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The Gold Aurora – Chapter One – Shei

The low hum of the engine rumbled deep in his chest. The Captain told him he’d get used to it, enjoy it even, but even after eight months he was decidedly not accustomed to the feeling. Particularly this morning, after a long night of nausea from a storm. It appeared they’d managed to clean the mess Villem made of the bridge the night before. 

The thought of it made Villem feel queasy again.

“Pick your head up there, Villem. There we go. Stand like a true first mate!” The leather-skinned Captain Graham grinned, his blue eyes sparkling like the sky he loved so much. 

“Come on Dad, stop harassing the wizard.” Rosemary glanced at Villem. “You feeling better?”

Villem sat in a metal chair, the rusting metal squeaking with his weight. How old was this ship, anyway? For an airship that was the captain’s pride and joy, it was pretty junky. “As well as I can. What’s the reason for you dragging me out of bed at this godforsaken hour?”

“We have a job.” Graham crossed his arms and looked at his daughter. “Rose got a message this morning.”

Villem grumbled. “It’s barely seven how can a job arrive “this morning.”

Rosemary nodded to the screen in front of her. “We’re about an hour out. It’s a port town so once we get closer we’ll take the ship down to the water and dock in.”

Villem pressed his thin glasses higher on his face. Good, he thought. Flying is so much worse than sailing. “What does the job entail?”

“wolf on the loose.” Graham said. “Seems they’ve been plagued for a few days now.”

“Why call us and not the local enforcement?”

“Seems they did call the local enforcement and they found nothing. So they called us.” Graham grinned.

“I see.” Villem leaned deeper into the chair. He stared out the window at the clouds passing them. Rolling and rolling over one another, a dance that he both loved and loathed since leaving the city and joining Graham and Rosemary. Although being a glorified errand boy for the captain was quite a departure from his previous role as a literary professor at a prestigious university, he found his new role refreshing. But after his relationship with the dean metaphorically and literally blew up in his face, joining these renegades was all he could really do. 

The clouds’ dance rose higher and higher as the ship descended to the sea. The familiar jolt and creaks told Villem the ship landed in the water and the air sails retracted, leaving the airship to look like a more traditional sea-bearing ship, albeit more rusted. 

They approached the small dock and Villem stood. The town was barely bigger than five blocks, at the most, and was nestled in an otherwise hostile environment. The small beach surrounding the dock quickly jutted up into tall cliffs surrounded entirely by a thick pine forest.

Graham whistled. “Seems these folk thought it would be wise to live between cliffs and mountains, eh?” He patted Villem’s shoulder. “Come out with me to greet the folks. Rose, stay in here and make sure nothing happens to the ship.”

Rosemary ran her fingers through her dark, curly hair. “Can-do, oh father of mine!”

Villem followed Graham through the ship and out onto the deck. They could see three men approaching the ship. Graham motioned his hand to the bridge folded on the deck. He raised a brow. “Care to let the good villagers know who they’re dealing with?”

Villem frowned. “Are you using me for skill or cheap parlor tricks?” He held out his hands and they glowed with the faint violet light known to his branch of wizards. He gently coaxed the walkway from the deck to rest on the dock. 

“That’s my boy.” Graham clasped Villem’s shoulder. “Sometimes cheap parlor tricks are needed to strike fear into the rural folk.” He led the way down the walkway.

One of the men stepped forward. A balding man wearing a knee-length tunic tied at his waist. The two behind him seemed shaken by Villem’s modest display. “You are Graham, I take it.”

Graham held out his hand. “A pleasure. The wizard is Villem. We’re here to help.”

The man did not shake Graham’s hand. “I am Fezen, leader of this village. Follow me.”

The captain looked back at Villem, who nodded. With another gentle coaxing, the walkway was back on the ship. They then followed behind Fezen to a warehouse next to the dock. 

“We are primarily a small fishing village, with little other ways of keeping ourselves fed. We have a few gardens and goats around and we guard them very closely.” Fezen unlocked the warehouse and opened the door. “Travelers frequent us through the forest paths and that is our only means of income. Our port is not used for trade.” He walked into the warehouse and Graham followed. 

Villem wasn’t far behind. The smell of dead fish filled his nostrils, mixed with another, very different, smell of death. 

Fezen stepped to the side. Laying on the floor was the carcass of a large white wolf. In fact, large would be an understatement. This wolf was massive. Villem guessed that if it was alive it would stand to his shoulder. His eyes narrowed and he frowned. 

Wolves didn’t typically come this large. What was going on?

“Why do you have this carcass just laying here? It smells so bad.” Graham ran his hand over his mouth. 

“We have no other place to put it.” Fezen looked at Villem. “We shot this wolf three days ago, just outside of town near the goats. We’ve seen another wolf around as well. We’ve tried to hunt and kill it, however it proves elusive.”

“How many goats has it eaten?” Villem asked. 

Fezen turned to Graham. “Our women and children are quite terrified. Just the other night, my own child refused to leave the house to return the chickens to the coop. This has us in constant fear.  

Graham nodded. “Alright, we’ll make sure that wolf doesn’t bother you.” 

“Thank you. I will show you where we last saw it.” 

Graham followed Villem out of the warehouse. Fezen locked the door and led them up the road. 

“Why was that wolf so big?” Villem asked. “Are they usually that large?”

“Yesterday we were able to gauge how large this other wolf is; it’s significantly larger than the one we’ve already killed. The size of a horse, practically.” The road was barely a half mile along before they came to the edge of the forest. Fezen pointed to just beyond a berry bush. “We saw it in the clearing just beyond that bush. It keeps hanging near the village, getting closer with each night.”

Graham nodded. “Alright. We’ll do our best. If you’ll excuse me, Villem and I have to strategize.”

Fezen nodded. “I will be at the dock.” 

When he was out of earshot, Graham turned his gaze to Villem. “You got that uneasy feeling, too?” 

“He keeps evading my questions.” Villem grimaced before sighing. “That was an abnormally large wolf. I’m not convinced it’s a typical breed.” He glanced to the forest. “There are writings of a clan of wolves double, and sometimes triple, the size of a common wolf. It’s quite possible that’s what we’re dealing with. And if that is, things will get complicated: evidence suggests these wolves are sentient and fully capable of human speech.”

“If that’s true, can’t you like… reverse time and bring this wolf back? And if it talks, we have our answer?”

Villem snorted. “I don’t deal in Temporal Magic, Graham. My specialty is Spacial. Besides, once something is dead, it’s dead. Not even a necromancer can raise a soul.”

“Disappointing. Well, while you go track down this wolf I’ll see what answers I find here.” Graham rummaged through his coat breast pocket. He held out a palm-size device. “When you find anything, report it.”

Villem took the communicator and nodded. He pressed the button. “I’m separating from Graham.”

The communicator crackled. “Good to hear your voice there, Villem! Keep me updated. And Dad, don’t get shot.

Graham laughed. He pulled out his own communicator. “That only happened twice.”

Three times, old timer. Three times.

Graham shook his head with a chuckle. He gripped Villem’s shoulder a final time. “Good luck, kid.”

Kid? Villem was nearly 27. But he didn’t feel like arguing with the captain, considering his oldest son was quite a few years older than Villem. The wizard decided to nod. “You too, Captain.”

Graham gave another grin and turned back towards the docks. Villem crawled through the thicket as gingerly as he could. The prickers and twigs pulled on his pants and leather coat, causing multiple pauses and tugs to his clothes. Finally he left the brush and stepped into the small clearing. He bent down and combed over the ground. 

Finally he found it. Wolf tracks. Big wolf tracks, holding up his hand the paw print was barely smaller than his fingers fully extended. Gripping his fist tight, he pushed down the growing anxieties swirling in his head.

If this is a wild beast, the size of a horse, was he going to be quick enough to avoid being killed? But if this was indeed a tribesman from the liturature he’s read, will this person hear reason? Steeling his will, he stood and prepared himself to fight. His hands glowed faintly and he trekked forward.

Deeper.

Deeper.

The tracks kept going, passing over at least one road and continued beyond. Was this even a wise decision? What if he got lost?

In the distance, Villem heard the faint trickling of water. As he approached, the tracks abruptly ended at the creek. He stared across the narrow waterway, but he couldn’t see anything more. He looked around the clearing, staring intently at the bubbling creek and small waterfall.

Find anything?

Villem’s glowing magic exploded across his body, sending him six feet into the air before falling on a nearby bush. He groaned and pulled out his communicator. “Not yet Captain. I reached the end of the tracks. How about you?”

Nothing so far. This guy is super dodgy with his answers. Hey, you okay buddy? You sound hurt.

“I’m fine. Just… tripped on a bush.” He pulled himself up. “I’ll let you know what I find soon.”

Rosemary turned on her communicator to laugh.

Villem frowned. “Thanks for the encouragement, Rosemary.” He put the communicator back in his pocket and sighed, stretching forward.

“Who are you.”

He snapped to a standing position and looked around. No one was there. “… hello?”

“Answer my question.” The woman’s voice came from above. He looked up and saw what looked like a mass of fur high in the tree.

“Uh, I’m Villem Oscar. May I ask who you are?”

“Why are you here, Villem Oscar?” The figure climbed farther down and Villem could see it was, indeed, a woman. She wore a cream fur cloak on her back and buckled over her chest. Her own creamy blonde hair fell over her face, barely obscuring her bright auburn eyes.

Those eyes were like nothing he had ever seen on a person. They felt wild, feral. Like a wolf. 

“I’m here looking for a wolf.”

Her eyes flashed at that. She dropped to the bottom branch and grabbed the one above it, leaning forward over Villem. “Why?”

“I was hired to. Who are you?”

“Who hired you? What does this wolf you’re searching for look like?” Her eyes blazed, boring deep into him. Suddenly he wished he had encountered a wolf instead. Whoever this woman was, her intensity made him feel deeply unsettled.

“Well uh, the village hired me.” He took off his glasses and wiped them on his pocket handkerchief. “But if I was to be honest with you, I’m quite skeptical on their intentions. You seem interested in my search for a wolf, if I am correct?”

“You are.” She dropped to the ground and stood in front of him. She wasn’t much shorter than his own 5’11 stature. “What wolf are you searching for? What does it look like?” She held out her hand. It was about the height of his shoulder. “Is the wolf you are searching for this height?”

His heart began to sink. “N… no.” He ran his hand over his mouth. “I was looking for a wolf about the size of a horse.”

A light seemed to dim in her eyes. “Oh. I see.” She turned and began to cross the small creek. 

“Are you also looking for a wolf? Perhaps I can help?”

“I have no money to hire you.”

“I don’t need payment. I just want to help.” He swallowed. She wasn’t stopping. “I… I think I may know where the wolf you’re looking for is.”

She stopped at that. “Tell me more.”

“Can I get your name first?”

She turned slowly, looking at him from head to toe. “… my name is Shei. I have no surname.” 

Villem nodded. “Alright. What is this wolf you’re looking for? Can you tell me more about it?”

He is my brother. We were traveling through this forest and one night I woke to him being gone. I have searched for him but I haven’t found him yet.” She pursed her lips. “He’s a dark cream with blue eyes.” She motioned to her pelt. “His fur is as thick as the pelt I wear. He is kind and timid, I suspect someone spooked him and he lost his way. He responds to the name Broden.”

The color drained from Villem’s face.

Shei noticed. She frowned and crossed back over the creek, stepping close to Villem’s face. He could smell her now. A strong scent, but not unpleasant. The scent of pine and fur. “Do you know where my brother is? Is he safe?”

“I–”

Bad news kid. I pushed too many buttons and now they’re turning on us.”

Shei and Villem both jumped. She stepped back and he took the communicator out of his pocket, not breaking eye contact with her. “Can you smooth it over any more? I have a lead on what’s happening. But I can’t do anything yet.”

No good there bud. If I get out of here alive I’ll be happy.

“Ack can you just…” Villem sighed. “Okay. Okay.” He stared at Shei. Her eyes were set and determined. He nodded. “Can you tell them I have a lead? Tell them I may have solved their wolf problem.”

That should do it. I hope. Apparently asking them what happened was a bad move. I’ll let you know what I can do.”

“Tell him I can have you back in the village in mere minutes.” Shei’s words were sharp. Uncomfortably sharp. 

Villem nodded. “I’ll be back in the village in a few minutes, captain.”

Minutes? It took you over a half hour to get were you were. Can you teleport?

“That’s not how Spacial Magic works–” Villem stopped himself. Shei’s brows were sharply raised. He sighed. “I’ll explain when I get there.”

Alright buddy.

Villem returned the communicator to his pocket. Shei was raising the hood of her cloak. 

Wait, that wasn’t a hood. It was a wolf’s face. Her cape was a complete wolf pelt.

“So you are a wizard? How interesting. I have heard stories but I haven’t met one before. I had my suspicion when you fell into the bush. I’ve never seen a human glow, let alone launch into the air.”

“Guilty as charged, I guess. I am a Spacial Wizard, which means I deal in… moving objects around.”

“I am aware of what a Spacial Wizard is. Are you capable of riding a horse?”

“A horse? I mean I’m a bit rusty but I’m sure I can manage. Why?”

“You shall ride on my back, then.” She pulled the hood over her face and the eyes of the wolf pelt opened. 

Villem blinked. Standing in Shei’s place was a cream-colored wolf the size of a horse. “Oh this is interesting.”

“Very, I’m sure.” The wolf Shei shook her mane. “Get on my back and grab my mane. I can get us to the village quickly. You will need to hold on tight.” She bent down. 

Villem awkwardly climbed on the wolf’s back and settled as best he could. He ran his fingers through the long fur on her neck before gripping tightly. “Is this okay? Am I hurting you?”

Shei chuckled, a low rumble deep within the wolf’s chest. “Perfectly fine, Wizard. I hope it’s tight enough for your sake.” And with that she turned and began to run. 

Villem’s body snapped backwards and he gripped her mane tighter. The trees and bushes raced past them. The trail that took him so much time whizzed past, as fast as a horse’s gallop. And within minutes, Shei stood in the clearing just beyond the bramble bushes. 

“Here we are.” She bent down. Villem slid off her back and she closed her eyes, pushing the pelt face off her own and standing human next to him again. “I want to see my brother.”

Villem’s heart stabbed with pain. “Shei–” He sighed. “I’m… Sorry. But I… I believe…”

Shei stared at Villem. As he spoke, the harsh, piercing stare softened into fear and pain. “What are you saying, Wizard? What of my brother? Is he alright?”

He looked away from her. He couldn’t take the pain in her eyes. “I.. I don’t believe he is. They shot a large wolf a few days ago. We were hired to find the wolf the size of a horse. You.”

She stood in silence. Her fists gripped tight and she growled. “They murdered my brother?”

“They didn’t know– Shei!” Villem followed after her, through the bramble bushes and down the street. The villagers walking along and talking to themselves stopped and fell silent at the sight of the woman in a wolf’s pelt walking down the road.

“Where is he? Where is my brother!” She demanded of each of them. They began to turn away from her and enter their homes, or shops, or anywhere they could go to get away. 

Villem hurried next to her. “Shei–”

“You know where he is, don’t you, Wizard?” She gripped the breast of his cloak and pulled him close to her. “Take me to him!”

Villem nodded, his eyes wide. “Of course. Just… Stay behind me until I tell you otherwise. Okay?”

“I do not like that but I shall accept those terms.” She let go and he led her to the dock, where Graham stood with Fezen, the two other men, and a number of other men holding knives. As they approached, Villem could see Graham’s smiling face. But as they approached, it fell more and more into confusion. 

Fezen was clearly confused as well. “What’s the meaning of this? You said you had the wolf, not some girl.”

Villem helpd up his hand and glanced back at Shei. Her eyes were locked on to the warehouse. Unsurprising, if her sense of smell was anywhere near a wolf. He looked to Fezen. “I need to know more about the circumstances surrounding the appearance of the wolves.”

Fezen frowned. “There wasn’t much to it. The wolf attacked the village. We defended ourselves.”

“Broden would never attack a village.” Shei spat.

“Excuse me, who are you girl?” Fezen’s mouth snarled. “Don’t you dare speak out of turn.”

Villem stepped to one side and Shei walked closer to Fezen. The armed men stepped in front of him before she could get near. “How dare you not speak the truth!” she spat on the ground. “I demand to know what truly happened to my brother.”

Fezen laughed. “You brother? Foolish girl. We shot a wolf, not a boy!”

Shei snarled and pulled her pelt over her face. The men screamed and fumbled back as she stood her full height as a wolf. “I am no human. Now tell me where my brother is!”

Fezen gasped in fear. He stumbled back and pointed to the warehouse. She removed the hood and walked to the door, the men gathering themselves as she went.

“Where is the key?” Shei turned to Fezen. He nodded his head to the men and they charged her. 

Villem stepped forward and pulled up his hands, freezing the men in place with his magic. “Let’s not do that.” He glanced at Graham before walking to Shei, still holding the men where they were. “This woman lost her brother. The least you can do is let her into the warehouse.” He turned one of his hands to the door and snapped the lock down, breaking the handle.

Shei looked at him a moment before walking into the warehouse. A painful wail echoed from inside. Villem threw the men backward into the water before running into the building. Shei was on the ground with the wolf’s head cradled in her arms, tears pouring down her face. Her wails echoing like a wolf’s howl.

Villem walked over to her and knelt down, his head low. “I’m sorry, Shei. I’m so sorry.”

Shei buried her face into the fur of her dead brother’s forehead. She sniffled and after a moment looked at Villem, her face now stone. Tears continued to pour down her cheeks. “First, we lost our mother. And now, I am alone.” She pulled Broden closer. “I am alone.”

Villem’s head dropped. He didn’t know what to say to comfort her.

You.” Her words dripped with anger. 

Villem looked towards the door and saw Fezen standing there. Fear and confusion was across his face. 

Shei snarled. “Who did this to him? I demand to know who killed Broden!”

Fezen looked from the dead wolf to Shei. “He was protecting the flock. Nothing else.”

“I don’t care what he was doing. He killed my brother and I demand his life!”

Fezen looked shocked. “What? I shall do no such thing!”

“And why not? A life for a life, it is fair payment!”

Villam held out his hand towards her. He balled it into a fist and pulled it back. “That’s not… That’s not how the laws work, Shei.”

Shei looked at Villem. “And why not? A murder is a murder and justice needs to be paid.”

He sighed and gestured to Fezen. “But to them, all they did was kill a mere wolf. They… don’t care.”

Shei laughed, more tears falling. “A mere wolf? A mere wolf!” She locked her eyes on Fezen. “This “mere wolf” you killed was my brother. Flesh of my flesh. He and I shared a womb, a mother, a family. He is my blood, as I am his. He wasn’t a “mere wolf.” You murdered him. And you don’t care? You are monsters!”

Fezen stared at her. “How can this wolf be your blood brother? How can this wolf be your flesh?”

Graham put his hand on Fezen’s shoulder. “It’s best you step out here.”

Fezen kept staring at Shei, even as Graham led the village leader out of the warehouse.

Villem turned back to Shei. She was combing her fingers through Broden’s fur. “Are you alright?”

“Of course I’m not.” Shei stared down at Broden. “I will never be alright. I have lost everything.” 

Villem sighed. “I’m sorry for your loss, Shei.” He stared at Broden. “I… lost my brother too. I’m sorry you have to know that pain.”

“We were passing through on our way to visit the valley where our mother was born.” Shei touched her shoulder, digging her fingers into the fur of the cloak. “The moon wasn’t out and it was far too dark to see. Broden didn’t want to stop for the night, but I insisted. I knew it was foolishness to traverse these woods in total darkness. He agreed, and so we slept far off the path, but… when I woke that morning he was gone. I didn’t know where he wandered off to. I thought perhaps he was finding a place to pee, or was already hunting, so I waited. I waited until the sun was high and decided to look for him.” She gritted her teeth and held him tighter. “He’s dead because of me.”

“He’s dead because of the villagers, not you.” Villem put his hand on her shoulder. Shei jumped and looked at him for a moment, studying his face. She finally relaxed and put a hand on his. Her fingers were rough and calloused. 

“Well, I just heard what really happened.” Graham walked into the warehouse. “It seems one of the teens decided it was a good idea to wander the forest so late at night it was nearly daybreak. He came across your brother. Seems he wasn’t expecting a talking wolf, and when the wolf asked him if he was alright, the teen shot him.”

Shei growled. “That is no reason to shoot him.”

“I agree, miss.” Graham walked to them. “I’m sorry about this. It was a sad, sad misunderstanding.” He looked from Shei to Villem. “The boy will be facing a certain level of punishment, so rest easy knowing some justice will be done.”

Villem nodded and looked to Shei. “Shei, um… if you have no place to go, would you like to join us?”

“What?” Shei and Graham spoke in unison, although Graham more yelled than spoke.

“I know what it’s like to be alone. And if you come with us, you won’t be. What do you say?”

Shei blinked. “I…” She looked down at Broden. She sighed. “Alright. I will join. Under the condition that I can bring my brother’s body.”

“We don’t have cold storage large enough for a body. Let alone the body of a wolf.” Graham said.

“That’s alright. I won’t need his body stored.” She hoisted him over her shoulders and stood. “I am Shei. Who are you?”

“Graham. I’m the captain of the ship.” Graham stared at the large wolf atop her shoulders. “If you’re joining my crew, you’ll have to wear actual– er, more clothes. An outfit like yours will get you in trouble in the world. Men aren’t the nicest of creatures.”

Villem looked at Shei. Now that Graham mentioned it…

Shei, with her arms over her head balancing the dead body of her brother, wasn’t wearing anything underneath the pelt she wore as a cloak. Her muscular, scarred body was exposed completely, aside from a loin cloth tied around her waist and a belt connected to a pouch on her thigh. Villem’s eyes wandered across her. He felt his face heat and he looked away. 

“It is of no matter to me what I wear.” Shei said. “Regardless, I expect no man will be able to take me if I am not willingly giving.”

Graham snorted. “That, I believe. Come on, kids. They’re not going to pay us anything because of the mess we’ve caused.” The three walked to the dock and Graham scratched the back of his head, looking at Villem.

Villem pulled the walkway from the ship with a small flourish of his violet glowing hands. Graham held out his arm. “Ladies first. Welcome to the Gold Aurora.”

Shei grunted and walked up the walkway. 

Villem began to follow when Graham grabbed him by the shoulder. The wizard grimaced. “Y-yes, captain?”

Graham bent down to Villem’s ear. “Listen here, boy, I don’t appreciate you inviting her along without asking me first, so I expect her to be your responsibility, okay?”

“Y-yes sir.”

“Good. Now, more importantly…” Graham’s beefy, leathery hand tightened around Villem’s thin, bony shoulder. “That little stunt lost us a lot of money. Never let that happen again. You got me?”

Villem swallowed. “Yes, sir. I’ll never let that happen again.”

“Good boy, good boy.” Graham patted Villem’s shoulder. A twinkle lightened the captain’s eyes. “Now I expect you to be a smart man and pull out, you hear me? I don’t need any wolf puppies cluttering my ship.”

Villem stared at the captain and gasped. “Oh, no sir, nothing like that–!”

Graham laughed and slapped Villem’s back. “There’s a good man! Now let’s tell Rose about this wolf girl before she finds out the hard way.”

Princess Tutu: The Eastern Animation with Western Themes, Part two

Let’s talk visual style.

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Attention to detail

One thing that is interesting about Princess Tutu is the attention to detail. I mentioned this before in Part One: the dances in Tutu are choreographed and can actually be danced (Aside from the Flower Waltz powers). The characters are very lean and cartoon-like, but they still move in a believable fashion. In addition, dancers themselves often are more lean and long-legged, and the animation style seems to have embraced that. An advantage this creates is the lines of the characters mimic the lines of a real dancer. And since Ballet has a strong emphasis on line, power, and grace, it fits perfectly.

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Tutu

Ballet themes

Unique to Princess Tutu is the use of Western fairytale themes. Ballets are generally based upon fairytales or legends. Although originating in Italy during the Renaissance, Ballet developed into what we know today thanks to Russia and France. Because of this very Western origin, classical Ballets have their roots in European legends and folktales. A wonderful example of this, and one of the primary themes in Princess Tutu, is Swan Lake.

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Swan Lake, Princess Tutu, And Princess Kraehe: The White Swan and The Black Swan

Although the origins of Swan Lake are still disputed, it became a Ballet with help of composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in the mid 1870s. Nowadays, it is the quintessential Ballet and one of the two most well-known, alongside The Nutcracker, which is also composed by Tchaikovsky.

In Swan Lake, There is a Swan Princess named Odette. The prince, Siegfried, meets her in the first act and they fall madly in love. She is cursed to be a swan, except during moonlight hours, and the only way to break this curse is through the love and devotion of marriage.

This is the inspiration for the heroine princess, Princess Tutu.

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Siegfried, pledged to marry Odette, attends a feast. A beautiful woman, clad in black, arrives. She has a striking resemblance to his beloved Odette, but she is another woman named Odile (in productions of Swan Lake, Odette and Odile are played by the same ballerina) He dances with her and announces that he will marry this woman. Arrangements are made, and only after does he realize the mistake he has made.

Odile is the inspiration for the tragic princess, Princess Kraehe.

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Both their costumes and their personalities are (loosely) modeled after Odette and Odile. The most obvious being that Princess Tutu is clad in white and Princess Kraehe is clad in black. Their stories share threads with their Swan Lake counterparts, but take unique twists and turns that help develop these two into unique and special characters.

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What was your impression with the style of Princess Tutu?

How do you feel about the inspiration for Kraehe and Tutu?

For more information about Swan Lake:

Swan Lake Origins or Lack Thereof

Wikipedia: Swan Lake

Swan Lake Synopsis

Princess Tutu: The Eastern Animation with Western Themes, Part one

There’s an anime in the world that is so incredible, so precious, yet so under-appreciated.

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The First Impressions of Tutu

I have a confession to make, although it’s not a surprise to many: I love ballet. I’ve been dancing for 20 years, and 12 of those years have been Ballet. I’ve danced En Pointe for 10 years, and because of my schedule I haven’t been able to find a pointe class recently and I miss it terribly. People often view Ballet as a “frilly” thing, mocking men and boys who dance and reject the notion that Ballet is a sport (technically, it isn’t a sport, it’s an art. But anyone who’s gone through an hour and a half class knows it’s as rigorous as a sport!)

This is where I find Princess Tutu: an amazing work of art that people ignore because they assume it’s ridiculous. And to be perfectly honest, I thought it was pretty dumb when I first heard of it. After all, this is a Japanese animation — an Eastern animation — depicting Ballet — a Western art. What could possibly go right with this scenario?

The answer: everything.

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Princess Tutu seems to be nothing more than a “magical girl with dancing,” but that is far from the truth. The story of Princess Tutu is dark, full of hope, and still brings me to tears (and I’ve seen the entire 26-episode series at least five times).

 

Ballet stories in Princess Tutu

There’s a book called 101 Stories of the Great Ballets By George Balanchine and Francis Mason. As the name suggests, it is a storybook of 101 different ballets. Everything from Swan Lake to Le Corsaire, and from Coppelia to Giselle. These stories are the backbone of Princess Tutu.

Ep1

Princess Tutu has, essentially, three layers of stories. There is the story of Princess Tutu itself: the story of a young duck who wants nothing more than to see the prince she loves smile, and through that one wish becomes a storybook Princess who is searching for the Prince’s shattered heart.

And from there, it breaks down into ballet themes and influences. There are two major overarching stories that influence the plot of the series itself. Those are the two famous Tchaikovsky Ballets, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. In fact, Princess Tutu herself is directly inspired by the White Swan, Odette, in Swan Lake.

The third layer of storytelling is similar to the overarching themes. Each episode has a “ballet” associated with it. The plot of the episode often derives themes from the ballet in question, and most of the music is a re-orchestration of the music from the Ballet. For example, in the Ballet Coppelia, there is a sequence where the girl Swanhilde pretends to be a doll and dances. In Princess Tutu, a character dances this dance while the Coppelia Doll Variation music is playing.

The Dancing and Music of Princess Tutu

 

The dancing of Princess Tutu is very well done. They paid attention to subtle details of ballet itself, and animated only the necessities. Each of the different lifts and movements done in the anime are real, and someone could take the choreography from Princess Tutu and dance it. Although dancing a swordfight is impractical, it is done in real Ballets (I just wouldn’t suggest trying it off the stage).

 

Contrary to popular depictions, pointe shoes are hard at the toe and are comprised of layers of glue and satin. Princess Tutu animators did an excellent job showing the substance of a pointe shoe.  They even laced the pointe shoes correctly, as opposed to the “Deedee” from Dexter’s Lab way of lacing them.

 

(It is to note that the pink shoes in the anime gif aren’t pointe shoes, they are the soft ballet slippers)

As noted above, the music from Princess Tutu is mostly re-orchestrated Ballet music. It fits with the themes and tone of the anime, and adds yet another layer onto the already complex Ballet themes of Tutu. They often paired the variation (solo part of a ballet) with the appropriate music, which adds a richness to the dancing.

 

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I’m quite biased with Princess Tutu. It’s perhaps my favorite anime, and most definitely one of my favorite stories.

What do you think of the overall story?

What was your first impression with the main character being a duck?

What do you think of the Ballet in Princess Tutu?

 

For more information on Princess Tutu:

Princess Tutu Wiki

 

The Lost Movie Of Atlantis: Part Two

The world created in Atlantis was unique and well-thought out. Let’s take a quick look at the world created.
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Backgrounds and Inspiration

The background painters of Atlantis manage to create a vibrant and rich backdrop for the movie. They utilize color theory and the psychology of color to set a mood with each scene. They paid close attention to creating a full and deep world in the architecture and murals.

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When creating the world of Atlantis, the artists went on location to places like New Mexico’s caves to gather inspiration and get a “feel” for how they wanted the underground portions of the movie to feel.

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A lot of thought was put into the creation of the world and cultures of Atlantis. Lead animators didn’t want a stereotypical Greco-Roman world, but a unique and rich culture that could reflect the Atlantean heritage and origin.

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They used inspiration from different Asian civilizations and Mayan architecture to develop a primitive-yet-advanced society that is identifiable and unique. (If you have the opportunity to study ancient Asian civilizations, you’ll quickly realize the only thing “primitive” about them is they are in the past. The achievements of Indian, Cambodian, Chinese, and many other civilizations is incredible. And to think they accomplished so much without power tools? Wow!)

From there, Mike Mignola did concept sketches that were then fleshed out and used to create the final architectural style.

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Creating the World

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The creators of the movie wanted to visit and explore the world of Atlantis. A world described in Plato’s writing, and visited in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. With that idea in mind, they researched and learned and gathered as much material as they could. Choosing the era of the turn of the century, adding in steampunk elements that harken back to Verne’s writings.

Straying from the traditional Disney film motif, they created an ensemble cast and held back on making musical numbers.

The most interesting thing about this movie really is the world-building. They spared no expenses, even going so far as to create a language. (Which I touch on in Part One)

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They first created the idea for Atlantis in 1996, and after Hunchback of Notre Dame was released in 1998, they began to work on it. Three years later, in 2001, Atlantis: The Lost Empire was released.

While doing more research into the movie, I found it interesting that it received poor reviews from critics and some people view the movie as a trainwreck. Looking at the film artistically — the style of the animation, the cinematography, and the world-building — I believe this film is a work of art.

 

What do you think? Do you agree with the critics? Why or why not?

What about the world of Atlantis do you find striking?

This movie influenced me creatively as a child. Did it influence you? In what ways?

Further reading:

Living Lines Library: Atlantis

Animation Backgrounds: Atlantis

Disney Wikia: Atlantis Film

Disney Wikia: Atlantis Location

 

The Lost Movie of Atlantis: Part One

Let’s reach back into the childhood vault and talk about Atlantis: The Lost Empire.

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This movie is arguably one of the most creative of the Disney movies, and it is very underrated by the general public. And I know personally, this movie has influenced my own imagination and artistic ventures. The movie has so much good stuff in its art development and world building, I’m only going to address a few key points in this post and then more on future posts.

Not the Disney style

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What’s eye-catching about this film is the visual style: it’s not the Disney “norm.” Over the years Walt Disney Studios has changed and adapted the style of the animations, however there is a general Disney “feel” that reaches back all the way to the first movie, Snow White, and even before then with shorts like “Goddess of Spring.”

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There’s a definitive “comic” feel to the movie, which makes a considerable amount of sense since one of the major influencers on the visuals of the movie was Mike Mignola, of Hellboy fame.

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When they were working on the animation itself, they heavily referenced Mignola’s dynamic and unique art style and how he illustrated explosions.

It is also worth noting that Atlantis was created around the time that Disney released The Emperor’s New Groove (2000) and Treasure Planet (2002), with both movies being an extreme divergent from Disney’s traditional style and themes.

Atlantean and the Shepherd’s Journal

They pulled out all the stops for Atlantis, even going so far as getting Marc Okrand (creator of the Klingon language) to help them create the Atlantean language. In the movie itself, a few lines here and there are spoken, but throughout the film phrases and words are written in the background and even hold prolific roles (such as what’s written in the Shepherd’s Journal).

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And going off the idea of the Shepherd’s Journal, it’s clear where the overall inspiration for the book came from.

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Illuminated Manuscripts are an incredible artform, with the Book of Kells being one of the most well-known. The name “Illuminated Manuscripts” refers to the fact that the text written inside has small illustrations and borders to decorate or emphasize the pages.

 

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Illuminated manuscripts have a long and rich history in Europe, and they have a very distinct appearance to them.

Many covers are gilded and have semi-precious and precious stones set in them, as well as an image of the crucifixion (since a number of Illuminated Manuscripts are bibles or collections of the Gospels).

Illuminated manuscripts were hand-made and hand-painted, so each is unique and special. Many cultures have different forms of them, too. A number of Muslim countries also have illuminated manuscripts. Although with Islamic cultures, it’s strictly forbidden to show figures in religious art. Instead, they focus on calligraphy and the beauty of words.

 

What about Atlantis: The Lost Empire has inspired you? Do you have any fun memories about the story? What do you think of the world created for it?

 

Five Artists Who Inspire Me

Everyone has inspiration, be it in the visual arts, performing arts, or even other fields. Here are some people who inspire me.

J C Leyendecker 

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Leyendecker illustrated during the “golden age” of illustration and is a member of the Society of Illustrators in New York city. Most people know his work, even if they don’t know his name.

His use of color, the way he handled painting, and his compositions are all spot-on. I look up to his compositions, and the fact that up-close his paintings are loose, but viewed either small or from a distance, he achieves a clean, realistic look.

I’ve had the honor of seeing his work at the Society in New York. Worth the trip.

 

Alphonse Mucha

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The quintessential artist of the Art Nouveau era, although at the time he wasn’t nearly as popular as he is today.

 

Like the Nouveau style of working, Mucha used organic shapes to form his compositions. What’s fascinating about his style is the organic shapes next to the abstract shapes, and how they flow together so well.

 

 

tumblr_m50p550Wun1qhttpto3_1280Jillian Tamaki

Tamaki is a currently-active artist with an expansive skill set.

She has a graphic style to her illustrations, and she works in both digital and traditional media. I find her limited color-palate illustrations very inspiring, especially ones that use ink and splashes of watercolor.

 

 

Roberto Ferri

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A contemporary artist who works in the style of old masters, Ferri’s skillset with oil painting is undeniable.

Ferri’s art has the weight and feel of a Renaissance-era painter, while often paired with modern imagery and thought. His mastery of light is undeniable.

 

 

James Gurney

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If you’re familiar with Dinotopia, then you’re familiar with James Gurney’s art. He is the creator and artist of the series.

This man’s love and passion for art has no boundaries. He’s a master of color, light, and composition. He’s written books on the subjects, and he uses all the techniques he suggests to other artists.

 

 

This is just a small sample of artists I admire. Do you have any people you admire? What about their work do you find inspiring?

The Richness of Princess Mononoke

Most of us out there know Ponyo and The Secret World of Arietty. The mastermind behind those movies, Hayao Miyazaki, has done many different kinds of films.

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I present to you, Princess Mononoke.

This was the movie that first introduced me to the worlds of Ghibli, and the creativity of Hayao Miyazaki. Unlike most of Miyazaki’s films, Princess Mononoke has the American rating of PG-13. And considering the tone and themes of the film, this rating makes perfect sense.

The world of Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki

ghibli-main_1Ghibli was founded in 1985 by Hayao Miyazaki and a fellow director, Isao Takahata. Their first film as Ghibli was Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, although its release was before the Studio was officially founded.

Princess Mononoke was their 11th film and debuted in Japan in 1997. And despite a very rocky release in America, the film endures as a classic.

The style of Miyazaki

Hayao Miyazaki has a very distinctive visual style to his art and the movies he creates.  Although strongly resembling the Anime medium, his work still stands out from the blanket of different anime movies and shows. He alters realism to fit his style of animation, yet still retains the weight and dimension of his characters. Although fantastical, his figures feel as if they truly exist in their environment.

nn20130903a3aA very unique fact of Ghibli movies is that most of the concept sketches are done in watercolor. They’re able to capture movement and life using this medium, and the skill of the animators is clearly seen as they’re able to take these drawings and translate the feel into the films.

Studio-Ghibli-Concept-Art-Princess-MononokeIn addition to their sketches, the storyboards are all done with watercolor as well.

The tone of Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke is a very dark story, with Ashitaka being a lone beacon of hope and light. His relentless idealism and desire to seek peace maintains through the film, despite everything he endures. Hayao Miyazaki, himself, is a pacifist. And like all artists, his beliefs and worldviews enter all of his works.

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Miyazaki doesn’t simply present his pacifistic views to push an agenda, but instead threads them throughout the movie to add depth and passion to the film. He creates a story where everyone is following their own ideals, and shows how those ideals clash.

Visually, the tone of the movie changes as the themes grow darker.

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The Environments

To be completely honest, I could do an entire post on the environments of Princess Mononoke, and in the future I very well may.

Another thing that defines Miyazaki films is the attention to detail. Everything from San in Spirited Away  tapping the toe of her shoe to make sure it was on securely to Howl’s hair falling about his shoulders in Howl’s Moving Castle.

And the environments of Miyazaki films also hold that high attention to detail.

1118full-princess-mononoke-screenshotEach background painting captures the tone of the area in question. And as the environment is the stage for the story, it is fitting that a high level of detail is used.

Color evokes emotion, and Studio Ghibli uses color to their advantage. They also use different types of visual perspective. In the image above, the artists added blue to the receding mountains to create the illusion that they’re farther away. This technique is called “atmospheric perspective.”

tumblr_nc65uxsQOT1sk7cslo3_1280Atmospheric perspective was used in this above environment painting, as well. In this case, it not only shows the depth of the forest, but gives it a mysterious quality. Unlike the mountain range where all the edges are crisp, the edges in this area are softer, more hazy.

In these uses of techniques, the environments come together to create a cohesive world with varying emotions and intentions.

The Music of Princess Mononoke

The music of Princess Mononoke was composed by the award-winning Joe Hisaishi.

f04da2db11220f80971f26Hisaishi has worked with Miyazaki on many films, such as Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Spirited Away. His compositions for Miyazaki’s films stand as testament to his skill. His music pulls you into the world, and will stay with you long after the movie is finished.

What do you think of Princess Mononoke? What parts of the film were your favorite? What other Ghibli or Miyazaki films do you enjoy?

Further Reading:

Studio Ghibli’s Forgotten Concept Art

Princess Mononoke

The Art and Legacy of Mary Blair

If you don’t know who Mary Blair is, then it’s time you learned.

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We all know and love her work, even if we don’t all know her name. For many of us, she shaped our childhood. Her way of viewing the world and the creativity she held defined an era. She, in short, is incredible.

An Era of Disney

Ms. Blair worked as a concept artist for Walt Disney during the 1940’s, 1950’s, and 1960’s. She worked on such films as Peter Pan, Cinderella, and Alice in Wonderland. Her modern art style brought Disney into a new visual era. And in an industry primarily run by men due to the era in which she worked, she does truly stand out.
o-ALICE-900Thanks to her, we have the iconic appearance of characters such as Captain Hook and the entire color styling of Peter Pan.

Her Legacy in Disneyland

When “It’s a Small World” was developed, Disney turned to Ms. Blair for the inspiration of the ride. Bringing forth her beautiful paintings into a three-dimensional world, nothing short of an iconic ride was created (albeit alongside a song you will never get out of your mind).

slide_342214_3537635_freeShe was never entirely credited regarding the full extent of her influence in Disney, but in these recent years she has begun to receive the recognition she so deserves.

Her marriage and her death

Ms. Blair, who worked primarily in gouache, was married to watercolorist and fellow Disney employee Lee Blair, who won an award for his work in Fantasia. They wed in 1934 and were married for 44 years until her death in 1978. In this modern era, she is being recognized for the skill that even Mr. Disney himself admired in her. And many of us have her to thank for the beauty of the Disney movies we grew up with. The movies that shaped our imagination.

slide_342214_3537639_freeI know that personally, Ms. Blair has influenced the way I see the world through the films she helped visually develop. Do any of you feel the same? Are there any films that you know and love but didn’t realize Mary Blair was involved in?

further reading:

Walt Disney Family Museum: Mary Blair

Magic of Mary Blair: about Mary

Magic of Mary Blair: gallery

One Of Disney’s Most Influential Female Artists Finally Gets Her Due

ParaNorman And The Art Behind It

Let’s talk ParaNorman.

4161013-paranorman-movieThis isn’t a movie review–there are plenty of good movie reviews out there. Here, I intend to explain why this movie is an art piece. I will touch on different portions of the art process used to create this film, and what about this film makes it unique.

Laika Animation Company

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ParaNorman is the second full-length film by the animation company Laika. They’ve worked on Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride and eventually began to release their own films. Their first film, Coraline, was a great next step for them. They were able to advertise the movie as “from the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas” since Henry Selick, who also directed James and the Giant Peach, was the director.

The film proved how creative and talented Laika was. They re-imagined Neil Gaiman’s book in a magnificent way, with seamless 3-D animation.

Which brings me to my next point.

The Animation of ParaNorman

Most people think of “claymation” when they hear “3-D animation.” Although claymations such as Gumby and Wallace and Gromit are creative and famous, the term “claymation” is a mislabel for films like ParaNorman. Claymation is a type of stop-motion animation, which is a better description for ParaNorman and other Laika films.

There are a few different ways of changing facial expressions in stop-motion animation.

One is that the face is a complete mechanic puppet, where the face can be changed minutely using a small screwdriver on tiny screws. A “mask” is then put over the animatronic. This technique of puppetry was used in Corpse Bride.

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The type of face-change used in Laika films is each facial movement is a separate head. They string these heads together in a series of photographs to form words and sentences. There is something very impressive about Laika films, and that is how they create these heads.

Laika uses a 3-D printer to create each head. From there, they paint each head individually and finish all the details.

8C40_D007_02910In both techniques employed in ParaNorman and Corpse Bride, each character is created by hand. Multiple figures of each character are made, and each figure has to be as close to identical as possible.

Needless to say, the artists who work on these films are very skilled in their craft. To create a film like ParaNorman, it takes years. ParaNorman itself took nearly two years to create.

Concept art of ParaNorman

Many different artists were involved in ParaNorman, from creating the background scenes, to assembling the puppetry underneath the figurines. To create the elaborate sets and characters, concept artists are needed.

The character designer, the artist responsible for creating the look of the different characters, was an artist named Heidi Smith. Laika chose her to create all the characters because they felt her artistic style matched the feel of the film they were creating.

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After all her designs were finished, more artists would create character sheets to determine what all the faces should look like in different expressions.

tumblr_mkk3c2ymF71qfuz0bo7_1280Pete Oswald, the artist of the above facial sheet, also worked on concept art for the world of ParaNorman.

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What do you all think of stop-motion animation? Do you have a favorite film that uses this medium?