Tangled

Tangled

Despite the unexpected critical admiration Byron Howard and Nathan Greno’s Tangled seems to have gained, I was somewhat neutral in approaching the film. In the end, though, I found much to admire in it, especially its use of lighting.

The film, which is inspired by the Brothers Grimm version of Rapunzel, is not without its problems. The story does not really gain traction until towards the end and its efforts to harken back to earlier Disney films  is a bit too self conscious. (For example, the scene in the boat pictured above seems to rather deliberately evoke a scene from The Little Mermaid.) Similarly, one could sometimes hear quotes from Beauty and the Beast’s music in Alan Menken’s score.

But the boat scene, however corny it may seem, does reflect the filmmakers’ use of lighting to invigorate a sometimes weak story. In the film, Rapunzel is kidnapped by Gothel, an elderly woman who covets the child’s magical hair, which can keep her eternally young (the hair glows when it performs its magic). Each year on Rapunzel’s birthday, the king and queen (and their subjects) send lighted lanterns floating into the sky looking for the lost princess.

In addition to light being central to the film’s narrative, the filmmakers have also used it to strengthen its dramatic and comedic impact; unfortunately, the stills available barely hint at what art director David Goetz and look and lighting director Mohit Kallianpur were trying to do.

Tangled

The use of a spotlight is an old trick that dates back to the early silent films of Cecil B. DeMille and is associated with his use of Lasky/Rembrandt lighting in movies such as The Cheat (1915) and Carmen (1915).  In the shot above,  the “spotlight” highlight’s our hero, Flynn Rider’s comic predicament. Below, similar spots are used to highlight Flynn’s more serious predicament after being arrested.

Tangled

Perhaps more interesting is the scene where Rapunzel discovers Flynn after he has climbed into her tower. Sunlight creates another spotlight which shines on him, but initially she’s in the dark; she then slowly walks into the light, as if to mirror her sense of discovery. Again, this sort of staging and lighting is old hat in live-action films, but I don’t recall other animated film doing anything quite like it.

What is so exciting about Tangled’s use of lighting is the sense of discovery in being able to use digital technology to expand the animation filmmaker’s palette. As such, it is a reminder of the fact that the possibilities of computer animation have barely been touched. Credit must be given David Goetz and especially to Mohit Kallianpur, whose job as and lighting director seems somewhat akin to that of a cinematographer.

Credit, of course, should also go to the film’s directors. It’s interesting to note that in commenting on Bryon Howard’s previous effort, Bolt, which he co-directed with Chris Williams, I praised the film for  its use of 3D stereo “technology to evoke some very credible environments ,” especially its impressive “recreation of the streets of New York and Los Angeles.” The use of stereo in Tangled is also helpful in similar ways, and shows that the folks at Disney seem to understand how to utilize stereo more effectively than their cousins at Pixar.

2009 Movie Box Office Break UK Records, While Attendance Also Blossoms

Avatar-001

While there’s much suspicion about the validity of Avatar’s box office performance due to inflated 3D ticket prices, the UK Film Council’s 2010 Statistical Yearbook paints a different picture. As reported by The Guardian,

last year was the best ever in terms of box office takings and the second best year since 1971 in terms of admissions, fuelled by the continuing growth of 3D and the through-the-roof success of Avatar, as well as the enduring, recession-resistant appeal of the big screen.  …

In terms of box office, it was a record year with takings topping £944m [about $1,457,000,000]. Cinema admissions also shot up from last year’s healthy 164 million to 174 million, not quite beating 2002 (176 million), but still up 6% and the second highest number since 1971.

As to the impact of 3D,

The 3D revolution arrived in earnest, with 14 3D films accounting for 16% of UK and Ireland box office revenues, up from 0.4%. There are still sceptics but [David Steele, the council’s head of research and statistics] said: “It does not appear to be a flash in the pan.”

More of John Bailey on 3D

Sony 3D camera

Ace cinematographer John Bailey’s newest posting on 3D, “3-D, 3-D, 3-D, in All Directions,” is essential reading for those interested in stereoscopic cinema. In it, he reports on “a 3-day 3-D workshop sponsored by IATSE Local 600 and longtime master 3-D guru Buzz Hays” as a jumping off point to discuss the problems and possibilities of the technique.  Among other observations, he notes that,

One thing quickly became apparent to me. Working in stereo movies in a responsible way is not simply a point and shoot affair, even in the most simple of conditions. Oh sure, you can do that—but that kind of off-the-cuff approach is what partly undid 3-D moviemaking in the past. Such a slipshod effort is one of the principal sources of viewer eyestrain. There is a dictate that became a mantra doled out by the workshop instructors and taken to heart by we eager students—3-D in movies is NOT REAL. Like an Escher drawing, it is an illusion. Our actual eyes simply don’t function the way 3-D movie imagery does. In constructing the 3-D movie frame we professional cinematographers have to evaluate carefully all the visual elements contained within the shot, as well as their cumulative effect as the sequence develops, shot by shot. One of the gravest mistakes we can make is to create exaggerated depth cues. This makes for an unreal sense of space that conflicts with the ability to integrate more dominant monocular cues. The result is a confusing sense of scale.

Among other things he discusses the process he went through in ultimately deciding not to use 3D for a film he will soon be shooting in the Arctic. As usual with John’s writings, it is essential reading.