Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Animated Thoughts: OIAF 2019, pt. 1

Flowers from the Victoria's Mansion's Faerie garden
greeted me upon my arrival.
Fall is upon us, which means that it's time for my yearly pilgrimage to the second largest animation festival in the world (largest in the Western hemisphere) -- as well as time for my yearly rambling blog posts about "what I did on my (working) vacation".

Well, no trip to the Ottawa International Animation Festival would be complete without a stop over in Toronto. So, I massaged my schedule such that I'd drive out to Canada on Monday morning and leave for Ottawa on Wednesday. Wouldn't have as much time on the shores of Lake Ontario as last year, but such is life. I enjoy every minute spent with our neighbors to the North.


It's been an odd year. For whatever reason, 2019 has felt really surreal, even moreso because it was the end of September and it was time for my vacation. As I drove to Toronto, it honestly didn't feel real, like it was still the beginning of the year and I was looking months down the road on the calendar.

But, time off is time off, so best to make the most of it.

My plans for Toronto were to enjoy a "Best of" tour focused around the two Tasty Tours I did last year ('Chocolate Lovers' and 'Kensington Market'). So as soon as the car was parked and the suitcase was in my hotel room, I beat a hasty path to Monga Fried Chicken and Soma Chocolatemaker for a late lunch followed by hot chocolate and cookies for dessert.

Walked around town afterwards and found a good used book on origami at the ABC Book Store as well as some hard-to-find comics over at BMV Books for my old college roommate. Wish I could see the look on his face when he opens up his 'care package' from up North.

I went for the Mayan recipe.
Tasty with a little bite from the peppers!

Stopped by Ginger for dinner and then curled up with the 'Origami Omnibus' -- visions of animating 3d CGI origami critters danced through my head as I drifted off to sleep.

I needed my rest, it was going to be a big day tomorrow.


Sleep was fitful -- got to sleep, woke up at 4 a.m., tossed and turned, slept a little more. Finally got out of bed around 8-ish. Made a quick run to the St. Lawrence Market and bought my brother his yearly ration of mustard from Kozlick's. Once they were safely deposited in the trunk of my car, it was off to the CN Tower for the Edgewalk!

For years, I've been joking with family and friends about going to the top of the CN Tower and walking around the outside, just above the 360 Restaurant. Well, it was put-up-or-shut-up time, so I plunked down the cash and donned the flightsuit.

For those who don't know, the Edgewalk is where they take you up to a secure room 351 meters (1151 feet) from the ground and from there you get to walk around the outside of the observation deck/restaurant area.

The Edgewalk is below the Skypod and
above the restaurant.

Well, the folks I went with made the Edgewalk experience really fun -- as did the handlers who took us through the event. It was a really good time, I'd recommend it to anyone. And while it was really tough to push the boundaries of my comfort zone, I'm really glad I did it. I've always had a sort of love/hate relationship with heights that has become more 'hate' than 'love' as I get older. Knowing that I'm capable of facing my fears was well worth the time and money spent -- and you couldn't beat the view of Downtown Toronto!

The following is a video that they gave us of the trip if you'd like to see highlights of what you do during the half-hour experience. If you pay close attention, you can also see all my nervous tics as I'm standing there, debating all the life choices that brought me to this point in time.

On the way out, I picked up the Lego CN Tower kit in order to commemorate my Edgewalk experience. I had planned on doing an animation of the CN Tower last year but couldn't find the model so ended up doing the Arc d'Triomph instead. It actually worked out for the best. Once I got the set home and put together, it was pretty clear that trying to animate that kit would have been an exercise in frustration.

The rest of the day was a blur. I skipped going to the ROM (eh, the Dutch Masters paintings exhibit will still be there when I return for TAAFI's Industry weekend in November) and instead went for some gourmet popcorn and poutine -- Toronto Popcorn Company and Moo Frites in Kensington Market. Then had my yearly Cherry Arctic Rush over at the Dragon City Mall.

Yup, this is pretty much my idea of a relaxing vacation.

Did a little more sightseeing, then went back to the CN Tower that evening. Part of the Edgewalk experience is a full-access ticket to the Tower and Skypod (to be used within the following three days) and I had planned something special for that night.

Ah, my sweet, sweet Toffle...

Last year, I received an extra Toffle when on the Kensington Market tour, so I saved it all year for a special occasion. I ate this remaining Toffle to commemorate the day's experience, slowly savoring the taste of butter tart and chocolate. This time I enjoyed the view of Toronto from the enclosed observation deck and the Skypod. Was still a little difficult to force myself to walk on the observation deck's glass floor, but... little steps and all that.

The next morning, it was off to Ottawa for five fun filled days of animation screenings, retrospectives, panels, and parties!

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Friday, July 26, 2019

Animated Thoughts: Time takes its toll from us all

Smudge died today.

When I moved back to Michigan in 1998, my brother was still in high school and working at our parents' auto repair garage in his spare time. One rainy day, a white kitten walked into the garage, sauntered into the office like she owned the place, found a box, curled up, and went to sleep. Ted took her to the vet and started treating her for ear mites. Then, he brought her home. She was white and fluffy with a gray streak down the top of her head that looked like she had walked under a car and gotten axle grease on her head. Our family cat expert, Aunt Claire, said that she'd probably lose it as she matured into a completely white furred cat. She did. But the name stuck.

As I started doing more freelance work, I quickly realized that an LLC had distinct legal advantages over a D.B.A. But I needed a name for my corporation and it was Smudge-kitty to the rescue. Since I had used the Photoshop smudge tool in my M.F.A. thesis film and we had a cat named Smudge, it seemed apropos. "Smudge Animation" would join the ranks of animation studios named after cats, like Carol Beecher and Kevin D.A. Kurytnik's Calgary studio: "15lb Pink".

Well, Ted went to college and I bought a house and moved out. Smudge stayed with Mom and Dad and their other cat, Claude (who I named after the Warner Bros. cartoon character "Claude Cat" from the Merrie Melodies cartoons Mouse Wreckers and the Hypo-Chondri-Cat ). Claude passed on a couple years back and my parents became a 'one-cat-family' with Smudgie doing double duty keeping my parents company when they were sick or bounding downstairs to say "hello... time to feed me" when they came home at night.

But time takes its toll from us all and Smudgie was no exception.

Recently, Mom and Dad were presented with the opportunity to take a 'bucket list' vacation with the grandkids and so I filled in on cat duty while they were gone. I'd feed her in the morning on my way to work, then spend a couple hours with Smudge after work. We spent most of our time in Mom's sewing room, sitting together in the big comfy chair while I read a book and pet her. But after 20 years, Smudgie had decided that she'd lived long enough. A couple days before Mom and Dad came home, she breathed her last while I sat there and stroked her soft, glossy white fur.

I wish that I had been able to convince Smudge to stick around long enough for Mom and Dad to come home and say 'goodbye' but we had to settle for me tracking them down in South America and resting the speakerphone right next to Smudgie so she could hear their voices as they told her how much they loved her and how wonderful it was to have those twenty years with her as their kitty.

I'm not going to change the name of my animation studio. But from now on, "Smudge Animation" will always have this feeling of melancholy every time I say it to people and tell them the story of how I named my studio after a cat.

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Sunday, June 30, 2019

Animated Thoughts: Erik Timmerman

During the years that I attended R.I.T., they were operating on the quarter system--a schedule that I much preferred to the semester system that Taylor University used.

With only ten weeks per quarter, there was really no time to slack off. If you didn't use your time wisely, it was easy to get overwhelmed and fall behind to a point where you couldn't catch up.

Case in point: during my first year's Winter quarter, we had a class where we grad students were taught the process of producing an animation. By the end of Winter quarter, we were expected to have our treatment, script, and storyboards completed and be ready to start animating on day one of Spring quarter.

So there we were, sitting in a circle and pitching ideas for our Spring films. I pitched an interactive comic book--something where I'd scan an existing comic into a multimedia program and then animate certain panels when the user clicked on them. Erik said, rather bluntly, that I didn't have the drawing skills for something like that. It stung. A lot. But he was right. When I started grad school, I could barely draw stick figures. Granted within one Fall quarter of figure drawing class, I had made tremendous progress, so much so that my professor said that she'd never seen anyone come so far in so short a time. Maybe I was operating at that intersection of desire and hard work or maybe desperation breeds miracles. Who knows. Again, if I'm being honest about the whole situation, Erik was right and I wasn't ready to tackle such a project. And that was part of his job, giving us enough rope to stretch and grow as animators but making sure we didn't hang ourselves on a project that we couldn't complete in ten weeks.

So there I was, sitting in a room, getting called out in front of my classmates about the level of my artistic skills.

I then had a choice: feelings or logic. I could react to what my feelings were interpreting as an assault on my personhood (and receive the consequences of said action), like I had done so many times before in my life, or I could shoulder the embarrassment and grow as a person. I made that rare choice to listen to the logical side of my brain and take another step forward towards maturity. I said, 'okay' and then stated that the only other idea I had was about a Chameleon who got stuck in an art gallery. Well, it turns out that Erik loved the art gallery idea and over the following ten weeks, he helped me develop the idea from treatment to finished script. And while "visually" it never matched up with what was in my head, due to both my drawing skills being what they were and the fact that I had to draw the whole thing in the computer using a mouse (these were the days before tablets caught on), The Chameleon would be finished on time, screened, and would go on to win 2nd place in that year's SMTPE/RAVA awards.

Unlike most of my fellow grad students, my background was in English writing and computer programming, not art. So I had to work harder to catch up to their skill and experience level within the visual medium and Erik was always there to help me in that regard by encouraging me through a judicious use of both the 'carrot and the stick', helping me select projects that were within my skillset and skill level AND would be just out of my reach slightly enough so that I had to grow as an artist.

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