Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Animated Thoughts: ASIFA/Central Spring Meeting

On Saturday, April 14th, the ASIFA/Central Spring Meeting was held at the Grand Rapids Community Media Center.

The day started off much like our other meetings: with a quick demonstration of an animation technique. In this particular case, it was 3d zoetropes--the examples being the two made by Studio Ghibli and Pixar, which can be viewed in the following video:

Animation workstation
After some discussion on how these zoetropes were created, we went into the workshop and started animating. Some of us created traditional two-dimensional zoetropes--drawing on paper strips--and others used turntables to create three-dimensional zoetropes using clay, little figures, and found objects. Each one of us walked the same path but came up with a wide variety of artistic results.

Here's a video of the zoetrope I created:

The rest of the zoetropes can be viewed on the Grand Rapids Community Media Center's YouTube Channel or individually at the following links:
With the exception of our President Jim Middleton, who was attending to business elsewhere, all our officers were in attendance and we each took turn reporting our progress to the assembled membership. For my part, the membership renewal drive is proceeding as planned and we've picked up a couple new members during the first quarter. Additionally, our Cafepress website is up, active, and ready to accept orders for ASIFA/Central and ASIFA themed merchandise. After reporting how ASIFA/Central remains in good stead, financially, Deanna then gave us a short report on what the overall ASIFA organization is working on (it's all stuff with the website). Once we were finished reporting on our respective departments, the entire membership was invited to show animations that we are all currently working on or have recently completed. While David VanTuyle and Gary Schwartz showed some very impressive work, my favorite remains the pre-production work that Stephan Leeper is creating for his upcoming film: The Temptation of Brother Thomas. On his website, you can see photos of the one foot-tall Brother Thomas maquette he displayed at the workshop while showing us the storyboards for his film.

The workshop ended with all of us finishing our zoetrope animations and then moving from station to station, viewing the day's films while Lynn McKeon posted them online.

After the workshop wrapped up, Gary, Deanna, Stephan and I retired to one of the many microbreweries in Grand Rapids, Brewery Vivant, for a craft beer sampling (not being much of a drinker, I sampled their Root Beer and Raspberry-Apple hard cider). While the food and drinks were excellent, the place was a little too loud for my tastes. So after light conversation over appetizers, we walked up the road to the Pickwick Tavern where the shop talk continued for another hour or two.

As the Membership Coordinator for ASIFA/Central (and someone who constantly harps about how animators in the Great Lakes region need a sense of community much like like they have at TAIS), this was one event I felt obligated to attend--but in a good way. It was a real treat that I had been looking forward to during the weeks since the announcement was posted on our Facebook group. Saturday's meeting was an abbreviated version of the events I so appreciate at the TAIS workshops or the Ottawa International Animation Festival. It all boils down to community. The films shown at festivals and screenings will always be hit-or-miss for me since everyone has different tastes in film techniques as well as subject matter. However, the opportunity to spend time with fellow animators is one that every professional should look for (and forward to). Given the solitary nature of our endeavors, independent animators like myself run the risk of becoming isolated from the rest of the filmmaking community unless we take concrete steps to foster and maintain ties to other professionals. And it doesn't always have to be networking for business. Sometimes it's just nice to have a conversation with like-minded individuals.

I look forward to our next meeting in a couple of months when we all will gather together at the Spring Lake Library for an impromptu celebration of Windsor McCay, pioneer of animation.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Animated Reviews: ShutoCon

I have sort of a love-hate relationship with anime cons. On the one hand: I've been watching Godzilla movies and anime since the early 1970's when all they had on t.v. was reruns of "Speed Racer" and the first runs of "Battle of the Planets" and "Star Blazers". So anime has been a large part of my life throughout my entire life. On the other hand, "cosplay" kind of creeps me out. Being at a convention to meet a voice actor who's work you have admired for decades while teenage kids wearing extremely revealing costumes are bouncing around you, acting in character, is a really uncomfortable situation for a middle-aged man to be in. Occasionally, you'll meet some kid or college-age student who is a little more mature than the rest and can hold up their end of a decent conversation. But most times, it just leaves you feeling icky when you realize that the attractive girl wearing the bikini top and hot pants, who just asked you why you're not in costume, is actually young enough to be your daughter. And as the months move from Spring to Summer, and the temperature rises with the seasons, the costumes get more revealing and I get more and more uncomfortable. As it takes place in June, I go through a lot of soul-searching before making the decision of whether or not I should attend JAFAX.

'Pinkie Pie' 1
ShutoCon was a touch more more bearable this year than last. Even though the weather was warmer, it appears that 'My Little Pony' is now the big thing. Basically, the outfits are far less revealing when all you need is a monogrammed t-shirt and skirt paired up with a bright pink wig and a 'horsie-ear' headband.

It being the second year for ShutoCon, I was determined to ignore my social anxiety and attend the only "animation" convention in Lansing--and I use that term lightly, though not in a negative fashion mind you. ShutoCon caters to a wider audience then just the folks like me who are all about the art of Japanese animation. At this convention, you'll find a plethora of cosplayers, people who study the Japanese language, aficionados of the Gothic Lolita fashion, artists who create Japanese-inspired artwork, people who are interested in Japanese food and culture, as well as those who just want to do some shopping for Japanese-themed products.

'The Samurai' 2
Personally, fortune smiled on me in the dealers room as I found a long out-of-print DVD that I've been searching for since the mid-nineties. Yes, I could've picked it up for the same price (when you include shipping) from Amazon.com, but for the life of me, I couldn't remember the name. Sadly though, the dealer who was there last year with all the 6" Godzilla figures didn't have a booth at ShutoCon this year. Sometimes you're stuck going the Amazon.com route even when you want to support local businesses.

Sushi Charm
At the cons, I try to support local artists as well as local businesses and this year I found perhaps the cutest artist ever in my fifteen plus years of going to conventions. 'Tasty Peach Studios' is an artist working out of Indiana who creates cutesy little chibi-themed characters. As I stood there and felt the saccharine overdose starting to make my teeth hurt, I quickly bought a little sushi charm and walked away before the sugar coma fully set in. While I'm not really into the 'moe' scene, I have to admit that, if I had a daughter, I would be spending way too much money with Tasty Peach. As it is though, Christmas shopping for my sister's niece is going to be a lot easier this year! Her work is actually a pretty fascinating study of character design so I put a reminder in my notebook to chat her up at JAFAX and see how well her designs would make the translation to animation.

However, shopping wasn't the main reason for attending ShutoCon. As the convention organizers brought in two of the four voice actors that I suggested in 2011's "who should we get for next year" forum, I wasn't going to miss an opportunity to have Richard Epcar and Mary McGlynn sign the 'Ghost in the Shell: Innocence' poster that Crispin Freeman autographed for me last month at Con Ja Nai.

Me and Richard 'Batou' Epcar
To put it plainly, Richard Epcar was the man. I'm not sure what ShutoCon paid him to appear at the convention, but they sure got their money's worth. For three days, he made himself available for several autograph sessions, gave multiple lectures and Q&A sessions, and was always ready to put his arm around a fan and pose for a photo while telling a funny story or giving career advice.

Over his sessions, Mr. Epcar covered a lot of ground including how to become a voice actor--not just for anime, but for animation in general--his career history, how he got into voice acting, and how he got into directing and screenwriting. Additionally, he ran a hilarious out-takes show for the 18+ crowd where it was one video clip after another of voice actors flubbing their lines or being silly and inventing their own lines. I especially enjoyed how he talked about recording the recent unabridged Doc. Savage audiobook 'White Eyes'--which I purchased from him for this year's twenty-hour roundtrip drive to the Ottawa International Animation Festival.

Mary "Major Kusinagi" McGlynn
At one of the autograph sessions, I had a nice conversation with Mary McGlynn regarding our mutual enjoyment of 'Millennium Actress' and our sadness over the tragic death of Satoshi Kon. In addition to discussing her career and handing out advice, an accomplished singer, she even sang an accapella song from her upcoming album. Much like Mr. Epcar, Ms. McGlynn was all about the fans and was always ready to hand out advice, pose for a photo, or answer a question while rushing through the hall to her next session.

One thing I do regret though is not going to the rave. Luckily, since I was volunteering to check badges down the hall from the ballroom that night, I did get to hear some of the music at a level that wouldn't damage my hearing. A made a mental note to keep an eye on Greg's website for its relaunch and check it for upcoming performance dates. Given that I've already lost a small range of hearing due to some serious acts of stupidity at loud concerts during my younger years, I probably won't ever be front and center at a D.J. Ayers show in the future. But considering how much I enjoy electronica, I'd love to just hang out sometime, outside the main hall, and enjoy the music without having to bump into the sweaty little kids with glowsticks, dancing in the ballroom and making the same mistakes with their hearing that I made in the past.

Cons, better with friends. 3
In the end though, despite whatever anxiety I may feel over sharing anime cons with younger generations, I consider myself lucky to have been old enough to be a part of all but one major wave of anime hitting the shores of America. I wasn't there for Astro Boy and Tetsujin 28, but I've been around for and been a part of everything else since then. It almost makes up for having to suffer through a decade of bellbottoms and Disco.

Update 4/30/2012:
ShutoCon just got Greg Ayres's contract in the mail today. Looks like I'll have the chance to hear him jam at next year's rave after all!

1. Photograph copyright 2012, Paul Gordon.
2. Photograph courtesy of Amazon.com.
3. Photograph copyright 2012, John Collins of Weird Review.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Animated People: Norman McLaren

Happy Birthday to Norman McLaren, animator, experimental filmmaker, Academy Award winner, and champion of animation at the National Film Board of Canada, who was born on April 11, 1914.

Featured below is his Academy Award winning film "Neighbours", created using the pixillation technique.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Animated Inspiration: Fresh Guacamole

Well, PES has released yet another animation using the pixilation technique. I'm encouraged when I see professional animators taking older, lesser used animation techniques, coming up with fresh takes on the technique, and making them their own.

For more info on people who are keeping techniques like pixilation alive, click here for a review of TAIS's 2010 Pixilation workshop which Bryce Hallett of Frog Feet Productions taught for the Toronto Animated Image Society.