Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Animated People: Carl "Skip" Battaglia

Carl "Skip" Battaglia, Stephanie Maxwell,
Marla Schweppe, Me. (l to r)

So it's Fall and I'm back teaching again. 

One of my colleagues said that I should consider working on a film during my spare time and then showing it to my students on the last day of class. Sort of a "hey, I did this over the past four months in my spare time, think about what you could accomplish." Well, as I was shuffling through the backlog of stalled ideas and "y'know, if I ever get the time" sketches, I came across this little gem from my former professor Carl "Skip" Battaglia. Back in 2008, I was toying with the idea of an abstract animation but it didn't fit into the mold of narrative animations that I was used to using when designing films. As Skip is an accomplished animator who is very knowledgeable about experimental techniques, I reached out to him:

Hi Skip,

Hope this letter finds you well. It was a real treat to talk to you and your daughter at Ottawa and see what you've been working on for the past year. Sorry that you didn't win the award for experimental/abstract animated short film, but was very happy to see your film in the competition. Well, after watching your latest film (and reviewing your Skip's Pics DVD), I've bumped up an abstract/experimental-style animation on my list of projects. The entire short animation deals with the techniques and artistic style that I'm learning about in my Oriental Watercolor class this semester. However, as I'm working through the planning stages of this film, I'm finding that the traditional treatment-script-storyboard-soundtrack method that I use to plan films just isn't lending itself very well to abstract expression. I'm getting kind of frustrated trying to get a film to fit into a mold that it wasn't designed for. So, I was wondering if you could suggest a couple of books that you use to plan your films that I could read?

Thanks Skip, and see you in Ottawa '08. Hopefully by then, I'll have a couple of films to run alongside you and Stephanie. And please give your daughter our best from me and Ted. Hope she does well in her final class. =)


Charles Wilson

This was his response:

Hi Charles:

There are no hard-and-fast books in experimental design for animation.

I read philosophy and poetry, study painting.  I have always listened to a lot of musics, including experimental, free jazz, South American, and African.  My notebooks and sketches provoke some things.  Knowledge about film continuity (which you have), animation production, storyboarding (pay attention to the vectors of movement; I arrow them in/over in red pencil) are helpful as the storyboard will come directly in response to your premise for the film.

Sometimes I begin with a rough idea, then score a musical track via ProTools to give me a scratch soundtrack to animate to for the sake of rhythm, tempo, drama -- and to have a timed track to give to a composer later.

Thinking historically, the books which have been most helpful are/were:

Rudolph Arhheim, "Art and Visual Perception."

H. Marshall McLuhan and Herley Parker, "Through the Vanishing Point."

"Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind."

books on graphic design, painting process...

... and everything I teach, and films I've viewed.

I'd also think about designing the film in reverse or out of sequence from your usual methods.  It would enable a new approach (which seems to be what you're looking for).

Good to see you.  Let me know how this goes.

Get loose!


Now, as I'm currently composing a short book on the importance of mentors for my nephews, I could go off on a rant about how important it is to maintain professional relationships with your professors after graduation and how important mentors are in your career. But to be honest, the main reason I posted this e-mail is because Skip has since retired and I want his knowledge to be shared with a much wider audience.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Animated Thoughts: Surrealism and Afternoon Tea at the FIA

So I've been keeping my eye on events at the Flint Institute of Arts. No matter how much I enjoy an afternoon at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the FIA is a little closer and while both the collection and the building are smaller, there are still very interesting things to see and do.

Case in point: this past month, they had two exhibits that were of particular interest to me. The first was "Beyond Dreams: Surrealism and Its Manifestations", an exhibition of surrealism in art. The second was "the Art of Refreshment", examples of cutlery and ceramics in food service.

Surrealism for me is one of those on-again/off-again interests. Dali always seemed pretty odd to me, but in a darkly good way--especially the short film Destino that he worked on at Disney. Man Ray's work was always visually thought provoking. And I spent a fair amount of time looking at the work of René Magritte as I was forming ideas for the visual style of my MFA thesis film. I ended up going in a different direction for my thesis, but I remember making a 3d animation using Electro-GIG 3D-GO with a distinct Magritte feel to it. The reference to Magritte is still there in my notes from March 21st, 1995. The animation was of a guy built out of simple primitive shapes that was running across a blue cloudy plane suspended in space against a blue cloudy backdrop. The "primitives" guy was also textured with the same blue sky and cloud pattern. I remember sitting there trying to finish it before the deadline with fellow animation grad Leah Bosworth sitting beside me and pointing out controls on the interface that would've taken me hours to figure it out had I been working on my own.

I've also come to enjoy watching abstract animated films--mainly as a result of instruction by Marla Schweppe and through the films and instruction of Stephanie Maxwell and Skip Battaglia. So whenever I see an exhibit like "Beyond Dreams", I like to review those old lessons from my time at R.I.T. as I appreciate the artwork.

One of the things that I thought was most useful was that the curators had put up a 'Glossary of Surrealism' listing that defined several terms which were applicable to this art movement. Just a little something extra there to educate some and refresh the memories of others. It was appreciated.

As I walked around the exhibit, unlike last year's fantasy art exhibit, I had no real goal other than to look at whatever caught my eye. "Metronome" was one of those images that I just found enjoyable. There was nothing profound about it, it was just visually appealing, especially with it's use of light and shadow.

Metronome, 1990
by Scott Fraser

This one, "Moving Skip Rope" by Harold Edgerton was of particular interest given that I'm an animator--and I really wish that I had been able to get a better picture, the lighting and the glass just worked against me. "Moving Skip Rope" is a photograph taken using a stroboscope flash which produced an image that was reminiscent of Muybridge's motion studies. The resulting artwork below is a dye transfer print.

Moving Skip Rope, 1952
Harold Edgerton

Then there was "Personnage" by Man Ray. This was another one of those that appealed to me as an animator. It reminded me of those early 1980's CGI animations where all the characters were made out of basic primitives (or the assignment that I produced back in '95).

Personnage, 1975
Man Ray, 1890-1976

Afterwards, I sauntered across the hall to view the "Art of Refreshment" exhibit. There was a lot of beautiful glasswork in this exhibit but also some ceramics and some metal, ivory, stone, and silkwork.

There really weren't any moments that provoked epiphanies in this exhibit, I just found it enjoyable. You could see that there was a lot of thought and skill put into making these mundane objects remarkable.

Some of the ones that really caught my eye were the following.

So, while my trips to Flint may not be the events like what I experience in Detroit--a day of appreciating art along with a nice meal, followed by some drawing in the galleries--but what the FIA does have over the DIA is this luxurious library of artbooks with chairs and sofas that you can lounge in while reading. I'm reluctant to share photos of it because it's one of those 'best kept secrets'. I closed out my trip by spending an hour paging through books filled with historical pictures of Chinese and Japanese brushwork. Lots of food for my imagination.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Animated Events: Capital City Comic Con

Well, C4 has come and gone. As I was running a tabletop miniatures wargame at a local store, I didn't get to be there as long as I would have liked on Saturday but the time I was at the con over the whole weekend was time well spent.

Back in the day, like 2002-2004, two gentlemen ran a local gaming convention called "Foundation". My brother and I would run wargames at the con and for those two years we were a top draw with some showcase events like tournaments, how-to-play events, and a paint-and-take table. Well, sadly Foundation came to an end but years later one of them joined up with some other friends and started the Capital City Comic Con (C4).

I'll admit it, I really enjoy the convention experience: looking at the artwork, doing a little shopping, playing some demo games, but my favorite activity is attending panels and lectures to learn more about my field of study. There's just something special about being able to talk to people who are out there forging their own paths and willing to share their knowledge and experience.

This year, the two foreign comics panels were especially interesting. There's some fascinating history about comic books that you don't often hear about. The first panel was more about valuation, rarity, and pricing for the collectors market but the second was a more in-depth history of the foreign comic book market running back to around the 1930's and '40's up to the present day. It's probably due to a fair amount of myopia on my part, but I was surprised to see how the foreign market had a lot more nuance than just simple one-to-one translations of existing books. Apparently during the '70's, when Marvel was just trying to survive, it appeared that foreign writers and artists had a lot more freedom to make changes to the content of the books and covers. There were also changes made due to foreign censorship and sensibilities--and word translations that work in English but not in other languages.

One of the more interesting things I noted was how the German imprint for the Amazing Spider-Man was called "Die Spinne". Y'see, back in 1986, Marvel published the Spider-Man vs. Wolverine one-shot crossover with the "High Tide"storyline. In it, Peter Parker and Logan team up while in East Germany. As he didn't bring his black bodysuit, Peter has to buy a Spider-Man costume from a store. On the back of the outfit, in the middle of the spider logo, are the words "Die Spinne"--English translation: "the Spider". At the time, I was never able to figure out why it was there. And the suit actually showed up years later in another comic after Peter and Mary Jane got married. She moves into his loft apartment and they start paring down the extra costumes so she can have some room for her clothes. The first suit they pull out of the closet is the German suit from the crossover issue.

So, some thirty-plus years later, after learning about the German imprint of Amazing Spider-Man, why the suit from Spider-Man vs. Wolverine had the words "Die Spinne" printed on the back all made sense. And I have to admit that it was a pretty neat Easter egg at the time for all of those in the know back then.

Another standout for me over the weekend was the indie comic production and self-publishing panels. These weren't as well attended as I they should have been, but the small numbers did lead to some very interesting interactions between the crowd and panelists. In both panels, they were very interested in hearing about my animation work, as much as I was in their graphic design and publishing experience. Still, I would gladly have sacrificed some of that interaction if it meant that more kids who want to get into comics would've been able to hear some of the great advice and experiences that the panelists were giving away.

Well, as with any convention nowadays, the cosplayers were out in force. I found one of the X-Men walking around: Cyclops, from the early 1990's--one of my favorite periods of time where Marvel was producing some of the best written, best drawn issues of the series; due in large part to folks like Chris Claremont, Mark Silvestri, and Jim Lee.

And you know you have to get a photo when you purchase a poster for Arcane and you walk around the corner just in time to come face-to-face with K/DA Ahri! As much as I love to see K/DA or True Damage characters from League of Legends, I have to admit that I'm a little crestfallen that I don't see more people cosplaying the characters from Arcane. You see Jinx and Vi every so often, but the costume design was so amazing, I'd love to see a Jayce or Mel Medarda walking around in formal outfits.

"I'll show you what I'm made of
Rise to the occasion
Got fears, but I face them, oh-oh"

While it's my policy to purchase something from a vendor or two and some art from the independent artists/writers if at all possible, I did stick to my budget for the con. Though I have some regrets when I saw some of the amazing artwork that was for sale at the silent auction. Think I'll set aside some extra cash during the year just to bid on an illustration or two next year. Or, maybe spring for the VIP ticket and attend the "Drink-and-Draw" event to do a little creating of my own.

"Yep, He is Groot!"

In the end, Capital City Comic Con is a great example of a local convention. With so much attention going to larger cons like Gen Con or San Diego Comic Con, it's refreshing to see local cons like C4 who are able to provide an excellent experience in our home towns. I'm already looking forward to next year (and planning out my budget).

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