introduction and social view into the animated sequence “The tale of the three brothers” post 1 of 4

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In this blog I’m going to be talking about the reason why the makers of “Harry Potter” (David Yates, 2010) decided to use animation as a visual reference to help tell “The Tale of the Three Brothers” (J.K.Rowling, 2007) instead of using live action. I will be looking at it from four different views, social, aesthetics, technological and economics to see why using animation for this short sequence was better that using live action.

 

The Tale of the Three Brothers” is a short animation sequence in the film “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: part 1”, directed by David Yates and released in 2010. It’s the 7th film in the Harry Potter series and the first of two cinematic parts, based on the ultimate book written by J.K Rowling. The scene in question starts off with Hermione reading from a children’s fairy tale book named “The Tales of Beedle the Bard”, by Beedle the Bard. Published sometime in the 15th century in the wizarding world stated in the Harry Potter book, Hermione is given the book by Albus Dumbledore and reads it out to the other characters as they are on their quest to find and destroy horcruxes. As she gets into the story, the image changes from a CGI bird flying in a live action scene to an animated world where Hermione’s words are illustrated in the animated images on screen.

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This animated sequence was directed by Ben Hibon and made by the VFX house Framestore. Ben Hibon graduated from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and worked for four years as a creative director before moving into directing. He worked for MTV Europe and Asia and in 2007 worked with Sony1. When he was approached by David Yates, the director, they were all unsure on how the sequence should look and make the audience feel. In the book from which the movie is based, this part in the scene where Hermione is reading is over two pages long, and having an actor speak for the length of time it would take to read out the story would be very daring, as there is the risk of the audience getting bored and losing interest, and ultimately lose the point of the story. David found a very good solution for this by making a short animation sequence illustrate the words Hermione reads out.

 

Hibon states in an interview with Animation World Network that they had to be careful as not to break from the flow of the film so they made a very stylised and imaginative sequence without drawing us out of the movie, “…it was not about creating artifice but throwing the audience into a narrative”2. As Hibon explains in the interview, he didn’t want the audience to be tricked into this sequence being different and unattached from the movie. He would rather, for us, as the audience, to flow seamlessly from live action straight into the animation so that it was believable and felt like it belonged as a new way to tell stories. We are made to believe that if the wizards from Harry Potter were animated, that would be how they would look and the classic fairy tale told with the aid of animation gives more impact to the audience than if the director had chosen live action.

 

 

 

1 Ben Hibon. (2007). Ben Hibon Biography. Available: http://www.nexusproductions.com/directors/ben-hibon. Last accessed 5th may 2014.

 

2 Bill Desowitz. (2010). Shadow Play with ‘Potter’’s Tale of Three Brothers . Available: http://www.awn.com/animationworld/shadow-play-potters-tale-three-brothers. Last accessed 5th may 2014.

 

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Why “The Tale of the Three Brothers” is better in animation from an aesthetic point of view post 2 of 4

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The first thing that strikes you as you watch this animated sequence is the use of sepia tones and the fact that all objects and characters are mysteriously conveyed through silhouettes and shadows. As you keep watching however, you quickly realise a distinctiveness about the characters as the silhouettes have different tones using tonality from light and shade. There is a confused illusion of depth as, at times the walls seem to go on forever but at the same time, the shadows of the characters show up on the walls making it look smaller. The sequence has a distinct puppet style to it, which Dale Newton, sequence supervisor explains in an interview with fxguide, how they got to this decision in style:

 

“Newton: One of the things that got me excited about it in the early stages was the question of what it should look like. We knew it was going to be stylised, but not exactly how. The producers came along with the suggestion of creating something in the vein of Lotte Reiniger, an Austrian-born animator working in the 1930s and 50s doing silhouette style animations. What we got out of that was a certain simplicity and naivety. We knew it had to be told very graphically with bold silhouettes. But Ben and I were keen to make sure it wasn’t only that, that there was something else we could add.”1

 

Newton and Hibon (director) were inspired by oriental shadow puppetry, with the film “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” by Lotte Reiniger is particular. She made her film using black cut-out silhouettes shot on vertically stacked glass sheets2. They knew they wanted this 2D element but they didn’t want to use stop motion, they needed to keep the audience believing they were in another Harry Potter wizard world so they settled on using 3D, which I will go into in more depth in my next post about the technological side behind the animated sequence.

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In the interview with Animation World Network, the director explains how they used the hands, head and bodies of the characters to express everything3. Taking inspiration from oriental shadow puppetry, they made the animation in the form of silhouettes but this brings the problem of not being able to express the characters emotions with ease due to the lack of facial expressions, which is why the body language is so important. The use of the lighting and eerie fog effects and shadows give a very magical and mysterious feel to the story which fits in well with the perfectly soft and detached narration by Hermione. All this gives a more believable feel to the audience which live action wouldn’t be able to do.

 

 

 

 

1Ian Failes. (2010). Framestore: Deathly Hallows Animation. Available: http://www.fxguide.com/featured/framestore_deathly_hallows_animation/. Last accessed 5th may 2014

 

2 Andrew Osmond (2010). Animated feature films. london: Palgrave Macmillan. Pg 9.

 

3 Bill Desowitz. (2010). Shadow Play with ‘Potter’’s Tale of Three Brothers . Available: http://www.awn.com/animationworld/shadow-play-potters-tale-three-brothers. Last accessed 5th may 2014.

 

“The Tale of the Three Brothers” from a technological point of view post 3 of 4

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Newton states in his interview with fxguide that this animated sequence was made in a number of software programs. They modelled everything in Maya, and used Zbrush if anything needed any sort of displacement. They rendered using mental ray and for the making of the bridge used Houdini and rendered in RenderMan. They also used nCloth for the characters robes and the dead brides dress and also used Nuke for compositing.

 

 

They were set on using the same style as shadow puppetry but obviously things like pulsing light and textures were physical 2D things which they would lose in computer imagery, so they made their own 3D grain to keep the quality textured look as their camera flies through the 3D space. In the animated sequence, the camera is constantly moving from one angle to the other, floating through layers of paper, seamlessly flying through the scene which was made possible with the 3D grain they devised, which allowed the animators to concentrate on the shadowing.

 

In Hibons interview with Animation World Network, Ben states that “they wanted to keep the language of cameras and not lose the motion of the cinematic experience as a potter movie. Therefore didn’t want to use 2D to break this2”. They did originally think of doing the sequence in 2D but soon realised that in order to get the look they were after, they would have to move the camera an awful lot more. They also wanted to animate on 2s but had the same problem with the camera moves, which is why they decided on 3D in order to get that more stylised textured look and beautiful detail you can see in the animation.

 

The textures you see were made in Zbrush, where the texturing team worked up colour maps making the animation have no clean curves or straight lines even though the designs were so stylised. With these stylised enriched textures though, came the problem that since the camera is constantly moving, they had to move the textures as well in order to keep the feeling of the overlay of the paper texture. So they used Nuke and Maya where they added camera moves and placed layers of paper textures between renders in 3D Nuke to give the illusion of the moving textures.

 

Despite the fact that, if they had decided to do this sequence in live action they wouldn’t have needed to worry about all of these problems that the software brings up, the effects that the animation gives in the viewing of the movie is more impactful, as the audience can see that it takes a certain amount of skill to use animation in such a technical way producing such beautiful imagery.

 

 

1Ian Failes. (2010). Framestore: Deathly Hallows Animation. Available: http://www.fxguide.com/featured/framestore_deathly_hallows_animation/. Last accessed 5th may 2014

 

2 Bill Desowitz. (2010). Shadow Play with ‘Potter’’s Tale of Three Brothers . Available: http://www.awn.com/animationworld/shadow-play-potters-tale-three-brothers. Last accessed 5th may 2014.

 

“The Tale of the Three Brothers” from an economical point of view post 4 of 4

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The animated sequence in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: part 1” was the first and only time a fully animated scene was used in all 8 movies. Using animation in this second to last movie was a bold move in terms of economics, as it would have been much easier to just film this 3 minute extra scene with the actors already on set. However, thanks to the massive success that the previous Harry Potter movies have brought to Warner Bros (the production company), its clear that money was not their main worry when it came to choosing to add some animation into the film.

 

Using animation to shoot the scene gives so much room for creativity that live action doesn’t allow. The use of camera angles and textual design, the way the characters move and react would have been tricky and difficult and time consuming in live action. Similarly they could have chosen 2D or stop motion to illustrate this story which may or may not have been economical, but they would have missed out on the eerie, mystical, mysterious feeling that the 3D software brings to the film.

 

Even though making this sequence may or may not have been economical for the production, using animation to tell the Beedle the Bard story paid off as the movie turned out to be the second highest grossing film of the franchise outside of north America.  In its first week the film grossed $330 million and worldwide gross a whooping $960 million1.

 

As I’ve stated in all my blogs on this subject, using animation to tell “The Tale of the Three Brothers” was socially, aesthetically, technologically and economically more inviting, interesting and beneficial to the audience than any other live action or different animation technique could. It made the audience still feel as if they were immersed in the Harry Potter world and the animation was so smooth and pleasing to the eye, its left audiences still enjoying it years after its first release.

1 IMDB. (2011). Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. Available: http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=harrypotter7.htm. Last accessed 5th may 2014.

 

Bibliography

BOOKS AND FILMS

 

Andrew Osmond (2010). Animated feature films. london: Palgrave Macmillan.

 

Cynthia Whitney Hallett (2005). Scholarly Studies in Harry Potter. Applying academic methods to a popular text. New York: The Edwin Mellen Press.

 

Dale Newton and John Gaspard (2001). Digital film making 101. An essential guide to producing low-budget movies. California : Michael Wiese Production.

 

George Beahm (2005). Fact, Fiction and Folklore in Harry Potters world. An unofficial guide. Virginia: Hampton Roads Publishing Company, INC.

 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, 2011. [DVD] David Yates, london: Warner Home Studio.

Herta Schonewolf (1968). Play with light and shadow. The art and techniques of shadow theatre. New York: Reinhold Book Corporation.

 

Jayne Pilling (1997). A Reader in Animation Studies. Sydney, Australia: John Libbey & Company Pty ltd.

 

J.K.Rowling (2008). Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. london: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC. 408.

 

Kevin S. Sandler (1998). Reading the Rabbit. Exploration in Warner Bros Animation. New Jersey : Rutgers, The State University.

 

WEBSITES

http://www.nexusproductions.com/directors/ben-hibon

 

http://www.awn.com/animationworld/shadow-play-potters-tale-three-brothers

 

http://www.fxguide.com/featured/framestore_deathly_hallows_animation/

 

http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=harrypotter7.htm