Just when you thought I had run out of things to say about the one and only...
This is one of my final pieces for the ‘Beautiful Mind’ feature, starring Mr. Peter Chung. In the past, I have talked about the process in which Mr. Chung went through in developing his baby, Æon Flux. I will continue that with a brief look at his involvement in the production of the Animatrix short, ‘Matriculated’, one of the most under appreciated pieces of animation since Black Cauldron (Oh wait, that one sucked). Irreverent references aside, Mr. Chung’s involvement in the now-dead Matrix franchise proved to be quite interesting. Here’s what he had to say from some old interview in various American Otaku rags.
The story of Chung’s involvement in Animatrix:
In April 2001, I heard about the project through Madhouse Studios, as they were starting production on their two episodes, Program and World Record. I found out that some of the top Japanese animation directors were making short films based in the Matrix universe, and I wanted to have a chance to get involved. I called a producer at Warner Brothers Animation, who conveyed my interest to the Wachowskis. I was told that all the directors had already been chosen, and there wasn't a slot open for me. I tried to forget about it, but a couple of months later, I got a call telling me that one of the original directors had left the project and the brothers wanted to get me in. So I was in.
Interviewer: What are some of the fundamentals that inform your style and how have those dynamics been expanded over the years?
Chung: "The two fundamental approaches are clarity and expressive design. This is in contrast to artists who place greater emphasis on atmosphere, lighting and texture. My writing is concerned with complex characters and moral ambiguity, so I try to keep the visual representation clean. Complicated stories told in a complicated style would only end up being confusing. The descriptive approach is favored by artists like Moebius, Herge and Darrow and by filmmakers like Kubrick, Hitchcock and Tati, all of who I'd say are important influences."
You know, I gotta check up on those. Maybe this 'descriptive approach' to storytelling is something I really got to get into. Otherwise, I'd probably end up writing an overly complex story that shift back and forth in time, all the while telling a complex psychological story about a man and his favorite little toy. Or equally as confusing and pointless.
Interviewer: What kind of creative tension is there when you step into someone else's creative universe? Did the notion inspire you on any particular level, or were there difficulties in realizing a particular vision against the backdrop of established ideas?
Chung: "In the case of The Matrix, there was a good deal of stylistic rapport going in, Some people have told me that seeing The Matrix made them think of a live-action Æon Flux Movie. The setup of the Matrix universe implies a lot of situations, and I actually wrote several possible scenarios before settling on Matriculated. One idea that intrigued me was the ability to manipulate virtual time - or the expansion of the "bullet time" concept. Another was the effect on personal trust in a world where anyone you encounter might be an agent.."
My thoughts: Incredible. What fascinated me most of Mr. Chung's response is the mention of the 'implied situations' in a story. Yeah, there goes that whole 'Multi-layered' narrative crap I keep yapping about. That's also one of the reason the first Matrix was such a blast, and also why so many of those 'unofficial' Matrix Guide Books came out. When you have that audience participation, for geeks to come up with there own insane interpretations, and to actually put up a book about it, then you've got one hell of a property. Robotech also has this gift, of a multi-layered universe, but of course, that potential was squandered for more than twenty years with people telling and retelling pointless events in certain story arcs.
Interviewer: What advice can you give to all of those aspiring animators out there?
Chung: I'm guess that those reading this interview wuold be inclined under the Japanese influence. My advice is to look at and study all formes and style of animation, as well as the great live-action filmmakers. Remember that animation, as its root, is not tied to a particular style of dawing or character design. Study and practice the basics, and you'll be able to apply them to any medium and any style.
My thoughts: Hence the blog. Honestly, I wouldn't know the art of Dave Seeley, Craig Mullins, Luis Melo and so many more inspiring artists without the aid of this place. Thank you blogger! And thank you Peter Chung!
And now I shall talk again again about Æon Flux. Woohoo! Don't worry, I really learned a lot typing this. You might too. But before that though, lets take a break and watch this short, yet awesome trailer for an old videogame animated by none other than Mr. Chung himself. It's senseless and intense and ultimately cool. In my opinion.
Referenced from mag:
One of the interviews glossed over Chung’s reaction to the loss of popularity of Æon Flux after it became a series. The following quotes from Mr. Chung simply confirm the fact that American television, for some reason, simply isn’t a place for anybody to realize their true creative vision. Like any industry that continues to exist today, it is fueled by greed, ignorance and ‘design by committee’ crap.
“When Æon Flux was on Liquid TV, it was being done very cheaply and therefore with a great deal of freedom from network scrutiny. Once MTV began investing in earnest, I came under a lot more pressure to tone down the content, for the sake of the censors, and partly to appease the sponsors. Even so, the series attracted a new fanbase which actually preferred the later episodes.
Although the production period was arduous in the extreme, in the end, yes. I took it on as a challenge to expand the range of the animated series as a medium for personal expression. And I think we succeeded in most instances. I'm especially pleased with having created a truly complex main character in Aeon herself. I also realized that serial television is not the outlet for the kind of animation I want to do. There are just too many compromises one is forced to make.”
It’s interesting to note that another ‘controversial’ animator that went through the hellish waters of network television was John Kricfalusi of Ren & Stimpy fame. His work had to constantly be toned down to please watchdogs, execs, etc. (Of course, a lot of other folks go through this, but I think I’ve made my point) An interesting about John K. was that for despite Nickelodeon ending up with a ‘distilled’ version of his show, he did mention that he was able to at least get one or two elements to the show that were part of his original vision. That offered him, and for a lot of artists some satisfaction in the tedious process of their line of work, especially to Mr. Chung.
A few years later IGN.com, conducted an interview, which dealt with the re-release of Æon Flux. It’s an interesting retrospective look at the show, and offers some interesting insight. You might not care, but I do.
How tough is it to relinquish control over something like this you created and is now in the hands of other people?
Chung: “Well, you kind of just have to accept the way that it is, which is if you want your show to be on the air… when you develop a show for a network, the deal is that they own it. You know that at the outset, and that means that they could go and take the character and do what they want with it later on - they could do an animated Aeon Flux on Nickelodeon, 'Aeon Flux: The Baby Years', anything they want. But it is a trade-off, so you get your work exposed to a big audience on MTV, and in exchange you have to give up some control.”
My thoughts: Aside from these legalities, Mr. Chung was asked other issues he had to face during production of his now toned-down series. And how these issues actually became opportunities for storytelling. Again, we dwell in the land of the fickle censors.
Chung: “… In some cases I think that the episodes do suffer; you should listen to some of the other commentaries, where we talk about that a little bit, where something that we had wanted to do.
The standards and practices people wouldn't let us, like for example portray a character's death that was crucial to the story and not being able to really show it. But unlike a lot of animators that I know, I never really made that too much of an issue, because I've worked in TV animation a long time.
I think that having this outlet to begin with is a great gift, so I tried to take advantage of all of the things that I could do and try to find ways of getting around them that are often more interesting than outright showing something. Like sexual events (laughs), let's put it that way; obviously you can't just show outright explicit sex, and I'm not sure that I would want to either, but getting that element in there in a more suggestive way is something that I think we managed to do and do in an original and provocative way…”
My thoughts: Would that make the world better? To have the airwaves were filled with cartoons dealing with mature issues without the sugar-coating? Ah, I don’t think it will ever happen in America. The laws are too strict. Although I do remember that Spawn cartoon... That was okay, I guess. Although I did hear people saying that the show wasn’t all too successful in that aspect. Anyway, I’m derailing this…
Chung: ”The whole show works on a metaphorical level, and that's really what I would want to stress - don't take any of this literally, please. There's a lot of discussion on the part of fans, you know, what is the back story, and how can she keep dying and coming back. They want some kind of literal, logical explanation, and the story doesn't really work on that level, and I don't think it should, being an animated show. Animation in itself is not a realistic medium, and I'm not interested in trying to duplicate reality but more like a projection of internal states - that to me is what it's all about. It's all about mixing the internal with the external, the subjective with the physical, sop you see the projections of people's minds take physical form, and they interact with them, and that was really my approach to it.”
My thoughts: This leads to an interesting viewpoint of Mr. Chung about how people try to develop these almost “unnecessary” back-stories to characters and events of a particular show. More on this later.
IGN then asked Mr. Chung about whether or not he felt he was able to realize his creative vision more fully in his later animation projects. Did he??
Chung: “Yeah, in some instances. Like The Matrix [short "Matriculated"] for example, the Wachowskis had been fans of Aeon Flux and so when I approached them about doing an episode of The Animatrix, they really wanted to be involved, and I get a lot of requests from ad agencies where they want 'that style'. (The multi-layered narrative flow, the metaphorical wackiness –ed)
“At the same time, maybe in a few cases it's also been a liability, because I think that Aeon Flux is very much perceived as a cult show with a very specialized audience, even though I never set out to make a cult show. I mean, I thought I was doing something for everybody. But you don't really have control over that (laughs)...”
My thoughts: See my definition of a ‘cult show’, or why I toss it around like an idiot below this post.
Chung: “…but most studios will say, "we really like the way you do things and we like your design style and directorial style, but we'd like you to apply it to Batman" or something like that. But I'm not interested in making animated films because I need to keep making animated films. I don't even like the process of doing animation, because it's a laborious and painstaking process.
To me it's all about the content, so when somebody says, "we need you to apply Aeon Flux style to this story idea," I kind of go "that's not the point." I developed the style so it would tell these kinds of stories in an effective way, not the other way around. I'm not coming up with a directorial style that you can just kind of apply to a conventional story.
I’m trying to wrap my head around what Mr. Chung’s saying. Can you apply ‘audience participative’ style storytelling to a clichéd story? I’ll leave that answer to the Void. Who doesn’t give a crap. And with that, I end that interview and I also end this part in the on-going and fairly wonderful-yet-for-some-of-you-it-may-be-tedious saga of PETER CHUNG: BEAUTIFUL MIND!
I’m gonna take my sweet time with the final analysis for this feature. I’m now wondering what else can I say in this wretched blog… Perhaps a feature on… ah! I know! I'll say that Binchou-tan is super cute!! Kawaii! Now watch this old featurette. It's an oldie, but it sure looks nice. And, its sort of related to today's topic.
My "wrong view" on what makes a Cult Show:
Here’s how I define ‘cult shows’. A lot of shows marketed to the mainstream back in the day are now considered “cult” shows. A prime example is Robotech, which supposedly was a big, big thing once upon a time. Carl Macek introduced three different anime series and repackaged it to Robotech for American audiences. It was big, a kids liked it. Nowadays, you can only pray people actually give a damn about the franchise. With so many modern day distractions, the show has essentially been forgotten by generations of anime enthusiasts. Only the hardest of the hardcore give a flying bleep about Sentinels or something. Robotech has then become the penultimate example of what I would call a ‘cult show’ with a ‘specialized audience’. Not many people give a f**k about what Commander Leonard has for dinner, I’ll tell you that. (I care!)