Kung Fu Ponder

Click to see James Baxter animation's 2D opening sequence @ YouTubeWhat made this film appeal to animators? There are some that are putting KFP in the same league as "The Incredibles" (That's just a bear scratch below "The Iron Giant"!).

Here's a few knowledgeable comments: Read more

So what did you knowledgeable animators reading this blog think of Kung Fu Panda? What impressed, what grated? If you found the animation, story or design appealing, why?

James Baxter displays some action lines


frank said...

I know Ian's not so keen on film reviews on his blog. I just hope he's seen this one. And I'll try to make some comments informed from my animation classes.

OK, I went to see KFP this morning with a school holiday audience of coughing children and harrassed mothers.

Interestingly the cinema was quiet for the whole film. Either the kids or I was engrossed with the film.

Story: I liked the story between the father and son. Especially the surprising part where the son is told the family secret. Deliciously unexpected, and thus appealing.

I didn't like the "Rocky" style montage idea. The animation within it was good but the idea was a worn out cliche. I blame the beancounters, who probably wanted some nod to "Karate Kid", or something.

Oh, and another rope bridge... let's see, Shrek... Horton... hmmm. Perhaps it could have been a bamboo structure but the directors failed to consult me. But maybe if you can animate the flow and struggle of a character overcoming the obstacle of a disassembling rope bridge, then you are a dragon warrior... er, animator?

Visuals: Impressive. The environment of the film was beautifully designed and executed. I would love to see the storyboards, concept art and colourscripts.

Character Design: The big cats didn't appeal to me. Too many incisor teeth. When they ran they just bent in the middle not flexing and extending through the full spine. There eyes indicated liver disease (way too yellow). The neck on the female tiger was too thick and distracting for my liking.

The tortoise was great. The design and movement. As were the ducks.

The panda seemed to lose it's appealing look on some camera angles (walking toward the wall of the temple to watch the tournament, the rear view... maybe it was the silly pants?).

Animation: I have to agree with Peter Emslie's observation that a lot of the action was so fast it didn't read clearly. Some of the consequences of the action were also lost in the fracas.

All that animation skill, probably needs a frame-by-frame viewing to fully appreciated. the kids did love it when the Panda accidentally used his bum as a weapon and the directors obligingly made that part in slow motion.

Also the "Hong Kong" style of having characters defy gravity during a fight (or escape - from the prison)tends toward disbelief in weight and movement. But that was a style choice. It does look interesting the first time. But breaks empathy with the audience.

I enjoyed the film. It was great to see that James Baxter's 2D animation almost stole the show. I was also grabbed by the right to left panning end credits. A simple, effective diversion from the vertical scroll.

Oh, and if you wait, right to the very end... nah, I'm not going to tell you.

MattG said...

I'll come back to this and leave some more detailed comments if you want them (and don't mind spoilers), but for now this is my quick assessment.

I thought it was the best CG-animated movie I've seen in about 3 years. I connected with the characters solidly, it was extremely beautiful to look at, and had very few flaws. It tried to do something relatively simple, but it did it very well, with not a single fart joke or pop-culture reference in sight. It featured some VERY mature storytelling, and never insulted me.

Most importantly, I was entertained completely for its running time. It may not be the BEST animated movie I've seen in the past few years (that would be Persepolis), but it's the most entertaining and enjoyable.

Ian said...

Not all the reviews have been good, try this one. http://www.cinephobia.com/kfpanda.htm

I thought it was a definite step up for Dreamworks. But is that saying much? They have been on a steady downward slide since the Ten Commandments.

I would rate Meet the Robinson's, Increadables, Nemo, Ratatouille and Monsters Inc above it to name a few. I think that only leaves Sony out of the major players that I would rate behind Dreamworks.

The actual animation was very good indeed, I came away reeling from it. But after some digestion time I would have to say I found it all a bit empty. Maybe I'm getting old, but I'm really tired of these same old feature animation messages.

David Straton from the movie show (you know you are turning into an old fart when you're agreeing with him) said something like, I know its probably good for children to be told that they can achieve things if they believe in themselves, but does that mean every movie has to be about that?!?! Also 2nd year student Dan's prediction of it being Beverly Hills Cop with animals turned out to be pretty true.

It is probably still possible to make a story about this that connects with me, but if I think about my experience at the cinema in this case, I was hardly aware of the story. I don't think there was a time when I stopped observing the great animation and started enjoying the story and characters. Generally speaking the Pixar films take me into a state of suspended disbelief pretty quickly.

In the animation I particularly liked the old turtle, every movement was endeared with age, grace and wisdom. Po was good, but all the other characters were disappointingly bland and predictable. Some of the poses from Tigris were so plain, she came across as a truly boring person. I don't think its a coincidence that we are saying Deamworks' best picture is one without any humans in it, they don't seem to have nailed that yet.

The art direction was gold, Jack Black was great, "There is no price for awesomeness!" nice. It would have been a lot of fun to work on and I hope Dreamworks keep moving in this direction. So from me its a pat on the back for a good effort, but hope for better things ahead. He he What a condicenting B*#tard I am :)

frank said...

I like this. Good stuff. Yes please Matt, bring in some comments. Hopefully something student animators can digest!

Yes, I admit I laughed at the Jack Blackisms, "There is no price for awesomeness", but that laugh was for Jack not the panda.

Meet the Robinsons does sit in my mind as a better film as well. I'm not a Nemo fan. Well maybe just the seagulls.

I will have to find Persopolis, it had a good write up in the only animation journal in the school library.

But the thing that bothers me, also thinking of Nemo, is the EYES! I find those over worked 3D, jeweel-like, flouro coloured irises disconcerting. I wonder if it bothers anyone else?

Who'll be the first to risk making them more organic, less mineral/crystal?

Keep any comments coming. I'm off to read the link Ian gave us.

David Stratton said...

I think it's about average. I think it's beautiful to look at. The computer animation is marvellous... I think the voice cast is interesting, and it's occasionally quite funny.

But the problem I have with a film like this is that it is so clichéd. It has exactly the same idea: you know, if you believe then you can achieve anything. And this one seems to be particularly directed at obese children. You know, if you're lazy and overweight, you can still become a dragon master.

MattG said...

All right then, here we go.

I agree that the message is cliched... there are a lot of movies with the message that "if you believe in yourself/your dream, you can achieve it." From "Some day My Prince Will Come" to all of the "I Want" songs in classic (& modern) Disney movies to Ratatouille. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that, personally. Yes it would be nice to get a change, but really, for you to be involved in a protagonist's story, they should want something, and in the end (for a happy ending) they should achieve it. The greater the odds are against them doing it, the more rewarding it is when they do achieve their goal.

But what I said before was that KFP tried to do something simple and did it very well. It wasn't aiming to be groundbreaking or change the world, just to inspire some people and entertain for 100 minutes. And it did it. So the message was essentially the secret...


...that "There is no secret ingredient". Po was special because he was Po. As is everyone else. What I appreciated there was that the message was CLEAR... and now I do something dangerous and compare the delivery of the central message with Ratatouille. Rat's message was "Anyone can cook. ...except that guy, who really CAN'T cook... unless he has the rat in his hat who is an AMAZING cook." Wha...? I'll take a nice, clear "you can do it!" any day.

Okay enough of that... The kung-fu sequences were well done, sometimes a bit confusing but really, some of the best animated action sequences I've seen. BUT I like the quiet moments better. Shifu confronting Po as he's leaving... and Po asking repeatedly "how?" will he be made into the Dragon Warrior. Just letting the words hang in the air as we watch Shifu give up... that's an amazing scene. Oogway's farewell. the END of the dumpling fight. and the scene between Po and his Dad (well, any of those) are all great. In other films they would fill the empty spaces with words or movement, but KFP was happy to have silence at times, which was a welcome change, and probably more effective than talking.

My biggest complaint was that the furious five didn't get enough lines or screen time. However, if they did have larger roles, we would have lost some of the relationship between Po and Shifu, and their character arcs, so I'm kinda glad they were pushed into the background.

Overall, there was just a lot about the film that just felt right, and that's something that I can't force someone else to feel. :) I'll just say that when I came out of Wall-E I felt a bit manipulated, Horton I was upset at the padding (and the song), but when I left KFP I felt satisfied, and it stuck with me for weeks. That's the mark of a good film, to me.

(And I didn't even get to the mature storytelling techniques. Maybe next time. :) )

frank said...

Nice one Matt. Really good points. The 'overall feel' of the film was satisfying, I agree.

We haven't got Wall-E on screen yet (that's why we're still talking pandas.

As students Ian (and I'm sure Jane and Terry seek the same) is keen that we break down what we liked or didn't like by asking, and finding the answers to a series of 'why?' questions.

From this we (Ian and his students) hopefully will gain knowledge, techniques to progress our own animation.

That's why it's an important lesson not to stop at "I liked that". It's important to get other animator's input and ask "Why did they comment on those particular aspects of the craft?"

The more viewpoints we get on an animation in which we share an interest, the more we can learn.

frank said...

Matt, I like the core point that you make that the story is simple (to the point of cliche).

I know as students we are encouraged to take a simple motivation (hunger, thirst, curiosity) and create appealing, meaningful animation on that foundation. It becomes more interesting when there is an obstacle that the character must overcome (thank you Ed Hooks, who repeats this key theme).

An over complicated story can bamboozle the animation, the animator and the audience.

Clarity is a worthy goal.

frank said...

There is a sequence where Po (the panda) returns to the village as everyone is being evacuated.

It is a moment of Miyazaki "ma", or one of the quiet moments that Matt wrote about.

My heart rose in my chest as Po approaches the gate to his house to face his father. This is after he has concluded that he is nothing special and not the hero who will save the village.

He stands in the gate in a pose that just drips a recognition of failure and trepidation in his father's response. He waits and watches his father fussing with the cart carrying the family (noodle shop) belongings.

The storyteller/ animator here draws out that moment of tension.

It still sits in my mind today.

The acting that follows that moment is strengthened by it and probably stronger than any of the fight sequences.

I ask why was it so appealing to me? What did the animators/director do? I think the answer was in holding off on the moment of crisis/relief and letting the tension build.

Like when Glen Keane animates the old man getting out of a chair (my fellow students will know that video clip well). He talks about holding off, building the moment.

That's the way I'd like to look at these animation critiques. Getting something from them.

Mark Osberg said...

Here here Matt. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said.

Ian said...

I didn't think the message in the Rat movie was everyone can cook accept that guy. That was an intentional red herring. Its a Brad Bird thing, in the commentary at the start of Increadables he says how he starts off with a sequence all about the act of being a hero, but its a "sucker punch". His real intention is to take you somewhere a hero movie has never been before. Mmmmm new stuff.

If I had to pick a message from Rat it would be that we all have our talents and the trick to life is figuring out what they are (even if it isn't obvious at first) and following them with all your might when you do figure it out. That's why the guy accepts that running the restaurant is more his thing and embraces it at the end.

Perhaps the point could be made that Brads films could be clearer, or that his attempts to be cleaver can be a little overt, but I value a stab at something new over clarity in a feature film.

It must be a hard thing to control as a director. Its like the difference between cute and ugly. A fine line. Some people find Pekingese dogs cute, but they just freak me out. Its bound to be a personal choice.

You can make the same old safe idea as clear as you want, but are you still dare I say it, polishing a turd? (in a story sense as opposed to the animation context I usually throw that saying at)

As an audience as opposed to animators, isn't being happy to get the same old thing but well done what got animation in its most recent rut in the first place?

Bring on the iconoclasts I say! I mean these people are spending millions of dollars on these films.... TENS OF MILLIONS! Money that could save a whole country from malaria, deliver clean water to tens of thousands of people who have never had it before, or educate hundreds of children who would otherwise spend their childhood working. I know its a fact of life that there are financial imbalances in the world, but it seems the least these people could do is try to deliver something new and fresh for such an investment. The movies in my life that really stick out as amazing are the ones that broke new ground, animated or otherwise.

That why I think this movie is good, and is better than Dreamworks have done before, but it isn't great, just good.

Anonymous said...

Nah its great... I thought so anyway.

How cool was that escape from prison scene? Awesome!

The only thing I didnt like is how the turtle died... and it would have been nice to see more of the other 5 animals... but thats all cool. Thats Kung Fu!

I loved it when he broke the jar of 1000 souls or something... and he kept walking into them and they kept sorta screeming or something. That was hillarious!

Oh... and the '2d' was the best part. How cool would a whole movie like that be? No one would dare tho.


Ian said...

I must admit I liked the jar of 100 souls gag.

I didn't day it was bad. I enjoyed it. Just hope for something a bit more original next time.

I think its Monsters Vs Aliens Next for Dreamworks, which sounds interesting.

Mark Osberg said...

It's definately great. For me a film can still use familar story telling and concepts and be thoroughly entertaining. It's my favourite animated film since The incredibles. Loved it!

frank said...

But Mark when you wear your "animator's hat"... what did you like?

Is there an example? Possibly character design?

My take; I found the tigeress design unappealing (actually all the furious 5, except the stork, weren't so appealing).

frank said...

Clay, When the tortoise disintergrated, for a moment, did you think he was going to fall off the cliff?

I did.

What didn't you like about the way he disappeared? Was it too corny? Timed too slow? An effect that wasn't appealing? The animation?

frank said...

Ian? Wha'?

Arguing on a point of story! Interesting.

Moving the animation industry forward through risk taking in feature films by challenging proven money printing, comfortable cliches... I think that duck was shot by the beancounters (shareholders) who you have taught us are anything but risk takers.

So maybe Matt is the realist when we discuss animation in feature films. It's an observed culture of limiting risk rather than taking them. You've argued that strongly. In that culture, the best effort is to take a simple story and animate and design it well.

There may have been an acknowledgement to risk taking potential with James Baxter's dream sequence?

It would seem the power of the unimaginitive is to drag ideas to the mediocre. Investors want returns not risk.

But then there's the feature film 'Persopolis'...

But then why have we not heard much about it...

I like that word iconoclast.

MattG said...

Okay... you dragged me back in, Ian, with your "polishing a turd" comment. I wouldn't call a "good but ordinary" story a "turd". There is nothing wrong with doing something ordinary but doing it really well. that statement would apply to a great-looking movie with a bad story... and I can think of a few other movies right off the top of my head like that, but not Panda.

And while risk is good, it's also just that: risk. Pixar, Disney, and Dreamworks (and others) are now in a state where every film has to be a blockbuster for the studio to keep going. the films cost so much, and come out 1-2 times a year at most, that they all HAVE to make money. that means that they HAVE to appeal to the most people possible. that limits your risk-taking a bit, or you have to do it in small ways. For dreamworks, honestly, Panda WAS a big risk. Compare it to any other DW movie and note the differences.

Meanwhile, back at the "story" ranch, the thing about Rat, Incredibles, Cars, Robots, Bug's Life, almost all Disney movies, and so in, is that the "message" still boils down to "believe in yourself". So while you may say "Yes, Panda was good but it didn't do anything new in its story or message", you would be correct. But I would argue that neither do most animated films. At least Panda told that story really well.

NOW, one last caveat regarding story. After doing the short film classes, and having a big focus on clarity, this is where my whole "the message was clear" thing comes from. I've found I watch movies now and analyze not the story itself so much, but HOW it was told. "they couldv'e cut this" or "that character didn't add anything" or "I was confused by that moment" and so on. So my praise for Panda on the story side isn't so much for the story or message itself (definitely not groundbreaking), but in HOW it was told, where I find almost no flaws. And wuite a few things that surpass even Pixar or Disney's storytelling.

MattG said...

BTW, this is a great discussion. I love it. :D

Mark Osberg said...

Ha Ha. I want to write something interesting but Matt says it so much better.
Frank with my animator hat on it's the art direction all the way, simply stunning. After that would be the excellent cheography in the fight sequences and the overall acting throughout.
My only worry now is that Dreamworks will franchise the crap out of this and eventually I'll hate it.

Ian said...

Frank – You shouldn't interpret my directions to you in class as being anti story. I love a good story, at Southbank there just isn't enough time to do a good story and good animation, or many students use story to avoid confronting animation issues. The trick there is looking for a good story within the animation you have to do to get a job. Making it yours, giving it character and life. There is a story within each scene, I'd like to see your students get a handle on that before they try to make Lord Of The Rings 4

Matt – OK so it wasn't a turd, but you referred to it as an ordinary story. My main gripe would be, What Story? There was hardly any story to speak of.

You statement “Compare it to any other DW movie and note the differences” is something I have been agreeing with all along, I have said several times I think its there best yet, I am just hopeful that they will continue to push in this direction instead of making 5 sequels. I'll do a quick search ..... Oh what do you know http://animationguildblog.blogspot.com/2008/06/dreamworks-dally.html .

I don't know if I agree that Pixar are in a one strike and your out situation, maybe Dreamworks are I don't know. Pixar is now part of Disney and on both occations that they have stopped making animated features it has been after a long string of duds. Why were they duds? Because they followed the same bloody formula for too long, a course that the 3D animation industry seems pretty determined to follow. Is the shift from Madagascar to Kung Fu Panda really any more dramatic than the shift from Lion King to The Emperors New Groove? A shift in the humour, a spin on the art direction, some slick new sequences, the same old formula. And where did it get Disney? Nowhere. There is plenty of risk in not taking risks.

You talk about the risks that come with making a theatrical release feature, but it is also a massive privilege and the people involved (especially at the top) should never forget it. I recently herd of a direct to video film that may be made in Australia, if it does the budget is going to be around 700000 bucks. The animators involved (if it happens) wont have time to rework scenes, adjust stories mid production, change fundamental character element or scratch their goolies for more than a split second because of what is deemed a reasonable amount to spend on their talents. They could have the best ideas in the world and wouldn't even have time to discuss them. Speaking as someone who is close to that position (and has worked in a similar position at Disney Australia) the last thing I want to hear from those being paid 5 times more and given 4 times the time to produce their work is that they feel they can't afford to take a risk. Quite frankly I'm insulted when they don't. (Before anyone jumps down my throat I'm not say these people don't work hard, a bet they work their ass off, its just that they are lucky to be doing so.)

I'd love to know how you think the Incredibles boils down to “Believe in Yourself”. Mr Incredible started as the best hero, ended as the best hero and knew he was all along. It boiled down to him finding a balance between his love for crime fighting and his family commitments, dealing with the changes and responsibilities that family life forced upon him. When Mr Incredible was captured and his spirit crushed, it wasn't because he didn't believe in himself, it was because he thought his family was dead and he had been to focussed on himself instead of looking after them. I suppose you could spin that as believing in himself as a father, but its a bit of a stretch, Po simply didn't believe he was good enough to do what was needed.

I've never disputed that the KFP story was clear, and that there are plenty of animated films that fail to be clear. I've been trying to think of films that were clear and original in their story/message. (Some of the stories may be clichéd now, but I'm trying to consider them in their original context and before they were copied over and over)

*Jungle Book
*Toy Story
*Iron Giant
*Lion King

Mark – Grow a spine and develop your own opinion :P

Mark Osberg said...

In my opinion you smell like poo

Ian said...

Thats not an opinion.... thats a fact. I call it Odour De PooPoo.

frank said...

Oooo, this is too good a pun to leave in my brain...

Didn't Dreamworks SKG make the 'anti-story'?

[Antz (1998)]


Ian, it's refreshing to read your opinion on 'story' in animated features, and Matt's opinion on story telling.

I just put the exclamation mark on the end of my statement to see if you'd come out ranting. Aaaand guess what?... "Run students, run! Here comes a ranting Ian."... Get ready... Then, from a student's point of view, there's shiny stuff left all over the boxing ring, or blog comments.

Some of it is drooly saliva, some of it is diamonds. ;)


frank said...

There's a story in a walk?

In a lifting a heavy object?


frank said...

I followed the link Ian gave after wiping off the gloop.

A KFP sequel.

*1st reaction*: Oh no, Marks prediction has come true. They're going to Shrek it.

But then reading a bit more. It's a traditional hand-drawn animation.

Isn't that risky? *plink*

Does anyone know if James Baxter is driving it?

Ian said...

James is back at Dreamworks full time now, so it might. would be nice.

MattG said...

Sequels are a different story. Rehashing or revisiting the same characters for some guaranteed money is something DW and Disney do anyway (See: the upcoming Ice Age 3, Cars 2, Toy Story 3, and 4 Tinkerbell movies). So we'll leave the discussion with the originals. :)

What Story? It may be simple but it's still a story. unlikely guy gets chosen to be a warrior with his heroes. Villain ecsapes from prison, seeking the same warrior position. Mentor to both has troubled past that must be resolved (one way or another). Unlikely Guy still seems unlikely but tries anyway, believing he's the last hope. And he ends up saving the day.

Super-short summary 'coz I'm typing. :) (Incidentally, "Po simply didn't believe he was good enough to do what was needed."... but he tried anyway. When he discovered The Secret, he DID believe in himself. I think the trying-anyway part was almost more important.)

A story doesn't have to be complicated to be a good story. Simple can be good too. (I am dying for you to see Wall-E so we can continue this part of the debate.) The telling can be what elevates it. And yes, frank, even a box push or heavy lift can have a "story"... though probably a small or implied story in the way the character performs the action.

Once upon a time two people lived together. One day, one of them is taken away from the other. After a long journey and many obstacles, the other person finds the first person and gets them both back home. The end.

And there we have: Toy Story. And Finding Nemo. Yet they are great movies. It's in the telling. And again, I think Panda told its story very well.

Now... Risk. I agree with you, Ian. I'm not saying it's a good idea to NOT take risk. I would love it if more studios DID take risks. And I think Pixar is slowly taking more risks with their work (successfully or not) and overall it's a good thing. What I disagree with you about is that Panda didn't take any risk (it did). And you said that (it did) too. So... I'm going to leave specific movies out of the Risk argument now and say: Studios need to take more risk, but the end results need to be as enjoyable overall, and not only BECAUSE of the risks taken. "Different" does not automatically equal "Better".

And lastly (for this round), be careful when assigning blame that you are not referring to the animators themselves, on any project. (Unless the animation sucks, of course.) In a studio, all the things we're discussing (risk, story, message, etc) are completely out of the animators' hands. It's nto the animators who get to decide whether they have time or money to afford to take a risk... they just have to do what they're told. And if that's animating Po's kids in "Kung Fu Panda 5 1/2: The Next Generation Of Awesome", then that's what they'll do. It's up to the people n charge to decide to make something different. (And you did mention the higher-ups, so it's not a jab at you, Ian, more a note to students)

Ian said...

The fact that Po gave it a go anyway or found his belief is more of that same formula. I mentioned the formula (or part of it)in that paragraph as a refrence point to Incredibles. Which had a different, more original story/message.

A fair clarification on the artist as aposed to those with the qheck books. I've been in situations where I have had to churn out 20 seconds a day, there were heaps of ideas I wanted to do, but the purse strings were so tight I just had to pump out the frames.

Matt - Have I missed a Paragraph somewhere, have you said what these risks that Dreamworks took by making KFP are? I'm afraid I can't think of any.

MattG said...

Ah, it's all relative. Dreamworks' risk in making Panda was that is was NOT like any other DW film. No fart or poop jokes, no pop culture references, no reliance on famous voices. (By that I mean: yes it famous voices, but you could have done it without Dustin Hoffman and others. While in Shrek, whole gags depended on your recognition of the voice actors.) Just story and characters to drive the movie and the gags.

And the reason that may appear to be a bigger deal to me was after the "Shrekification" of Horton. Rumor has it that it didn't always end in that song, or have as many pop-culture references. But allegedly, after Shrek3 made a bajillion dollars, the suits (the people with the money, not necessarily the creatives) wanted it to be Shrekfied. So it was. And to me, was "safer" but much poorer than it could have been.

For DW, KFP was a risk in that it doesn't really feel like a DW film. Kinda like Eporors New groove was a risk for Disney at the time. Of course, KFP made a bajillion dollars and so yes, there are a proposed 5 sequels or whatever and maybe a TV series (which was reportedly planned before the movie even came out... see: Hercules from Disney-under-Eisner).

frank said...

KFP Australian Connexion

Here's the profile of Australian animator Shaun Freeman.

Cassie (2nd year) found an interesting article in his blog about Good Dancing and Good Animation (it's worth a read).

Shaun did some promotional animation for KFP. Hear what the Panda has to say about Kung Fu.