mercoledì 16 marzo 2011

Dr SINema meets "Half Dracula, Half Cinderella"

Buongiorno miei cari,
è con immenso piacere che stamani trovo pubblicato sul blog di una creatura fraculesca la mia risposta alla Big Question. Dalle parole della stessa HDHC la spiegazione di cosa siano le Big Questions & Grand Answers: "Le Big Questions sono semplici di solito, ma sono dei perchè che tutti vorrebbero sapere ma non osano chiedere pubblicamente per paura di fare figure di...() figuracce (ndr), o perchè non sanno che un esperto che ha una risposta a quella domanda c'è, ed è proprio vicino a se'".

Bene,  questa volta a dare la Grand Answer è stato chiamato il Dottor SINema...

BQGA: Monster movies and stop motion

Today's question is special, we have a special guest answering, a blogspot freshman: Dr.SINema. You probably read about him and his diabolic movie night on a previous post.

While celebrating the first birthday of Dr.SINema's nights, and the brand new blog, with reviews, polls, and the classical invitations to the “carbonaro cinema” I also wanna use his deep knowledge of the 50s, sci-fi, horror, zombies and for our own sake.

As he says, he got a degree horroris causa, so why not? He has been absolutely complete. And as usual, my translation is what it is, but you know this already. Let's go.

BQ: Almost all of us know King Kong, and the luckiest know even the Black Scorpion, the Crab Monsters and so on... It's easy to imagine those beasts in action today, but how do they animate the monsters in the “Monster movies”?

GA: Thank you for the question, baby (that's how experts begin, right?)
You are giving me the chance to talk about the technique that shows the huge craftsmen work that lies behind many fantasy masterpieces and other great films.

To answer your question I need to take a step back and explain what “special effect” means in the film industry: it's everything that's impossible to put in the picture in “natural” conditions, for how it looks or sounds, so basically all that can't stay in front of the camera, as well as everything that is out of time and space (past or future eras, huge, microscopic or imaginary objects).
Assuming this, we can also consider film titles as special effects, the rain is always a special effect (real rain never comes on demand, and most of all, you can't take a picture of it!). In the same way all the films shot in studios are nothing but a long special effect. We can hazard saying that the whole fiction genre is a sequence of special effects.
What do I mean by this?! To state that special effects were born with cinema itself (think about Georges Melies' short films) and the animated photography at 18 (for silent cinema) or 24 frames/sec.
Here lies the idea of taking pictures to a scale model, or a static plasticine puppet, in different and sequential positions, one frame at a time, and screen the pictures in a sequence, with real backgrounds and “real” characters. This technique is called stop motion (passo uno) and that's what animations were based on, in every fiction movie from the 30s until robotics, computer graphics and 3D rendering came. Of course, when the movements are closer and closer one another from frame to frame, the results will more realistic, the movement will flow better, and in general it will be more believable and the effect will work.

This craft technique gave (literally!) life to a special sub-genre of fiction: the MONSTER MOVIE. Since in the 30s, with King Kong, the genre has never had a down: prehistoric beasts, abominable yeti and experiments that went wrong. The height of its success was during the cold war and the years of the atomic obsession, with monsters who came from nuclear radiations of any kind: Godzilla and the Japanese monsters, and Earth vs the Spider, The Deadly Mantis and all the other big insects you may recall. Even if you can't reach the top of The Black Scorpion or Attack of the Crab Monsters, I'm sure you know what I am talking about.

Ray Harryhausen has been the undisputed maestro in the stop motion effects. He got his inspiration, skills and art from the pioneer Willis O'Brien, who had animated many fiction films with prehistoric monsters in the “silent era” and created of King Kong.
I want to point out the great scene by the good ol' Ray: the revived skeletons battle in Jason and the Argonauts, still topical today for it was made with maniacal skills. To be honest, the whole film is a riot of monsters and you can see how the myth is suitable to the “Michelangelo a passo uno” technique. The gigantic Triton who raises from the water to stop the stacks and let Jason and his crew cross. The Harpys who attack our men in another memorable scene, the seven-headed Idra, the huge statue that comes to life... if you want to have a synthesis of the stop motion art, watch this little gem of 1963, directed by Don Chaffey.
Jason and the argonauts, 1963
It would be a mistake thinking that stop motion is an affected method of the past, forgotten after the digital technologies, it would be like saying that analogical photography or vinyl records is stuff for archaeologist. If you remember Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, or even Nightmare Before Christmas directed by Henry Selick... both of them are made in stop motion – maybe with digital photography and Final Cut editing – exactly like 80-90 years ago.
By the way, the 35mm projectors are being replaced in the last few years, and they have basically the same mechanic as those used by the Lumiere Brothers!
In the end, what we first said about special effects, cinema is basically handicraft, creativity, fantasy, so monster movies (mostrum in latin: divine sign, prodigy, wonder) are the deepest essence.
Trust me, I'm Dr.SINema!!!

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