Monday, 21 December 2009

Rock and Rule - Mock, the coolest animated character ever.

A while ago, back when I first discovered John Kricfalusi's blog and was reading through a whole bunch of his old posts, I happened across this one, about a 1980s Canadian animated feature called Rock and Rule, which was mostly pretty dodgy but had one character, Mok, who really stood out. I was pretty impressed by what few images and Youtube clips there were (at the time: it seems there are more now), but I wanted to see more so I rented the DVD, and eventually ended up buying it.

Here's a few of my favourite Mok bits, edited together in a dodgy fashion (though I've not included everything by any means).

His introduction is the BEST. It's like the intensity and the tension and the solidity are all at 110% the entire time. I don't feel his animation is quite as consistently amazing throughout the rest of the film but it's still incredibly impressive. If I could ever animate something so complicated so well I'd die a happy man.

His lip-sync blows my goddamn mind. His muzzle has this amazing sinewy, muscular taughtness to it, really like some super-chiselled, rugged, middle-aged rock god straight out of the 80s. His lips look like they've been carved out of stone. Only they roll around and chew up syllables in this fabulously decadent, organic fashion

 I feel really, really dirty for enjoying the way he introduces himself.

"I'm Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmok!"
Over-animation, maybe, but with Mok it's justified since he's meant to be a really decadent, self-indulgent personality anyway.

His features are constantly packed with this tense energy that gets built up and released in a really satisfying way.

But it's always animating around a consistent default position, which is part of what gives it such a taught feel. As if it's been forced and moulded into that shape by years of arrogantly pursed lips and puffed up haughtiness. That maw really feels like a cavernous space filled with rows of immaculate teeth. Even when it's closed! And not just that, but you even get a sense of the thickness of the flesh surrounding that space. Mok's mouth is a phenomenal achievement of drawing... and it's not even still drawings! It works no matter what position it's drawn in.

There's some great acting in parts, too. This bit where he reacts to Omar's little quip just kills me every time. That first held expression is great just by itself,

 but then he starts screwing his face up and unscrewing it, with subtle little touches like the tongue coming out for about two frames,

 and then those incredible lips flare out, exposing the teeth as he bursts into full laughter,

and all the while his whole head's slowly turning side-to-side, without a hint of unintended deformation. No cheating here, just really, really good drawing.

Of course, this is also dependant on Don Francks's brilliant voice-acting. It's all very well doing amazing animation but it won't work if it's unrelated to the dialogue, and all the above was clearly done by listening to the voice-track over-and-over, and emphasising all the subtle inflections the voice-actor put into it.

The animators pushed for some good acting with the other characters, too, but it's kind of hard to get over how generic (in the case of Stretch and the fat, glasses-wearing guy and many others) or awkward (in the case of Omar) the designs ended up looking (probably as a result of too many executive decisions). The fact that Omar spends much of the film being really unlikeable doesn't help his case much either.
I kind of enjoy the bits where he's being all intense and manly, though.

Just in case you're wondering why Angel has such big eyes, it's because this woman was in charge of animating her.

 I think it's kind of cool that she ended up drawing the character looking like herself, though. Deborah Harry, who provided Angel's singing voice, says in the making-of that the song-writers were told to imagine that they were making the music for themselves, not for "a little character". I guess this also carried over to the animators. Angel suffers less than some of the other characters from the whole dog-nose thing so Bardwell was doing something right.

This is the insane genius who animated Mok, by the way.

I said that if I could successfully animate a character like Mok I'd die happy, but if I could do it while looking this chilled I think I might just attain Nirvana. That's probably where he is now. If not I'd love to see what he's worked on since.

Apparently Mok's design was inspired a bit by the Devil character in Nelvana's earlier short, The Devil and Daniel Mouse, which is helpfully included in the DVD extras.

He's not as solid as Mok (I don't know if Budd animated him, though he definitely worked on the short) but he's still pretty entertaining, and the resemblance is clear. The carved-out lips are a dead giveaway.

It's kind of annoying that the PAL transfer to DVD was so bad. I've hidden it with my screenshot selection, but it's hard-telecined from 24fps to 25, rather than just sped up with a 1:1 frame equivalency (a much preferable method), so almost every other frame is blended together, and it's especially bad in parts with motion on ones. Add to this tons of artefacting, and the fact that it's from a VHS copy as the original prints were lost in a fire, and I start to get really annoyed that such incredible animation has to be so damaged. For all the film has a laughable plot and some highly questionable design decisions, watching the making-of featurette it's kind of impossible not to have respect for how much the artists who worked on it really wanted to make something great. Everybody who worked on it was really into it. I've spent all this time talking about one character, but even the special effects people pushed pretty hard to innovate, using real cow-brains for the texture of the demon at the end of the film, employing lasers for the flashy lights in the club scene, and really going all out with some incredibly ambitious multi-plane camera effects. Which had to be programmed by hand. None of this After Effects compositing bullshit, actual PEOPLE made this film. It's very easy to take for granted how easy it is to do some things these days, especially when you're a young thing like me who's had these things available his entire life.

Looking through the clips on Youtube, it looks like the NTSC (30fps) transfer was much better, at least in terms of frame-blending. Maybe I should've bought that instead.

I've got a few ideas for the next post, but that probably won't come within the next couple of weeks due to Christmas and lounging around at home (and doing volunteer work, oddly...). So, Christmas Wishes to both my readers. Hope you're enjoying the snow.

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