Saturday, May 3, 2014

Ten Ways Frozen's Anna Embodies the Rococo

    This post contains spoilers about the film Frozen.  Consider yourself warned.

   1.  Anna’s dress is Rococo:
Anna’s dress features a plunging neckline, an oriental-type patterning, and several petticoats, all common features of rococo dress.  

2. Anna is love:
From courtship, to flirting, to classical pagan deities, love is a pervasive theme in Rococo paintings.  Frozen tells us several things about love.  "Love can thaw a frozen heart" and "Love is putting someone else's needs before your own."  Anna thaws Elsa's metaphorically frozen heart and her own literally frozen heart by putting Elsa's needs before her own, thus Anna perfectly conforms to the film's definition of love.

3. Anna is Spring:
Anna and Elsa are equal but opposite forces.  Where  Elsa is cold and distant, Anna is warm and bubbly.  Where Elsa is winter, Anna is spring.  Anna's primary color is green, symbolic of the new growth and new life we associate with spring.  Due to love's association with spring, spring is frequently depicted in Rococo paintings.        

4. Anna is joyous and frivolous:
From the way she moves, to her bubbly personality, to her love of parties, dancing, and fun, Anna reflects the joy and frivolity of the rococo.


5. This:
Yep, that's a Disney-fied version of the rococo painting "The Swing" by Fragonard... and that's Anna in front of it.  Earlier, I mentioned that Anna's dress has several petticoats.   Here we see at least two.  

6. Anna is youthful:
    Youth and young love are common subjects in the rococo.  Throughout the film, we see both Anna and Elsa physically age, but while Elsa seems to be older than her years reflect, Anna maintains her youthful and energetic personality for the majority of the film.

7. Anna is playful:
You get a sense of this in all of Anna's songs, but especially in "Do You Want to Build A Snowman," which you can watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntRSopUllV4

8. And occasionally naughty:

Naughtiness, especially in Putti, is yet another theme of the Rococo.  In the sequence of "For the First Time in Forever," Anna accidentally breaks an arm off of a suit of armor, sneaks chocolate before the party, and accidentally tosses a bust on top of the coronation cake.  I think it's fair to say that she wasn't supposed to be doing any of these things.

You can watch "For the First Time in Forever" here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntRSopUllV4

9. Ana seeks to overthrow what she sees as the overly-controlling policies of the monarchy:
  Elsa, to keep her powers secret, has all but closed off the castle, but Anna can't handle being cooped up indefinitely.    After a confrontation with Elsa, Anna says, "I can't do this anymore!" to which Elsa responds, "Then leave."   Conflict arises because Anna doesn't want to leave her sister, but she also can't handle being closed off from the world.  Her plan to marry seems to stem as much from her desire to find true love as her desire to end her isolation and loneliness.  When the castle gates open for one day only, Coronation day, she seizes her chance.  

10. Ana won’t let the monarchy decide who she marries.
The Rococo marked a period of political freedom for the aristocracy.  During the notoriously controlling reign of Louis XIV, the king decided who married whom.  In the rococo, we see rejection of the control of the monarchy by aristocrats on personal matters like taste and whom to marry.  
In Frozen, Anna does ask for the blessing of her sister on her marriage, but when Elsa responds, "You can't marry a man you just met," Anna won't take no for an answer.  In the end, Anna breaks off the relationship, but it had nothing to do with the desires of the monarchy.   

   More about themes in Rococo:
  1.  Themes in Rococo paintings
  2. The Rococo movement http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rococo

  

Versailles 3D Review Part 2: Chaos to Perfection

For this segment, I will be reviewing “Chaos to Perfection” an interactive fly-through of some of the interiors and exteriors of the palace of Versailles. If you have a few minutes to spare, I strongly recommend experiencing “Chaos to Perfection” for yourself (http://www.chaostoperfection.com/) before reading this post. 

Ok, let's begin!

Obviously, there are a few glaring issues with the simulation. To illustrate this for those who did not experience the simulation, let’s play a game. I call it, “Spot the Giant Plane of Doom.” 












Did you find it?












How About now?












What is this even doing?













Whhyyy!?


Needless to say, the giant planes of doom are a problem. They are really, really distracting! As far as I can tell, the giant planes of doom are randomly generated with the exception of the plane that appears in the middle of the statue in the second screenshot, which always appears. It’s a bug and it needs to be addressed.




On another note, is that a cloud in Louis XIV’s bedroom?


What is a cloud doing in Louis XIV’s bedroom?


Now that we’ve got that out of the way, the simulation is actually a pretty great idea. For those of us that don’t live in Europe, it can be difficult to get a sense of the scale of Versailles. When we think Versailles as a “castle” we tend to think of it as a large, ornate house for the monarchy, like other European castles. It is all too easy to forget that Versailles was practically its own city (up to 10,000 people on a given day). In one of the opening shots, we are traveling up the Grande Perspective toward the Bassin d'Apollon (fountain of Apollo). We are traveling fast, but the time it takes us to get there helps us appreciate the sheer magnitude of Versailles. Because of the massive scale of Versailles, I think the makers’ decision to have the simulation as an “on-rails fly through” was a good idea. If the simulation had been an open world “sandbox” type simulation, the likelihood of people getting lost, frustrated, or bored would have been pretty high. Selecting a few places to focus on and setting a time limit for the experience shows off some of the best of Versailles without all the walking in between places of interest. That being said, I would have appreciated some speed control for the fly through. Sometimes the shots went too fast, other times, too slow.

For example, I would have really liked to spend more time in the Hall of Mirrors, which I consider to be the crown jewel of the simulation. The models are of a higher quality than other parts of the simulation, the textures are the most ornate we’ve seen so far, and the lighting helps speak to the emotional experience of the hall of mirrors. 

 
^ Screenshot from "Chaos to Perfection"

^Photo from the real world Hall of Mirrors



In terms of overall contribution to the Versailles 3D website, I feel that “Chaos to Perfection” picks up where the videos left off. “Chaos to Perfection” is a simulation where it is possible to experience Versailles in an emotional way. The music swells as we float over the landscape to the Bassin d’Apollon, we orbit around the le bosquet de colonnade before getting a closer look at the craftsmanship of the statue in the middle, the camera pans down from a detail of a fresco to reveal the openness and light of the hall of mirrors. Yes, the giant-planes-of-doom detract from this experience and the cloud in Louis XIV’s bedroom is pretty absurd. “Chaos to Perfection” contrary to what the name would have you believe, is not perfect, but it is still a worthwhile and even enriching experience.



Off-Topic Asides and Additional Links:

As my one and only off-topic aside,  I think it’s worth mentioning that the song that is playing in the background is “Love Like a Sunset” by Phoenix. Since Louis the XIV likened himself to the sun god, Apollo, and was notoriously... um... passionate, I think this was an appropriate choice of music.  That is all.

“Chaos to Perfection” is a small part of a website that attempts to educate youth about Versailles in a way that is engaging and interactive. Check it out at http://www.versailles3d.com/en/

If you want to learn more about Versailles 3D, go to: https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/about/versailles/

To go back and experience individual locations in “Chaos to Perfection” without going through the whole simulation again, go to: http://www.chaostoperfection.com/scenes.html?lang=en

For a glimpse Chaos to Perfection without the giant-planes-of-doom, you can watch the game's trailer at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vACWrpaaZvI

Versailles 3D Review Part 1: Videos

In my research regarding Versailles, I stumbled upon a website that seeks engage youth with the history of Versailles through interactivity and 3d graphics (http://www.versailles3d.com/en/). Feel free to do some exploring on your own before continuing. 

The “In Video” section (http://www.versailles3d.com/en/in-video/) contains three brief videos about Versailles before the French revolution, Versailles after the French revolution, and the pleasure gardens. The videos are very good at visualizing Versailles using 3D animation and breakdowns throughout its stages of development. At the top corner of every video, a labeled thumbnail of a painting shows the viewer what French monarch was responsible for the changes to Versailles we are learning about in the video. Relevant call-outs labeling the buildings, rooms, monarch, and time period reinforce and sometimes supplement the information in the narration, which, in addition to facilitating learning, helps keep the videos to a minimal length.  At one point, a change in the fa├žade of the Versailles in the animation is compared with this historical painting by an unknown 17 century French painter:



As we approach the modern era, the videos rely more heavily on photos and real-world footage. I found that this multimedia approach to the visuals was a huge boon, both to conveying information about Versailles and retaining attention. 

My main criticism is that the 3d models, though historically accurate and helpful in illustrating the evolution of Versailles, were not exactly inspired… or inspiring.

Here’s a still shot from the video…



Compared to Assassin’s Creed recreation of St. Peter’s Basilica…



Compared to the model in this composited rendering by Zhang Naigang…



History and architecture have the ability to resonate with us emotionally, but you wouldn't know this from the dry narration, stark models, painfully fake lighting, and un-grounded flying shots that eliminate scale in the videos. Considering that one of the goals of Baroque art and architecture, and indeed Versailles, is to forge an emotional connection with the viewer, it seems strange to me that there is no real attempt in the videos to recreate the emotional experience of being at Versailles... or any emotional experience at all.  

Friday, May 2, 2014

Baroque in Beauty and the Beast: Bel Composto and The Emotional Experience of Baroque


Disney’s 1991 animated feature, Beauty and the Beast, combines hand-drawn animation with computer generated models in an unprecedented way. Though computer generated imagery was only used in the iconic ballroom scene nearing the conclusion of the movie, the effect looks as good by today’s standards as it did over 20 years ago. This simply does not happen often. Just as a point of reference, here is a link to the trailer for the Rocketeer, a live action film that, like Beauty and the Beast, came out in 1991 (The Rocketeer trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gi0Et31E7s4), and here is a link to 2013’s Iron Man 3 (Iron Man 3 trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CzoSeClcw0). Both are movies essentially about a masked-man in a jetpack-suit, but some of the effects in the Rocketeer pale in comparison to today’s standards. Though it is not the first movie to combine 2d animation and 3d animation, Beauty and the Beast is the first to incorporate a moving camera shot. You may have noticed that hand-drawn animated movies and television series are largely composed of static shots. This is due to the fact that static shots are easier to composite, since the perspective and background remain constant, only the movement of the characters (if there is any movement) needs to be accounted for. Things become much more challenging to manage when the camera is moving in addition to the character. If the animation is even slightly out of sync with the camera movement, it will appear that the characters are floating and detached from their environment. In Beauty and the Beast’s ballroom scene, two characters are dancing while the camera swoops around the room in 3d space: no easy task to animate. If nothing else, this scene should be considered a bel composto of animation due to the seamlessness between the 2d and 3d elements, technical skill with which the scene was rendered, and for how remarkably well it has held up to the scrutiny of time.

Now, please take a moment to watch the ballroom scene from Beauty and the Beast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qtTPTxvoPA

  
Now, as I just mentioned many 2d animation shots tend to try to avoid camera movement through space because these shots take more time and effort to generate. Notice how many of the shots leading up to the ballroom scene are, in fact, static shots. Then, as Belle and the beast begin to dance, the camera slowly lifts off the ground and begins to fly around the room. True to the Baroque movement that inspired the film’s visuals, this sudden freedom of camera movement, contrasted by the static shots preceding it, is intended to elicit an emotional response. As the camera flies around the chandelier and levitates to get a closer look at the putti on fresco above the chandelier, we are meant to experience the carefree weightlessness and freedom of love.

1982 Tron: Searching for Bel Composto in Early CGI






Saba Bakhtiari’s blog, “Baroque and Rococo Art and Architecture,” says that Bel Composto architecture "blurs the borderline between painting, sculpture, and architecture” (link: http://baroqueccny.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-bel-composto-part-1.html). Indeed, bel composto churche interiors like that of the Cornaro Chapel pictured above blur the lines between 2d frescos, 3d sculpture, and architecture to create an immersive environment that inspires faith. Similarly, 1982 Tron blurs the lines between 2d hand-drawn animation, 3d computer generated animation, and live action to create an immersive environment that inspires wonder at the capabilities of technology.

Please take a moment to watch and reflect on this Tron Light-cycle sequence, before continuing reading: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omlSjl57Hiw .




Disney’s 1982 Tron was the first feature film to utilize live action, 3d animation, and hand-drawn animation. By today’s standards the computer generated imagery appears hokey, but at a time when computer animation was limited almost exclusively to academic research1, wealthy hobbyists2, and animated 3d logos for advertisements3, Tron was nothing short of revolutionary. Tron’s iconic light cycle scene is arguably the best representation of bel composto in the film. The people are heavily backlit live actors on a green screen, the beams of light that become the handle-bars of the light-cycles are hand drawn, and the light-cycles and playing field are computer generated. For a split second we see all three elements simultaneously and seamlessly interwoven on screen as the players become cocooned inside the light-cycles. Tron contains the only examples I have been able to find of all three of these elements (hand-drawn 2d animation, computer generated 3d animation, and live action) existing simultaneously in any feature film to current date. Later in the light-cycle sequence, we see the live action exposed over the computer imagery so we can see the expression of the main character as he faces off against the red light cycles. Indeed, the rest of the film is rife with combinations of both live action and either computer generated imagery or hand-drawn animation. The light cycle sequence, however, represents a rare convergence of all three media. Though it may be challenging to get past the what-would-now-be-considered “cheesy” effects of 1982 Tron, it is important to note that these "cheesy" effects inspired a generation in much the same way 1995’s Toy Story inspired our generation. In the same way that Toy Story (the first completely computer animated feature length film) radically changed our perception of what we thought computers and visual storytelling were capable of in 1995, Tron forced viewers to completely reevaluate their preconceptions about the limits of both visual storytelling and technology.


In conclusion, similar to the way the frescos and the statue of St. Teresa seamlessly melt into the architecture of the Cornaro Chapel, the diverse media of 1982's Tron blend together to create an inspiring and immersive environment.



1. animation of a molecule, likely for academic research in 1978: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TD0-2lkvfgU

2. 1980 demo reel likely by a hobbyist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cb2XBozPx2c

3. MAGI Synthavision company demo reel from 1980: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAYaX6NuI4M



Bonus fun fact about 1982 Tron: