Animated Woodring

January 10, 2008

This has probably made the rounds already, but: Researching an article on KONDOU Akino, I ran across a link to FUYAMA Taruto’s animated take on Jim Woodring’s Frank.Here’s the link.

(Picturebox has a clip on Youtube, but the above links to the whole short.)

This reminds me of Leon Searl’s Krazy Kat cartoons from 1916, contained on the Origins of Film box set. Like KK, Frank is a sui generis masterpiece, quite resistant to translation into movie, novel, or rock opera. I understand the desire to see the drawings move. I also understand why everyone gripes that the book’s always better.

In the animation, Fuyama makes some clear missteps that have a lot to say about how Frank works. The story he adapts, “Pushpaw” from 1997, features Frank and Pupshaw enveloped by one of those weird floating soul-things, so that it takes over the world, more or less. (Woodring’s hard to describe, ey?) I consider it one of Woodring’s best, conflating fiction and metaphysics. Fuyama makes it rather mundane, emphasizing the weird-monster aspect, as well as choosing an annoying SFX track.

Most telling are the camera angles. He often places the “camera” in front of the characters, tracking along with them as they move forward. He also chooses a “God’s-eye” angle twice, once to show the scope of the soul-thing as it surrounds Frank, once just to show him ploughing. In his comics Woodring always maintains a disciplined eye-level point of view, never resorting to dramatic staging for cheap effect. (Old Looney Toons use the same angle, recording characters’ performances as though the screen is a stage.) Woodring’s world is so bizarre, his storytelling has to be as vanilla as possible. Fuyama’s choices turn the sublime into bad fantasy.

So I find the animation of interest more as a case study in how desktop computing has made animation accessible to independent artists. I doubt the Frank animation would exist otherwise. And I doubt it would feel so mechanical. Woodring’s gorgeous brush line loses out to a lifeless, pencil-then vector. The animation makes extensive use of 3-D modelling, freeing the “camera” to move through space to no particular end. Worst of all, Frank himself seems like a dead puppet, not the lively swirl of ink he is in real life.

Ah, computers. Ah, crappy computer animation. To quote Woodring, the farmer’s fallen in love with the plow.

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