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Toon Tuesday: Working without a Net

Toon Tuesday: Working without a Net

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The new Mission Impossible trailer was screened last weekend and I couldn't help looking for the screen credit, "Directed by Brad  Bird." I've always considered Brad to be a risk taker and I remember him saying that a creative person has to be willing to "leap off the cliff" if necessary.

Brad Bird knows what it takes to make good movies

In today's less-than-creative environment it's cool to hear such sentiments expressed so openly. When Bird journeyed to Pixar Animation Studios some years ago to "shake things up," he was new to the company which was known as a hit maker. Instead of playing it safe, the writer-director pushed further & harder and the result was "The Incredibles." A film that changed the rules and broke new ground, but it didn't come easily.

I guess that's why I've always been fascinated by risk takers. While others fear failure, the risk takers are ready to leap off the cliff and land flat on their butts should fate decree. You're already well aware this business is full of such people and this lucky guy has had the good fortune to work with some of them.

I would imagine Walt Disney to be the ultimate risk taker. Always attempting something new & untried and betting the farm on each venture. Undaunted by naysayers and skeptics, Disney plunged ahead focused only on his vision. You can be sure there were failures along the way, but such setbacks only seemed to make him stronger. Perhaps Walt had his share of sleepless nights but no one appeared to notice. Disney always came across as confident and fearless. It's no wonder so many followed his lead.

Walt Disney was the ultimate risk taker. The man had no fear. None

The lackluster entertainment we experience today is the result of this risk-adverse environment. Naturally, media producers want financial success but they seem to want it all risk-free. This means nervous executives continually micro-manage creativity and you already know where that leads. The breakthrough film, novel or television show only happens when the artist is allowed to create. The innovator can't be managed, second-guessed or guided by creative executives. He or she needs the freedom to leap off the cliff and -- more importantly -- the freedom to do so. If this is too much pressure for the top-level executives, they're probably in the wrong business. These bosses should have chosen a more mundane career such as selling insurance or manufacturing widgets.

I feel that taking risks is what creativity is all about. It's doing a daring high-wire act not unlike the Flying Wallendas. This is a job where failure is public. When you're writing & directing a movie, you're working twelve stories above the ground and you're doing it all without a net. Yes, boys and girls, that's the rush and the risk. Clearly it's a job not for the faint-of-heart.

Personally, I've always felt true creativity is somewhat organic in nature. Unpredictable and surprising, it's a process seldom understood. This risky process keeps our work from becoming pedantic & mundane and it's something I've applied when working on a writing assignment. Back in the 1980s, I wrote dozens of Disney comic stories. Rather than constrain myself with structure, I kept my writing loose and let the story take me where it wanted to go. Of course, there's always the danger of "painting yourself into a corner." But it kept things fresh and exciting for this storyteller. If the story is going to compel the reader it should certainly interest the author.

A typical strip of the Mickey Mouse daily comic that Floyd Norman used to write. Just
swap out "radio & headphones" for "iPod" and this gag still plays.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Further, I apply this same technique to my cartoon gags and I tend to let my drawings decide what the gag should be. While sketching characters on a page, I'll notice a "dialogue" beginning to take place and I'll see where it leads. In a strange way I like not knowing where the whole thing is going. I like leaping off the cliff and I like working without a net.

Bottom line, this is what keeps things fresh and exciting. We work in a business where the mantra continues to be, do what works. Don't take a risk or try anything not proven to be successful. Companies now "manage risk" because they fear failure. The sad thing is, by fearing failure; they pretty much guarantee they'll eventually fail.

I guess that's why I applaud the fearless. Guys and gals like the Old Maestro, Walt Disney and young filmmakers like Brad Bird, Brenda Chapman, Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois.  Willing to defy convention, these creative storytellers often break the rules. In this current atmosphere of pasteurized corporate entertainment where movies amount to little more than commercials for consumer products, it would be nice to see someone -- anyone -- eager and willing to leap off the cliff.

Writing & directing animated feature films is a dangerous high wire act and not
for the faint-of-heart

Did you enjoy today's risk taking tale from Floyd Norman? Well, if you'd like to learn more about the many amazing & amusing adventures that this Disney Legend has had over the course of the 40+ years that he's worked in the animation industry, then you definitely want to check out some of the books which Mr. Norman has written.

Floyd's most recent effort - "Disk Drive: Animated Humor in the Digital Age" - is available for purchase through blurb.com. While Mr. Norman's original collection of cartoons and stories -- "Faster! Cheaper! The Flip Side of the Art of Animation" - is still for sale over at John Cawley's Cataroo. And if you still haven't had your fill of Floyd, feel free to move on over to Mr. Fun. Which is where Mr. Norman posts his musings when he's not writing for JHM.

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  • If the story and characters are there, licensing should follow.

  • If Brad Bird is such a risk taker why did he copy the characters of The Incredibles directly from The Fantastic Four?

  • He didn't.

  • Yes he did.  The powers of the characters are directly lifted from the FF.  Stretch-Mr Fantastic/Elastigirl  Strength-Thing/Mr Incredible  Invisibility-Invisible Girl/Violet  Fire-Human Torch/Jak Jak  Dash had the same  attitude of Johnny Storm.

    You could even say he lifted the X-Men as well with FroZone as Ice Man and Dash as Quicksilver.

    Heck the Mole Man even made an appearance in the end.

    It's easy to just say "No he didn't" and not support your opinion.  There are plenty of people in the cmic industry that say the same thing about the Fantastic Four/Incredibles rip-off.  If Brad Bird was such a risk taker he would have made up his own heroes with unique abilities.  Not steal from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

  • Or Dash could be Kid Flash? Clearly, incredibles was inspired by superhero comics ranging from Fantastic Four to Watchmen (the whole cape bit) but I think the approach was meant to be more evocative of superhero comics and cartoons one grew up with. I do have to wonder if the Incredibles would accept someone like Batman though.

  • The bit with the cape was trash.  Part of the concession with superheroes is that some wear capes.  If you ridicule something as simple as that, you are ridiculing the whole genre.  It's like saying that baseball is stupid because managers wear the same uniform the players wear.  It's part of the game.  Deal with it.

  • I think it depends on the take. I do think the "hyper realism" is bordering on self-parody, www.youtube.com/watch

    But I don't  think it's going too far if capes are removable, particularly among the non-powered set.

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