Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

“Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” the reboot of the classic science TV series helmed by Carl Sagan that aired in 1980, should be required viewing for all of us.

In “Cosmos,” artful visual effects and elegant motion design inform and delight in equal parts. Animation is as essential to the success of “Cosmos” as the lovable hosting talents of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

All-Star Team

With executive producer Seth MacFarlane behind the show and a 13-week run on Fox and National Geographic, the creators of “Cosmos” are going toe-to-toe with primetime. The premiere launched opposite AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and ABC’s heavily promoted “Resurrection” and still managed to rake in an impressive 8.5 million viewers.

Brannon Braga, co-executive producer and director, is no stranger to space drama. He co-wrote “Star Trek: First Contact” and executive produced all of the Star Trek series after the original.

Co-directing from behind the camera is DP Bill Pope, best known as the cinematographer for “The Matrix.”

Then there’s Rainer Gombos, visual effects supervisor of “Game of Thrones” fame. VFX shots themselves have been handled by a who’s who of facilities including Framestore, BUF, Tippett Studio and Atomic Fiction.

Not too shabby.

The Title Sequence

The title sequence (seen above) is as thoughtful and jaw-dropping as the show itself.

Created by BBDG (Shaun Collings and Cutis Doss), the opener oscillates between the cosmic and the microscopic, the tangible and the ethereal. Like the show, the sequence uses the power of metaphor to draw parallels between the mysterious grandeur of the universe and the grand reality of our everyday lives.

Character Animation

The animated sequences produced by Kara Vallow (with whom MacFarlane has a long working relationship) and Six Point Harness are an alternative take on the live-action based historic segments from the original “Cosmos.”

In an interview with Geekosystem, Vallow explains the reasoning behind using animation:

Seth [MacFarlane] thought that [using live action for the historic segments] was going to be prohibitive in this incarnation of the series, because viewers are much more sophisticated now than they were then in terms of historical time periods being recreated by Hollywood. We’re attuned to seeing big budget period movies and costumes and stuff, and in the original series they were done very low budget.

I don’t think they thought that viewers were going to accept that now, and they didn’t have the time to do a big budget Gosford Park type imagining of the narrative. So, it was Seth’s idea to do those in animation.

Watch it online

Full episodes of “Cosmos” can be viewed on the official site and on Hulu.

Watch the entire first episode after the jump →

Leonardo da Vinci Was a Loser

As I write this, I’m 36 years old.

I’ve done a lot with my career, and yet I feel like I haven’t scratched the surface of my potential. I struggle to balance the demands of the real world (paying bills and feeding the family) with the demands of my creative spirit (making cool shit).

Sound familiar?

I’ve talked to a lot of you about this. Some over email, some over beer. I’ve learned that many of us feel we’re not doing enough. Worse, we’re not doing enough fast enough.

Cooking the Last Supper

If that sentiment touches a nerve, give the above video from Adam Westbrook (published by Delve) a quick watch.

Yes, it’s a visual essay told in the language of motion design, but I’m posting it for the core ideas it’s presenting. So try to zero in on that and chime in with your thoughts in the comments.

To be honest, I’m ambivalent about its message. I appreciate that mastery and success often take longer than we publicly acknowledge.

But I’m also suspicious of the whole concept of “success,” at least in the context of creativity.

Which success matters most?

I’ve interviewed many of the top talents in our field and talked to a good deal of other accomplished artists about success. While they all strive for it, even those who achieve it don’t seem fundamentally happier or more at peace because of it.

Success, like money, is one of those slippery treasures that squeezes out of our grasp and lands just out of reach — over and over again throughout a lifetime.

Maybe the real challenge isn’t painting a metaphorical Last Supper but realizing that true success is in enjoying the process more than the product.

That definition of success doesn’t preclude other definitions, of course. In fact, I suspect that those who enjoy creation for creation’s sake probably also enjoy a good deal of “traditional” success. They just don’t define themselves by it.

“The Long Game Part 1″ is the first of a two-part series based on two posts from Mr. Westbrook: Difficult and 47 Years to Success.

UPDATE: Here’s part two of Mr. Westbrook’s series. (Thanks, Angelo!)

Hat tip to Jordan Taylor.

Daniel Savage: Helium Harvey

Not sold on the idea of going back to school? Neither was Daniel Savage.

The NYC-based designer/director just released his animated short, “Helium Harvey,” a labor of love that doubled as self-directed education:

After much debate on whether to go to graduate school or not, I decided I would take part of 2013 off to explore storytelling and character driven narrative on my own. I turned down most commercial jobs (except the really exciting ones), read as many books as I could, explored things outside of my comfort zone, and made “Helium Harvey.”

It was completely self funded, teaching a few classes at NYU and online, as well as select freelance projects to help pay for it.

Q&A with Daniel Savage

Let’s rewind to before you decided to make Helium Harvey. You were considering going to grad school, right? Why?

I come from a graphic design background, so jumping into character driven narrative isn’t an easy task. It’s a different way of thinking. But I love the idea of cartoons and technology meeting, so that’s where my interest is.

Originally, I wanted to make a story app, but I felt I had a lot to learn in animation first.

How did you come to the idea of making a short film?
I guess it’s what everyone comes out of school with, so it made the most sense. Plus I had the idea of Harvey for a while, so I wanted to make that.

Do you feel that making Helium Harvey was a good substitute for going back to school? Or was it a different kind of learning?
It’s tough to say. I’m sure I would have a better film if I was surrounded by other people in the same situation, but I like to learn the hard way. When someone tells me something it goes in one ear and out the other. I think it depends on the person.

Looking back, are you happy you decided not to go to school? Are you considering still going in the future?
I am happy, it was a great year. I don’t think I will go back, I will always take a class here or there though.

How hard was it to fund everything yourself?
Not very hard, it was really about time more than money. My rent is super cheap, I was on my lovely girlfriend’s health insurance, and having a skill I’ve developed (After Effects animation) that I could help other people learn was my biggest asset. People got something valuable out of it, and I got enough money to make a film. I still took on a few fun jobs, which also helped pay for it.

For those that are thinking of doing the same thing, can you give them advice/warnings?
I would take it slow, do a month here and there (being freelance helps) to practice new skills before jumping into a project as overwhelming as a film.

Making of “Helium Harvey”

The making of montage is bursting with goodies, from concept art to time-lapsed After Effects sessions.

Bonus footage of the orchestra recording session after the jump →

Johnny Kelly: Shape

Director Johnny Kelly’s latest short, “Shape” is about the changing shape of the world around us. From home to school to work, it’s a tale of progress and technology rendered in deceptively simple line work and meticulous animation.

Scott Burnett of multidisciplinary Dublin-based studio Aad wrote the script, and production was handled by Nexus Productions, who have long represented Kelly.

Commissioned by Pivot Dublin, the film culminates in a question: “What would you change?” From the film’s website:

MAKESHAPECHANGE is a project to get young people thinking about how the world is made around them and where design fits in. At its heart is a short film that shows changes happening before our eyes that we might not normally notice, and how these affect us.

The co-star of “Shape” is its delightful analogue soundtrack by Antfood. The sound design is seamlessly woven into the music, which rolls along with the same effortless optimism of the film.

Credits and related projects →

MN8 : Jake Sargeant

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Formerly a quickie, we have upgraded the multi-talented Jake Sargeant’s new web update for your full attention.

You may recognize Jake’s name from our Oblivion GMUNK post or back in 2011 on our Tron:Legacy post, both showing flashes and mentions of him.

In the world of screen graphics, Jake has made countless marks on blockbusters like Terminator Salvation, Tron : LegacyOblivion, and more.

For his updated site, he also highlights his love for the camera, in both still and motion picture form. 

With each project chock full of description and breakdowns, we hope you take the time to go for a deep dive. For a taste, check out the insane detail on the LG project page.

Cisma: Criolo “Duas de Cinco”

If Spike Jonze’s vision of the future in Her was too sunny for you, try on Denis Cisma’s decidedly bleaker take in this short film inspired by Criolo’s latest album, “Duas de Cinco.”

Set in the south side of São Paulo, where Criolo grew up, the short involves 3D printed weapons, futuristic drugs and the inescapable dangers of poverty. The film seems to agree with the old adage: the more things change, the more things stay the same.

From the release:

From the start, the director imagined a record of the Brazilian’s “favelas” in the future, 30 years down the road, in 2044. This idea was too ambitious to materialize without large sums and Criolo is an independent artist, but became possible with the support of the Grajaú community and the production team.

Nearly the entire cast is made up of friends of the singer and people who live in the neighborhood, most of whom had never acted before. The main cast includes Daniel Dantas, Morgana Naughty and Léo Loá, young students chosen with help from the drama teacher of CEU Jaçanã public school, named Tiago Ortaet.

Produced through Paranoid, Clan did an admirable job handling all post-production.

Credits

Art&Graft: “Trip” The Virgin Atlantic Safety Film

Long ago, Virgin Airways embraced the simple fact that no one pays attention to the poor flight attendants as they drone on mechanically about oxygen masks and flotation devices.

Why not use that time to share something genuinely entertaining, something that communicates the necessary safety information and conveys the playfully chic persona of the Virgin brand?

Take a Trip

The latest in Virgin’s flight safety film series, “Trip,” comes from Art&Graft. At over 5 minutes long, it’s an ambitious project. But the premise behind the film gave the team essentially unlimited creative freedom.

At the film’s opening, a drowsy passenger slips into a dream state while the flight attendant recites her safety spiel. We follow the passenger through a series of surreal vignettes inspired by genres of film, everything from sci-fi to westerns. Each scene communicates a core safety tip before moving on to the next unexpected scenario.

Process

Art&Graft shares a bit of their process on their website:

To bring our ideas to life, the A&G team combined an illustrative approach with exciting 3D and 2D animation techniques. All the character animation was produced using a traditional frame-by-frame technique – very labour intensive, especially when creating a 6 minute film, but the results look beautiful and are extremely rewarding!

Elements throughout the film were modelled in 3D; allowing us to ’wrap’ our illustrations around these models to keep the illustrative feel yet giving the scenes fantastic depth and space. This allowed all the camera angles to be planned out and ensure the 2D characters could then be animated in each scene with the addition of further textures and casted shadows.

More after the jump →

Modern Love: Under His Misspell

NYC-based designer/animator Joe Donaldson was commissioned by the New York Times to create an animated interpretation of “Under His Misspell,” a column penned by Jessie Ren Marshall for The Times’ Modern Love series.

For several years, Modern Love has been a place for guest authors to share “deeply personal essays about contemporary relationships, marriage, dating [and] parenthood” — but the addition of animation is a new development.  

I wanted to find out more about Joe’s approach to the project and learn about the New York Times’ thinking behind the series. What follows is an edited version of email conversations with Joe and The Times’ Zena Barakat, who came up with the idea of using animation for the Modern Love series. 

Q&A with Joe Donaldson

Tell us a little bit about where you are in your career.

I typically work in the advertising/motion graphics world, making the rounds at the different studios here in NYC. So much of my time is spent animating other people’s designs/visions that I soon realized I didn’t have a well-defined voice of my own.

Read on

RIP Alain Resnais

Occasionally, one must break the tradition of writing only about work that includes some form of animation, in order to recognize one of the giants of film.

With the loss of Chris Marker in 2012 and the loss of Alain Resnais two days ago, we may be witnessing the end of an era that will forever be inscribed as one of the most powerful and magical in the history of film, and in the history of film-informed mediums. Resnais, whose career sprung from Hiroshima Mon Amour, a film as poignant as it is inventive, often resisted labels and classifications.

Unafraid of tackling difficult topics, he directed Night and Fog, a documentary shot in Auschwitz some ten years after the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, as well as the bold and mesmerizing experimental film, Last Year in Marienbad. While his films were often perceived as French new-wave emblems, as films about the intermingling of war and memory, about subjectivity and love, about dream and loss, Resnais never made the same film twice. He was a film “auteur” only in the sense that he reinvented himself over and over again, with the same finesse, courage and fearlessness.

His film career may be one of the richest and most diverse ones of the Silver Screen. Exploring every role of production, Resnais seamlessly navigated between the roles of director, editor, writer, even cinematographer. He tackled all topics with intelligence, and tapping into the great minds of writers such as Jean Cayrol, Marguerite Duras, Jorge Semprún and Alain Robbe-Grillet. He was one of a kind.

“Voilà. Maintenant. Je suis à vous.”

 

“Black Gold” by PES

PES doesn’t release new work very often, so when he does, we tend to get excited. His latest, “Black Gold,” was commissioned to accompany the launch of Delfina Delettrez’s new jewelry line on retail site Yoox.com.

Unlike PES’s other works, which turn everyday objects into unexpected characters and situations, “Black Gold” is a meditation on bodies, beauty and the inevitable entropy that ultimately returns us all to nature. With shots of ants crawling out of a breast and a giant grasshopper perched on a cheek, it’s full of imagery that lingers long past the last frame.

More of our favorite work from PES after the jump

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