Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Animated Thoughts: A little nostalgia from Undergrad...

Back in 1993, I was working my way through college and was pretty much adrift with regards to both education and career path. My choice of majors in undergrad went something like: Pre-Med, then Pre-Med & Computer Science, then Computer Science, then Computer Science & English Writing, then just English Writing. And after receiving a rather pointed question from a friend regarding getting credit for all those computer classes I took, I stuck around for an extra semester and finally graduated with a B.A. in English Writing with a Computer Science minor after four-and-a-half years at Taylor University.

Me (l) and Chuck-Bill (r) back in 1992
when we lived on 3rd Morris
However, as computer animation had fascinated me since I first saw Tron, when my friend Chuck-Bill got a copy of (what we both vaguely remember was) Real3D, I finally had someone who could help me get all these thoughts out of my mind and onto the screen. For a year or two, I had taken the only computer graphics class offered by the university, had written some basic graphics programs in C++, had been dabbling with shareware paint programs as well as playing with POV-Ray (a freeware 3d rendering and animation program that required you to plot out everything using numerical coordinates and a scripting language before passing the reference textfile to the render engine so the images could be created). Yep. Times were tough back then... but I was still drifting without focus, until Bill told me to come down to Indy and see what he was doing.

After looking at the animations Bill was creating on his own, I was hooked! On several occasions during those final years of Undergrad, I'd race down to Indianapolis with some crazy idea. Bill would model a set and I'd animate a character. Then we'd start it rendering. We'd crash for six hours, wake up, get something to eat, go see a movie, play videogames, and on Sunday morning, I'd drive back to campus with an animation saved on a 3.5" floppy disk (or two).

Those were heady days filled with the excitement of limitless potential -- we clearly had no idea what we were doing or how the industry worked... but we were becoming animators, darn it! Computer limitations and lack of skill be damned!

The following three animations were the only ones of merit that we produced together during that time and were used in both of our portfolios when we applied to Grad School at R.I.T.

Originally rendered at 320 pixels by 240 pixels and 256 colors (I think), I like to keep them around and watch them from time to time. It's fun, and cringeworthy, to see how far you've progressed as both an animator and as a filmmaker.

"Dojo", the first animation we created was during the weekend of October 17, 1993. Since I was involved in teaching Karate at a local martial arts studio, I had this idea of a guy doing a martial arts routine. So, Bill created the sets for this film as well as did the camera work. Additionally he took a pre-made character model that came with the 3d animation package and gave him black "pants" and I did all the character animation. In our original design, the character was supposed to reach his last move, return to a standing position, and bow to the camera. However, I missed setting a keyframe during the last sequence and he didn't really bow correctly. Eh ,this was my first real experience with keyframed 3d animation using a graphical user interface, so I plead inexperience. Years later, I would revisit this idea during Marla Schweppe's stop motion and puppet animation class at R.I.T. when I made a "ninja cockroach" puppet and animated him through a short kata.

In April of 1994, I raced back down to Indianapolis with another idea: "Escher". This one was a simple camera rotation animation based on an M.C. Escher print. I think I did some posing on this animation, and I vaguely remember Bill and I working on the backgrounds together, though he made the rendered pictures on the walls. This would actually be a fun animation to redo using today's technology.

The "Studio 119" animation was created in May of 1993 as an opening promo for a Taylor University news program that they were trying to put together for the Journalism department. It never ended up getting used for anything more than a bit of pre-viz. They used an Amiga computer for the final copy and added some flair that we couldn't do using Bill's animation software (like having images of the newscasters fly in and out). But it was a fun project nonetheless. As setting up the text was pretty easy for this animation, Bill and I both worked on the camera fly-through on this one.

Unfortunately, my computer is being a little finicky. At the time, this animation was too big for one 3.5" floppy disk, so we used DOS's backup command to compress it across two floppies. And while I still have the two disks, my Windows 98 PC won't recognize the version of DOS used to compress the file. And DOSBox has the same trouble. As does my DOS bootable USB drive... so I'm rapidly reaching a point where I'll say 'screw it' and install a retro hard drive into my Win2K computer, reinstall DOS 6.21, decompress the files and be done with it.

But, for now though, I've got a copy that I digitized from an old portfolio videotape.

Bill made several other animations on his own, which he included in his portfolio when he applied to R.I.T., and which I still have on VHS. But I'll let him post those...

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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A Year of Animation: Jack Slutzky

Jack Slutzky
Image from Jack's Twitter feed
During Grad School, three of my favorite classes were the Intro to Classical Animation classes that I took with Jack Slutzky.

Prior to his tenure at R.I.T., Jack worked for two years at Disney under Snow White animator Shamus Culhane. During class, he would tell us the odd story of time spent with Culhane who, as Jack put it, was driven to near alcoholism while animating the famous "Heigh-Ho" scene from Snow White as he dealt with puzzling out the technical aspects of drawing seven near-identical characters marching in lock-step and yet trying to ensure that they all had their own unique personality and movements.

Jack would later become one of my three thesis advisors and the one who would provide the most help as I struggled through the trials of trying to complete a hybrid hand-drawn/digital animation when I had only really been animating (or doing any serious drawing) for two years.

Jack designed his three animation classes such that the first would teach foundational skills in hand-drawn animation while getting us to start thinking about producing a larger hand-drawn animation. The second class would build on the first as we took a character conceptualized in the first class and get us animating with that character. The third class would build on the first two as we finalized a script, treatment, storyboard and build an animatic.

As I've been going through my filing cabinets to reconstruct (and archive) my animated films, handouts, and notes from Grad School over the Summer, for this month's animation, I decided to use DragonFrame to recapture and retime several animation assignments from Jack's first class.

This first assignment was designed to get us warmed up to hand drawn animation by taking a stack of notecards and creating a pair of metamorphosis animations between a pair of shapes.

Then, Jack had us create a title animation for a fictional company of our own devising which we could use at the beginning of future productions in his class.

The last "animation" assignment we did was to animate a person laughing. Jack provided us with some keyframes for reference material and it was up to us to redraw the keyframes then figure out the in-betweens and animate them.

Jack was a fount of valuable information during my thesis. When I mentioned how I was struggling with drawing my scenes, it was Jack who suggested I draw fifty poses each of my two characters every day before working on a scene. That turned the trick. Within a few short weeks, my creative block was shattered and I was barreling through my thesis. The point that he was getting at through that particular exercise was how I needed to know my characters in far greater detail. And by doing multiple drawings of various poses, I could study them from every angle, every expression, even practice their body language. At that point in my thesis, I was trying to run, but I had barely begun to crawl.

After completing Jack's third Introduction to Classical Animation class, he wrote me the following note.

I saw Jack at Erik's memorial service and spoke to him a couple times afterwards. The last time we exchanged e-mails, about a short animation I had just completed (Stress), he encouraged me to never stop looking at my work with a critical eye and striving for greatness in my animation:

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Dear Charles:

Thank you for sharing your animation with me. I thought for a second I was back at RIT. It was a pleasant surprise seeing you at Erik's memorial service. You look well, and from what you said, and i've seen you're moving on into the future. I wish you luck.

My only criticism of the work you shared with me, including the tape you sent, is your characters are one dimensional. Yes, they move, but with no sense of life. Timing, aceleration/deceleration, speed change, etc. Do more, don't just settle for movement, give me movement that means something. You are too talented to settle for less. End of crit, I'm not your teacher anymore, just a friend.

Hope Ottawa was beneficial, and enjoyable. Lookin forward to being there in two years. I'll buy you a drink and we can toast to old times.

Stay well, happy, healthy and productive. Stay in touch.



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On Thursday, April 28, 2016 at the age of 78, Jack died at home with his family. He left behind a loving wife and family and a legion of students who learned great lessons about animation under his steadfast guidance.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Animated Thoughts: My Summer Reading

Summer seems to be the season when people say that they're catching up on their reading. Personally, I always thought Winter was the season for catching up on your reading since you'd be stuck inside due to the inclement weather, whereas during the Summer, you'd want to be outside. Humans baffle me...

Anyways, I don't really have a Summer reading list as I try to read throughout the whole year, but these are the books that I'm currently reading and trying to finish by the end of Summer so I can bring something light to Toronto and Ottawa this Fall... like a paperback... or maybe Zoran Perisic's book 'the Focal Guide to Shooting Animation'...:

by Bill Plympton

by Whitney Grace

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