Just finished watching 'The Sweatbox', a documentary about the Disney studio during the making of the Emporers New Groove. The films been sold as this sorta pirate-copy attack on the Disney Studio and a production imploding, but its not really, its slightly that way inclined, but that's the way it goes on an animation project. Things get scaled down, things get changed, and especially at somewere as mainstream as Disney, the big, blockbuster revolutionary ideas will get drawn in to fit with the conventions of the audience they're selling to. They've got too much money to worry risk taking big risks I guess is the meat of it.

Watching it, it gets you thinking about conventions. Sting is a big part of the film (I think his wife made it) which is interesting because what you're then seeing is comparing the production of a animated movie to the production of a pop song writer.

Not this Sting.
I really like the conventions of a pop song. It's easy to mistake pop songs as being generic, typical etc, but the route of that critiscm lies in its conventions. What I like about them is that you have this framework of standardised methods (ABAB song writing, verse/chorus/verse/bridge/chorus, standardised chords in simillar patterns) that the artist is free to live within. So the meat of what they're trying to say dances above the familliar, and the familliar is what makes it accesible to an audience.

This idea is obvious in a bunch of people I love.. listen to Dylan's music, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin (built on blues),Nirvana, Springsteen. Even someone like Bob Marley which is perceivably different, its not different enough (rhythmically, or in build) to exclude. Blues is the best example, which uses largely the same chord pattern to reach the ears of its listeners, and the different lyrics ride atop that. Same with Punk.

So, you can compare this to animation. Disney has made a standardised format, a conventional method, a typical way of doing things. People like Sylvain Chomet are using that 'typical way' (clean lovely animation, fun designed characters, the use of song, a villain, structure of the film etc etc) to say something new or different. The aim is not to completely rejuvinate the medium, but instead to say something alive and that is fresh.

What you see in 'The Sweatbox' is a crushing of this 'life' from within the Disney studio. Sting says something interesting in a letter of doubt he writes to them at the tail end of production, comparing them to a McDonald's hamburger which takes all these strong elements of culture and mashes them together into something sold cheaply. It's interesting to get his opinion because he's come from a background of what I described above(the artist being free to say something that is fresh, within the conventions). This overworking and cutting out the weak spots & 'making everything as strong as it can be' is something we've (3rd yr students) heard alot over the last year, but for all its obviously perceivable worth its also something that limits the voice of a production. What's best with songwriting is to hear an album and to listen to each song. Then, you know where the artist was coming from at that point, the place he was at in time. Refinement is much like a 'greatest hits' album, it may have 'Like a Rolling Stone', 'Lay Lady Lay' & 'Tangled Up In Blue' on it, but you don't get the feeling of knowing where the artist was coming from at that time.

This is of course difficult for animation (that is built in the conventional Disney mould) as the production takes so long, you can't bosh it out like you can a set of new songs, so of course, feelings change within the months and years it takes to make it, feelings are lost, new ones are aquired and the message changes. However this is why it's important to follow a auteurial method as much as possible. Make one guy head, and his feelings, from one time, that week when the pre-production begins to flow, the essence of the project but also the complete and controlling voice of the film.

With refinement things arent always taken into consideration that should be. For example, the writer who is angry will not only write an angry sentence, but the worlds he uses will be angry words, not swearwords or negative words, but words that are accented with an agressive agenda. By the same reguard, someone that is happy with life & writing, perhaps there verses will flow with iteration and flowing noises. These things are lost 10 months down the line, when the editor decides that 'that one sentence' isn't necessary to the telling of the plot.

Anywho you get the jist. If anybody would like a copy of 'The Sweatbox' come give me a nudge in the studio. Not literally, im quite frail.

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