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Oriana from Kara Miranda Lawrence on Vimeo.

My first short 3d animated film “Oriana” (2009) has finished its festival run (for now), ending at the Vancouver Women in Film Festival 2011 event this weekend, so here is the film posted in entirety. To view the full screen HD version, go to: http://vimeo.com/7728486.

This 3-D animation is adapted with permission from the Portuguese fairytale book A Fada Oriana (1958) by the late author Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen. A young fairy entrusted to take care of an Azorean forest becomes mesmerized with her reflection and neglects her duties. Dire consequences follow.

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Below is an essay I wrote on July 13, 2008 while at Emily Carr University, critiquing visiting lecturer, Ian Verchere’s discussion on the impact of video games on our lives.

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Can We Survive Without Being Video Game “Literate”?

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On the thirteenth of May, 2008 writer, visual artist, and creative producer Ian Verchere gave a talk to the “Interdisciplinary Forums” class at the Emily Carr University in Vancouver, British Columbia. His talk was spurred by the week’s class reading, a selection of Paul Gee’s book “What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy”. Gee points out that producers “potentially make better consumers” since they have a deeper understanding of the particular social practice, so it was fitting for Verchere to address the subject. He has a successful career producing games and is a faculty member at the new Centre for Digital Media Masters of Digital Media Program.

The week’s reading argues that video games, as a multimodal text that mixes words and images, constitute as a form of literacy. Gee argues that “in the modern world, print literacy is not enough. People need to be literate in a great variety of different semiotic domains” (19). He continues on to state that it is difficult to convince people who are unfamiliar with video games to believe they are a valid semiotic domain as these people simply think that games are a “waste of time” (19). Verchere continues this discussion by declaring “in order to survive, you have to learn new domains” and stating that knowledge of games is vital as they are “a form of communication”. His statement brought up the issue that humans must adapt to new technologies in order to excel in many environments, both working and social ones. I observed he discredited any opposition to this fact and in his short talk provided little evidence to concretely prove that we are all required to be literate in games in order to function in society at this moment. However, he does allude to the possibility that games will be more involved in our everyday lives in the future.

In noting how much games’ appeal and form has changed in the past two decades, Verchere points out how games are no longer associated with a select group of young male adolescents as when games first became mainstream in the 80s. The major demographic for video game users has changed considerably to an almost equal gender ratio and the current average age of 34, with ages ranging from small kids to adults according to recent studies (“2010 Essential Facts”). Even the elderly, a once near dormant market, are starting to warm to it with Seniors Homes across North America quickly adopting “Wii Game” nights (Wischnowsky). Perhaps this is due to our changing attitudes about the benefits of games and the fact that games themselves have evolved from their primitive earlier forms.

Initially, the majority of games were quite simple. One of the most popular fore-runners consisted of a black and white pixilated ping pong game where the objective was to keep the ball from hitting the player’s side of the wall. The player would either play against another player or the system’s artificial intelligence. Other commercially successful games were developed such as “Pac-Man”, a limited colour console game in which the player moved a circle around a screen to eat dots and avoid ghost-like characters, and later “Super Mario Bros.”, a game in which the player moved a human-like character sideways across a landscape to collect points and to kill enemy characters to reach the end of the game. With each year, games were progressively advancing in content, visual quality and interactivity. However, since these were some of the only widely known games, the publics’ prevalent association was that games were only an easy and thoughtless way to pass the time.

Verchere had an unfortunate awakening to this reality in 1992, when he failed to market a Mario game existing outside of the bubble. His game “Mario’s Time Machine” featured the popular Mario character who taught the player history facts as the game progressed. He argued that his game was panned by critics due to the fact that people could not accept games as being educational. Not only were they not considered a valid learning environment, but as Verchere points out, they were portrayed by the media “as enablers of ‘The New Sedentary Child’” and as a major cause for obesity. Verchere stated that this is just a scapegoat attitude and games could be a possible solution.

This attitude of mistrust was exemplified in the case that Verchere pointed out where an American gym teacher brought a “Dance Dance Revolution” game into his gym class. This game features a gamepad in which the user jumps on in various sequences, depending on the music tempo and the instructions on the screen. The result in this gym class was that those who were not good at sports and out of shape lost weight and enjoyed the process of being active. However, as soon as the superintendent found out, he banned the game use in the gym along with a letter that stated it was “an idea whose time will never come” (Verchere). His prediction came out to be incorrect, as the game “Dance Dance Revolution” is being now more readily utilized and accepted for use in physical education programs in schools across the United States (Schiesel).

Comparing the current state of video games to the art form of cinema, Verchere stated that games are where cinema was in the 20s. The art of the moving picture had emerged, largely influenced by the Russian filmmaker Eisenstein’s discovery of the power of juxtaposing images, and it became a new form of visual literacy that was impossible to communicate in theatre or still photography (Verchere). In this, I share his optimistic vision. Now that video games are a multi-billion dollar industry and can allow the hiring of highly educated and trained employees, the realm of possibility for artistic expression has expanded considerably. No longer are players bound to play games with simple pixilated 2D environments and mechanical sounds by sitting down and pushing buttons on a joystick. They are now able to interact in lush detailed 3D visual and sound environments with advanced controllers, playing alongside friends next to them or at the other side of the world through the internet.

To conclude his talk, Verchere goes off into a tangent about the current marketing tactics used by game companies to garner cash from the game consumers. Although interesting to me as this may be the career path I will be entering into as a 3D animation artist and someone who has played computer and video games since her early childhood, it veers from the original topic and left little time for questions from the lecture attendees. I got the impression that those who were not interested in playing games themselves were neither convinced by his implication that they needed to, nor trusted the medium. In the following seminar class discussion, topics that were brought up included the adverse addictive quality of games and their possible ability to altar the way humans think in a negative way. The seminar leader Phil Smith alluded to a study by scientists that pointed our neurons are being changed the more we use digital devices such as computers, as found in the article “Does Google Make us Stupid?” (Carr). However, upon reading the aforementioned article which stated scientists have found that “even the adult mind ‘is very plastic.’ Nerve cells routinely break old connections and form new ones.”, it contained no factual information that this new media is harmful for the brain besides Carr’s insistence that we now have a short attention span, unlike people of the past.

Both sides of the argument; one that we need to be familiar with video games to survive, the other that video games are harmful, have little grounding evidence. This is due to the fact that video games have been around for such a relative short amount of time and nothing can be yet be conclusive. One thing is for certain, video games are developing at a rapid pace and being used by a growing percentage of the population. We may not all have to be familiar with them to live, but it will be increasingly difficult to avoid and ignore them altogether in our daily lives.

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Works Cited

“2010 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry.” 3 August 2010. Entertainment Software Association (ESA), theesa.com. <http://www.theesa.com/facts/pdfs/ESA_Essential_Facts_2010.PDF >.

Carr, Nicholas. “Is Google Making Us Stoopid?” July 2008. Atlantic Monthly. <http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google>.

Gee, James Paul. What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Schiesel, Seth. “P.E. Classes Turn to Video Game That Works Legs.” 30 April 2007. The New York Times Company. <http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/30/health/30exer.html?_r=2&ref=health&oref=slogin&oref=slogin>.

Verchere, Ian. “Video Games as a Semiotic Domain. Seriously.” Lecture. Art History 333: Interdisciplinary Forums. Emily Carr University of Art and Design. Vancouver. 13 May 2008.

Wischnowsky, Dave. “Wii bowling knocks over retirement home.” 18 February 2007. Chicagotribune.com. <http://ezinearticles.com/?Video-Game-Demographics&id=352934>.

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The following writing was a critical response for my AHIS 333: Win Lose or Draw: Interplays of Theory, Practice and Technology class at Emily Carr based on a piece displayed in the 2008 summer art exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery, and about an artist who I think deserves to be mentioned more. This was previously posted on my myspace page, which I am removing in an effort to consolidate my pages.

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Credit Long Due for an Animation Innovator


Intricately cut-out black paper figures, fading with age, with joints held together by tiny twisted wires seem inconspicuous under their glass display case at the Vancouver Art Gallery as part of the “Krazy! The Delirious World of Anime + Comics + Video Games + Art” exhibit. It is hard to connect these fragile flat objects with the incredibly emotive animated characters in a movie playing on an adjacent screen. This is the work of German artist Lotte Reiniger, who directed and animated the feature length tale “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” (1926). In an industry that is still male-dominated, she not only stands out as the first notable female animation director, but she is credited with creating the first feature-length animated film, ten years before Disney came out with it’s hit success “Snow White” (1937). Additionally, for this film she utilized a multi-plane camera technique, in which several glass movable layers under the camera were used to separate the foreground from the background. It is remarkable to note that this technique was implemented years before the Fleischer Studios utilized a similar technique for their animated films such as “Poor Cinderella” (1934) and before Disney, who often takes the credit for its invention, used a multi-plane camera in their aforementioned first feature film. Arguably, the Disney Company’s device was far more developed, but Reiniger and her team of collaborators pioneered the concept and most likely inspired its creation.

With all of these compelling facts, I question why I have only recently heard of this artist after four years of Visual Arts study. Perhaps Reiniger’s lack of representation is due to the reality that she was a female director in a patriarchal time or perhaps due to how the United States and Canada has focused on their own home-grown talent. A further conclusion to her absence in the North American educational system or mass media could be to the onset preference and development of cell-animation techniques in the early 20th century. Cut-out animation at the time was considered inferior to this new technology.

One may question my interest in such an arcane form of animation given that my focus is on 3D animation. Yet, as the “Krazy” show co-curator and animation film director Tim Johnson has so succinctly explained “in spite of the very limited technique [in "The Adventures of Prince Achmed"]… you are as emotionally drawn to the story as you are to the most sophisticated contemporary computer-animated films” (100). In the end it comes down to the reality that 3d programs are just another medium to visually express an artist’s vision. The success of the end product created through this relatively new process depends on the imagination of the artist or group of artists. Similar to how the advent of photography into mainstream culture was received both with excitement and at the same time fear that painting was as a result dead, 3D computer animation has been equally praised for bringing animation to a new level as it has been criticized for destroying the art form.

This is related to the main over-arching theme of the “Krazy” exhibit. Where do we draw the line about what is considered art? Where do such forms as video games, comic books and anime fit in? Since computer animation is not created by hand and lacks a tactile response to the character or form that the animator is bringing to life, is it not a respectable form of animation?

I believe that the new medium of 3D programs used for animation functions to open up the realm of possibilities for visual expression and we are just seeing a glimpse of what it can offer. As the programs become more advanced and artist-friendly, it will be easier to match exactly what is envisioned. However, the practitioners of this medium can still learn from the great animation predecessors. As demonstrated in Reiniger’s films, a more focused style of characterization can be just as effective to express a story. At a time where the 3D art form is moving closer towards photo-realism, 3D animators should take a step back and consider if this a more effective way to realize their vision and tell their story.

Works Cited

Johnson, Tim. “Lotte Reinger.” Krazy!: the delirious world of anime + comics + video games + art. Vancouver: Douglas & MacIntyre Ltd., 2008

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There are youtube videos that exist of her films, but they do not do her any justice and I highly recommend watching them on the big screen or from a DVD. You can order a copy from Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0000714B2?ie=UTF8&tag=karasflamenpa-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B0000714B2

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Below is an essay I wrote while enrolled at Emily Carr University analyzing one of my favourite films, Pan’s Labyrinth.

MHIS: Reading the Screen
November 12, 2007

Dramatic Costuming and Acting
Heighten the Story in Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) is a stunning film which not only contributes originality to the genre of fantasy but also uses dramatic and memorable imagery to convey its story. In the history of cinema, fairytale movies have been traditionally light in terms of portraying characters as overtly frightening or violent. Viewers used to these conventions of the genre will find the use of horrifying imagery in this film shocking. However, traditional fables and legends told to children in the past few centuries have been not been so sanitized. Their purpose was to instill caution and fear into children to prevent them from potential harm. For example, some tales would depict lake monsters that would grab and pull children into the depths and devour them. This was to keep children from carelessly playing around the water and drowning. Tales of forest monsters and witches, such as the well known fable Hansel and Gretel, were told to keep children from straying too far into the forest to potentially get lost or even killed by a wild animal.

A prevalent theme throughout this film is the constant interspersion of the real world and the fantasy. The filmmaker, Guillermo del Toro, juxtaposes scenes of the horrific reality of his character Ofelia’s new surroundings with the equally as frightening scenes of fantasy. This leads the audience to question if the fantasy world is real or not. We may ponder, is the world simply manifested in Sophia’s mind to cope with her mother’s condition and her new stepfather’s cruelty? Or is she indeed a princess, who at the end finds safety and happiness in her kingdom? In an attempt to reveal these answers, a couple of memorable scenes in Pan’s Labyrinth can be analyzed in terms of the arresting costuming design and acting.

The first scene of analysis is one where Ofelia sets out on her mission to obtain the knife in the Pale Man’s den. Dressed in pajamas, a sleeping robe and slippers with her short girlish wavy hair set back in clips, she embodies the innocence of youth. Yet we wonder if what she is wearing in this scene signifies that she is dreaming of the event. With an expression of quiet determination that contrasts her previous shy nature, she wanders through the tunnel towards the frightening monster. The cool green tone of Ofelia’s outfit sets her apart from the scene and the Pale Man. A motif throughout the film, the fantasy world mainly consists of a warm colour palette (Toro).

Surprisingly, she first looks at him not out of fear but with an expression of curiosity as she examine s his eyeballs on the platter, the explicit mural on the wall detailing his nature and the pile of shoes of the deceased. While she is searching for the knife, the Pale Man continues to sits there in the background, inert. This lack of movement increases the tension and suspense of the scene. After Ofelia inevitably is tempted to eat a fruit from the banquet table, either because she is enchanted or simply very hungry, the Pale Man starts to move. He does so in small, jerky movements, originating from his hands, moving to his head and finally to his body as he gasps for air to display his reanimation. By the time he finally inserts his eyeballs into his hands, stands up, and raises them to his head, we become increasingly uneasy at the danger this poses to Ofelia as she is looking the other way and unaware of the developing situation.

Standing, the terrifying and stunning costume becomes completely visible. Animatronics company DDT Efectos Especiales created arguably the most unforgettable character of the film due to its originality in design and skilled execution. Here the actor’s choice of an unnatural asymmetrical stance and sporadic movements reinforce the otherworldly nature of the creature. Emphasizing this inhuman feeling is the use of green screen panels to facilitate removing a mass of his legs which otherwise seems necessary for his ability to walk (Jones). Witnessing the horror of the fairies’ demise, Ofelia’s expression changes to that of terror as she runs towards the exit only to discover it is too late. To contrast this and again heighten the suspense, the Pale Man’s advancement is unbearably slow and steady as Ofelia nervously fumbles with her chalk. Timed perfectly up until the last moment, the audience is unsure if Ofelia will even escape with her life in this most ill-fated of circumstances.

The second scene of interest is when Captain Vidal manages to perform stitching to his own face. Sweat pouring down his brow and grimacing in reaction to the penetration of the needle, we can almost feel Vidal’s pain. He again contorts his face to the sting of the alcohol, but this does not deter him in pouring another cup. This unsettling scene paints Vidal as an unstoppable and masochistic villain, similar to the Pale Man in that regard. The costume, before extremely neat, ironed and buttoned, is now shabbily worn open with stains of blood and dirt. His movements are calculated and mechanical bordering on obsessive, as he methodically goes about his task. Noticing every little detail, he spots the chalk and picks up his gun to ready himself against an intruder. His expression changes to that of confusion and worry.

In relation to the previous scene, Ofelia is again situated in a location of extreme peril if she is discovered to be trespassing. Speaking is set to a minimum in both scenes so the expressive acting styles of these two characters are highlighted and made more important. This is the scene in which the most obvious clue is left to answer the question about the validity of the fantasy world. The improbability of Ofelia being able to escape from a locked and guarded attic room leads the audience to conclude she used the chalk to build another door. Finally, Vidal’s recognition of this item, which was given to Ofelia by the Faun, adds evidence to the mystery. A subtle detail, when illuminated, helps the pieces to fall together.

Pan’s Labyrinth neither concludes with another concrete example of the fantasy world existing, nor shows anyone besides Ofelia knowing of its existence. By the way Toro does not spell out the answer so clearly, he leaves it open-ended for us to form our own conclusions. We may ask ourselves, how much does it matter whether or not it is real? Would the story be more or less powerful either way? The ending is what we make of it. Non-believers can be satisfied with the film just ending with the brutal one-dimensional villain Vidal is set to justice. Others, who believe in the fantasy world are comforted by the fact that she reaches a state of joy after passing on and is rewarded for sacrificing herself for her brother.

Works Cited

Jones, Doug. Commentary: BEHIND THE SCENES GALLERY: The Pale Man. Picturehouse, 1985. <www.panslabyrinth.com>

Pan’s Labyrinth. Director’s Commentary: Guillermo del Toro. Picturehouse, 2006.

Pan’s Labyrinth. Writ. / Dir. : —. Picturehouse, 2006.


Final Note:  I just discovered an interesting site analyzing the mythology and symbolism used in the movie in-depth is a post at Vigilant Citizen: http://vigilantcitizen.com/?p=5019

MHIS: Reading the Screen

November 12, 2007

Dramatic Costuming and Acting
Heighten the Story in Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth is a stunning film which not only contributes originality to the genre of fantasy but also uses dramatic and memorable imagery to convey its story. In the history of cinema, fairytale movies have been traditionally light in terms of portraying characters as overtly frightening or violent. Viewers used to these conventions of the genre will find the use of horrifying imagery in this film shocking. However, traditional fables and legends told to children in the past few centuries have been not been so sanitized. Their purpose was to instill caution and fear into children to prevent them from potential harm. For example, some tales would depict lake monsters that would grab and pull children into the depths and devour them. This was to keep children from carelessly playing around the water and drowning. Tales of forest monsters and witches, such as the well known fable Hansel and Gretel, were told to keep children from straying too far into the forest to potentially get lost or even killed by a wild animal.

A prevalent theme throughout this film is the constant interspersion of the real world and the fantasy. The filmmaker, Guillermo del Toro, juxtaposes scenes of the horrific reality of his character Ofelia’s new surroundings with the equally as frightening scenes of fantasy. This leads the audience to question if the fantasy world is real or not. We may ponder, is the world simply manifested in Sophia’s mind to cope with her mother’s condition and her new stepfather’s cruelty? Or is she indeed a princess, who at the end finds safety and happiness in her kingdom? In an attempt to reveal these answers, a couple of memorable scenes in Pan’s Labyrinth will be analyzed in terms of the arresting costuming design and acting.

The first scene of analysis is one where Ofelia sets out on her mission to obtain the knife in the Pale Man’s den. Dressed in pajamas, a sleeping robe and slippers with her short girlish wavy hair set back in clips, she embodies the innocence of youth. Yet we wonder if what she is wearing in this scene signifies that she is dreaming of the event. With an expression of quiet determination that contrasts her previous shy nature, she wanders through the tunnel towards the frightening monster. The cool green tone of Ofelia’s outfit sets her apart from the scene and the Pale Man. A motif throughout the film, the fantasy world mainly consists of a warm colour palette. (Toro)

Surprisingly, she first looks at him not out of fear but with an expression of curiosity as she examines his eyeballs on the platter, the explicit mural on the wall detailing his nature and the pile of shoes of the deceased. While she is searching for the knife, the Pale Man continues to sits there in the background, inert. This lack of movement increases the tension and suspense of the scene. After Ofelia inevitably is tempted to eat a fruit from the banquet table, either because she is enchanted or simply very hungry, the Pale Man starts to move. He does so in small, jerky movements, originating from his hands, moving to his head and finally to his body as he gasps for air to display his reanimation. By the time he finally inserts his eyeballs into his hands, stands up, and raises them to his head, we become increasingly uneasy at the danger this poses to Ofelia as she is looking the other way and unaware of the developing situation.

Standing, the terrifying and stunning costume becomes completely visible. Animatronics company DDT Efectos Especiales created arguably the most unforgettable character of the film due to its originality in design and skilled execution. Here the actor’s choice of an unnatural asymmetrical stance and sporadic movements reinforce the otherworldly nature of the creature. Emphasizing this inhuman feeling is the use of green screen panels to facilitate removing a mass of his legs which otherwise seems necessary for his ability to walk. (Jones) Witnessing the horror of the fairies’ demise, Ofelia’s expression changes to that of terror as she runs towards the exit only to discover it is too late. To contrast this and again heighten the suspense, the Pale Man’s advancement is unbearably slow and steady as Ofelia nervously fumbles with her chalk. Timed perfectly up until the last moment, the audience is unsure if Ofelia will even escape with her life in this most ill-fated of circumstances.

The second scene of interest is when Captain Vidal manages to perform stitching to his own face. Sweat pouring down his brow and grimacing in reaction to the penetration of the needle, we can almost feel Vidal’s pain. He again contorts his face to the sting of the alcohol, but this does not deter him in pouring another cup. This unsettling scene paints Vidal as an unstoppable and masochistic villain, similar to the Pale Man in that regard. The costume, before extremely neat, ironed and buttoned, is now shabbily worn open with stains of blood and dirt. His movements are calculated and mechanical bordering on obsessive, as he methodically goes about his task. Noticing every little detail, he spots the chalk and picks up his gun to ready himself against an intruder. His expression changes to that of confusion and worry.

In relation to the previous scene, Ofelia is again situated in a location of extreme peril if she is discovered to be trespassing. Speaking is set to a minimum in both scenes so the expressive acting styles of these two characters are highlighted and made more important. This is the scene in which the most obvious clue is left to answer the question about the validity of the fantasy world. The improbability of Ofelia being able to escape from a locked and guarded attic room leads the audience to conclude she used the chalk to build another door. Finally, Vidal’s recognition of this item, which was given to Ofelia by the Faun, adds evidence to the mystery. A subtle detail, when illuminated, helps the pieces to fall together.

Pan’s Labyrinth neither concludes with another concrete example of the fantasy world existing, nor shows anyone besides Ofelia knowing of its existence. By the way Toro does not spell out the answer so clearly, he leaves it open-ended for us to form our own conclusions. We may ask ourselves, how much does it matter whether or not it is real? Would the story be more or less powerful either way? The ending is what we make of it. Non-believers can be satisfied with the film just ending with the brutal one-dimensional villain Vidal is set to justice. Others, who believe in the fantasy world are comforted by the fact that she reaches a state of joy after passing on and is rewarded for sacrificing herself for her brother.

Works Cited

Jones, Doug. Commentary: BEHIND THE SCENES GALLERY: The Pale Man. Picturehouse,

1985. <www.panslabyrinth.com>

Pan’s Labyrinth. Director’s Commentary: Guillermo del Toro. Picturehouse, 2006.

Pan’s Labyrinth. Writ. / Dir. : —. Picturehouse, 2006.

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Short Animated Logo

Logo Animation from Kara Miranda Lawrence on Vimeo.

Above is a short animated logo. Client provided small rasterized image so it was recreated in Adobe Illustrator and then animated in After Effects.

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