I would like to thank the Academy…

So, the Oscar nominations are in and already the press is filled with a slew of ‘Tin Tin snubbed’ comments. I, however, would like to thank The Academy for not bowing to popular pressure and public expectation.

The basic fact is, last year The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences pinned their colors firmly to the pole when it comes to animation. If you read my last post, on this subject, you will already understand. For those of you who missed it, take a quick pause and head over there just now.

In that last post I cited the official Oscars® ruling on animated films which, to cut a long story short, rules out motion (or performance) capture from qualifying as animation. The Adventures of Tin Tin is almost entirely performance capture and so, quite rightly, cannot qualify for the Best Animated Film category.

This year’s nominations are; . A fairly large group this year compared to the 3 from last year, which included our very own (as in, the film both my wife and I worked on) The Illusionist.

I am slightly ashamed to confess that I have not seen a single one of these. However, I am to rectify that over the next couple of weeks and I will return to give you my thoughts on how these measure up and which I think should get the little golden fella for their mantlepiece.


The Adventures of Tin Tin: Best ‘Animated’ Film…But is it?

As many will no doubt have heard, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson’s The Adventures of Tin Tin walked away from the Golden Globes this week with the Best Animated Film award. Commonly, though not exclusively, this has meant that the film would be a shoe-in for the Oscar® of the same category. And, unsurprisingly, The Adventures of Tin Tin is currently campaigning for such consideration. However, I would like to protest this.

Now, I’m not making a comment on the film itself or whether or not it is good enough to win such awards. In fact, I have not even had the opportunity to watch it. I have been well-informed that it is a good movie and from what I have seen of it, it looks pretty good to me. No, I am actually commenting on whether or not the film should even be put up for consideration at all.

Last year, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the awarders of the coveted, aforementioned Oscars®) published new rules governing the eligibility for consideration to the Best Animated Feature Film Award. These are unchanged for this year’s looming Awards and an extract can be read below:

Rule Seven: Special Rules for the Best Animated Feature Film Award

  1. DEFINITION: An animated feature film is defined as a motion picture with a running time of more than 40 minutes, in which movement and characters’ performances are created using a frame-by-frame technique.  Motion capture by itself is not an animation technique.  In addition, a significant number of the major characters must be animated, and animation must figure in no less than 75 percent of the picture’s running time

The full rule can be read HERE

From what I understand, ‘ Tin Tin, in regard to the major characters at least, is performance (or motion) capture and, therefore, should not be eligible for consideration in the Best Animated Film category of the Oscars®.

However, from my research, it would appear that other major awards are not so specific on their requirements or definitions. The Golden Globes, as far as I can see, do not have any special rules or requirements covering animated films. The Annies, presented by The International Animated Film Society, ASIFA-Hollywood are specifically for animation yet do not seem to have available a definition of animation but each award is given “in recognition of creative excellence in the art of animation.” Somewhat ambiguous but I would suggest that using the term art would suggest something more hand-crafted. The BAFTAs (British Academy of Film and Television Awards) state in their rule book, “17. ANIMATED FILM: A film will be classed as an animated feature film if it is primarily animated throughout the majority of the length of the film and has a significant number of animated major characters;”. More specific but, again, does not define the term animated, however, there is a heavy insinuation in the wording.

Tin Tin is scooping up Best Animated Film awards left, right and centre and, for the majority it would seem that, due to imprecise or lacking definitions and unspecific eligibility rules, its receipt of these cannot be contested beyond personal opinion. In the case of the Oscars®, though, I think the rules and definition are clear. The Adventures of Tin Tin is not eligible for consideration to the category of Best Animated Film, it quite clearly does not meet the requirements. Of course, the nominations are not out yet and it may prove that The Academy do not allow it, we will have to wait and see.

Finally, as something of a disclaimer, I am not against motion/performance capture as a tool and I have even worked with it in production. It has a wealth of value and any number of valid uses, including filmmaking. As an animator, however, I do feel that the two – animation and motion capture – ought to be separated. Animation is an art and a craft, whether it is 2D, 3D, stop-motion, traditional or digital. Motion-capture is a tool, a technology. Like I say, it has its place and value but it is not animation.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Cold War Whack-a-mole

In recent years we have not been short of spies; Bond, Bourne, TV’s Burn Notice and even Chuck. One theme common to all of these, action. Whether it’s a car chase, a fist fight or a shoot-out, most ‘spies’ these days are less secret agent, more agent of destruction. In the midst of all this adrenaline and gun-fire sits Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, conspicuous, not only by its stark lack of the aforementioned traits, but also by its deliberate and understated quality.

Directed by Swede, Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) and with an all-star cast led by Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight, Harry Potter etc. etc.), Colin Firth (The King’s Speech, Bridget Jones etc. etc.) and a veritable who’s who of British acting talent. Tinker, Tailor is a journey into the old-school of Cold War espionage, quiet phone calls, discrete meetings intercepting coded messages and passing secrets. No car chases, no kung-fu, no blowing up everything in site and only a handful of shots fired. It is also successfully transports us back to ’70s London in its full mundane drabness. It is a taupe flannel world filled with ugly brown cars and dreary, questionable home decorating.

At the centre of this London is the Secret Intelligence Service (commonly referenced as MI6). At the centre of the SIS is The Circus and at the centre of The Circus, so we are led to believe by its head, Control (John Hurt), is a Soviet mole. So sure is he that the mole is real that he authorises an off-the-books liaison with an informant in Hungary. A meet that goes wrong and results in the agent (Mark Strong) being shot and Control’s removal from The Circus and the SIS. With Control, senior Circus member George Smiley (Oldman) is forced into retirement and the rest of The Circus are left to continue running Operation Witchcraft, a covert operation centred around a mysterious informant, supplying Soviet intelligence.

After a phone call from rogue agent Ricky Tarr (Tom Hardy, Inception), a government minister, both involved and suspicious of Operation Witchcraft, brings Smiley back out of retirement to re-initiate Control’s mole hunt. We then follow Smiley as he deftly weaves his way though the web of secrets and deceit, ably assisted by a handful of inside and outside men. The web is intricately spun and we are kept guessing to very last with plenty of surprises and twists along the way*. Every suspect, namely the members of The Circus, including Smiley, are open to scrutiny and suspicion right up to the final discovery and arrest of the mole. (*provided you haven’t read the book or seen the 1979 BBC mini-series).

Much of the twistiness and plot weaving is likely due, in no small part, to Le Carre’s writing but credit must be given to Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan who have done a fantastic job of condensing the book into a shade over two hours. The performances of all the cast are extremely well played, many suitably understated. And with such bright and starry cast, no one, even Oldman, steals a scene, nobody overshadows their cast-mates, everyone fits into their role and the performances and performers compliment each other perfectly. And then there is the look and feel of this film. I have already nodded at the art direction but the cinematography and editing combine to make this film, already entertaining to the mind, a pleasure for the eyes as well.

A wonderfully written, directed, performed and shot film that satisfies on all levels. A must see and easily my stand out of 2011.

Still in theaters in the US and released in the UK on DVD January 30th 2012.

GUEST BLOG: Did you hear the one about the Queen Mum, the Dalai Lama and the leather whip?

A little bit about our wonderful guest blogger: Kate. “A Yorkshire lass living in Scotland and married to the great grandson of an African chief who would eat people if they caught him having a bath. My husband prefers showers… and chicken. I’m a TV bod, script supervisor, production manager, writer, swimmer, believer, wife and full-time working step-mum to two fantastic girls (11 and 8) who are my stylists, my daily cheer and my reasons for cleaning”.

January 2012 marks the completion of my first decade here in Glasgow, bonnie Scotland. This is the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere apart from the place where I grew up in the north east of England.

I came up over the border fresh from university in Nottingham and via a short blip in Birmingham for a job with a director on a BBC Songs of Praise programme. ‘I can guarantee you ten weeks of work’ he said. That was enough for me to up sticks and move from the land of Brum to the land of the Glasgow kiss. And ten years later I’m sill here; still working in the wonderful world of television and now married and a step-mum to boot. This monumental anniversary has brought about an air of reflection during my moments of lull – so in the shower and at traffic lights as a general rule. I’ve experienced some bonkers, heart-warming, satisfying, sometimes teeth-crunchingly frustrating and downright daft moments during that time and most of them have been brought about by my job.

Whilst helping to make programmes about Florence Nightingale, the King James Bible, microfinance, a 21st century Scottish clan, Narnia, gangsters and J.S. Bach’s organ works to name but an eclectic few I have found myself in some extremely odd predicaments and situations. Here’s my top 20 in no particular order (except maybe the last one):

Answering the phone to the First Minister of Scotland in nothing but my bra and knickers (me, not him).

Staying the night in CS Lewis’s house right next to a wardrobe. Yes, I checked.

Visiting the Guinness Brewery with an actual Mr. Guinness.

Watching a heroin addict shoot up for the last time before observing his gradual recovery from his dependency.

Being advised spontaneously by a Hollywood film star on the merits of breastfeeding.

Running out of intelligent questions to ask the Icelandic Fisheries Minister before asking him whether he’d seen the ‘Happy Feet’ movie.

Couriering a newsreader’s black outfit to the BBC newsroom on the news of the death of the Queen Mum.

Sharing a cuppa with prostitutes.

Hand-rearing two orphaned robins and a baby vole.

Borrowing a fire engine, wangling a walk-on poodle and blagging the loan of a vicar’s dog collar.

Falling asleep in the office of the head of the Zambian Police.

Walking the red carpet at Cannes and the BAFTAs in Scotland and organizing a film premiere and after-party using nothing but freebies and my eyelashes.

Buying a leather whip on Ebay for the props department. My purchase suggestions have never been the same since.

Having a dead body flown from London to Glasgow and organising the deceased’s funeral having never met the person. An odd but strangely emotional and humbling experience.

Asking approximately a hundred men their inside leg measurement.

Doing the accounts with the man who taught Cliff Richard how to play tennis.

Walking along one of the longest nudist beaches in Spain, fully clothed.

Telling the man who plays Poirot that I’d taken up the clarinet because I’d fallen in love with the Poirot theme tune as a kid… only to be told it was the alto sax.

Meeting the man who smuggled the Dalai Lama out of Tibet.


Being proposed to on the big screen with the help of my clever, creative colleagues and the bravery of my now husband.

And so life took another turn at this last point. And, perhaps, of all the momentous moments, becoming a wife and step-mum has been the most jaw-dropping, exhausting and awe-inspiring of them all. Maternity leave for a step-mum would be a very good idea but my experience as a production manager has come in pretty handy… So bring on the next ten years and a large glass of pinot.

You can find out more about Kate’s work at 1AProductions.co.uk and you can read about (or buy if you wish!) one of the projects I worked on with Kate: C.S. Lewis: Beyond Narnia on Amazon.com

Zombieland: A Christmas Delight

As I’m sure most people do, I found myself sat in front of the TV watching movies over our recent holiday season. Unlike most people, I’m sure, who end up watching the likes of Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, or even Elf, I found myself enjoying the 2009 classic, Zombieland.

Now, this isn’t really a review. I do recommend the film, though. It’s a must for all you zombie fans out there (but I’m guessing you already ticked it off your lists). It is well worth visiting if you are simply a fan of comedy horror and in general it is just a satisfying watch. Well written and well performed by the main cast of Woody Harelson (Cheers, No Country For Old Men), Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), Emma Stone (The Help) and Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine), not to mention a wonderful performance from Bill Murray as himself.

I better get on, before I fail to hit my point.

I am something of a titles junkie. Meaning I can find myself being as critical of the title sequence of a film as the film itself. I won’t get into that here either but some worth noting include Panic Room, Catch Me if You Can and Th13teen Ghosts (2001).  So, yes, titles. They won’t exactly make or break a film, but they can definitely enhance or detract from that period, especially if they are integrated with the on-screen action.

With Zombieland, not only did I find some wonderfully integrated opening credit graphics, fully interacting with the action surrounding them, but the graphical element was extended into the storytelling. For those of you who have not seen the film, Columbia (Eisenberg) has set down a 31 rules to help him survive the new world he now lives in (he adds a 32nd part way through). We do not find out all of these but those we are let in on are presented both in context with the action and with accompanying graphic titles. What I enjoyed most about these particular enhancements is just that, they are enhancements. They could have just put some plain white text on the screen but they chose to take it one step further and created graphics the were a part of the shot and even the action. Text that gets splattered with blood, text that gets shattered by the body that runs through it or text that has the actor’s shadow cast on it. And every one was different, including the rules we see multiple times. All in a very good film that appealed to both the film-goer and the motion graphics artist in me.

So, here are the Rules of Zombieland to enjoy for yourself: