by Mowgli’s swipe, followed by a wonderful pattern of distortion and wiggling of the nose as he moves into position:

After he says “boy”, he goes into a playful antic before expanding outwards with a two-handed clap which he coils back into a position of control that emphasizes his comical bewilderment of the entire situation. Here, with his hands clasped together and head leaned back, the unified pose is reminiscent of an elder or professor in the joyful discovery of an opportunity to pontificate and share with his younger audience. The execution is both imaginative and empathetic .

At the end of this shot, Ollie’s choice to “shake him up” gives the overall scene a contrasting end, as Baloo tries to switch out of his bewildered state, yet is still caught in amazement as noted by the zombie-like expression as he mechanically transitions his attention back to Mowgli and back to reality. The choice of action is marvelously creative and unique:

Scene #5: A lesson in acting and overlap

Now, we begin our transition to the work of the marvelous Frank Thomas. In this shot, Thomas’ turns our attention towards Mowgli who in turn sways his attention away from Baloo and towards himself. The “child-likeness” captured here is spot-on — the feeling of being observed and judged and subsequently expressing displeasure from the experience is something we’ve all been through.

We start off with a brilliant pose typical of a child’s bored look after hearing an “authority” figure lecture.

Notice the wonderful path of action of the head as it leads the action, reflecting his bored attitude as he physically turns away. The clear Lead and Follow action and subsequent overlapping action give the movement depth, clarity and weight.

After a quick dart of the eyes, we see the snapping action of his head in an assured display of repudiation.

The ending pose is one that is closed off and reserved — a man-cub determined to be left alone to his own isolated misery. The combined body language and facial expression confirms the sadness Mowgli feels and lends sympathy to his character (which prompts the enthusiastic action from the big bear in the following shot).

Stay tuned for Part 3!

Shot Analysis: Jungle Book Sequence Part 1

The first 3 shots of this 16 scene sequence where Baloo and Mowgli meet for the first time in Walt Disney’s 1967 classic, The Jungle Book.

Let’s begin our 5 Part analysis of Frank Thomas’ and Ollie Johnston’s marvelous work in this portion of The Jungle Book:

Scene 1: A Lesson in broken rhythm and natural action.

I love the unplanned feeling of this shot even though it’s clearly well-designed in terms of layout, camera move and action choreography. Notice how he comes into screen with a beautiful line of action that helps “open up” the layout and action:

Throughout this shot Baloo moves from screen right to left, but does so in an uninhibited fashion — moving forward, then back and changing his gait and gestures as he flows with the musical tempo inside his head. You get a sense of a character totally “gone” in his own mind, living completely present, happy and harmoniously allowing his body to “do its thing.”

Ollie’s work (at least it looks like it’s his) is often very intuitive; his characters behave in a far more sincere and natural manner than other animators. It’s not as aesthetically designed as say Milt Kahl’s work but the sacrifice in the visual dominance of the posing actually lends itself more suitably to this kind of shot. That said, it still carries with it it’s own imaginative appeal as can be seen here (with the main key poses highlighted):

When the shot ends, your attention halts and flows along with Baloo’s. It’s as if your discovery of the man-cub aligns with his. (We don’t really notice Mowgli prior to this moment.)

Shot 2: A lesson in simplicity and clarity

This shot, despite being only 3 seconds long, displays remarkable clarity in terms of acting, movement and appeal. It’s deceptively simple and effective — the kind of result all top artists aim for.

Centrally located in frame we know exactly where to look right from the start. The pose has charm, perfect sense of visual weight and a clear sense of having come from somewhere and about to go somewhere else:

Now let’s look at the rhythm There’s great balance in timing here; poses hold and move for just the right amount of time, syncing perfectly with the dialogue — neither head nor body stay locked nor is there continuous movement “all over the place.” Using the nose as a simple marker, we can see the wonderfully clear variation of movement:

The shot ends with a body movement downwards and towards screen right leading us where Baloo eyes have been directing us all along — right at Mowgli’s position. This transitions to the perfectly executed match cut in scene 3.

Scene 3: A lesson in personality animation and texture

I love this shot. It reveals the directness of the character. He’s curious, unafraid and unpretentious. Interested in what’s in front of him, Baloo dives right in Mowgli’s personal space — analyzing, sniffing and commenting openly about the subject before him. You get a sense of a guy (in this case a bear) that you just like because he’s so honest and friendly. This is revealed by the playfulness on display, both in the character’s attitude and the contrasting actions:

Take the wonderful moment when his eyes look as if he’s totally gone, drunken by the aroma of his discovery. This is a character (and animator) having fun.

A marvelous control of tempo is on display; the euphoric moment Baloo experiences for a brief moment followed by his deeper intrusion into Mowgli’s personal space sets up the contrasting action that follows. The slap across the nose may come across as brash and sudden but it beautifully parallels the sniffy nose action earlier — “nosiness” punished (again we’ll track the nose to follow the beats):

Despite the seemingly violent behavior by Mowgli towards a seemingly innocent soul, it’s clear by Baloo’s reaction that he’s neither hurt physically nor offended. He’s more surprised than anything else. It’s an expression of “oooohh” rather than “ouch!”

The scene ends as Baloo retracts from Mowgli and the boy telling him to buzz off. The little guy has some fight in him and is unafraid of a creature much larger than him (at this point he’s clearly never seen a bear before, so he’s also naive about the whole thing). His forward gesture and Baloo’s retreat directs you perfectly towards the next bit of business; scene direction is carefully adhered to here in creating good consistency and continuity:

Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of our analysis!

Film Analysis: A Jungle Book Sequence

Walt Disney’s 1967 film The Jungle Book feature three most unlikely companions in Baloo, Mowgli and Bagheera.

Disney’s 1967 animated classic remains to this day one of the most beloved of the 2D era of animated films. Despite its rather basic plot and unspectacular visuals (I’m talking about the budget-constrained sets and level of polish and not the level of artistry) it continues to charm animators and general audiences alike.

Baloo and King Louie sing “I wanna be like you.” Sparse on story, layouts, design and effects, The Jungle Book still shines with charming characters, great voice acting and wonderful songs.

The reason for its success is clearly the high level of character-based animation that, to this day, still stands without parallel in terms of acting, charm and personality displayed scene in and scene out throughout the film. Despite being a film with a paltry budget of only $4 million — which is well below that of comparable films that came before and after it — it was both successfully received by critics and at the box office grossing over $142 million which is nearly 35 times its cost of production, a nearly unfathomable today. (In contrast, the spectacular success of Disney’s 2013 hit Frozen, costing $150 million, grossed just over $1.2 billion, an 8-fold return.)

Screen grab from BoxOfficeMojo indicating tickets sold and inflation-adjusted box office totals shows Disney’s 1967 The Jungle Book sitting at 32nd of all-time,  just below Christopher Nolan’s 2008 live-action thriller, The Dark Knight and just above Sleeping Beauty, another Disney Classic (1959) that has also held its own over the years.

To me, this film is a testament to the work of Disney’s four key animation figures at the time, most notably Milt Kahl, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston and John Lounsbery as well as legendary story artists like Ken Anderson and Bill Peet. This was the industry’s best at their best.

Shere Khan and Kaa are two of the many colorful and memorable characters in Disney’s The Jungle Book.

As a tribute to these great artists and the film itself, I’m gonna be doing a 5 part breakdown of an extended sequence of the film and analyze in detail what I think are some of the many wonderful things about it — including but not limited to the screen choreography, body mechanics, posing, timing and acting — all of which make the performances so great.

Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston’s The Illusion of Life features loads of wonderful animation drawings like this series of Baloo and many great lessons on how to animate. I still remember how it was near impossible to get a copy of this book when it was out of circulation. The underground market price hit as high as a half a term of my school tuition when I began my studies at Sheridan College. In my opinion, the book is mandatory education for any animator.

The sequence in discussion is where Baloo the Bear first encounters the man-cub Mowgli after he’s run away. It’s a sequence entirely animated by two animators, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, the two best personality animators at Disney. The sequence contains 16 shots (scenes) in total and reveal everything that’s true and wonderful about the characters. In summary, it’s a sequence animated by two best friends at the studio of two best friends in the story. This kind of circumstance — and the magic that comes from it — is so rare that it’s unlikely to be repeated ever again.

The initial meeting between Baloo and Mowgli is not only a great character introduction but one that gives rise to one of the most charming duos in animated film history. This sequence of 16 shots will be broken up into 5 parts for detailed analysis.

Stay tuned for upcoming Part 1 of my analysis. It should be educational and inspiring for even the most established of animators.

Adversity

Director Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump is a colorful story of a character who, guided by the principles of faith, perseverance and simplicity, keeps moving forward regardless of expectations or circumstances.

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” — C.S. Lewis

As many of you are no doubt aware, this blog has faced its longest hiatus since its very inception. But it has happened for good reason; a recent personal disaster has literally brought all my routines and activities completely to a halt. Due to a freak incident, I’ve lost most of my home, belongings and, worst of all, my art. Like a stake through the heart, the pain that accompanies the sudden shock lingers, leaving one to question things, almost everything.

“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” — Henry David Thoreau

As someone who is no stranger to despair — having endured immeasurable pain with numerous medical procedures and significant loss of family members and the dearest of friends  — one would think that I would be used to it, but it always hurts, no matter what. Such is the definition of pain.

Yet, as part of a human species conditioned to deal with adversity, I (we) must carry on, hoping to learn from the past rather than live in it.

“We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell

There is often no specific rhyme or reason for events or predicaments (especially tragic or unjust ones), which is why we’re so often confused about what to do or how to react to unexpected (or even expected) difficulty. But at some point as artists, we begin to realize that this quagmire of drama, distress and seeming unfairness is what gives our work the fertile ground on which to spring forth our ideas, our drive and our talents. It gives us meaning and a story to build on. It’s the reason why mythology is as relevant today as it has been throughout human history — its parables serve to guide us on how to live. In such light, setbacks become springboards to jump towards greater and more meaningful heights. Like the animation principle of anticipation, before we can go up, we must first go down.

Prometheus Bound by Peter-Paul Rubens. The symbolism behind the myth of Prometheus is profound. A Titan God entrusted with the task of forming man out of clay, he defies Zeus by giving mortals the gift of creative fire to help end human misery and suffering. Although he is punished by being tied to a rock and having an eagle eat at his liver, he remains for eternity man’s greatest friend .

When I teach, I often hear from my students about their troubles both creative and personal. I remind them that their unique challenges (which are tied directly to their unfulfilled talents) are what make them who they are and how they handle those challenges will ultimately determine the success of their art and the meaning in their lives. We need to take comfort in the fact that what we think about and how we think about it matters because our lives and our artistry is heavily dependent on the narrative that we choose for ourselves. What the world thinks, matters much less.

“There are only two powers in the world: the sword and the mind. In the end, the sword is always conquered by the mind.” — Napoleon

Whenever we’re faced with serious challenge and pain, we are forced in the loudest and grandest way possible to respond — and that is the key word respond — as opposed to react. Response is conscious choice. Reaction, on the other hand, is thoughtless and absent of the benefit that time, perspective and contemplation brings to the table. It’s why it’s so beneficial to just slow things down and keeping things simple. Our lives today are far too complicated. The benefits of a globally and electronically connected world has brought with it the obsession with time, expectation and material focus. It’s all too easy to lose ourselves into surface living and losing all sense of presence.

Drawing by Maurice Sendak. When was the last time you looked deeply into someone’s eyes? Or listen to every word that is spoken? Have you forgotten what the surface of objects really feel like in your hand? Or the smell of the ocean? The true taste of things unadulterated?

Pain is a reminder to stop. I learned this a while a go when I was left disabled after a multitude of operations in a short period of eight months. It took a long time to get back to being functional and even longer to understand the purpose of the suffering that I had to endure. The mere material loss from recent events is just another reminder to me to remain humble and respectful of the ways of this universe. We actually gain “ourselves” when we lose “things.” We become wiser. But it’s so easy to forget that. Only setbacks have the power to make us look within ourselves, and then, with a greater and stronger heart, to look outside of ourselves to connect with the greater universe. It’s one of the reasons why this blog was formed in the first place.

Everybody’s hurt. What is important, what corrals you, what bullwhips you, what drives you, torments you, is that you must find some way of using this to connect you with everyone else alive. This is all you have to do it with. You must understand that your pain is trivial except insofar as you can use it to connect with other people’s pain; and insofar as you can do that with your pain, you can be released from it, and then hopefully it works the other way around too; insofar as I can tell you what it is to suffer, perhaps I can help you to suffer less. — James Baldwin

The story of Rocky, written by and starring Sylvestor Stallone is one of my favorite American stories. It’s a classic tale of redemption, resilience and the power of the will. It reminds us that when we get knocked down, we must always get back up.

I don’t wish for pain or suffering — no one in their right mind would — but I no longer dread it. If my right arm hurts, I’ll use my left. If I lose another loved one, I’ll bring his/her spirit with me to new relationships. Art lost can be created anew. Life is, after all, a continued process of renewal. We cannot let the pettiness of life or, more accurately, our petty view of life get in the way of our art or our becoming.

“We have not overcome our condition, and yet we know it better. We know we live in a contradiction, but we also know that we must refuse this contradiction and do what is needed to reduce it.  Our task as men is to find the few principles that will calm the infinite anguish of free souls. We must mend what has been torn apart, make justice imaginable again in a world so obviously unjust, give happiness meaning once more to peoples poisoned by the misery of the century. Naturally, it is a superhuman task. But superhuman is the term for tasks men take a long time to accomplish, that’s all.”  — Albert Camus

 

Commitment & Consistency

A page from the notebooks of Jean Francois Champollion, the French Scholar who devoted his entire life to deciphering the Egyptian hieroglyphs.

“Without commitment, you’ll never start, but more importantly, without consistency, you’ll never finish.” — Denzel Washington

COMMITMENT:

Definition:
1. the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.
2. an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action.

In other words, commitment is determination and dedication made tangible after hours upon hours of deep thought and emotion. It is all that brewed desire, love and caring for someone, something or some cause  personally shaped into something real thru defined action. Setting a goal is a commitment.

A page out of the notebook of artist Paul Klee exploring color, themes and theory. Klee made over 4000 drawings in over 10 years worth of notebooks.

“You always have two choices: your commitment versus your fear. ” — Sammy Davis, Jr.

Here’s some things to ponder on whether we’re committed or not to our cause:

a) Have we clarified in our minds exactly what it is we’re committing to? Are our goals unmistakably clear? Fuzzy commitments have fuzzy follow thru. We can’t hit a target we can’t see clearly.

b) Have we expressed that commitment OUT LOUD to people close or important to us? Because if we haven’t, we won’t be held accountable. The fear of letting others down is a great driver of forward motion. Signing up for classes or having a workout buddy are examples of getting others involved in our cause. I still remember for years going to the zoo drawing every weekend with my buddy; it was our mutual commitment to each other that ensured that we carried through with our goals.

c) Is the commitment bound to a time and date? Without a deadline, we will put it off. This is GUARANTEED. Our minds and bodies are biologically designed to work around urgency.

d) Are we 100% sure this is what we must do? Again, if we don’t have to do it, we won’t. Expect to be rejected, criticized, put down and ignored. Monetary compensation for our creativity is rarely just or stable. Becoming an artist is HARD. If we don’t want it enough, we’ll give up as soon as it gets painful.

e) Do you have faith in your cause? If we can convince ourselves that why we should do it and believe we can do it, we’ll take the dive. Without faith, it’s near impossible to take that very first step. We must trick ourselves if necessary because our minds can play endless games to talk us out of commitment.

The notebook of Thomas Edison shows the ideas on the famous light bulb, one of his numerous inventions in a six-decade long career dedicated to science.

CONSISTENCY:

Definition:
1. conformity in the application of something, typically that which is necessary for the sake of logic, accuracy, or fairness.
2. the way in which a substance, typically a liquid, holds together; thickness or viscosity.

If commitment represents the drive to take action then consistency is the method for seeing that action thru. It’s what holds the whole thing together.

“The quality of your life is determined by the quality of your rituals.” — Anthony Robbins

Almost daily I ask myself why I do what I do. Why? Because the mind is always searching for an easier way. That’s its job — to conserve energy, to be safe, to protect the total being known as me. Try to lose weight and it’s almost guaranteed someone will offer us our most favorite and fattest treat. Want to save money and there will be an awesome sale on that gadget/car/shoe you’ve always wanted. That’s how the universe works. It wants to test how serious we really are and will do so continuously and relentlessly. Therefore, unless we have a solid routine or set of rituals that ensures that we take action no matter what, we will waver.

The notebook pages of Guillermo Del Toro’s show the originating ideas behind his 2006 film Pan’s Labyrinth, which he wrote and directed.

How to better our consistency? Here as some suggestions:

a) Design rituals that trigger immediate action. Alarm bells, booked appointments and schedules are helpful but ultimately we need to create physical and emotional triggers to get us going. Before I paint for example, I put on music and my painting smocks — the next steps are automatic.

b) We can also set up rituals that will help us bypass old habits and prevent self-sabotage. For the longest time, I would struggle with letting go a piece of work, going back to it again and again, and often ruining it altogether. Finally, I decided I’ve had of enough and made it a ritual to put away my art after my sessions ended. Not seeing it all time, it was out of sight, out of mind and ultimately out of reach for me to do any damage.

c) Take action regularly. Remember to sharpen the saw. Studies have shown, in athletic development for example, that both the skills and strength gained from daily training can be lost if more than 2 days have passed between training sessions. It’s no wonder all the great athletes, painters and writers commit to their craft pretty much every single day.

d) Be mindful of your other activities. The time spent on activities outside of your new commitment heavily influence your ability to carry out your goals. Wake at the same time, eat at the same time, work at the same time. It doesn’t matter what time, just pick one for each set of activities. Separately devoting time and energy specifically for your goal (i.e. giving it optimal conditions to make it work) will increase your odds of success.

e) Chart and track performance of those daily goals.  There’s nothing like seeing it on paper right in front of us. With a record of achievements (no matter how small) staring us in the face we will be inspired and gain greater confidence.

The notebooks of artist Frida Kahlo show an illustrated diary filled with poems and conceptual designs for future works of art as well as all her personal musings about pain, loneliness and suffering. (Khalo was seriously incapacitated in the last years of her life.)

Now, perhaps you’re getting tired of hearing about all this “hard work” I’ve been spewing about on this blog. All this “just to be an artist” you wonder? Why do so much? Why suffer? Well, let us not be so ungrateful. Creativity is a gift. And although making art requires tons of hard work and ingenuity that’s not always recognized, we must still always do our best. We must completely use up the few gifts blessed upon us. In fact, our jobs as artists — as human beings —  is to maximize our abilities so as to contribute to our communities and to the world at large. Fairness is irrelevant. Most of the greatest contributors to art, science, philosophy and literature were dismissed during their lifetimes. But life would be so much worse without their efforts and sacrifices. I always like to remind myself this: What you give, you leave behind. What you keep for yourself, you take to the grave where it’ll die and disappear forever.

Here is a rather intense yet insightful speech from University of Toronto Professor, Jordan Peterson on challenge and suffering: