Discussion question for Monday

There’s not going to be any new reading for Monday; we’ll continue discussing Monsters Inc. and the readings for last week. However, please consider the following discussion question. Due to my lateness in posting this question, I will extend the deadline to Tuesday at midnight, but please come to class prepared to discuss this question as it relates to Monsters Inc.

Where, if anywhere, can we locate “expressivity” in a film like Monsters Inc. or The Iron Giant? Where, if anywhere, can we locate “materiality”? How do these terms relate to each other?

Published in: on February 21, 2010 at 2:10 pm  Comments (12)  

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  1. Expressivity can be perceived, when watching the film Monsters Inc., in the imaginative characters pictured throughout. These “monsters” despite their appearance being far removed from the human voices that animate their character, are relate-able in the sense that the way they act and show emotion is very similar to what we would expect from a real-life person. However, the exact delivery of these emotions is done with a creative twist, which makes the film as interesting as it is engaging. Mike’s girlfriend, when angered does alter her voice and alter her eye-lid in an expression we as humans expect in an angry gesture. However, her hair made up of tiny snakes further express her emotion by hissing. This is indeed unfamiliar, but yet we can understand the overall expression implied in moments like this.
    As for the sense of materiality explored in this film, we definitely get a feeling of the usual law of physics which all of the characters demonstrate (primarily gravity and the distortion of flesh due to impact). However, the doors which act as cross-dimensional portals between the monster world and the world of humans is something that relies on the suspension of disbelief.
    This applies to most of the film, surely. We are able to relate to the film through the expressiveness of the monsters, and the general attitude of the world is believable in the way it functions. Though, the immaterial, the “magic” introduced by the film is what makes it entertaining as well as unreal.

  2. The expressivity in the films Monsters Inc. and The Iron Giant lies in the design and arrangement of visual elements within the films. For example, Monsters Inc. presents monsters meant (in their own fictitious world) as scary and threatening, however the visual design of the film is expressively cute. This form of expression defies realism both in plot and in visible representations of logical objects. This is especially clear in the film’s depiction of eyes. To produce a more expressive visual experience, many of the monsters’ eyes are larger than normal, or of a different quantity.

    The materiality in the films is derived not from the physical representation of objects, but from the physical relationship between objects and their surroundings. The physics of movements, and the ability of objects to be affected and manipulated by other objects and beings lends to the films’ realism. While these are just computer-generated images on a two-dimensional screen, the success of these interactions allows the viewer to further suspend disbelief and imbue the images with material value.

  3. Monsters Inc. and The Iron Giant demonstrate expressivity in the appearances and emotions of their characters. However, these characters are unreal and imagined. We are able to perceive expressivity in the characters because they are given human qualities; the monsters in Monsters, Inc speak and act like humans. The human qualities of the monsters contradicts with the common belief of monsters being frightening. The robot in The Iron Giant is able to express happiness and sadness, contradicting the idea of robots being emotionless. Giving these imaginary characters human qualities allows us to observe expressivity in Monsters, Inc. and The Iron Giant.
    Materiality can be viewed in the way characters interact with objects in the films. In the title sequence of Monster’s, Inc., letters are eaten and rearranged, and the eye of a monster is placed in the “m” of Monster’s, Inc. Also, doors in Monster’s, Inc are used by the monsters to enter the human world.
    Expressivity and materiality relate to each other in how they help to demonstrate each other; we are able to notice the expressivity in the monsters and the robot through their interactions with objects.

  4. Expressivity is par the course for any animated film, by the nature of being a construct of the human imagination given “life” (in other words, animated) through a hand-crafted media. Monsters Inc. is no exception and embraces its expressive nature by playfully modeling the monsters in a way that acknowledges their status in popular imagination as beasts or demon-like creatures with sharp fangs, horns, scales and other such characteristics. However, this portrayal is humanized by inserting the monsters into a life that parallels that of the urban office worker. This also extends to the physical portrayal of the monsters which is humanized through the subversion of monstrous characteristics such as traditional monstrous eyes into the “googly eyes” common in animation with large pupils and bestial hair into multi-colored fur. Humanizing imaginary or inanimate objects is a common theme of animated film. For instance, as a child I used to enjoy watching a cartoon titled “The Dot and the Line” (you can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmSbdvzbOzY ) which is literally about two geometric shapes who go through a tumultuous relationship and abstract themselves in comical ways (much as the monsters exhibit humorous monster-like characteristics which betray their “humanity”) while still working as a conduit for human characteristics. This sort of self-realization lends the works a distinct sense of materiality, in which the laws of the respective worlds obey a sort of heterogeneous mixture of realistic and expressive traits.

  5. In Monsters, Inc., the concepts of expressivity and materiality are both related and differentiated. Expressivity comes through in not only the humanness (through facial expressions, body language, gestures, etc.) of the monsters themselves, but also through the setting itself, in the ways in which the “scarers” are presented, the climactic scenes of the movie, and the efforts that the monsters put in to preserve their way of life. Materiality comes into play with these as well, as the materiality of what is real and what is not is evinced by the doors that lead from the monster world to the human world. What really is behind our closet doors at night, what do the monsters’ possession of these doors signify for their power over the imagination of children, and is it possible for this imagination to be powerful enough that what is not real actually becomes real? Materiality in expressivity is also portrayed in the opening credits as well as in the Monsters, Inc. logo itself- it portrays the lighthearted but profound meaning and atmosphere of the movie, and brings the letter M to life in the logo, by making it a type of monster itself through giving it an eye. It also calls into question whether or not the M can actually see, which again makes us think about what is only in imagination versus what imagination can make real, which is the whole premise of monstropolis. The ways in which materiality and expressivity feed into each other in Monsters, Inc. make the movie both meaningful and enjoyable by all who watch it.

  6. Within the realm of Monsters Inc., we see a reality which does not exist or we have yet seen in our own world. It is an example of expressivity within the film can be shown by its style or media presentation. The visual parts of the film show monsters in which express human emotions. One example is the caring and gentle nature of Sully with the little child throughout the film even though he is a monster by trade. His face shows human emotions allowing us to relate to the character. In the same sense materiality is expressed by the realm itself and the laws that govern them. The interaction between the characters and their environment allows us to actually and really believe the slight possibility that this realm exists and we are just witnessing this realm behind a sort of window that is provided by this film. The expressivity and the materiality combine to fool us into believing a realm of monsters actually exists that use children’s screams as energy.

  7. Expressivity in Monster’s Inc (as with most non-human animated movies) is shown through the portrayal of the monsters as having very human-like qualities. The Monsters have a sense of humor, they have a range of emotions, which they show through their facial expressions (they all have expressive eyebrows, or in Mike’s case, eyebrow), and they have human conflicts. This of course enables the viewer to relate to the characters in a situation that is not technically relatable since it involves creatures within another world. This is where the materiality comes into question since many of the objects used in this other world led by monster’s are objects used in our everyday lives (beds, lamps, cars). But there are also things that stretch the imagination in order to make this world possible, for example, the doors that act as portals to essentially another dimension, or even the idea of using screams or laughter as a resource to power homes. Yet all these things still hold some aspect of materialism within our own world, which allows us to believe the story they are telling us.

  8. In a film such as Monsters Inc, we can locate expressiveness in numerous scenes through out the film in its entirety. It is really quite easy to find expressivity in Monsters Inc, seeing as the monsters whom are the films stars are a wonderful example of expressivity. They are when they ant to be very frightening, but most of the time they take their cues right from the humans whom designed them. They are incredibly anthropomorphic in nature yet have distinct features, shapes, sizes and organs which make them different from anything in the world of the kids they scare. Outside of their appearance they are quite human in their lives and activities, having jobs, working out, and living in an energy crisis just as we do today.

    Materiality is seen from the interactions which the monsters share with their environment. The film makes masterful use of showing the monsters interacting in a realistic way with their unreal world, which ironically does have a real feel to it. The monsters have to abide by the same rules as we do, via the natural laws of their world but and this makes the human world, when they go through the doors much less foreign to them and helps us understand their world much better as well.

  9. Expressivity can be found in the character of Boo in Monster’s Inc. Boo never says a complete sentence and mostly just says “kitty” throughout the movie. However, her full range of emotion could easily be seen through her big eyes and expressions. This is also similar to the character of Jack Jack in The Incredibles. Both of these characters never really speak, however they are just as expressive as the other speaking characters in the movies. The sounds that Boo does make are very revealing of her personality and character as well. Sully very quickly figures out that Boo is scared of Randall from her expression.
    Materiality can be found in the movie in the “average” world that has been created. Sully and Mike work average jobs at a power company, have relationships…they just happen to be monsters. It is fairly easy for the viewer to ignore the fact that Mike is a small one-eyed, green monster and see him as a charming character. The monsters are so humanly expressive and surrounded by an unsurprising world that the fact they are monsters is very easy to ignore.

  10. In Monsters Inc. it was easy even for a child to see the parallels of the monster and human worlds. The materiality of the film was the fact that the monsters were not meant to be scary and everything about their day to day life was very similar to that of their parents. What also made the monsters relate to humans is their facial expressions as well as their body language. They smiled, laughed and frowned just like the human children, even if they did have multiple heads that were expressing that emotion. At first I did not understand how Sully could be the scare leader of the company. He resembles a huge blue teddy bear that is in no way scary. But when he scared the simulation boy his demeanor and lovable face changed completely. It was like he was a different monster altogether. The message at the end of the movie about large companies caring about their customers as well as the quality and sustainability of their product reached all age levels.

  11. In a film like Monster’s Inc, graphic artists rely on expressivity when they reach the constraints of modern technology. According to Pat Power, though, “material constraints can have creative advantages”. Monster’s Inc characters, although believable, do not look photo realistic. So, instead of making Mike’s girlfriend have complete Medusa-esque traits, parts of her, such as her snakes, are made more more cartoonish. This actually adds to the humor of her character, though, because it makes the snakes good signifiers of emotion, but generally leaves them unobtrusive to the actions of her character.

    Materiality in films like Monster’s Inc is established by classic animation techniques established by Disney. According John Lasseter, anticipation is “anatomical provision for an action” and “also a device to catch the audience’s eye, to prepare them for
    the next movement and lead them to expect it before it actually occurs.” (38) So, Mike will remind the viewer of his personification by having similar muscle movements as humans do, and having very human anticipatory facial reactions to, for example, having the scream sucked out of him. In the same sense, when Sully goes to open a door, even if the door is a portal to another world, he still performs the same human-esque actions to prepare for opening the door.

    Typically, though, the more expressive parts of the film, such as the cartoonish snakes, are less material because their are more abstract and relate less to the “real world”. The actual closet-portals to another dimension, although presented in context as a material representation of the monster’s technology, are too abstract to be believable.

  12. We see expressivity and materiality in the text in the opening sequence of Monsters Inc. We see expressivity when the final “M” in the phrase “A Pixar Animation Studios Film” decides to fight back against the monster that ate its fellow letters. When this m finds that it is the only letter of the phrase left, it reacts defensively as many animals do. It grows from being lower case to upper case, just as animals try to appear bigger to scare potential predators. The m is expressing a desire to survive and a willingness to fight to do so. The expressivity in this letter is only possible because of the letters’ materiality. The whole phrase has material substance consistent with the rest of the animation style of the credits. this functions like the punctuation marks in the Felix cartoons. The letters in the credits of Monsters Inc. have the same materiality as the monsters, though we do not realize it until the M makes a stand against its attacker. These terms relate because, in the case of this letter M, its materiality allows it to have expressivity. Without a material presence, the letter’s battle with the monster would not be possible because immaterial and material objects cannot physically interact.

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