Brad Bird's video game rant

Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) came to San Diego Comic-Con International 2016 for a preview of The Giant’s Dream: The Making Of The Iron Giant, which will be included on the upcoming Blu-ray release of the film this fall. The documentary by Anthony Giacchino is a beautiful and heartbreaking look at the Hollywood animation process, a must see. While the presentation wasn’t in one of Comic Con’s big halls, Bird joked that more people saw this documentary today at this Comic-Con screening than saw The Iron Giant on its original theatrical release.

After screening the documentary, Bird took questions from the audience. The most interesting answer came as someone asked Bird for some filmmaking advice and the Pixar filmmaker advised that aspiring filmmakers should be weary about not being influenced by the wrong aspects of video games. Hit the jump to read Brad Bird’s video game rant.

Bird first responded saying the best advice he can give an aspiring filmmaker is to study the films that make them feel something. But he also had some advice as to what to avoid:

“In terms of what to stay away from, I feel like video games are a bad influence for storytelling because they are not directed points of view. They are about floating around universes and I see a lot of films now where the camera is soaring all over the place. That’s okay if you pick the right moments, but a lot of times it feels like there is no point of view, but a lot of time it’s just motion. It bothers me when I see directors arcing around somebody and then arcing back and then arcing around somebody and then arcing back and I go ‘Where are you going?! Are you going anywhere or are you just going like this?!’”

Bird went on to compare it to a bad comedian with no confidence, making stammering noises on stage, not sure of which direction to go in.

“You know a good comedian feels confident and they can kind of look at the audience and there’s pace to their jokes. That quality can exist in filmmaking too. When I see somebody constantly moving the camera and putting in loud explosions every two seconds, to me it’s like desperation. [he begins to imitate the noise of explosions and quick cuts]. You know, if it were a guy coming onto a girl she would be dumping him in a second. You want to seduce the audience, tell them a story, bring them into the room, ‘Sit down, have a beer, put your feet up, I got this!’ That’s the feeling you want from a good filmmaker.”

Because Bird doesn’t give any specific examples, it’s hard to discuss this without making some assumptions. Storytelling in film is auteur driven, experienced in the exact perspective that the director intended, where as video games are driven by the player. There is a reason to have a floating third person perspective in that medium, yet some filmmakers try to emulate this perspective for the wrong reasons (that being, not storytelling ones). So I don’t believe that Bird is saying that video games shouldn’t be looked at for inspiration, but that aspiring storytellers shouldn’t try to emulate the wrong pieces of the puzzle.

Younger filmmakers often cite video games as an influence, and many of them have been successful both critically and commercially. One of the most recent examples would be the Bad Robot-produced film 10 Cloverfield Lane, which drew a lot of video game comparisons, and director Dan Trachtenberg was very vocal about the influences of video games on his film:

You’d think in first-person games that there’d be a more direct relationship, because you are the character. But I was so inspired to study how it is that when I’m looking at the character models, I’m still able to feel like I’m in their shoes so much more than when I am the character [in a first-person game]. I think that speaks to things about the uncanny valley and to narrative. You want to know about a character, to assign how you feel about them and then relate to them, as opposed to them just being a blank canvas to project yourself on. That’s something I really wanted to impart in this movie, by making it feel less like something you watch and more something you experience. Even in an objective medium, I wanted it to feel as subjective as possible. There’s also the whole “the audience is putting together a puzzle along with the main character” aspect, which I think is a uniquely satisfying way to experience a movie.

I think Bird would agree with what Trachtenberg says in the quote above. For me, Bird is speaking about is more of a disconnection between the audience and the character which can be created with the application of some kinds of video game perspective.

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