Archive | Production Design RSS feed for this section

Animated Literary Adaptations: From Robin Hood to the Moon

9 Dec

I have a box set of “Classic Adventures,” consisting of ten 48-minute animated adaptations of classic literary adventures, nine based on novels and one based on a true-life account. Eight of the ten were produced in the 1970s by an Australian company called Air Programs International (aka API Television Production) and share key creative personnel and voice actors, accounting for stylistic similarities among the eight.

Continue reading

LIKE THE CLOUDS, LIKE THE WIND (1990) – Anime Tale of Village Girl-Turned-Empress

19 Jul

 

vlcsnap-2021-07-19-11h35m43s011

In 1992, I bought a VHS tape, an animated feature in Japanese with no subtitles, from a dealer at a comics show and it was pitched to me as a film by Hayao Miyazaki, whose work I’d begun recently exploring. The title was LIKE THE CLOUDS, LIKE THE WIND (KUMO NO YOUNI, KAZE NO YOUNI) and it was from 1990 and 79 minutes long. I watched it with my daughter. It seemed clearly set in China several hundred years ago and followed the progress of a spunky young peasant girl, Ginga, who learns of a drive by the palace to recruit girls to be potential brides or consorts for the new Emperor. She’s picked to join them and embarks on a series of classes and instruction and physical training along with dozens of other girls who are eventually winnowed down to a handful, including her three roommates, each a disparate type. Palace intrigue threatens them on the inside while a rebel army building force threatens them on the outside, eventually forcing the girls to use the palace stocks of cannons, flintlock rifles and other weapons of war to fight back.

Continue reading

Power Rangers Samurai Shiba House: A Marvel of Set Design

3 Jun

Last month I watched 20 episodes of “Power Rangers Samurai” (2011), which was filmed in Auckland, New Zealand and was based on the 2009 Japanese Super Sentai season, “Samurai Sentai Shinkenger.” It’s about a group of young Samurai Rangers who’ve trained since childhood and come together at a crucial point in their young adult life to stop the onslaught of monsters seeping through “gaps” from the “netherworld” where their monstrous leader, Xandred, and his minions were consigned centuries ago by an earlier group of Samurai Rangers. It was a series I only watched sporadically when it was originally on, so I never came to appreciate the beauty of the building in which the Rangers live and train, known as Shiba House to its occupants since it’s owned, in the show, by the Shiba Samurai Clan, the Rangers’ backer.

It’s a modernist building incorporating traditional Japanese design elements and is a beautiful structure both inside and out. It looked to me to be so real and solid that I couldn’t imagine a Power Rangers budget being able to afford the expense of constructing such a set, even in New Zealand, where production costs are considerably lower than in Hollywood.

Continue reading

SHAOLIN MANTIS: A Masterpiece of Acting, Design, and Choreography

11 May

I recently re-watched SHAOLIN MANTIS (1978), one of the greatest kung fu movies ever made, for the first time in seven years and I wanted to highlight three elements of the Shaw Bros. production that really strike me now as key to its success. (The film’s English-dubbed edition was known as DEADLY MANTIS when it played theaters in the U.S. and ran on American television in the 1980s. For the record, I watched the Dragon Dynasty Region 1 DVD edition, in Mandarin with English subtitles, for this review.)

Continue reading

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD and the Art of Recreating an Era

29 Jul

Quentin Tarantino’s newest film offers a love-letter to the pop culture of the 1960s—films, television, music, celebrities, parties, etc. He takes the careers of three distinct individuals, two fictional, one real, employed in the film and TV industry in 1969 and uses incidents in their lives, including numerous flashbacks spanning the 1960s, to depict what it was like to live and work in the industry town of Los Angeles at the time. The key figure is Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a onetime star of a TV western now reduced to guest shots as “villain of the week” in assorted network TV dramas and faced with the dilemma of how to resuscitate his stardom or just settle for life as a working actor. The second figure is Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), Dalton’s stuntman, who, when not doubling Dalton in a film or TV role, is acting as Dalton’s chauffeur, handyman and paid companion. (Dalton lives in a sprawling ranch house on Cielo Drive in the Hollywood Hills, while Booth lives miles away in a trailer parked near an oil rig behind a drive-in theater in Van Nuys.)

Continue reading

Science Fiction Art of the 1950s: Comics, Film, TV

10 Dec

I came across two DC compilations on my comic book shelf, “The Greatest 1950s Stories Ever Told” and “Mystery in Space,” and started reading them and was pleasantly surprised at how good the artwork is in most of the stories, especially those from the 1950s and especially the science fiction stories. I decided to compare them to the sci-fi comics from EC’s line of 1950s titles, Weird Science and Weird Fantasy. And then I was intrigued enough to dig out my DVD copies of various 1950s color science fiction films and, where possible, get screen grabs to share as individual frames of science fiction art. I also remembered the “Tomorrowland” segments shown on the Disneyland TV show in the 1950s and their imaginative scenes of future explorations of the moon and Mars. And then I came across a book in my files, Fantastic Science Fiction Art 1926-1954, edited by Lester Del Rey, which reprints covers of science fiction magazines. What a treasure trove.

Continue reading

In Glorious Black-and-White

14 Jul

Recently, a thread on the Home Theater Forum asked participants for their “all-time favorite movie process.” While others picked things like IMAX, 3-D, Cinerama, Todd-AO, Vistavision, Ultra Panavision 70 and the like, I was the only one to declare Academy ratio black-and-white as my favorite “process,” although “format” would be a more appropriate term. Here are the images I posted:

The Academy ratio of 1.37:1, sometimes referred to as 4:3, was the standard ratio for the motion picture frame from 1932 right up until the conversion to widescreen began in earnest in 1953, after which wider aspect ratios were used to give audiences a sense that they were getting something they couldn’t see on television. Television had adopted the ratio of 1.33:1, which had been the standard for movies before 1932 and was close enough to the Academy ratio to allow movies shot in that ratio to air on television without necessitating cropping (not that the full image was ever exactly shown, but that’s another story).

Continue reading

Disney’s Tomorrowland: A Source of Science Fiction Art

19 Aug

On disc 1 of the Walt Disney Treasures Tomorrowland set, there are three Tomorrowland episodes from the Disneyland TV show: “Man in Space” (1955), “Man and the Moon” (1955), and “Mars and Beyond (1957).” All are documentaries with actual space and rocket scientists contributing on-camera appearances (including former Nazi Wernher Von Braun) and all contain elaborate animated sequences. All were directed by veteran Disney animator Ward Kimball and of course are all introduced by Uncle Walt himself.

While real life space explorations have far surpassed the science depicted in these shows (and probably answered all the questions raised therein), the science fiction aspects remain fascinating and aesthetically beautiful. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen science fiction art this detailed outside of the sf pulp magazine and paperback covers we used to get in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Each of the three shows offers a speculative animated sequence offering then-current ideas of what missions in space, on the moon and on Mars would look like. While the shots are mostly static illustrations, there is some animation showing the movements of craft and astronauts.

Continue reading