Sunday, November 29, 2009

ACE and '84

1984 was a good year. Imagined things of the future were becoming realized. Ridley Scott launched his famous "1984" commercial announcing the Macintosh computer. George Orwell's 1984 and dystopian view of the future was nowhere to be seen...yet. And best of all, (for me anyway) there was "Dexter"...I mean "Ace", I mean, "Space Ace".

Former Disney animation chief and maverick, Don Bluth released (as a followup to the laserdisc video game and arcade blockbuster, "Dragon's Lair") "Space Ace in 1984, showcasing some of the best hand drawn animation you could interact with for a quarter.

The Hollywood pitch for "Space Ace" most likely would have been " Jerry Lewis' Nutty Professor meets Star Trek". With a more coherent narrative and more dynamic game play than "Dragon's Lair", "Space Ace" was a hit.

Now that I think about it, 1984 wasn't really a good year for everyone. Some were not too happy with President Reagan's economics. The Cold War was still in full effect. (As seen in Rocky IV) Walt Disney Pictures was slated to release "The Black Cauldron" only a year later and there was some uncertainty as to what direction that film was supposed to be well as the studio itself.

Bluth however, (along with animation partners, Gary Golman, and John Pomeroy) was on track and were smoking hot. "The Secret of NIMH" (1982) was already made a huge impact, "Dragon's Lair" was making waves, just as "Space Ace" and his Steven Spielberg, Amblin Animation collaboration, "An American Tail" was just around the corner.

Don Bluth remains one of my most admired animation directors. Not just for his "style" (the draftsmanship and timing in his films without a doubt have a certain"look") but for his courage to branch out on his own and do his own thing. The "Bluth/ Disney" rift is almost legendary. There's no denying his departure from Disney did affect production and leave a bad taste in the mouths of many affiliated with them. I'll never forget hearing about how the ABC Network (under Disney of course) refused to air any commercial material that could have promoted Bluth's animated version of "Anastasia".

Whoa. I've really digressed here. Back to Dexter...I mean, Space Ace. This certainly old news, but "Space Ace" now available as game playable as an app for the iPhone. Some say five bucks is a steep for an app, but considering how much money I spent as a kid playing this game, five bucks is worth it. But it's not the gameplay that I'm interested in. Space Ace has great animation (for a video game) that has withstood the test of time in its measure of being entertaining.

And if you are really cheap, well, then look below.

Space Ace - Original Game Full Movie

Alex | MySpace動画

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Anime? Anyone?

Living in Tokyo, Japan has granted me some folly as well as wisdom. It killed a lot of very erroneous, preconceived notions about Japan and Japanese culture. And it heightened my appreciation for the many good things Japan has to offer.

Despite what one would think, however, living in Japan has made me develop an almost irrational and pathological dislike for Japanese Anime.

I never thought the day would come, because it seems like only yesterday I regarded Japanese animation almost as the "second coming" in terms of what it had to offer the animation medium.

Todd McFarland (comic artist of Spider-Man and Spawn fame) summed up Japanese animation best for me as I paraphrase: "Japanese animation has mastered giving you the impression a lot is happening, when it really isn't."

Animation in general is very expensive. Japanese animation studios have mastered holding people's attentions with extremely limited animation (held poses, talking heads on static bodies that almost never move, animation sometimes done on 4's, 8's and 12's) BUT holding everything together with simple, but solid draftsmanship, action scenes that ARE animated quite well and dynamically, and reasonably compelling and mature plotlines.

I feel it has been the draftsmanship and the plotlines that has made the world go ape over Japanese animation over the past few years.

Japanese anime can be like "moving manga" (not a far stretch from the old Marvel Superheroes cartoons from the 1960's for those who know). The Japanese animation way is more concerned with presenting a graphic image rather than putting forth a convincing acting "performance" ala "Disney".

Is there good Japanese animation? Hell, yes. Katsuhiro Otomo is still number one in my book. Yes, Hayao Miyazaki is a true artist and visionary. Japanese animation has its place in the world as a viable medium and it deserves appreciation on it's own special merits.

Personally I'm glad that there is a huge fan base for Japanese animation in this digital age of CG animation. (which from looking at recent B.O. sales seems to have been losing it's "wow"-factor steam unless it has "Pixar" or "Dreamworks" on the billing) Japanese Anime serves as an example that there are those who still have a huge interest and appreciation for traditionally hand-drawn animation.

Sad to hear that in the past couple of years that DVD sales for Japanese animation has plummeted (as interest in the medium continues to rise). Let's face it, video piracy is to blame here. The majority of the consumers who are into anime are not the types to go out to the local video store for the newest anime when they can get it online for free. Not a good thing.

Found an interesting story from the Wall Street Journal on how the animation business in Japan hasn't been doing so well, and those who love the art of animation who are willing to endure during these tough times.