Review: “The Animatrix” (Short Film Collection)

Well, for today, I thought that I’d take another look at a really interesting collection of short cyberpunk films from 2003 called “The Animatrix”.

Although I saw these short films when I was a teenager (including seeing the first short film at the cinema), I pretty much completely forgot about them until I happened to see a really cool “Blade Runner”-themed anime short by Shinichiro Watanabe last year. A while later, I read that he had also directed one of the shorts in “The Animatrix”. So, I thought that I’d revisit it.

Before I review this short film collection, I should probably point out that – to get the most out of it – you need to have watched all three “Matrix” films (yes, even the second two films!). Although the collection does include several stand-alone stories, quite a few of them rely on the viewer having some knowledge of the “Matrix” films. Likewise, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.

Plus, I should probably also warn you that “The Animatrix” contains some FLICKERING LIGHTS– although I don’t know if they’re fast or intense enough to cause issues.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “The Animatrix”:

“The Animatrix” consists of nine short animated cyberpunk films (revolving around the mythos of “The Matrix”) by a range of artists and directors. These films include everything from historical drama, classic science fiction, film noir, traditional cyberpunk, surrealism and dystopian sci-fi.

One of the first things that I will say about this collection is that almost every short film has a different art style. So, on a purely visual level, it’s a really interesting collection. These art styles include everything from various types of anime, to more European-style art, to early 2000s CGI, to vaguely Richard Linklater-style surreal realism, to trippy 1960s-style artwork. Seriously, there is a really interesting blend of art styles.

Like this example of vaguely European-style anime art.

To this “Playstation 2 game cutscene”-style example of early-mid 2000s CGI. It really hasn’t aged well…

One awesome thing is almost every film in the collection takes an intelligent approach to lighting. Many of the films either contain beautiful high-contrast lighting or ominously dystopian gloom. Best of all, even the scenes set during bright summer days often have a very harsh and stark quality to them. Seriously, I cannot praise the lighting in this collection highly enough!

The best examples of high-contrast lighting can be found in a short film called “Beyond”.

In keeping with the gothic atmosphere of the “Matrix” films, most of the stories have a slightly gloomy or dystopian tone, with few to no happy endings to be found. But, the collection contains a really good mixture of thrilling action, chilling horror and tragic science fiction.

However, although some of the stories work well within their 8-10 minute running time, a few feel like they’re trying to do too much or too little. A good example of this is probably “Program” – where the story ends with an unforeshadowed plot twist and the sense that it’s just a small segment of a much larger story.

This is contrasted with the two-part “The Second Renaissance” which, although it contains some cool “Blade Runner”-style location designs, “realistic” anime art, some vaguely Indian-style art, some Isaac Asimov-esque plot elements and some chilling scenes of horror, often feels a bit too expositional.

Yes, there are some cool “Blade Runner”-style parts, but there’s also a lot of exposition too.

Then again, it’s designed to be a history lecture from the distant future, so this might explain the exposition-filled narrative style. Although it’s cool that the Wachowskis wanted to show the backstory to the “Matrix” films, I can’t help but think that this backstory would work better as a graphic novel or a prose piece than an animated film.

On the positive side, the stand-out films in this collection include films like “A Detective Story”. This is a film noir-style anime directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, which follows an old-fashioned gumshoe who has been hired to look for Trinity.

Although the plot of the film isn’t that complex (although there are a decent number of background details etc..), it is wonderfully atmospheric and stylish. Not only do a lot of the background details have an “old newspaper” kind of look to them, but there’s also stuff like steampunk technology, jazz music, and almost monochrome artwork too. Plus, it’s a cyberpunk film noir anime from the creator of “Cowboy Bebop” πŸ™‚

In other words, it’s awesome πŸ™‚

Then there’s “Beyond” – which follows a teenage girl who is looking for her lost cat. Whilst searching, some local boys tell her about a “haunted” house where the laws of physics don’t apply. The house is, of course, a glitch in the Matrix.

This film has a vaguely “Studio Ghibli”-like quality to it and yet also somehow manages to contain a good mixture of slightly creepy “Silent Hill”-style horror and light-hearted whimsy. It’s awesome!

Seriously, it contains everything from whimsical “Studio Ghibli”-style scenes…

…To ominous “Silent Hill”-style moments πŸ™‚

There’s also “World Record”. This is a film about an elite athlete who exerts himself so much during a race that he briefly disconnects from the Matrix.

Not only does this film tell a focused, self-contained, character-based story – but the art style is really interesting too. It has a hint of art nouveau, a hint of anime, a hint of old western comics and probably a load of other stuff too. Seriously, the visual style of this short film is really distinctive and unique.

Seriously, the art style in this short film is really unique πŸ™‚

There are also a few films that sit somewhere in the middle. “Final Flight Of The Osiris” is a good example of this.

Although it includes some beautifully sensual romantic moments, some dramatic robot-based scenes and some backstory to the events of one of the two “Matrix” sequels, it isn’t perfect. For starters, the dated CGI animation looks like something from a cutscene in a Playstation 2 game and, secondly, the story sometimes seems like it is more “style over substance”. Plus, it’s kind of depressing too.

What? A film titled “Final Flight Of The Osiris” isn’t a feel-good comedy?

Likewise, although “Kid’s Story” includes some cool “fluid realism”-style animation (that reminded me a little bit of Richard Linklater’s “Waking Life”), the actual story of the film is somewhat generic. Yes, it provides some backstory for one of the characters in “The Matrix”, and Neo makes a brief appearance too. But, it’s neither bad nor good.

Yes, the vaguely “Waking Life”-style animation in a few scenes is really cool, but the story is kind of generic.

“Matriculated” probably fits somewhere in the middle too. Yes, the premise of the film is a really interesting one (eg: several human survivors try to convince a captured robot to join them via a VR simulation). However, the visual style of a lot of the film is too surreal for it’s own good. Plus, although the ending to this film is brilliantly chilling, it is also somewhat confusing too.

Ha! Let’s scare the robot into joining our side with this freakishly bizarre simulation!

All in all, even though this collection is something of a mixed bag and is aimed firmly at fans of the “Matrix” trilogy, there’s some really cool stuff here. Yes, this collection is a bit on the gothic side of things (so, don’t expect it to be a “feel good” collection) – but this is handled fairly well. Plus, even though it isn’t perfect, it’s still worth watching just to check out some of the creative art and animation in many of the short films.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it might just get a four.

Mini Review: “Black Out 2022” [“Blade Runner 2049” Prequel] (Short Film)

Well, although I probably won’t see “Blade Runner 2049” until it comes out on DVD (since I’ll probably end up watching it at least five times, probably more…), one cool thing about it is that the director Dennis Villeneuve hired three other directors to make short prequel films, that were then officially made freely viewable on Youtube.

Although I’ve watched the other two films, I thought that I’d review the third one – “Black Out 2022” – mostly because it was directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, the director of my favourite anime TV series (Cowboy Bebop). Yes, the director of “Cowboy Bebop” has made a “Blade Runner” anime! Words cannot describe how cool this fact alone is!

So, let’s take a look at “Black Out 2022”. Needless to say, this review will contain SPOILERS. Likewise, apologies about the low resolution of the screenshots in this review – I was so eager to watch the film that I lowered the resolution to 144p, so that buffering wouldn’t be an issue.

“Black Out 2022” is a 10-12 minute animated short that takes place in the year 2022. The Tyrell Corporation has released the Nexus 8 model, who have a normal human lifespan. The combination of this fact, and the shoddy privacy settings on the replicant database, lead to widespread anti-replicant riots where replicants are hunted down and lynched by angry mobs.

Whilst all of this is going on, a few replicants decide that the only way to stop it is to destroy the database via a terrorist attack on a computer facility using a fuel tanker.

Whilst this is going on, the military has noticed that one of their EMP missiles has been launched. However, one of the people in the control room is (to quote from one of K.W.Jeter’s Blade Runner novels) a “rep-symp”, having fallen in love with one of the replicants who is carrying out the attack on the facility.

Yes, this film features a replicant-sympathiser, like in K.W.Jeter’s sequel novels πŸ™‚

After the resulting cataclysmic devastation to the city, replicant prohibition is enacted and the Tyrell Corporation never recovers. However, a text screen then explains that – several years later- the Wallace Corporation manage to repeal the ban on replicants.

One of the first things that I will say about “Black Out 2022” is… wow! Seeing the look and feel of such a familiar film as “Blade Runner” replicated in anime form is absolutely astonishing!

Yes!!! A million times, YES!!! πŸ™‚

Even though I initially started drawing comparisons with the original “Ghost In The Shell” anime (itself inspired by “Blade Runner”), the short film’s aesthetics are quickly shown to be very much based on the original film.

Seriously, there are so many amazing visual references to the original film here – from the cityscape, to the projection room in the police station, to the noodle bar, to ESPER-like augmented reality glasses, to the Off-World blimp, to the Ennis House-style tiles on a building exterior, to the replicant database itself etc.. Likewise, Bryant and Gaff also make a cameo appearance too:

Oh my god! It’s Bryant and Gaff! πŸ™‚

And the noodle bar from the original film shows up briefly too πŸ™‚

And check out the Ennis House-style tiles in the background here too πŸ™‚

In terms of the animation, it is absolutely superb. If you’ve seen the “Cowboy Bebop” movie, you’ll know that Watanabe is an expert when it comes to fluid, fast-paced action scenes and this film doesn’t disappoint here. There are some brilliantly cinematic martial arts scenes:

Such as this fight between one of the replicants and several hooligans.

One of the great things about animation is that you can do impressive things on a relatively small budget, and “Black Out 2022” takes full advantage of this fact.

The destruction of the city is shown in full, with spinners falling from the sky in a spectacular fashion and lots of melodramatic explosions.

Like this scene showing the Off-World blimp crashing into a video billboard.

Or this astonishingly cool explosion scene.

Plus, of course, there’s some cool acrobatics involving a spinner and there’s also a wide variety of different locations too (again, no need to build physical sets etc…).

In terms of the characters and the story, this short film really excels. The nameless replicants are, true to the original film, portrayed as deeply human characters who ponder the nature of their own existence (with one opining that replicants don’t go to heaven or hell – life is all they have).

One particularly striking scene involves an ex-military replicant having a war flashback (which is very reminscent of the “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?: Dust To Dust” graphic novels) where he discovers that both sides in an off-planet war are only using replicant troops, like they were “toy soldiers”.

Seriously, this scene reminded me a lot of the “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? – Dust To Dust” graphic novels πŸ™‚

The story itself is really well-told too. Although the short film mostly revolves around one event, the background to this event is explored in a surprising amount of depth. Seriously, “Black Out 2022” crams more storytelling and characterisation into just 10-12 minutes than the average Hollywood film would manage in 30 minutes.

The only slight criticisms I have of this film (other than “why isn’t this a feature-length film?” or “why isn’t this a TV series?”) has to do with some of the voice-acting and dialogue. Basically, some of the voice acting has that corny “dubbed anime” sound to it, even though most of it is fairly good. Likewise, although the short film tells a complex story, a few lines of dialogue sound a little bit too simplistic.

In terms of music, this film sticks pretty closely to Vangelis’ excellent score for the original film… and it is a joy to listen to πŸ™‚

All in all, this short film is brilliant. It’s an official “Blade Runner” anime from the director of “Cowboy Bebop”! And, yes, it is as cool as this description suggests! Not only does it manage to cram a lot of storytelling and characterisation into an absolutely tiny running time, but it is also visually and dramatically spectacular too. Best of all, it can be watched for free on Youtube too πŸ™‚ Seriously, why aren’t you watching it right now?

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least five.

Three Ways To Take Artistic Inspiration From Anime And/Or Manga (If You Don’t Use That Drawing Style)

2017-artwork-learning-from-anime-and-manga

Although I seem to have something of a strange on/off relationship with anime and manga, they can be surprisingly inspirational things if you’re an artist. This is even true when, like me, your own art style isn’t actually an anime/manga art style (and, yes, there are both advantages and disadvantages to not using this style).

So, how and why should you take inspiration from this type of art?

1) It’s like every genre “turned up to eleven”: Even if you’re not interested in some of the more well-known types of anime and manga, it’s important to remember that these terms only refer to the group of art styles used in Japanese-style comics (manga) and animation (anime).

Since these mediums have historically been taken much more seriously in Japan than they were in the UK or US, there are anime and manga in pretty much every genre you can imagine. Yes, even “serious” science fiction!

For example, the thing that made me return to anime (after re-watching “Akira” a week or two earlier) was when I read that the original “Ghost In The Shell” film was very similar to my favourite (live-action) film, “Blade Runner”.

After finding a cheap second-hand DVD of the director’s cut of “Ghost In The Shell”, I checked it out and was absolutely astonished by it. Although a few scenes lacked the gloomy atmosphere of “Blade Runner”, the actual film itself was like Blade Runner on steroids! Seriously, it’s one of the few films that I can easily see myself rewatching numerous times – both because of the sumptuous art and because of the complex, intelligent “Blade Runner”-like storyline. And it’s a cartoon!

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, one of the cool things about comics and animation is the fact that, whilst the art can look fairly realistic, it isn’t limited by the constraints of real life. As such, it can be exaggerated in an imaginative way that you can’t do if you try to be too realistic.

Like how literally anything can happen in a novel because the only materials needed (to say, build a gigantic fictional world) are 26 letters – one of the cool things about art and comics is that, if you know how, you can draw literally anything with just a few art supplies.

Since comics and animation have, historically, been a much more respected medium (with a much more diverse range of genres) in Japan than they have been in the English-speaking parts of the world – anime and manga contain numerous inspirational examples of how to use the creative freedom inherent in traditional art to create things that would be difficult or impossible to create using film, photography etc…

So, if you need to remind yourself of how creative art can be at it’s best, then watch some anime or read some manga.

2) Realism and detail: Although I discussed this in the comments on another article last year, one of the things that can be very easy to miss when watching anime or reading manga is the fact that the art is often much more realistic and detailed than it might appear at first glance. If you ignore the stylised character designs and look at the backgrounds instead, you’ll quickly see what I mean.

When you watch as little as a trailer for a large-budget anime film or TV series like “Akira”, “Cowboy Bebop”, “Spirited Away”, “Ghost In The Shell” etc.. you’ll be bowled over by the sheer level of realism and detail in both the backgrounds and the animation itself. Likewise, although many manga comics are designed to be drawn quickly (more on that later), the backgrounds in them can often be astonishingly detailed line art drawings that almost look like they were traced from photographs.

If you find an anime film/TV series that you really love or a manga series that you really love, then it’s probably going to make you want to add more detail to your own art. After all, you’re going to want to make something that looks as cool as the thing you’ve just seen – albeit in your own art style.

For example, the day after I watched “Ghost In The Shell” (and started to watch some of the spin-off TV series, which I’d bought at the same time) I ended up producing what is probably my most detailed digitally-edited painting yet. Here’s a reduced-size preview:

The full-size painting will appear here on the 14th July.

The full-size painting will appear here on the 14th July.

3) Good art made quickly: Because manga comics are usually made fairly quickly, they contain lots of easily noticeable lessons about how to use artistic techniques and how to make good art quickly.

For example, if you’ve ever wanted to learn how to draw in black and white, then look closely traditonal manga comics.

Yes, many of them use pre-made dot pattern transfer sheets for the shading. But, if you ignore this, then manga comics are pretty much a “how to” guide when it comes to learning how to do things like balancing the amounts of black and white in a single image, how to only show the most essential details, how to give the impression of things like shiny surfaces etc…

Likewise, if you want to make comics of your own, then you can learn a lot of time-saving techniques from looking at manga. For example, to save time, dramatic scenes will sometimes use a solid black background. Not only does this draw attention to the characters and give the picture a “serious” look, it also meant that the artist doesn’t have to draw a complex background.

Here’s an example from one of my own (non-manga) comics of this technique in action. You can see it in the last panel:

"Damania Regenerated - Killjoys" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Regenerated – Killjoys” By C. A. Brown

So, yes, if you take a close look at manga comics, you can learn all sorts of new artistic techniques that will both make your art look cooler and allow you to make it more quickly.

—————-

Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Today’s Art (14th January 2015)

Well, for the fourth instalment of my 1990s fan art/parody series, I’ve decided to make a cartoon based on my favourite anime series. I am, of course, talking about the one and only “Cowboy Bebop“.

And, yes, this picture is drawn/painted in my own style – because even though my style was slightly influenced by manga art, I really can’t draw “proper” manga art very well LOL!

Plus, since it’s been about four or five years since I last re-watched “Cowboy Bebop”, I’ve probably got the backgrounds in this picture completely wrong. And, yes, I know that Ein the data dog is supposed to store genetic (?) data…

As usual, I’ll also provide the original lineart for this picture as a blog exclusive.

Since this is fan art, both of the pictures in today’s art post will NOT be released under any kind of Creative Commons licence.

"Fan Art - Cowboy Bebop - Data Dog" By C. A. Brown

“Fan Art – Cowboy Bebop – Data Dog” By C. A. Brown

And here’s the lineart:

"Fan Art - Cowboy Bebop - Data Dog (Lineart)

“Fan Art – Cowboy Bebop – Data Dog (Lineart)

Should You Learn How To Draw Anime / Manga -Style Art?

2014 Artwork Manga Style Sketch

If you’re a massive fan of anime and manga, then the answer to this question is probably an absolute no-brainer. Of course you should draw in the style that you love. But, if you’re new to creating art and you only watch anime and read manga on a more occasional basis, then this subject becomes a lot more complicated.

Although there are a few elements from manga art in my drawing style, I’ve never really been that interested in drawing “proper” manga art.

When I was a kid, proper anime/manga art seemed slightly too complicated to draw (although the only anime I really watched when I was a kid was “Pokemon”). And, now that I’m older, I’ve already got my own art style anyway.

Still, I thought that I’d look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of learning how to draw in this particular style (although I should point out that the second half of this list is mostly written from a fairly “western” perspective and may or may not be revelant to you, depending on where you live).

Afterwards, I’ll give my thoughts and advice about whether you should learn to draw manga art or not.

1) A Lot Of People Use This Art Style: Let’s face it, anime/manga art is probably one of the most popular art styles out there at the moment. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the most recent drawings which have been uploaded to DeviantART.

It’s a pretty safe bet that there will almost always be at least one manga-style drawing on the front page. Lots of people make this kind of art.

The advantages of this are that there are a lot more resources available to you if you want to learn how to draw this type of art.

Because the path of learning how to draw manga is a very well-trodden one, there is no shortage of free online drawing guides you can read, instructional Youtube videos you can watch and books you can buy about how to draw manga. If you’re teaching yourself how to draw, this vast abundance of resources can’t be a bad thing.

Not only that, because a lot of people enjoy drawing this type of art and/or both watching anime and reading manga, you have a much larger fanbase available to you when you’ve had a bit more practice and become a bit more confident in your abilities.

But, on the other hand, if lots of people are drawing in this style already, this also means that you will have a lot more competition too. Your manga art will have to be just that little bit better than the rest in order to stand out and grab everyone’s attention.

Likewise, because the path of learning how to draw manga is very well-trodden, it won’t be quite as exciting as finding your own unique art style will be.

Yes, you’ll learn how to draw well and you might even learn more quickly (thanks to all the resources out there), but you’ll only be learning how to draw in an art style which at least hundreds of thousands of other people already use.

You’ll be learning how to draw in a more formal and fixed style (and, yes, I know that there are lots of subtle variations and subtly different styles of manga art) and, if you just want to learn how to draw art to accompany a comic or a story that you’re writing, then this is probably good enough. After all, it’s a relatively quick way to learn how to produce illustrations.

But, if you want to make art that stands out from the crowd and is a unique expression of who you are, then this will be a lot more difficult to do if you are using such a well-known and established style as anime/manga art.

2) It’s in fashion in “the west” (and obviously in Japan too) at the moment: Forty or fifty years ago, manga and anime was a lot less popular in the west.

Classic American comic book art was the one of the most popular illustration styles for comics fifty years ago – at least in Britain and America (of course, France and Belgium also have their own tradition of comics/ bandes dessinΓ©es too. I’m not really sure if other European countries have their own unique comics traditions, but I’m guessing that they probably do).

Go back another fifty or sixty years and the most common and popular styles of illustration in Europe and America were very traditional and realistic drawings and etchings.

Even in Japan, anime/manga-style art only really became popular during the 20th Century. Before that, the most popular type of art in Japan was Ukiyo-e art.

What I’m trying to say here is that fashions change.

This is both a good and a bad thing. If you want your work to have a timeless quality to it, then it might be a little bit more difficult (but by no means impossible) to do this with popular modern anime/manga art styles.

If your manga art is good enough, then it will still look good even centuries later – but, if it’s more ordinary and less distinctive, it might survive in a museum as an example of popular art in the early 21st century or it might just be forgotten. Plus, it’ll start to look dated whenever the next artistic fashion comes around.

However, if you’ve taken the time and effort to develop your own art style, then it will stand out and look unique regardless of whether someone is looking at it five years later or five hundred years later. After all, unless you’ve become famous and inspired many other artists, then there will be nothing else quite like your art style. It will be unique.

But, on the plus side, manga art is in fashion at the moment! If you want to make your art look modern and cool, then you can’t go wrong with some well-drawn manga art. If you want your art to stand out as something modern and new, then manga is the way to go. Yes, this art style has been around for at least a few decades, but it’s only really become popular in the west since the 1980s/90s at the earliest and it keeps getting more and more popular. In other words, people love it and there’s a large audience for it.

So, despite my cynicism earlier, there are plenty of good things about using a fashionable and popular art style like manga art.

My advice: There’s nothing wrong with learning how to draw in this style and it all comes down to personal preference really. But, my advice to anyone who is just beginning to learn how to draw is to take a look at a lot of manga art and see what you do and don’t like about it.

Copy the techniques which you like and add them to your drawing style but, at the same time, look elsewhere too. Look at other art styles and see if there’s anything in there that you like enough to want to copy. If you find anything, add it to your art style.

Because everyone has slightly different tastes when it comes to art, this will mean that, with enough research and practice, you’ll eventually come up with your own unique blend of artistic techniques. In other words, you’ll have found your own art style. You’ll have found an art style which is uniquely yours and which stands out from everything else.

Yes, your art probably won’t look completely like manga. But, at the same time, it probably won’t look completely different from it either. But, it will be unique and it will be distinctive. And, most importantly, it will be something that you will find incredibly cool (since, after all, it’s a mixture of every cool technique that you’ve found).

——–

Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚