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Fan Productions Creating our own Trek canon!

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Old November 7 2011, 11:54 PM   #1
Maurice
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Remaking the past: You Can't Go Home Again?

Recently I read an interesting post on the Mayerson on Animation blog about recent efforts to recreate classic theatrical cartoons from the past and the problems inherent with trying to replicate works of a different time. I have a lot of thoughts on the subject, but figured I'd toss it out there to see what others think. It seems an interesting topic related to loving fan-film recreations.

Have a read of the article and watch the cartoon used as the case study to the question then please let's hear your thoughts!
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Old November 8 2011, 12:11 AM   #2
Admiral Buzzkill
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Re: Remaking the past: You Can't Go Home Again?

Well here, in two sentences, is his essential thesis:

Creative works are not only the product of people, they're also the products of a time and place. As the world keeps changing, it is impossible to recreate something from the past.
His examination of the cartoon in question and his specific arguments, however, support one of his contentions - that a creative work is the product of specific people (and he cites specific examples for animation, design and music) - and none for the conclusion that he then leaps to, which is that "changes in the world" or the passage of time make it impossible to recreate a particular style of art.

I'm not saying whether I think that is or isn't so or that there aren't such arguments to be made - to some extent, this is false duality - but I just don't see him offering any support by example or analysis that supports this in its essence. If I wasn't rushing out the door I could probably come up with one or two using, oh, Young Frankenstein as an example.

Pastiche for its own sake never rises above pastiche, whether the example being aped was made forty years or three weeks ago.
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Old November 8 2011, 09:15 AM   #3
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Re: Remaking the past: You Can't Go Home Again?

I've been home many times. I live at home.
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Old November 8 2011, 11:08 AM   #4
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Re: Remaking the past: You Can't Go Home Again?

number6 wrote: View Post
I've been home many times. I live at home.
Try again. Maybe you can be funny.
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Old November 8 2011, 12:35 PM   #5
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Re: Remaking the past: You Can't Go Home Again?

I watched the cartoon, but I'm a Looney Tunes guy, not a Tom and Jerry guy, so I can't be an expert consumer in this case. Brief comments are below, though.

The Starship Farragut animated episodes might be data points to take into consideration. The Tressaurian Intersection is of course another [not a cartoon, but the thesis doesn't mention cartoons].

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? might tend to support the idea that you can't go back, but I think more likely it really supports the idea that the makers chose to depict the classic characters in ways that were geared towards a modern audience. The opening cartoon that's being filmed has the sort of cartoon antics one would expect in a 40's Merrie Melodies/Looney Tunes cartoon, but it's turned up to eleven. Everything about the cartoons throughout the movie seems to be paced more rapidly and more over the top than it should have been, if it were true to the 40's style. Maybe they were licensing the characters by the frame. I don't even know how one could objectively measure the pacing of action, but it's something that I noticed when I watched the film in the theater. It really stuck out to me.

Then again, if you throw in the element of demanding that art be marketable, then that might make the thesis more concretely provable. That is, taking the quote from the article, and substituting "market" for "recreate", you have:
Creative works are not only the product of people, they're also the products of a time and place. As the world keeps changing, it is impossible to market something from the past.
That still fits in with the idea that something's time may be past.

---

As for the Tom and Jerry cartoon, obviously it would never have been successful in the 40's because of the Japanese symbols. There were many other modern elements that clearly indicated they were going more for something geared for a modern audience than for something timeless.

I also really suspect that they stopped refining their recreation as soon as it was good enough to be recognizable as a Tom and Jerry cartoon. This avoids the problem of diminishing returns. Yet the problem in this case I think was that they also don't seem to have really tried to find their own comedic timing that they were personally comfortable with as artists in their own right. In some intangible way it seemed like they were always trying to imitate the original. Perhaps developing their own style would only come if they tried to make a successful ongoing series.

---

I've no interest whatsoever to watch the new Looney Tunes on Cartoon Network. Just a cursory glance at Bugs shows that he's physically all wrong in a very distracting way and apparently geared for a generation that I'm clearly not a part of.

---

One of the comments in the OP article pointed out Beavis and Butt-Head. That's another data point. They practically haven't missed a beat. If anything there, I think Beavis is slightly more mature, which is a good thing really (and when I say slightly I mean microscopically).

B&B would tend to refute the thesis, unless the fact that's still Mike Judge would tend to support it.

---

ST:TMP;DE would tend to support the thesis I think. The new elements just don't seamlessly integrate into the original. Star Wars OT special editions and Star Trek Remastered also tend to support it I think. The problem in these cases is, again, they didn't really try for a purely revival style in the new special effects. I think they tried to shoot for something more appealing to the modern audience.

---

That's all I got.


ETA: The Muppets (2011) will provide another data point.
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Last edited by CorporalCaptain; November 8 2011 at 12:57 PM. Reason: The Muppets, STR
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Old November 8 2011, 01:39 PM   #6
number6
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Re: Remaking the past: You Can't Go Home Again?

Maurice wrote: View Post
number6 wrote: View Post
I've been home many times. I live at home.
Try again. Maybe you can be funny.
or maybe you can get a sense of humour.
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Old November 8 2011, 02:48 PM   #7
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Re: Remaking the past: You Can't Go Home Again?

I don't have time right now to really elaborate on the Tom & Jerry cartoon, but the following video is a MUCH more faithful recreation of a well-known property:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGgXPUpqkSc

Mind you, they chose not to recreate the distinctive '60's jazz musical style, use modern sound effects, and clearly have a bigger budget for more elaborate animations than in the 60's.

However the art direction, character models, writing is totally faithful to the source material, and is a better example than the Tom & Jerry short for the purposes of this thread...
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Old November 8 2011, 11:25 PM   #8
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Re: Remaking the past: You Can't Go Home Again?

That Space Ghost ep was great!
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Old November 9 2011, 12:06 AM   #9
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Re: Remaking the past: You Can't Go Home Again?

I think that attentive and skillful people can recreate art from a given era if they have all the necessary information and technology. That said, why would one want to other than as a one-off, a stunt or a pastiche? What endures about work that's remembered is not only style and technique but content, and that content is created by the individuals working at the time on that particular project. It's that - when he compares the music in the new cartoon unfavorably with Scott Bradley's, or argues that the animation doesn't reflect Bill Hanna's sense of timing - which Mayerson effectively critiques here.
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Old November 9 2011, 07:05 AM   #10
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Re: Remaking the past: You Can't Go Home Again?

I was a fan of Bob Camp and John K. in the 90's. They took a Tex Avery-style and took it to the next level, spawning a style of animation that defined the 90s and helped spawn a new age of late night adult animation. That's a pretty good example of going home. South Park used cardboard cut out animation and despite evolving technology, has more or less established a certain stylistic ethic as a holdover for conventional old school animation. If all of these guy can do it sucessfully, I can't see how it can't be done.

As far as Hollywood remakes and reboots?? Some good, some not so good. For about every five crappy remake we get a Batman, Bond, Star Trek and Spiderman. Action heroes are making bank. I think nods to the past can bring things to the next level as long as those people understand the past they are drawing inspiration from. The success of that varies, but there is more good than bad, imo.
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Old November 9 2011, 10:09 PM   #11
Maurice
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Re: Remaking the past: You Can't Go Home Again?

Some good observations. Here are mine.

Works of art are often as much about when they were created as what they are, as that informs how they are made. Just because times have changed doesn’t mean it’s impossible to recreate things as they were from the past, but because you're not in that original moment it's easy to miss some of the ineffable qualities of the work being simulated. The result—as in the Tom & Jerry—example is simulacrum; having neither quite the character nor the innate sense of the original, and without having a clear sense of personality and style of its own and ergo ends up a crazy quilt of elements that don’t gel; a pastiche in the “confused mixture or jumble” sense.

The example cartoon fails to work not because it’s too faithfully recreating a bygone era and style, but in part because the filmmakers are only copying the obvious aspects of the originals but missing other key ingredients of the mix. At the same time they are failing to grok exactly what made the originals work in the first place. They copy types of gags from those 40s-50s MGM cartoons, but their gags aren’t as funny because they don’t have a firm and sure grasp of things that are harder to copy: such as a feel for comic timing (how many frames do you hold on something, how fast something moves, etc.), and how are these elements built up for maximum effect.

For instance, the basic premise is a Tex Avery staple of one gag that is riffed on for dozens of escalating variations, but the film detours off of that as the filmmakers try to cram it full of elements from other cartoons, so much so that it hurts the main thrust of the film because it doesn’t build properly.

To bring this back to the subject of fan films, I think the lesson here is that you can slavishly recreate the settings, sound and visual style of a show and yet fail to grasp that the show was more than just those few elements. So what typically emerges is something that looks and sounds like the original, but without the same soul. To use a sci-fi cliche: it's usually a pod-person/production.

While the John K. and Bob Camp and South Park examples are interesting, neither of them is trying to recreate something from the past. John K. is a huge fan of Bob Clampett (moreso than Avery) and he often applies some of Clampett's aesthetic to his cartoons, but he's not trying to copy Clampett. Hell, even when he works with established characters like Yogi Bear, he often parodies the original style rather than imitating it. That's a different—though perhaps related—animal.
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Last edited by Maurice Navidad; November 10 2011 at 02:17 AM.
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Old November 9 2011, 10:54 PM   #12
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Re: Remaking the past: You Can't Go Home Again?

I think we're agreed that the success of such an endeavour is linked to an understanding of the past, how it all worked, and the mindset required to accomplish the goal. No forward thinking creative mind would be content to simply do that without pushing to the next level, however a shining example of the concept in live action would be Star Trek's fan films, particularly New Voyages and Exeter. Thier only failings seem to be lack of funds, and limited acting/writing abilities, but they managed to recreate the past in exacting detail and understand the nuance of the past they are creating.
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Old November 14 2011, 06:46 AM   #13
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Re: Remaking the past: You Can't Go Home Again?

Creative works are not only the product of people, they're also the products of a time and place. As the world keeps changing, it is impossible to recreate something from the past. While artists often wish to duplicate what they love, they can only approximate it. Paradoxically, the closer they get to it, the more they've succeeded in doing nothing more than an good imitation. And since the originals are everywhere to begin with, is an imitation necessary?

Source: http://mayersononanimation.blogspot....ome-again.html
The nut graf of the blog post seems to be the most pertinent to fan films and their filmmakers.

Fan films, in particular the surge in TOS-inspired ones over the years, seem to slavishly concern themselves with the superficial style — costuming, set dressing and, unfortunately, the canon minutiae — but often forget that the style and its substance was informed by the time in which the original was created and those who worked on it.

Moreover, fan films seem so concerned with the very thing they are attempting to recreate that they often forget to notice other shows made in the 1960s. By not doing so, fan films don't get a broader sense of the time and seeing how those works may or may not have influenced those working on TOS.

As we used to say in my MFA program, art — literature or otherwise — is in conversation with the other art made at the same time whether or not it is consciously aware of it.

Maurice wrote: View Post
Works of art are often as much about when they were created as what they are, as that informs how they are made. Just because times have changed doesn’t mean it’s impossible to recreate things as they were from the past, but because you're not in that original moment it's easy to miss some of the ineffable qualities of the work being simulated.
Maurice wrote: View Post

To bring this back to the subject of fan films, I think the lesson here is that you can slavishly recreate the settings, sound and visual style of a show and yet fail to grasp that the show was more than just those few elements. So what typically emerges is something that looks and sounds like the original, but without the same soul. To use a sci-fi cliche: it's usually a pod-person/production.
I agree with these two observation. And I'll add some of my own.

It's one thing to recreate TOS, but it's another to take that as a jumping-off point and making the work wholly your own while, at the same time, tapping into the visual and story spark of the original.

"The Tressaurian Intersection" is a grand example of this. The STARSHIP EXETER bunch used TOS as a starting point, but managed to craft an episode that plays on what we expect from TOS but building on it to make the work their own.

STAR TREK: PHASE II/NEW VOYAGES continuously frustrates me in this regards. There was a point where PII/NV could've taken TOS and truly made it their own, building on the orignal series and taking it a step beyond. Perhaps even surpassing the original in tackling controversial subject matter head on.

In other words, doing what TOS did best — use the prism of high-character drama and science fiction to tell stories that are about something relevant to our lives today.

"Blood and Fire" was not it and its allegory/themes were about 20 years too late.

I thought "To Serve All My Days" (original edit, not "A Night in 1966") and "World Enough and Time" were steps in the right direction to get PII/NV to that next level. There were stylistic touchstones of the original, but a serious attempt to play further with the form.

For example, TSAMD was a Russian play set to TOS with grand performances from Andy Bray and Walter Koenig (its lacklauster b-plot is an argument for another time). And I really had hopes that NV/PII had the balls to keep Chekov dead and take their Trek into a new direction.

WEAT had its own unique soundtrack and style that echoed the original but still gave the work its own sense of self.

But the reliance on track tapes from TOS and storytelling techniques from TNG — i.e. the characters reacting rather than driving the action of the story — from the more recent episodes has the production falling more into simulacrum.

Moreover, the desire to connect PII/NV to the dots of canon also hamper the filmmakers from truly making the work their own.

Although, I look forward to "The Child" because I hope it does what TSAMD and WEAT did best — by being a work that is both TOS and its own at the same time.
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Old November 14 2011, 04:51 PM   #14
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Re: Remaking the past: You Can't Go Home Again?

^DITTO everything said in the last post....
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