Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Sound Effects in David Lean's Cineguild Features

Over the past few months, I have kept myself busy analyzing several aspects of two of my favorite David Lean films: THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS (1949) and BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945).

In two video essays, I focus primarily on how the film makers utilized diegetic sounds (other than source music) as storytelling devices. Since it will take some time until the second video (about the use of "silence" in THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS) will be ready, I have decided to publish them separately. So here is the first one:

Melodramatic Railway Sounds - Video Essay from Oswald Iten on Vimeo.

Description: Analysis of the narrative functions that diegetic sound effects assume in BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945).

The richly layered sound tracks of David Lean's Cineguild films of the 1940s are a real treat for anyone who appreciates sophisticated sound design (avant la lettre, of course). Although BRIEF ENCOUNTER is predominantly told from the protagonist's subjective perspective, all the sound effects are strictly diegetical (meaning that all sounds can be attributed to a source within the narrative world).

Off-screen sounds of bells, whistles and trains both open up the visible space and work as interruptions or alerts that determine the characters' actions.

But the railway sounds also form sort of an alternative score (to the dominant Rachmaninoff concerto) that comments on the action and helps express the protagonist's emotional state.

Note: This video essay utilizes excerpts from David Lean's BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945) under the guidelines of fair use for analytical and educational purposes only.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Animation for Triag International

I have recently had the opportunity to work on this advertisement for a modular workholding system for CNC machines. Concept and 3D-models of tools by TRIAG International. I did the character design (loosely based on a photo of a toy t-rex) and all the animation.

Sunday, May 20, 2018


About two weeks ago, I completed the following video essay on colors as a storytelling tool in GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES (HOTARU NO HAKA, Takahata, 1988):

Video Essay: The Colors of GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES from Oswald Iten on Vimeo.

In my opinion, FIREFLIES is a prime example of how naturalistic colors are organized into restricted concepts that help "make the film more easily understood" (to quote character color stylist Yasuda Michiyo). It's also a testament to the collaboration of Yasuda and art director/background painter Yamamoto Nizo.

This color analysis is based on the official Blu ray transfer, i.e. a stellar digital restoration which - for several reasons - may or may not replicate the exact colors of an original 35mm print from 1988.
If you look at the comparison below, it becomes pretty obvious how much detail was lost by pushing saturation and contrast for the earlier DVD transfer. A lot of these "simplifications" may be due to the nature of NTSC which was a color system vastly inferior both to 35mm and high definition.
But the overall impression is also a lot warmer, lumping soft shades of olive and green into reddish browns which works against the overall color schemes.

left: Blu-ray                                           right: NTSC DVD
Dark areas are completely drowned in the old transfer, while subtleties in saturation are also lost.

One of the reasons I like the film so much lies in the ambivalent but empathetic portrayal of its protagonist. Takahata's film is based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Nosaka Akiyuki who felt responsible for his sister's death during World War II. On the one hand, fourteen year old Seita is repeatedly shown taking care of his sister in the most affectionate way so that we strongly sympathize with the two children. On the other hand however, he also stubbornly refuses to contribute to the community. And it's not just his aunt who accuses him of being lazy, the staging of many a scene suggests the same, as you can see below:

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

10 Years of Blogging and 30 Years of Fireflies

I've just realized that I started this blog ten years ago! The very first post appeared April 9, 2008. I have certainly been more productive during the first half of this decade. Nevertheless, colorful animation expressions (despite its overlong name) is still active.

So in order to commemorate the anniversary, here are some reconstructed pan backgrounds from my favorite film by Takahata Isao who sadly passed away on April 5, 2018 at the age of 82. Co-incidentally, HOTARU NO HAKA (GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES) was originally released almost exactly 30 years ago in Japan (April 16, 1988).

I was particularly interested in those backgrounds that are revealed by autonomous camera movements that do not follow the movement of a character on screen (there is one of those as you can see below).

Click to enlarge!

In this one I have recreated a "standard" pan where the camera follows the characters across a background.

All backgrounds reconstructed from screengrabs taken off the GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES blu-ray for study purposes only.

Friday, March 30, 2018

ISLE OF DOGS Exhibition in London

The three quarter view we never get in an Anderson film.
If you happen to be in London, try to squeeze in a visit to The Store, 180 The Strand to see and feel the sets of Wes Anderson's glorious new stop motion feature ISLE OF DOGS from a different perspective. The exhibition is free, so even if you don't have enough time to really dive into it, have a look at it.

During the ten minutes I had in there, I tried to take a few pictures that open up an alternative view on the familiarly flat Wes Anderson signature shots: three quarter views and a stereoscopic image to see what the scientists' set looks like in 3D (which obviously goes very much against the grain of Anderson's style but is great fun).

See it in 3D! Propably best viewed on a cellphone.
And that's how the lighting effects in the tunnel were achieved.

That's an advertising campaign I like!