Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Animated Thoughts: The Year in Review - 2011

This past year, I set three major life goals for myself within my chosen field of animation. Here's how they worked out.

1. Get Certified
I did not accomplish this goal for a couple of reasons:

In order to become an Adobe Certified Instructor, they require you to have either a State-issued teaching license or CompTia's CTT+ certification (Certified Technical Trainer). When I investigated the costs and requirements for CTT+ certification (and by extension, CTT+ classes/workshops), it became very clear that it was designed for people who are already instructors and just want to pass the (arguably diabolically difficult) test but not for people who want to learn how to become an instructor. Furthermore, when I contacted Adobe to learn what 'State-issued' teaching certifications they accepted, there wasn't anyone at Adobe who would respond to my phone calls and, after I tracked down an ACI in Ohio who gave me an e-mail address for her contact at Adobe, no one responded to my multiple e-mails. While on the one hand, I made a lot of progress towards that particular goal--gathering intel and finding source material to study--however, it ended up being one dead end after another. Very discouraging. While I might renew this goal for 2012, I'll probably approach it from a different direction.

2. Get Animated
I accomplished this goal. Twice even! Early in the year, I was invited to speak at my alma mater (the Rochester Institute of Technology) about my career in animation and they graciously allowed me to teach a two-hour workshop on producing a forensic animation using Flash. The workshop itself was a basic accident reconstruction which covered what intel and research goes into your average reconstruction as well as how you could apply said information to produce a forensic animation using Flash.

Later on in the year, I dipped into my experiences with the paint-on-glass animation style to write a short workshop which I then taught at the Grand Rapids Community Media Center through my work with ASIFA/Central. The results from this workshop can be viewed on my sister-site: getanimated.info.

3. Give something back
This was another goal that I can mark off as having accomplished. For starters, as previously mentioned, I presented and taught at R.I.T. early in the year as well as taught an animation workshop at the GRCMC. But additionally, I joined with many of my fellow alumni and donated money to R.I.T. (in my case, the bulk of my donations went to the Erik Timmerman memorial scholarship which provides funds for graduate students in R.I.T.'s animation program). Lastly, as the position was currently available, I stepped up and became the Membership Coordinator for ASIFA/Central.

So, two goals accomplished out of three. Not bad. But not enough to satisfy me. I think that the biggest mistake that I made was using a 'shotgun' approach to pursuing said goals. This year, I'm going to schedule and track my goals so that every month, there will be a task to accomplish which will bring me closer to attaining that particular goal.

Here are my goals for 2012:

1. Get Certified
I'm not ready to give up on this goal. So, before the end of the year, I'm setting myself the goal of passing one Adobe ACE exam (After Effects or Flash) and finishing the three books on technical training that CompTia recommended I read for their certification training exams. Even if I never take the CTT+ certification exam, the information contained in those books can only assist me as I apply them towards teaching animation.

2. Get Animated
This goal needs to be split into two parts. First, I'd like to review my previous workshop material, write a new class on animation, and pitch it to the East Lansing Recreational Center for the Fall/Winter 2012 season. Second, I plan to continue teaching animation workshops with ASIFA/Central. As I've been tinkering with the latest version of Dragonframe's stop-motion software lately, instead of only teaching animation techniques, I think it's time to start branching out into teaching some specific software applications and how those apps can mesh with traditional animation techniques.

3. Produce a film
Over the past fifteen years since graduating from R.I.T., I've spent most of my time working towards specific career goals and towards the overall goal of paying off my student loans so my career choices won't be limited by my debt. However, doing so has consumed an enormous amount of time. As this year I plan on paying off the last bit of my student loans, I'd like to start carving out time to produce a film of my own. I currently have several films scripted and storyboarded out, however, no actual animation work has started. It's time for me to pick one and finish it.

So, there you have it. In upcoming blog posts, I'll be talking about my goal setting/tracking structure as well as my progress towards said goals.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Animated Inspiration: The Christmas Card

Hope everyone has a Merry Christmas and an animated New Year (Monty Python style)!!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Animated Inspiration: Simon's Cat "Fowl Play"

You know it's going to be a good day when you get to work and there's a new Simon's Cat waiting for you. Looks like we got an early Christmas gift from Simon Tofield: a hilarious animated short and a solid object lesson in character animation!

Looking at this short film, the timing in Simon Tofield's character animation keeps getting more and more solid. After watching the film through once, hit the replay button, then pay close attention to the motion of the cat from around :05 seconds to :20 seconds--where the cat shakes his head, notices the turkey and lunges up at the glass, then hides back down. The motion is smooth and expressive and the posing remains very clear and readable. It's the motion of Tofield's characters, coupled with the posing, that allow me to clearly read the cat's motives--even more than the actual staging of props in the film's initial setup. These key elements describe the cat's body language, which in turn allow us to subconsciously read beyond the cat's facial expressions and clearly see the motivation and thoughts behind his actions. As I proceed on my animator's journey, short films like "Simon's Cat" are valuable tools for training my eyes to look for the key elements in the motion of real-life animals, objects, and people before attempting to reproduce them in a visual medium.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Animated Quotes: Walt Disney

I'd like to celebrate the birthday of Walt Disney by reposting a quote that I posted earlier this year--quite possibly my favorite quote from Disney as it highlights the man's faith:

"Whatever success I have had in bringing clean, informative entertainment to people of all ages, I attribute in great part to my Congregational upbringing and lifelong habit of prayer."
- Walt Disney

Source: "Deeds rather than words", written by Walt Disney in 1963

The entire article can be read on the Started by a Mouse website.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Animated Thoughts: Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema 2011

The Chrysalids Theatre in Waterloo, Ontario
November saw my return to Waterloo, Ontario for the annual Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema. Every year, Joe Chen puts together a first class selection of animated feature films from around the world and this year was no exception!

Day one: drive to Waterloo and spend a couple hours taking photos in the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory. After visiting this conservatory several times, I have to say it's the second best that I've been to in the Great Lakes region--the first being the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory right down the road from Niagara-on-the-Lake. Yeah, I know. Why butterflies and animation? Again, no real reason, watching butterflies is just a relaxing experience for me. You show up, hunt butterflies with your camera for a while, then sit on a bench in the enclosed nature setting and watch them flutter from here to there. Honestly, I can't think of a better way to relax and prepare myself mentally for a weekend of animated feature-length films.

As always, the Walper Terrace Hotel is comfortable and the staff friendly--and best of all, one block down the street from the Chrysalids Theatre (which used to be named 'the Gig Theatre').*

Thursday only had one screening: 'Full Metal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos.' I've never been a big fan of FMA. It's not a bad series, and I absolutely love Major Armstrong (whose presence was notably absent in this film save for one scene), but it didn't hold my interest after the first episode or two. Fortunately, I have a couple friends who dragged me to the first film--which I enjoyed--and explained to me the whole premise for the series (including character bios). Needless to say, I was entertained with this film. It wasn't spectacular, but it wasn't bad either. I liked the story, which took place between a couple of episodes during second season--or so a fan told me. The animation was acceptable and the characters interesting. However I thought that the special effects were above average. There are scenes with magma flows and eruptions which had me thinking back to Disney's Atlantis and my time talking hand-drawn SFX with Joseph Gilland. I have to say that attending the TAIS Elemental Magic workshop has really expanded my appreciation of animated special effects.


After the screening, I hunted for someplace still open where I could have dinner. I settled on takeout pizza and a soda. No complaints. They were open and the food was something that could be eaten back at the hotel while watching cable t.v.

Day Two: Spent a dangerous amount of time in the local used bookstores before the evening screenings. Sadly, while there was some interesting stuff there, it wasn't anything I couldn't live without. As time marches on, and my library expands, it's becoming increasingly difficult to find books on animation with information that I don't already have.

Teriyaki Beef Bento Lunch
I also returned to a favorite restaurant for lunch: Niko Niko. As I had been watching the anime series 'Ben-To' for the previous couple of months, I just had to order one of their bento box lunches.

I was not disappointed and made several return trips before leaving town on Sunday. Needless to say, I must find a restaurant like this in the Lansing area!

There were two films that screened on Friday night: 'Leafie - A Hen Into the Wild', a big-budget Korean animated film, and 'El Sol', an Argentinean film that I still am having trouble wrapping my brain around.

Leafie was good. Hands down. It was produced from a popular Korean children's book about a hen who escapes a farm and ends up raising a duck in the wild. I don't want to say too much about it because Leafie is a film that must be experienced. Like Disney films, there's a lot there for adults and children alike. Even though you can really tell the difference between American and Asian mindsets and their effect on storytelling, Leafie was still an easy film to follow for Westerners. One word of caution though, there are parts of the film that are really dark--think "Bambi's mother getting shot" dark, so it's probably not a good film for very young children.


I really can't say anything about the content of 'El Sol'. It held my interest, no question there--even through the  many scenes of sex and violence. I guess I just didn't "get it" is all. I think it was about surviving in a post-apocalyptic world and trying to find your own happiness in that world. I'm not sure. Personally, I thought an earlier Argentinean film 'Boogie, El Aceitoso' was a better film partially because it was more logical and plot driven--though with equal amounts of sex and violence.


One of the more interesting things that occurred at this year's festival was the addition of live acts. While I skipped the one evening of metal (due to a pounding headache), I did stay for the live animation show. I can describe this performance as watching a animated screensaver to music. Unfortunately, that doesn't begin to do it justice. While one performer played stringed instruments, fed the music into a computer, and remixed them in realtime, another performer worked with a computer and tablet to create abstract animated 'paintings'. It was a very interesting, very surreal experience that left me very appreciative of my time spent with Stephanie, Skip, and Marla back at R.I.T. Before I met those three professors, I never really appreciated abstract animated films. But through their explanations, education, and personal films, I've developed a rudimentary understanding of (and appreciation for) abstract animated film. Was very nice to see the college education pay off in a new and unexpected way!

Day Three: 'Fimfarium 3', 'the Great Bear', 'the Princess and the Pilot', and 'Chico and Rita'. Wow, what a great line-up of animated films. 'Fimfarium 3' was a series of three stop-motion vignettes that carried a very dry wit to them, much like you would see in the films from Aardman Animation. While there didn't seem to be any connecting thread between them, each individual vignette was expertly animated and very entertaining. It's always a treat to watch what the Eastern European puppetmasters produce!


'The Great Bear' a 3d CGI film about this brother and sister who roam the forest and try to save a bear the size of a mountain from the hunter who is stalking him! Personally, I thought the moose were hysterically funny. Seriously though, this was a nice family film. The characters were a touch wooden in their appearance, but once you get past that, it's a really cute story with a nice payout at the end. Sadly, I don't see this film showing up as an 'English dub' in the States anytime soon. Too bad. This is a nice movie to put in the DVD player and entertain the kids while you're sneaking upstairs for a little fun (or a much needed nap) with the wife.


'The Princess and the Pilot' was textbook. Discriminated and abused pilot has to brave enemy territory and deliver a princess to her soon-to-be-husband prince, thus uniting the two realms against a mutual enemy. This is one of those films where you just sit there and enjoy it. It's not very deep, but it's good. It had solid continuity, engaging characters, and really cool airplane and warship battles. This is one to put on your list of anime to watch once it's out on DVD--although it was undoubtedly better seeing this film on the big screen!


This brings us to the last film of the night. I'll admit it. I hate Jazz. Hate it with a passion. Most Jazz sounds like noise to me--no harmony, just dissonance. Add to that, it was supposed to be old-school rotoscoped. So I went into 'Chico and Rita' with low expectations. But, I skipped the film at Ottawa this year, so figured it was worth sitting through. Wow was that ninety-four minutes well spent! 'Chico and Rita' tells the story of a pair of performers from Cuba experiencing the Cuban and New York Jazz scene before, during, and after the Communist revolution. At its heart, this film is a love story between two people who are brought together and torn apart by forces both within and beyond their control. While I'm still not a fan of Jazz, per se, 'Chico and Rita' has really helped me understand a lot more about the history of Jazz and it's place in both American and Cuban cultural history. Although I haven't seen 'Cat in Paris' yet, so far, 'Chico and Rita' is my choice for the Animated Film Oscar this year.


Day four: Up early to check out of the hotel and see 'Adventures in Plymptoons!'--a student-made documentary (mocumentary?) showcasing the life and times of America's most prominent independent animator, Bill Plympton. This story is told mostly by the people who know Bill and through a lot of reused footage from his earlier film 'Plymptoons'. I don't want to be too critical of this movie because I know that it's a student-produced film--which, in my mind, means it's held to a lower (perhaps more forgiving) standard of quality. But I have met Mr. Plympton. I like him very much both as a professional animator and as a person. I just left the theatre thinking that this film wasn't up to his standards.


Due to last minute licensing restrictions, Joe couldn't show 'Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below', one of the films I was looking forward to seeing. On the good side, it looks like it'll have a North American DVD release, so hopefully sooner rather than later, I'll get to enjoy this film. But, as I was tired, had to be back at work on Monday morning, and my car was giving me trouble the entire trip, I decided to skip 'Green Days' and go home early. On the bright side, I missed the bad weather on my way in and had some time to relax, unpack, and gather my thoughts. On the down side, I think I should've gone back to Niko Niko, had a very leisurely lunch, and then watched 'Green Days'. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, I suppose.

All in all though, the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema remains one of the high points of my year and a trip that I look forward to at the end of every year. I truly wish that WFAC got the press and turnout that it deserves. It remains one of the best kept secrets in the world of animation festivals.

* No, I didn't realize the butterfly themed connection between the conservatory and the theatre when I was there, but now that I have, I'm really digging it.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Animated Inspiration: Simon's Cat 'Catnap'

Well, it's Thanksgiving here in the States and I'm thankful that another Simon's Cat was released!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Animated Inspiration: Kick Me

So back in the early to mid-1980s, I saw a cartoon on PBS. It was basically a line drawing of a pair of legs (red, I think) on a white background. The legs did a little hop dance and then started walking around. Well, shortly afterwards the legs started running up and down a stairwell, got chased by a giant bouncing ball (which got eaten by a giant spider), got chased by a giant spider, and ran away from a bunch of little spiders that made a net with their spider-silk (which blocked a passage in the stairwell). Yeh, I know, kinda surreal. For the past four years, I've been wondering about this animation--who did it, how was it made, etc. After fruitless searches on the net, searching through film databases at the National Film Board of Canada, and asking on forums, I was no closer to an answer. Then, I wake up today and log in to Cartoon Brew (which I often do in the mornings after looking at my e-mail and checking Facebook), and there it is! Animation Historian extraordinaire Jerry Beck is tracking down this film for another reader. Within an hour, we have an answer: it's called "Kick Me", an academy award nominated film from 1975, produced by Robert Swarthe. With the mystery solved, you can now enjoy this 'direct-on-film' flashback from my youth.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Animated Thoughts: Ottawa and Winterthur

Ottawa International Animation Festival 2011

Day One: Tuesday
After a longer than usual holdover at the border, I drove to Toronto for the day. Since I was going to be in Canada for the rest of the week, figured that I may as well relax and enjoy some inspiration. So I spent the night watching Cirque du Soleil's new show 'Totem'. It didn't take long to be blown away by the show. By the third act, I was totally hooked and raced out to buy the soundtrack during the intermission. I spent about fourteen hours out of the twenty hours in the car listening to the show's soundtrack. Clearly, Totem was a classic example where all the elements of a show fit together perfectly: music, lighting, acrobatic and comedic performances, costumes, this show worked on every level. Thus far, my favorite Cirque show has been OVO, but Totem definitely tied OVO for first place. I was so blown away with the show that I drove back to the hotel and forgot to eat dinner that night.

Day Two: Wednesday
Spent the morning at the Toronto Zoo photographing the animals before driving to Ottawa. I made a mental note to come back to the Zoo next year as they're in the middle of building a new section dedicated to the animals of Japan and Southeast Asia. I have to say that one of the reasons I appreciate the Toronto Zoo is that the animals are in larger than normal enclosures with lots of features--so they've got room to run around and things to climb on or dig under. It's always fascinating to watch a Red Panda thirty feet above ground as he climbs a pine tree or a jaguar stalking little kids on the other side of the fence... Seriously though, it's this time spent watching the animals move around that is particularly valuable to animators. An animal sitting in a small cage or enclosure provides an opportunity for the fine artist to study proportions and features, but it will never convey the sense of balance, weight, and attitude that an animal walking, running, or climbing will.

After arriving in Ottawa and checking into the hotel, I met up with David and Angie for dinner then spent the rest of the evening screening and Opening Night party with them. As much as I enjoy my professional relationships, there's just a certain something about being friends with students. With their unjaded optimism and enthusiasm it's hard not to come away feeling uplifted. The screenings started really strong: Chan Moon Kien's "Advertisers Without Borders 'Superhero'", Smith & Foulkes' "Intel 'The Chase'", Alexandria Hetmerova's "Swimming Pool", Nils Hedinger's"Animal Kingdom", and Vitaliy Strokous' "A.Breeze.From.Mt.Parnassus" were by far my favorite films that night. During the Opening Night party, I bumped into Barry Sanders and got invited to join the rest of the Toronto and Nelvanna crew for an after picnic burger on Saturday. I walked back to my hotel hoping that the rest of the competition screenings are as strong as the first night.

Day Three: Thursday
Spent almost the entire day watching the Short Competitions are the Empire Theatre--and tried my best to be friendly and talk to people. It took some effort to be sure, but had to keep it up and hold onto the momentum. Not sure how "people persons" do this all the time. Every so often, I had to fight the urge to go back to my hotel and read a book or take a nap--get some 'me' time in. I kept reminding myself that the purpose of coming out to festivals isn't just to watch films. Most of the people I had been meeting were students. I wonder how many there were at OIAF as compared to professionals? After watching three competition screenings in a row, the films started to become a little hit-or-miss for me, but the hits had outnumbered the misses thus far. Jamie Metzger's "Paso Doble", Piotr Sapegin's "The Last Norwegian Troll", Tsuneo Goda's "Nissan 'Plug, the New World'" and Ben Cady's "The Goat and the Well" had been my favorites from the day's screenings so far. I also met some local Canadian animators before the Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis Masterclass (more about that later). I really loved attending Amanda and Wendy's Masterclass the day after watching their film 'Wild Life'. Afterwards, I made a mental note to review the NFB website for more info on Wendy and Amanda's films.

The day ended much better than I expected. It was nice to meet two new students, Ann and Georgia, and then see them again after the screening--then chat with Gary Schwartz and visit with Madi Pilar. But the most pleasant surprise was walking out of my hotel elevator that night and seeing fellow R.I.T. Alum Glenn Ehlers standing right there! About 45 minutes of shop-talk later, I walked back to my room feeling like God is providing me with an experience that makes up for the abysmal one I had at OIAF 2010.

Day Four: Friday
You know you're in for a treat when the second Masterclass of the festival is all about Koji Yamamura. What I wouldn't give to go back to the days of being a student and interning for some of these seasoned animators.

Origami Robot
Well, since the Museum of Civilization had that Japanese cultural exhibit going on (Japan - Tradition - Innovation), and I had just spent a wonderful hour listening to Koji Yamamura, I decided to skip the Animator's Picnic and Canadian Showcase screening, walk over the bridge to Quebec and see the show. In a word, it was fascinating. The exhibit covered elements of Japanese culture from origami to robots, samurai armor to printed fabric, topped off with with fine crafts, anime, and manga. While I lingered in the anime/manga section of the display longer than the other sections, my favorite part of the exhibit by far was a three panel video display on the hallway as you walked into the exhibit where a Japanese animator had a roughly six minute video looping over and over . It's hard to describe. We weren't allowed to take pictures of it, otherwise I would've used the video feature of my iPhone to capture it in it's entirety. Basically, the camera tracked forward through different scenes, finally ending where it started, and it looped ad infinitum. I remember a Tokyo-esque cityscape with skyscrapers that had anime/chibi girls heads on top of them--that talked to each other in cutesy, high-pitched voices (one of those times where I really wished I spoke Japanese). And no, it wasn't really cute, it was actually kind of disturbing. Then there was a pastoral scene with butterflies, a graveyard in a forest with the same chibi heads impaled on pikes using tubes and medical machinery to keep them animated... I think I sat there on the bench for the better part of an hour watching that display... horrified and fascinated at the same time. I walked away with a lingering desire to watch some Hamtaro. Then, it was off to my hotel for a quick rinse in the shower, and an even quicker drive out of Ottawa to the burger party.

Entry from the annual Pumpkin carving contest
Barry's 'Burger after-picnic' party was pretty fun. I didn't get to mingle as much as I had wanted to, but had a really nice conversation with fellow TAIS veteran Bryce Hallett and met Ben (from the TAAFI festival) and Dominic (a journalist on assignment to the festival). Funny the variety of people you meet, all brought together by an appreciation for animation.

After the evening screening, the 'Salon des Refus├ęs' after-party was another experience that would have been filled with missed opportunities if I had skipped it and gone back to my hotel like I normally do. I had such a good time chatting with people at the Arts Court after party! Spent more time talking with Glenn. Met Pilar Newton-Katz from PilarToons, met fellow ASIFA member Dayna Gonzalez and reconnected with fellow TAIS members Nick Fox-Geig and his girlfriend Megan. I even bumped in to David, Angie, and Brianne (and a couple of the Pratt girls) who were on the way in to watch the films that didn't make it into the competition. It seemed like every time I turned around, there was someone I knew. As much as I hate to admit it, because we sure had some incredibly fun times together, I think that coming to Ottawa with my brother all these years has held me back from being social and really engaging with the rest of the community. Now if I could only learn a good trick to memorize people's names when I meet them at parties...

Day Five: Saturday
The Saturday workshops ran the gamut from 'surviving as a short filmmaker' to 'how to impress a recruiter' to 'directing animation'. There was tons of wisdom interwoven within these lectures just waiting to be unearthed and applied. I couldn't take notes fast enough.

Funny story: I'm waiting in line for Jessica Borutski's lecture on what she did for the Looney Tunes relaunch when Lynn Scatcherd, a Canadian animator from Dainty Productions that I met during the Tilby/Forbis Masterclass, walks over and stands in line next to me. Turns out that she knows Jessica pretty well and, when she saw me standing there with my "Foolish Kingdom" bunny t-shirt, she walked over to Jessica and told her that 'she's got a fan in the audience.' Well, after the lecture, I finally got to meet Jessica face-to-face and thank her for allowing me to interview her for this past year's 'Women in Animation' blog posts. Not missing a beat, she teased me about the bunny shirt. It was refreshing to discover that Jessica is as nice and genuine in person as she was via e-mail. I truly can't say enough good things about her!

The adult animation creator's talk was okay. A little too off color for my tastes, but it did give a pretty clear picture into creating films for the Adult Swim crowd. Really not my scene, but definitely good to know what the trends are in the various age groups. Afterwards, it was off to another Short Competition.

Saturday night's after-party wasn't bad. A little too loud for my tastes though. Sometimes it's just too hard to keep track of what people are saying with all the background noise going on. Personally, as much as I enjoyed talking to Bryce and Jeff, I preferred the smaller group dynamic at Barry's party far more. It's just too difficult to keep a conversation going with music blaring and everyone around you shouting so their companions can hear them. When you want to have a conversation, I can't see the appeal of the club scene.

Day Six: Sunday
I'm definitely feeling it. That sense of "it's time to go home." After forcing myself to be social, meet people where I don't know anyone around me, and hold conversations for longer than two minutes, I'm feeling really spent. After watching the making of Pixar's La Luna and Disney's Ballad of Nesse, I ran back to the Empire Rideau theatre so I could watch the Canadian retrospective before leaving town. That last screening was oddly fitting as I drove home (listening to the soundtrack to "Totem" almost the entire way). Overall, going to OIAF this year was the right decision to make. It feels like I've been snapped out of a really bad funk. I hope that I can hold onto the momentum and apply the lessons learned to my career and life. No matter how much a blessing it has been to work on the Goldwork project these past three years, being a virtual shut-in for 60-80 hours per week really takes its toll on your social skills.

Winterthur

September was a very busy month. I had only been back from Ottawa for a couple days when I flew down to Philly, met up with my sister, and we drove out to Winterthur for a benefactor's dinner. Since Tricia and I had worked on a video display for the Plimoth Plantation jacket exhibit, the museum was kind enough to invite us to a formal dinner with the benefactors and other historians and artisans who worked on the display.

Well, they split Tricia and I up between two dinner tables so I didn't have the advantage of a 'wingman', but the lessons learned and experience gained at Ottawa really helped out as I did my best not to embarrass myself or Tricia while surrounded by a crowd that obviously knew which of the three forks to use with which meal far better than I did.

Afterwards, we went back to the hotel and started working on ideas for Tricia's next project: "The Cabinet of Curiosities". This eighteen-month course will allow users to create a 17th Century casket from scratch--wood jewelry boxes, custom made locks and hinges, to embroidered overlays. As enjoyable as the day was, walking through the display and seeing how my work integrated into the larger exhibit, I have to give the high point to the meetings we held with the woodworkers and metalworkers who will be making the physical caskets for the "Cabinet of Curiosities" class. You see documentaries on artisans like these, but it adds a whole new dimension when you stand there in their workshops, grinding sawdust under your feet, smelling the varnish from other projects, and then witness the painstaking deconstruction of a 17th Century exemplar casket--just so that he can figure out what brass hinges and locks will need to be hand crafted. No matter how well documentaries disseminate information about our history, it is in little shops like this that history comes alive.

September was a very enriching month.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Animated Thoughts: International Animation Day

2011 International Animation Day poster
On October 28th, we celebrate the 10th annual International Animation Day.

From the ASIFA website:

"Since 2002, Asifa, celebrates and coordinates the « International animation day » (IAD), commemorating the first public performance of Emile Reynaud’s Theatre Optique in Paris in 1892. Such a celebration is an outstanding opportunity to put the animated film in the limelight and make this art more accessible to the public."

International Animation Day is another way that ASIFA chapters work together to share and foster an appreciation for the art of animated film. In many of my previous posts, I raise the issue of different countries developing their own unique visual style based upon their unique cultural voice or vision. IAD screenings are a perfect opportunity for viewers to witness this first hand. Most of the screenings show films from other ASIFA chapters from around the world and most of the films are 'shorts' (read that: usually under 20 minutes in duration). If you're looking to learn more about the world animation scene, then the International Animation Day screenings are for you!

Screenings local to Michigan and sponsored by ASIFA/Central are as follows:

Date: October 27 (Thursday)
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Location:
Davidson Auditorium
Davidson Visual & Performing Arts Center

Kellogg Community College
450 North Ave.
Battle Creek, MI, 49017

Showing: "Princes and Princesses" and an overview discussion of Tim Burton's films starting at 7pm in the Davidson Auditorium. There will be pizza and cheese.  Mmmmmmmm.

Map: Campus/Parking map available here.

* * * *

Date: November 1 (Tuesday)
Time: 1:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Location:
Room 112
Lake Superior Hall

Grand Valley State University
Allendale Campus
1 Campus Drive
Allendale, MI 49401

Showing: Australian Animations

Map: Campus/Parking map available here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Animated Inspiration: Simon's Cat 'Double Trouble'

Well, it seems like I'm on top of it today. Two hours ago, Simon Tofield uploaded his latest film. Since I saw my Grandma's new kitten playing with one of her older cats (Sammy the Scottish fold) this past weekend, Simon's film is pretty timely.

Something worth studying in this film is the difference in how the characters are animated--differences between the larger, older cat and the smaller, younger cat. Slight variations in weight and timing can state the difference between two similar character designs far more than visual differences in their appearance.

This is one of the mistakes that I made in my R.I.T. Thesis film "Zero". In my film, all the characters looked identical, however, all the protagonists and antagonists moved with the same weight and timing. While it worked okay for background characters, there wasn't enough difference in the motion of the lead characters. In the end, while my story was good, my inexperience showed through in the character animation and muddled the final result.

Just like what Shamus Culhane did while animating the seven dwarves in Snow White, Mr. Tofield has provided us with a great example of how you can make characters (who have similar design features) stand out from each other by using motion to illustrate the differences in their personalities rather than rely upon physical characteristics alone.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Animated Thoughts: Thistle Threads Goldwork Class

Well, the Goldwork Master Class project for Thistle-Threads is officially over. This project started back in 2008 when Dr. Wilson-Nguyen approached me about creating an animated zig-zag/ladder stitch for a museum display. The video was so well received that she came back to me a couple months later and asked me if I'd be interested in creating another twenty-seven animations for an 'online university' that would be hosted on her website.



So, what did I learn from creating twenty-nine animations of 18th Century English gold-and-silk stitches using Adobe Flash? Tons about creating and manipulating masks in Flash. But one of the most important things I learned during this multi-year project was how important it is to make a schedule and stick to it. One of my mentors from R.I.T., Carl "Skip" Battaglia, once told me that you should always leave the last drawing on your desk unfinished, that way you would know exactly where to start the next day instead of wasting time trying to figure out what to do next.

Following his advice, I broke the project down to two stitches per month, then separated them further into their component parts--the work to be performed in a two-week period along with checkpoints for each day. Working this way, with a series of checkpoints and checklists to mark off when each stage had been reached helped me stay on task for each stitch--some of which would vary greatly in scale and complexity. It also allowed me to work ahead when time presented itself. If I could finish a simple stitch in one week, I did so, then identified another simple stitch that could be animated in the remaining week or I worked ahead on a more complex stitch (which would invariably give me three weeks for a more complex stitch rather than just two). Then, as Skip suggested, when I was done working for the day, I would identify exactly where I needed to pick up on the stitch the next day, and then shut the computer down. Whenever I deviated from these practices, my animations suffered for it. I was still able to complete the stitch animations, however, sticking to the schedule provided me the necessary time to solve problems, polish animations, and even fit in an extra "bonus" animated stitch (the original project called for twenty-six animations).

Another thing worthy of note is the value of templates. Once I identified the parts of the Flash animations that were identical for each stitch animation, I created a template that would be used for the basis of each stitch animation file. Not only did I not have to duplicate work each time a new stitch was started, but I also was able to maintain a high degree of visual consistency between each stitch animation.

So. Where do i go from here? Well, apparently Doc Nguyen has another idea for a class that will need a whole lot of web development and another nine to twelve stitch animations... Time to apply those lessons learned!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Animated Inspiration: Simon's Cat

This was posted last Friday on Simon Tofield's website, so I'm a little late with the repost, but here's the latest edition of "Simon's Cat" in a scenario that I'm sure a lot of cat owners can relate to!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Animated Inspiration: Festival of Drawn Animation

Here's a promo for the 'Scribble Junkies Festival of Drawn Animation' started this year by renowned independent animators Bill Plympton and Patrick Smith. This event will feature and focus entirely on hand drawn animation. For those of you who are going to be in Brooklyn, the event will be held at the Nitehawk Cinema on Sunday night. Details for the screening can be found here. And the Scribble Junkies blog, where Bill and Patrick share their thoughts on animation, can be found here.

Festival of Drawn Animation Trailer.. from Patrick Smith on Vimeo.

(note: this trailer is probably NSFW)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Get Animated Workshop: Paint-on-glass

Here is a compilation of the videos that we created at last week's paint-on-glass workshop along with a look at our animators as they create their films:





Thanks to the Grand Rapids Community Media Center for hosting this event at their monthly AniJam sessions!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Animated Inspiration: "Little Rabbit, Be Good"

As a rule, I tend to steer clear of political cartoons and animations. However, when I saw this Chinese animation protesting abuses by the Chinese government and politically connected individuals, I had to share it. Not only does this animation show how the medium can be used as a tool to promote justice, it also displays a unique visual style--something that I think every country should develop. I think that the visuals speak for themselves, however, to view an english translation, click the "CC" button on the bottom of the YouTube player. I recommend watching the film once through without english subtitles, just to absorb the visuals, then watching it again with subtitles to "hear" the message.



As an added bonus, I'm also going to include an animated film from animation pioneer Windsor McCay: "The Sinking of the Lusitania".

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Get Animated Workshop: Paint-on-glass



On Saturday, July 16th, I'll be teaching a workshop on the Paint-on-glass technique of animation at the Grand Rapids Media Center.

WHAT: Animation using the paint-on-glass technique

WHERE: 1110 Wealthy St, Grand Rapids, MI 49506

WHEN: Saturday, July 16th, starting at 9:00 a.m. and running until 1:00 p.m.

WHO: For further information, please feel free to contact the GRCMC or myself, or you can visit the Grand Rapids Media Center's website.

HOW MUCH: Admission for this event is $20 for non-members and $10 for GRCMC members. Advance tickets can be purchased at the GRCMC event website.

ANYTHING ELSE: Yep! I've just received permission from Canadian animator Patrick Jenkins to show his award winning paint-on-glass animation "Labyrinth" (info is about half-way down the page).

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Animated People: Erik Timmerman

Erik Timmerman
It has been eleven years since Erik Timmerman passed away. So, in memory of Erik, I'd like to share a story from grad school that illustrates how Erik would teach larger lessons about life in the context of the smaller lessons found in our class assignments.

We were all first year grad students, sitting in the classroom. But, being budding artists, none of us had taken the time to develop a thick skin regarding taking criticism of our work. I think part of it was also due to the fact that none of us knew how to properly provide constructive criticism. But, during our classes, this would lead to the usual hurt feelings, snippy comments, and oversensitivity when hearing the thoughts of people whom we thought either "didn't get it" or had their own ideas of what "it" was.

So. The assignment was to create a storyboard that described a scene where Don Quixote tilted at windmills. We had all produced our storyboards and Erik was expecting us to show them to the class for peer (and instructor) review before handing them in the following week for a final grade. Well, when Erik asked who wanted to go first, no one moved. We all sat there with this deer in headlights look. Erik prodded us a little further, but no one made a move. So, understandably frustrated, Erik dismissed the class for the day so we could finish up our storyboard assignment.

Afterwards, Erik and I retired to the Graduate Student's lab as he had some work for me to do. It was nearing the end of the quarter so time was precious and the work needed to get done--he wanted to give me detailed instructions. When I sat down, Erik shook his head and said how he didn't understand why everyone just sat there.

"Don't they understand that this is a chance to fix problems with their storyboards so they can get a better grade," he asked me somewhat rhetorically. I responded with a truthful, albeit lame, excuse about how everyone put a lot of work into our storyboards and couldn't handle the criticism from everyone. Erik looked at me and said the following:

"When you were a child, you said to your mother 'I want a cookie' and she gave you a cookie. And when she wouldn't, you would cry with tears streaming down your face until she gave you one. When you get older, if you asked your boss, 'I want a cookie', and if you didn't get one, you started to cry, he'd look at you like you're crazy."

The point being that the things you did when you were a child are clearly inappropriate when you're an adult. Sort of an Erik way of saying that 'when I was a child, I thought like a child, spoke like a child, acted like a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things.'

I said that I understood what he was trying to get at. And I think that he believed me because when I asked him to take a quick look at my storyboards, he did so and then gave me some sound advice on how to fix a couple of problems. Then we went back to work on the lab.

Although I'm sure he didn't know it at the time, that was one of those moments where Erik, in his own way, helped usher me into manhood--one of those many moments where it all started to make sense in my head and I could almost feel myself maturing mentally/emotionally in a real, concrete sense.

Erik died eleven years ago. And yet when I reminisce about him, he's still there, giving me lessons about life.

Eleven years later, he is still my teacher.

* * *

Photograph from Andrew Davidhazy's Retired Professors and past colleagues from the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences at RIT webpage.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Animated Thoughts: TAIS BunnyJam 2011

Tais SummerJam
This year's TAIS SummerJam had some very impressive work. The jury selected a good mix between narrative and non-narrative films. Additionally, there was also a healthy range of techniques--stop-motion, puppet, paint-on-glass, CGI, cutout and cel. Of course, when they announced the prize winning films, it reinforced the fact that I was attending a festival where my tastes were a little more in sync with the jury! I was very pleased that Jamie Metzger's film "Paso Doble" won the Jury Award.

My other favorite film from the SummerJam was "Tara's Dream" by Patrick Jenkins--a film created using the paint-on-glass technique which won both Second Prize and Best Animation Prize in the Toronto Urban Film Festival.


And last, but certainly not least, they had a series of BunnyJam films: 10 second films created and submitted from animators all around the world.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Animated Inspiration: Sumo Lake

Maybe it's because I grew up watching Godzilla movies and anime. Or maybe it's because I have a fascination with Japanese culture. But some films just make you sit there and go "Wow!" 'Sumo Lake' is one of those films. Greg Hofeld has constructed a fascinating new take on ballet that reminds me of how the elaborate fight sequences in Godzilla films were highly choreographed.

Sumo Lake from Panic Productions on Vimeo.
What endears me the most to this short animated film is that according to his website, Greg produced 'Sumo Lake' using the non-digital, Mark 1, pencil and paper. I smile inside when I hear the nay-sayers touting how traditional hand-drawn animation is dead. They obviously haven't taken a good look into the world of animated short films. Once you've watched this film, I urge you to visit the SumoLake blog and take a look into Greg Hofeld's filmmaking process.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Animated Inspiration: Food Zoetrope

Y'know, sometimes you look at a short film and think 'I wish I had done that.' Normally, I get this feeling when watching the festival promo films for Annecy that the students at Gobelins produce. This time, it's a pair of Annecy promos that were created by Alexandre Dubosc. Within these two short stop-motion films, Mr. Dubosc displays a fresh take on old animation equipment--namely the Zoetrope (albeit, turned inside-out).


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Animated Reviews: Kung Fu Panda 2

skeedoosh!
I only have two minor issues about "Kung Fu Panda 2". So, I'm going to get them out of the way before the rest of the review.

First: there was a little too much of 'Jack Black' bleeding over into Po's performance. Black's screwball mannerisms and witticisms can be pretty funny and they do add a certain humanity to Po's character.(1)  But sometimes it's just a little too much. (2)  So, I feel that adding in too many of them runs the risk of the viewer getting tired of the Black-isms really fast especially when some of them either aren't funny at all or are out of place. It kind of reminded me of the second live-action "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movie where it was clear that they were hamming it up due to still being on an emotional high from the commercial success of the first film. I guess I just don't want to be abruptly pulled out of the fictional world that they've created--I want to see "Po" not Jack Black playing "Po". A minor quibble to be sure, and certainly not enough to spoil the rest of Jack Black's very solid performance, but it was there nonetheless.

The second issue is that the first quarter of the film seemed kind of muddled. Like they knew where they had to go in order to get to the main conflict, but needed to eat up some screen time with Po and the Furious Five so they could catch up to the background events that were taking place at the same chronological time. Once they reached the city? Man it was on and it stayed on until the end of the film! And there were lots of lovely little Easter eggs: like hearing Jean Claude Van Damme do the voice acting for Master Croc.

I absolutely loved how they expanded upon the relationship between Po and his adoptive father (Mr. Ping--expertly voiced by James Hong) and revealed questions about his past that had lain dormant in Po's heart. Like "Despicable Me", the "Kung Fu Panda" franchise is a giant advertisement for adoption--and in both cases, they work spectacularly! Another thing that I really loved is how they gave a little more screen time to the Furious Five--it made them more than just a part of the background vehicle for Po (a common complaint that I heard about KFP1, even though I personally don't agree with it).

Yet another thing that DreamWorks got right was taking time to develop the villain's character, motivation and backstory. One of my pet peeves is when villains are little more than cardboard cutouts. Okay, the super powered alien race is attacking the planet. Why? What's their motivation? Why would they travel halfway across the galaxy just to pick a fight with a technologically inferior race of beings? In both KFP1 and 2, the villains make sense. Tai Lung and Shen, though they don't get as much screen time as the rest of the cast, have clear motivations and reasons behind their actions. Yes, the reasons may be simple: revenge against a perceived wrong from a parental/authority figure. But the single minded way that the characters pursue their goals coupled with the backstory revealed to the audience fleshes out their character and taps into that deep dark part of everyone who has ever been denied something that they believed was rightfully theirs. Even though their actions and motivations may be morally wrong, we can identify with the villains on some level. And that identification helps take them from the realm of just being a MacGuffin for the hero and plants them firmly into the realm of being an actual character who struggles against the hero in their attempt to achieve goals that are as real and as logical to them as the hero's goals are to the hero.

After that, there's not much else to say: the character animation, backgrounds, sound and voice acting were all top notch--and after both KFP1 and HTTYD, I really expected nothing less. Once again, DreamWorks shows that they are capable of giving Disney/Pixar a run for their money!

I'm going to leave you with the following video of  the ending credits for Kung Fu Panda 2. This is one of the unexpected treats that we're seeing more and more in animated features: lavishly animated credits that are as beautiful and as artistic as the main film. Bravo to DreamWorks for continuing this tradition with KFP2!


1. To see an example where the 'Black-isms' work really well, review the scene in "Kung Fu Panda" where Po is trying to climb the stairwell and get into the temple!
2. To see an example where too many 'Black-isms' overload an otherwise solid performance, watch the often touching and brilliant film "Shallow Hal".

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Animated Inspiration: Train of Thought

Here's an enjoyable little student film that incorporates multiple animation techniques: Leo Bridle's 'Train of Thought'. A trend that I'm really enjoying is how animators (both students and independents) are putting together 'Making of' videos for their films. It's always interesting to see how people approach challenges during the production process as well as how they structure their films during pre-production. I'm a firm believer that these 'Making of' films provide us little seeds of knowledge that help us to solve our own production problems when the time arises on our own films.



The making of "Train of Thought"

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Animated Quotes: C.S. Lewis

"You are never too old to set another goal or dream another dream."

~C.S. Lewis

Monday, May 30, 2011

Animated Thoughts: Attitude of Gratitude, update

May was a busy month. In addition to the forensic work for my day job and the two monthly Goldwork animations for Thistle Threads' online university, I found the time to give back and get energized.

Cherry tree next to R.I.T.'s Admissions office
During the third week of May, I returned to my alma mater: the Rochester Institute of Technology. For years, Stephanie Maxwell had been after me to come back home and talk to students about my life as an independent animator. In truth, I had been putting her off for years because I never thought that I had the body of work that would make it a worthwhile experience for them. Well, it took me fourteen years, but I had finally amassed enough animations and experience to provide an interesting look at life outside of "the industry."

My talk was part professional work and part biography as I tried to stay humble about my successes and brutally honest about my failures. The hope was twofold: one, show a wide range of examples so students would see that there is enough work to support yourself after graduation should you not get that dream job at Pixar. And two, be open and honest about my mistakes so that the students could either avoid making them or at least minimize the damage if/when they do make them.

I knew going into this presentation that the folks at R.I.T. would be first-class all the way and would treat me as such, so I tried to ensure that they'd get the biggest bang for their buck. Instead of recycling my forensic animation presentation from the 2009 Kalamazoo Animation Festival International, I wrote a brand new two-hour lecture that covered the entire breadth of my work -- from commercials to museums to court cases. Additionally, R.I.T. gave me the opportunity to teach an hour-and-a-half workshop on Forensic Animation where students could see what it takes to do an accident reconstruction and get a finished piece for their portfolios.

Preparing for my lecture was an exercise that will be the subject of an upcoming post. But by the time the presentation was completed, I had practiced the lecture--actually speaking through it slide-by-slide over ten times (including the night before I was to speak at R.I.T.). As it was a two-hour lecture, that put my preparation time at twenty hours--not including the time it took to compile my research, proof the videos, and write the slides. The prep time was invaluable as it showed me every place where I needed more info or was at risk for meandering off topic. I think that the best compliment I received was from a professor who said that he had three students who he wished had heard my lecture.

However, what I enjoyed most about the trip was the chance to hang out in a pub the night before my lecture and talk one-on-one with Stephanie. Whenever I see Stephanie (or Skip, or Marla) at festivals, we're usually so busy with workshops, screenings, and networking with other animators. There never seems to be time to sit down, and have a relaxing conversation with your mentors unless you make the time. Later that evening, I was left with the thoughts that I graduated 14 years ago and my professors still have so much to teach me--and how fortunate I was that they are still more than willing to share their wealth of experience!

On the way home, since it was right off the highway, I treated myself to an hour's visit at the Niagara Butterfly Conservatory. I've been to Butterfly houses all around the Great Lakes region and I have to say that the Niagara Conservatory is the best (with Wings of Paradise in Kitchener a close second). At any rate, the Butterfly Conservatory was a very nice reward for confronting my reservations about public speaking.

My trip to R.I.T. was Monday through Wednesday. On Saturday, I drove up to Grand Rapids for the annual ASIFA/Central Midwest Animators Retreat.

Paired up with David Baker and Gordon Peterson, we spent four hours doing a couple stop motion animations using crayon on posterboard. David had this really cool organic vision for our animations that had us dividing up the posterboard into sections and each of us drawing abstract imagery that grew from multiple focal points on the page.

It's coming right at us!
After lunch (and a meeting), we retired to the little theatre and shared examples of our works-in-progress...

All-in-all, it was a very busy week but one that was filled with the excitement of connecting with old friends and meeting brand new friends. My lecture at R.I.T. put me in the best possible mood for interacting with the animators at the ASIFA meeting. I'm very happy to see so many professional animators and student recognizing the value of the community we're building through ASIFA/Central.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Animated Inspiration: Bird Box Studio

Here's another funny short from England's 'Bird Box Studio.' This one is a commercial for Three Olive Vodka.

With their simple character design and limited graphic design for the backgrounds, the animators at Bird Box continue to let the motion and actions of their characters speak volumes. These commercials (and by extension, many of their short films) remind me of the old Pink Panther cartoons--animations where the motion of the characters carried the entire film since most of the characters did not speak. Additionally, they used the limited detail, monochromatic backgrounds seen in many cartoons from that time period. Whether intentionally or not, Bird Box Studio is providing us with a refreshing look into the style and substance of cartoons from the sixties.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Animated Inspiration: Redline

'The Illusionist' may have been the best animated film I saw last year, but 'Redline' was both the most creative and the most insane! Screened at the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema, 'Redline' is the story of an intergalactic race to determine who is the best driver in the known universe!

'Redline' was like the Wachowski Brothers' movie 'Speed Racer'... if it was on enough adrenaline to kill an elephant! Seriously, the visuals during the frequent and frenetic action sequences were enough to cause seizures. Add to that the creative use of camera work that I rarely see in anime.

I remember being a child, watching Saturday morning cartoons with wide-eyed enthusiasm after ingesting several bowls of cereal infused with sugar, preservatives, and artificial colors and flavors. Back then I didn't know anything about ADHD, all I knew was that I could barely sit still while imaginary characters danced across the screen in a ballet of color and cartoon violence--all for my viewing pleasure. 'Redline' brought back all those memories and feelings in a tidal wave of adrenaline and endorphins!

You see, 'Redline' is more than just your standard high octane anime--through it's creative use of color, distortion and camera lens effects, it becomes a cinematic treat that pushes the traditional visual conventions and stylings of anime into the realm of arthouse films and Hollywood blockbusters. The most exciting thing is that Anchor Bay Entertainment has just announced that they've acquired the North American rights from auteur animation studio Madhouse in Japan! So we'll be seeing 'Redline' available on DVD this Fall.

On Wednesday nights, several friends and I gather together to watch anime. 'Redline' will be added to the lineup this Fall and my friends will be introduced to the seizure-inducing experience that is Madhouse!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Animated Inspiration: The Illusionist

To celebrate today's release of Sylvan Chomet's brilliant film "The Illusionist" on DVD and BluRay, here's the trailer to whet your appetite for traditional 2d hand drawn animation.

Since I'm not a fan of BluRay (due to it's increased cost and hardware requirements), I'm a little crestfallen that this film appears to only be available as an expensive 'combo pack' which contains both the BluRay and standard DVD copies of the film. However, this was the best animated feature film that I saw in 2010 and I know that it'll be worth the purchase (once I scrape the cash together and swallow my pride over buying a BluRay disk).

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Animated Inspiration: Simon's Cat

Well, Simon Tofeld has done it again. I found this a month late (I think he released it for Easter), but here is the latest Simon's Cat. As always, it's chock full of character and mirth and worth two minutes of your valuable time!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Animated Quotes: Joe Murray

"Success" arrives when you find you no longer need it.

Joe Murray (Creator of Camp Lazlo and Rocko's Modern Life)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Animated Thoughts: Importance of Experimentation

Something that I have found which is sorely lacking in professional life is the opportunity to experiment. Back in college, we had the opportunity to spend hours in the labs tinkering with our own ideas and projects. The sky was the limit because we didn't have the pressure of client-imposed deadlines or an employer breathing down our neck. College was that petri dish of ideas, inspiration, innovation and creativity. Yes, there were classes to take, homework to do, and projects to get done--all with their own deadlines. However, the difference between college and work--for me at least--was that college was dedicated to the discovery of information, be it problem solving or just knowledge for the sake of knowledge. But when you're on the job, you're expected to always know the correct answer at a moment's notice since 'you' are the expert. That expectation may or may not be realistic. While we should always continue learning about our career choice, the opportunities to continue learning and experimenting aren't always available.

My membership with the Toronto Animated Image Society continues to pay dividends as every year they host workshops that span a plethora of artistic styles, media, and instructors. Several times I've solved a rather vexing problem on client work by doodling, mowing the lawn, taking a shower, watching a movie, basically any activity that distracts my mind from the task at hand. So, these events where I can learn a new artistic technique, bookended by a four hour drive to and from Toronto, have provided a lot of tightly focused time to experiment, learn, and reflect upon what I have learned. They basically provide that college 'petri dish' experience in the space of a weekend. And by extension, they have provided many flashes of inspiration that have solved problems that I have faced on the job.

When I was in graduate school at R.I.T., I would spend a couple hours every Saturday at the local zoo, drawing the animals and reflecting on my classes. As the Summer months are almost upon me, I think that it's time to revive that practice by renewing my yearly membership to the local zoo and drawing the animals on Saturday mornings. In the past, that weekly act of experimentation (combined with quiet reflection) provided me with no shortage of ideas, inspirations, and solutions to my problems.

As time marches on, I am coming to the conclusion that if I want to progress both as an artist/animator and in my career, I cannot neglect the importance of experimentation. Funny how we tend to forget the lessons that served us so well in the past.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Animated Inspiration: Pub Dog

Here's a hysterical animation from Birdbox Studio that showcases the dry wit of Britain. I've probably said this before, but one of the things that I like the most about these shorts from Birdbox Studio is that there's no dialogue. So, much like the Wile Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons of yesteryear, the entire film must be carried by the motion and emotion of the characters.



If you have a few spare minutes, follow the link to their website and check out their other films. I showcased 'Sketchy Playground' here last October (back when they were calling it 'Sketchy Ice Creams'), however 'UFO' and 'Sketchy Blues' are definitely worth watching. It's hard to pick a favorite since they're all so good!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Animated Inspiration: Neomorphus

Here's a stop-motion animation that just screams 'Brothers Quay', however, it was actually created by Animatorio, a studio out of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

"Neomorphus"

Neomorphus from Animatorio on Vimeo.


I have to give it to the animators. No matter how much I like this creepy little film, they've gone the extra mile and published an additional short on the making of their film that displays concept sketches, sets, animation tests, and unused scenes.

"The making of Neomorphus"

Neomorphus Making Of from Animatorio on Vimeo.


What I find particularly fascinating with this film is that they're providing a behind-the-scenes look at production. So you can see all the guide wires, camera dolly, type of camera used, as well as the model guides set up to mark the last position of the models. It's things like this that appeal to my inner animation geek--a magical little film followed by a look behind the scenes into the magician's bag of tricks!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Animated Inspiration: Simon's Cat 'Sticky Tape'

You know it's going to be a good month when Simon Tofeld releases another installment of his "Simon's Cat" series! As my current project is being produced using Flash CS4, it's always exciting--and humbling--to see what Flash can do in the hands of a master animator like Mr. Tofeld!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Animated Quotes: Tiffany Grant

"No script ever survives contact with the actors."

- Tiffany Grant, spoken lecture at ShutoCon 2011

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Women in Animation: Eiko Tanaka

I'd like to end this month of profiles on Women in Animation by sharing some information about a great success story in the field of animation: Eiko Tanaka.

Eiko Tanaka founded her own animation studio, Studio 4°C (1), in Tokyo back in 1986 after working "as a line producer on Hayao Miyazaki's MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO and KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE" (2). In the past twenty-five years, Studio 4°C has worked on such films as "Spriggan", "the Animatrix", "Batman: Gotham Knight", "First Squad: The Moment of Truth", and two of my personal favorites: "Genius Party" and "Genius Party Beyond". Additionally, Studio 4°C has worked on television series, commercials, video games, public service announcements, and their own animated shorts (3). And if that wasn't enough, she apparently is also "the chief executive office of a producing company called Beyond C" (4).

Having had both Spriggan and the Animatrix in my collection, I hadn't given much thought to their production companies until I went to the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema back in 2008. It was there that I saw both Genius Party and Genius Party Beyond. Having been raised on a steady diet of anime (and it's ofttimes uninspired visual style), I was blown away by the wide range of story and visuals projected on the screen. It was fascinating to see such an established a studio break out of the 'big eyes-small mouth' stereotype of Japanese animation and push the boundaries of the artistic medium using the gift for technical precision and quality that is so prevalent in Japanese society. The following is a trailer from WFAC's presentation of Genius Party which clearly illustrates the skill and vision of Eiko Tanaka's company.



My last word for this month is to mention the professional organization "Women in Animation". WIA is a very affordable professional group for pros and students who work in the field of animation (5). WIA currently has chapters in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. If I had a daughter who wanted to know what it was like to work in the field of animation, WIA is probably one of the first places I would suggest she start looking for information--since their membership roster is a who's-who of animation studio creatives, executives, and independents. As networking is one of the best ways to gather intel about a job field (and a pretty good way to find employment and educational opportunities), I view this collection of women (6) as having one of the widest spectrums of job experience in the field of animation. The women of WIA are a resource that should be consulted by any girl wishing to pursue a career in animation at any level.

1. Although one source I found (Crunchyroll.com) lists her as a co founder along with: Koji Morimoto and Yoshiharu Sato
2. Source: Studio 4°C website - company hyperlink
3 Source: Wikipedia Entry - Studio 4°C
4. Source: Wikipedia Entry - Eiko Tanaka
5. Annual membership is currently $50 for professionals and $25 for students.
6. And no, you don't have to be a woman to join WIA. As my current membership will attest, 30% of WIA's membership happen to be men.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Women in Animation: Ellen Besen

Ellen Besen
I had heard of Ellen Besen, but we didn't meet until 2009 when I was giving a presentation at the Kalamazoo Animation Festival International. Since I hadn't spoken in public for a while, she took me under her wing and helped me focus not on my discomfort but on the importance of the information I was presenting. Since then, Ellen Besen has been the angel sitting on my shoulder who quietly and patiently encourages me to become a better animator than I am. I think that my fondest memory of Ellen so far was when we were sitting at a pub in Toronto and talking about the style and structure of story in animated films. With that one discussion, Ellen made an elegant critique of "The Incredibles" (my favorite Pixar film to date) and showed me where the strengths and flaws of the movie were. Ellen continues to challenge my best ideas and shows me that I can take them further than I had ever dreamed possible. If you have the chance to read it, I cannot recommend her book "Animation Unleashed" highly enough. In it, you'll discover why that evening at the pub in Toronto listening to Ellen challenge my entrenched ideas was so valuable. Ellen tackles difficult abstract concepts with a very approachable style that cuts through the mist and shines a spotlight directly on the heart of the concept itself:

"Animation is particularly effective when it communicates with movement. But this potential can only be tapped when movement is given a meaningful role."

From page 16, Making Movement Matter, Animation Unleashed, Ellen Besen (author).

Two of Ellen's films, "Illuminated Lives: A Brief History of Women's Work in the Middle Ages" and "Sea Dream", are currently on display for viewing at the NFB's Mediatheque in Toronto and their Cinerobotheque in Montreal.

Here is our third interviewee in this year's Women in Animation series, Ellen Besen.

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Q: What is your current job description?
A: Hard to pin down these days. I’ve played a lot of different roles in this field over the years and find that I return to all of them from time to time. I am still filmmaking, consulting on other people’s projects, both personal and commercial, teaching (private classes only) and writing about animation storytelling. Most important project right now is the new book- an in depth look at animation and hybrid storytelling techniques which I am co-writing with animation filmmaker/professor Aubry Mintz.

Q: How long have you worked in the animation industry?
A: Began my studies at Sheridan College in 1971 and have been in the field ever since.

Q: What roles have you performed during your career in animation?
A: Producer, director, animator, filmmaker (doing the whole thing), professor, mentor, event/festival organizer, curator, journalist and author

Q: Is there a book or film that you worked on that you are particularly proud of?
A: My three favorite film projects are Sea Dream, NFB 1979; Slow Dance World, Independent 1986 and Stroke, commissioned for 11 in Motion 2009.

Also proud of my book, Animation Unleashed, MWP 2008 and the new book, Whole Cloth Storytelling (working title), MWP- work in progress.

Q: How have opportunities changed for women pursuing a career in animation today as opposed to when you started your career?
A: A lot in some ways and surprisingly little in others. When I started, there were very few women involved in the field and there was some resistance to their participation. Now they are more accepted and participating in greater numbers but still way less than you’d expect- commercial animation is still a guy’s game in so many ways. Why is this so? Are fewer women applying to the schools or are they applying but not being accepted? If the latter, is this a bias among teachers, a genuine deficit in preparation or an orientation within the field itself which favours one set of skills, one approach to design, story, etc over another?

Worth noting, the substantial female audience for anime which is going to grow up with its leading edge generation may prove to be the true ground breaker for women in this field.

Q: What do you think is the biggest obstacle to women who want to pursue a career in animation?
A: Because of any or all of the above, you need even greater persistence and commitment, I think. It is a hard field by its nature- for anyone, male or female, wanting in, you have to dig in and you have to love the medium in order to be able to make the commitment required. But male or female, if you are talented, persistent, disciplined and comfortable in a team situation (not much room for big egos in the trenches!)- you stand a reasonable chance of advancing.

Q: If your daughter said that she wanted to work in animation, what advice would you give her?
A: That depends on her goals. if she wanted to work in the studio system I would suggest that she develop her art skills to a reliable level before tackling the animation curriculum. If she were interested in a more independent approach, developing a personal style to both visuals and story- and jumping right into the filmmaking would offer a real advantage. As would developing enough technical skills to be self sufficient from idea to finished project.

For all young women- be bolder- don’t be afraid to ask for a challenge and to take one on if offered even if you aren’t 100 percent sure that your skills are in place- a lot of learning takes place on the fly.

Q: What is the most important thing that authority figures (parents/teachers/professors) can do to encourage girls who are considering a career in animation?
A: Try to dig past the hype about the field and form a realistic picture about what it means to work in animation. Look for a genuine affinity with the medium- it’s not a field for dabblers. Encourage them to see a variety of animated works with different techniques, approaches to story and thus widen their frame of reference. Encourage them to observe movement in the real world and to develop their art in whatever technique suits them.

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*The image and quote used is copyright Ellen Besen and used with her permission.