The Guardian

The Guardian July 11, 2001


Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

There's a killing in killing

With US and other imperialist leaders telling us that they intend to 
increasingly use their military to "intervene on the side of peace" 
anywhere and everywhere in the world, business interests are scrambling to 
sell them the wherewithal to do it.

There have always been big profits to be had from war contracts and all you 
need to make a killing (so to speak) is to figure out where US war plans 
are headed and then to service that intention.

Australian ship-builder Austal Limited is clearly of the opinion that in 
the near future the US will be invading, occupying or "intervening", with 
large numbers of troops, in lots of places, but especially in the Asia-
Pacific region.

The company established an arm in the US earlier this year and has been 
promoting their 101-metre fast ferry as a "theatre logistics vessel" - 
that's military-speak for a troop carrier. Austal claims the vessel could 
carry more than 950 marines together with up to 550 tonnes of vehicles and 
equipment.

A week ago the US Marine Corp signed a contract for a two-month "trial 
charter" of one of the $90 million ferries. Significantly, given Bush's 
bellicose policy towards China, the chartered vessel will be used for 
"operations between Japanese ports and throughout the western Pacific 
area".

While progressive humanity everywhere views US war preparations with the 
gravest misgivings and alarm, capitalist enterprises engaged in the 
business of war  and those that would like to get into this particularly 
profitable area  see nothing but dollar signs in US plans.

A buoyant Austal Managing Director, Bob McKinnon, told the media that the 
US military's future needs for this type of transport were "potentially 
huge". The Marine Corp alone could buy 14 or 15 of the "theatre logistics 
vessels".

"I hope [the trial charter] will lead to orders for numerous vessels of 
this type", says McKinnon.

After all, it's just a ferry. It's nothing to do with him whether his 
vessels are used to crush democratic movements in the Western Pacific or to 
start a major war against China.

He's not interested in politics: he's just a businessman.

Sure he is.

* * *
A film to get animated about I have not seen the new animated film Shrek yet. By all reports it's an enjoyable, jokey, fun fantasy. I am looking forward to it. It is apparent from the wealth of publicity material around for it, that the Dreamworks computer animators have gone to great lengths to make the characters as "realistic" as possible. By "realistic", these animators mean "looking true to life". The fur on the donkey lies flat, overlaps, even swirls. Shrek the ogre is anatomically correct: movement of his skeleton requires his muscles to flex and causes his skin to deform. Truly a wonder of the computer age. It has been a convention of cartooning to draw hands with only three fingers and a thumb it's easier to draw them that way. All cartoon characters from Donald Duck to Homer Simpson have been drawn that way. Shrek, however, has four fingers and a thumb. But does all this make the film more artistic? I think not. After all, the film is about a green ogre, a talking donkey and a princess in peril. How true to life can it be? It's the custom in Hollywood these days to test-screen films before selected audiences. If their reactions and comments are not what was desired, the film is altered to overcome the problem. In the case of Shrek, the test audience found Princess Fiona too life-like. The filmmakers had to make her more stylised, more like a cartoon character. The promotion for Shrek brags incessantly about how life-like it is. This is of course something that can now be achieved with computer animation. But a lifelike image is not necessarily the height of the animator's art. Most of the great animators of the past would not even have considered it desirable. The essence of animated films is their liberation from the restrictions of physical laws. Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng and the other animators who made the classic Warners' cartoons of the '40s and '50s Bugs Bunny et al utilised every unnatural aspect of the medium to produce films that continue to give pleasure half a century later. The Soviet cartoon The Island won the Grand Prix at Cannes about 1980. It looked like an animated modern comic strip: virtually no backgrounds and characters that were drawn with the bare minimum of detail (think BC or The Wizard of Id). British animator Len Lye in the '30s, animated abstract images to lively music and pleasing effect. "Life-like" didn't even enter into it. All of which is to say that animated films are an art form in their own right. They are not just a way to replace actors with computer graphics. The more animators restrict themselves to "natural" movement and actions, the less they utilise the possibilities of animation. It's about the imagination, not whether the skin dimples as the character walks.

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