Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Animated Thoughts: Another chapter ends

 
Canadian animator Frédéric Back died of cancer last night at the age of 89.

Watching Back's film "The Man Who Planted Trees" was a life-changing experience for me. I first saw this film at the Odeon Theatre in Frandor as part of the Tournee of Animation back in high school.

Having grown up on a steady diet of Disney, Warner Bros., anime, and the limited animation found in Saturday morning cartoons, I had never witnessed a film like his--one that immediately struck me as though I were watching an animated French impressionist painting. Even today, 25 years later, "The Man who Planted Trees" remains on the list of my top ten favorite animated films. The works of Frédéric Back forced me to push beyond my limited experiences and narrow vision of what an animated film was and led me down the road to embrace the works of Martine Chartrand, Stephanie Maxwell, and Patrick Jenkins many years later.

I hope that this coming year, the Ottawa International Animation Festival will plan a retrospective of Mr. Back's films so I can see them as they were meant to be seen: on a large screen where you can sit there and absorb every last detail. It would be a very nice way to close the chapter that opened with my seeing Mr. Back's film back in 1988.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Animated Inspiration: Robert Löbel's "Wind"

Here's one of those real crowd pleasers that we saw at this year's Ottawa International Animation Festival. It's a graduate film called "Wind", created by Robert Löbel at HAW Hamburg Department Design in Germany.



Sunday, December 1, 2013

Animated Quotes: Andrew Carnegie

“People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents.”
~ Andrew Carnegie

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Animated Events: Waterloo Festival For Animated Cinema 2013

Last week, I returned to Ontario for the only animation festival in the world that is dedicated to animated feature films: the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema, or WFAC for short.


Located in Waterloo/Kitchener, the festival has been running since 2001 and is held at the Chrysalids Theater, a fully-licensed, 500 seat theater in the heart of downtown Kitchener, Ontario with an attached lounge area where festival-goers can relax and discuss the films over a drink while waiting for the next film to be cued up.


Well, no visit to Waterloo/Kitchener would be complete without a trip to the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory, so I made that my first stop. Luck was with me as there were only three other people at the Conservatory, and two of them left shortly after I arrived. So while the lighting wasn't the best during the late afternoon, my view of the butterflies was unobstructed by people.


That evening, Joe started the festival strong with the delightful children's film "Ernest and Celestine".



Based on a series of children's books, this film told the tale of a mouse and a bear--both chafing under the constraints of a society that demands conformity of profession and conformity of position. The two worlds--mouse and bear--coexist but never mingle, that is until Ernest finds Celestine trapped in a garbage can. The visuals were a sumptious feast of watercolor backgrounds and ink outlined characters. Joe stated after the film that the static watercolor painted backgrounds enabled the production company to save lots of time and money as it limited the number of cels to animate. The character designs were adorable and the motion very fluid. This is definitely a film, much like Winnie the Pooh, that parents will enjoy watching with their kids.

After the show, Joe presented a live performance called "Miyazaki Madness" A tribute show to Hayao Miyazaki that combined magic, acrobatics, dance, song, fire acts, and burlesque performances all themed to the films of Miyazaki. The show was in a word "Wow!" I'm used to Cirque du Soleil shows and this was definitely not the Cirque. Thoughout the show, every act left you wondering how they were going to top the previous one. Part of the "Nerdgasm" series, this troup of performers will be worth keeping an eye on.

My photos don't do the show justice, but fortunately, my friend Grayden Liang was there in the front row and has posted a selection of his photos on his blog: "Canadian Animation". Be warned though, as three of the performances were burlesque, a number of the photos are not suitable for work. A video of the performers can be seen on the WFAC YouTube Channel here.

On Friday, after a lucky find at a local used bookstore, "Hayao Miyazaki - Master of Japanese Animation" by Helen MacCarthy, it was on to the show.



The evening's screening began with Production I.G.'s "009 Re:Cyborg". Production I.G. is getting better and better at cel-shaded 3d animation. I liked the story right up until the deux ex machina ending. If they're going to relaunch the series, then the ending works and works pretty well. If not... well, it was still a fun ride anyway--fun enough to want to track down the first three series (all the way back to the original series in the '60's).

Joe followed up with all three "Berzerk" films. Three films, roughly six hours of the most medieval violence I have ever seen in my life (outside of a Mel Gibson film that is). After the weirdness of the third movie though, most of the film took place in what can only be described as hell, I'm not sure if I want to see more or not... though I can clearly see why the manga series has been going on for so long and engendered a lot of loyalty among its readers.

Saturday's lineup was a little on the lighter side and showcased such films like:



"My Mummy is in America, and She Met Buffalo Bill", a cute film from France set in the 70's about a boy growing up and coming to terms with having an absent parent.

"The Thief and the Cobbler", Richard William's unfinished masterpiece(?) After watching this re-edit it was clear why the Warner Brothers suits pulled the plug on this film. It was a mess and none of William's brilliant animation work was going to save it. The scenes were uneven with some that were pure genius and others left looking cheap and trite. And this unevenness extended itself to the character animation. Many of them just moved like they were in slow motion. Some characters were richly designed, others looked like they were pulled from a low-budget short. All in all, it seemed like the film just didn't know what kind of film it wanted to be. However, this screening set the stage for Sunday's documentary film "Persistence of Vision" which I had hoped would explain why Williams' film failed--expecially when it had one of the masters of modern animation at its helm. Though I hadn't seen "Thief and the Cobbler" before, going into the screening, I was already more interested in the history surrounding this film than in the film itself. Now that I know it's history, I'd love to watch both the re-edit and the documentary again. As always, Richard Williams has much to teach us whether through his successes or his failures.

"Approved for Adoption", Jung Henin's tragic yet hopeful film about growing up a Korean adopted by Belgian parents--at once a resident of both cultures but never truly a part of either. I was very happy to see this film a second time, the first being at the Ottawa International Animation Festival.



"AninA" was a cute story for the kids, produced in Urugray. The film tells the story about a little girl who strikes back at the taunts of her classmates and learns to accept the consequences of her actions. Based on this one, I would like to see more films coming out of this country in the not too distant future.

Sunday started out with the Oshii Mamoru screening. I never get tired of watching "Ghost in the Shell", first time seeing it on the big screen though. Joe had the choice of screening this or the second Patlabor movie. As much as I love Patlabor, "Ghost in the Shell" was the better choice!

It was followed by "Persistence of Vision". Now this is the documentary I had hoped it would be. Pretty much every question I had about "The Thief and the Cobbler" was answered. So much talent, so little focus. It amazes me that Williams launched this project without cohesive, structured pre-planning. I have to give the man a tremendous amount of credit though, to stick with a project for 28 years and finance it outside of the regular studio structure. Williams was truly a man driven, sadly it looked like he lost sight of his film's story long before he lost control of his film to Warner Brothers.



The last film of the festival was "Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury". I've wanted to see this film since it was announced on Cartoon Brew years ago. It did not disappoint. What an amazing story! Brutal though. The history of Brazil with all it's pain and brutality. The film tracks the story of an immortal warrior who struggles throughout 600 years of oppression in Brazil on the one hand, and on the other, struggles to find his lover as she is reborn time and again throughout history. The film has a great ending to this tragic love story. I sincerely hope that this film gets an Oscar nomination and a wide release in the North American market. Lightstar Studios has produced a powerful and gripping film that hopefully will be part of my permenant collection one day.

While the previous list of films represent my favorites from the festival, they were certainly not all the films screened. A list of the shows along with trailers for all the films shown at WFAC 2013 can be viewed on their YouTube channel.

Once again, Joe Chen and his intrepid band of volunteers brought a show well worth the three-plus hour drive from Michigan. The Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema remains the festival that allows me to wrap up the festival season on a high note.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Animated Inspiration: the Films of Patrick Jenkins

Here's an exciting treat for everyone: today, Canadian animator Patrick Jenkins has posted two of his NoirLand films online for viewing on Film Annex.

I've purposefully not embedded his films 'Sorceress' and 'Labyrinth' as I hope that you'll navigate to his Film Annex page and watch them there. On his page, not only has Patrick embedded images from 'Sorceress', but he has also embedded 'Labyrinth' in addition to a list of links to other posts he's written that describe his paint-on-glass technique.

If you'd like to watch the two NoirLand films in the order that they were released, watch 'Labyrinth' first and 'Sorceress' second.

Lastly, this past February, I posted an interview with Patrick which can be read here.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Animated Quotes: Harvey Mackay

"A mediocre person tells. A good person explains. A superior person demonstrates. A great person inspires others to see for themselves."
~ Harvey Mackay

Monday, October 28, 2013

Animated Events: International Animation Day!

Happy International Animation Day!!

To participate in this yearly celebration of animation, ASIFA Central will be having a free screening of animated films from around the world in Grand Rapids on Tuesday night.



Details are as follows:

When:
Tuesday, October 29th at 7:00 p.m.

Where:
Kendall College of Art and Design
17 Pearl Street NW
Grand Rapids, Michigan
In the Woodbridge N. Ferris Building, Room 217

There is no admission, this is a free event for all. And if you want to become a member of ASIFA/Central, I'll be there with membership forms.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Animated Thoughts: Work and (horse)play

I downloaded the "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" game for my iPad recently. Originally it was because I was messing with one of my friends on Facebook and I wanted a little material to turn the screw on him before he got me back. Eh, it's all in good fun. I'm not a "Brony", mind you. Had watched only ten minutes of the show's first episode before turning it off--though I find some of the mash-ups on the web rather funny (like MLP/Starcraft). Given the character design elements, it wouldn't surprise me to discover that Lauren Faust and her design crew studied Japanese 'moe/kawaii' culture when putting this show together. She clearly understood her target audience and market. I like the character designs and think that the way Hasbro is handling 'fan merch' is brilliant. But the voices are a little too saccharine for my tastes--well, it's clearly a kids-show. I'd probably watch it if I had a daughter who was a fan, and I truly love the fact that the property was given new life by a woman animator (Lauren Faust), but that's pretty much it. As far as I can tell, it's not a bad show, I'm just not their target demographic (obviously). I've been playing the game off and on for a little while now. It's your typical "freemium" game. You build a city and complete quests by either paying for upgrades with your time or paying with real money. Kind of mindless entertainment but it's cute and non-violent. And two of the mini games are very similar to a pair of games that Jessica Borutski did the character design for when she was working at Fuel Industries (was part of McDonald's "Fairies and Dragons" webgames). Downside to the game is that, like most "freemium" games, it looks like you can't advance to the higher levels without spending copious amounts of real money on in-app 'coins' or 'jewels'. I hope parents are locking down in-app purchases on their accounts before handing this game to their kids for that long drive to Grandma's place!

It's also October. Halloween season. Horror movies are in the theaters, Pixar has released their 'Toy Story of Terror' animation on television, Fox just broadcast the Simpsons 'Treehouse of Horror' episode, and people are posting Halloween pictures all over their web pages, blogs, and avatars.

October used to be one of my most favorite times of year as a child where I looked forward to going 'trick or treat-ing' and sneaking downstairs to watch monster movies while my parents were asleep. I used to love horror movies, the creepier and more violent the better--after all, you could easily tell that it was just special effects: latex monsters, fake blood, and cut-away scenes to shadows on the walls. The Hammer films from the '50's and '60's that I used to watch on cable t.v. and the Godzilla films in the theaters were clearly from a different time when compared to the slick, visually integrated computer generated monsters in film today.


When it went live on the internet, I watched and recognized over 90% of the references in Guillermo Del Toro's Simpsons 'Treehouse of Horror' opening sequence--including some really obscure ones, like 1977's "The Car". I don't watch horror movies much anymore. Have found that reality can be horrific enough. Many of my friends and acquaintances just don't seem to get that. They badger me about how I should watch shows like 'Breaking Bad' or movies like 'American Psycho' or play games like 'Grand Theft Auto'. They just don't get the fact that I don't like to be reminded of what I see at my job. We can debate the fact that it's "just" entertainment and that it can only influence our behavior if we allow it. But when you see a photo of a body burned beyond recognition because an auto manufacturer didn't want to spend the money on a recall and the body is of a man who left behind a wife and three children... or when the office had to shut down and we had to go into hiding for the day until a professional acquaintance, who had just snapped and murdered his wife, was found and arrested, well, their arguments shatter against the cold, hard surface of my reality. Personally, I don't think my friends know what it's like to be up at 4 a.m. staring at the ceiling, covered in a cold sweat, and ashamed to admit that they're secretly thankful it wasn't them in that fire (though admittedly I've never asked any of them).

Last month, while archiving some old case material, I accidentally saw photographs of an autopsy. At least I hope it was an autopsy. The person on the table had third-degree burns over 90% of their body. It was so bad that I couldn't tell whether the person was a woman or a man (it was a woman). And that is why most of my entertainment has made the shift towards cartoons and non-violent videogames over the past fifteen years since I became a forensic animator. Not surprisingly, I watch a lot of anime--a fair amount of bishōjo and chibi stuff or shows with giant robots. I haven't played a first-person-shooter in years and most of what I'm playing now are those iOS games where you solve puzzles--like 'Bejewelled' or 'Azkend'. I think that at this point in my life, I can live without seeing another virtual zombie's head explode when I shoot it with a virtual shotgun on my computer screen.

I remember being at a theater in Rochester, New York watching 'The Frighteners' during one of those rare moments of free time during grad school. Observing the computer generated monsters on screen, I decided that I didn't want to work in Hollywood if it meant I'd be stuck working on projects like that. Needless to say, the irony of my current employment is not lost on me. There's a lot that we can say about the animation ghetto and the lack of mature-themed animated shows on American television (and in the theaters). But it seems like if you're not into crude, scatological humor, there's not a whole lot out there for adult American audiences. So it doesn't surprise me when boys and men start looking for entertainment a little less violent and with a little more depth than what we see in the shows targeted towards us. Personally, the last four anime shows I've really gotten into weren't targeted toward men: 'Say "I love you"', 'Watamote', 'Moritasan wa Mukuchi', and 'Phantom Thief Reinya'. Two of them are targeted to teenagers, one to children, and one to a college-age and older crowd. Two of them are light and fluffy shows about cute characters doing cute things. Two deal with more mature subjects like societal pressures, body image issues, social anxiety, isolation, and bullying. It is my belief that the "Brony" culture which, for better or worse, has sprung up around 'My Little Pony' is revealing that American boys and men are looking for stories that may not be targeted towards us but that don't rub salt into the raw wounds that a steady diet of violence and crude humor have burned into our psyches. Sometimes you just need a healthy dose of 'cute' to help you deal with the reality that you live with--probably why I like to stand there at the Potter Park Zoo every weekend and watch the bunnies hop around.


There's a lot more to say on the subject, but I think I'll end this blog post now--my iPad just notified me that Twilight Sparkle is ready to go on her next quest. Eh, what the heck, at least she's not mowing down zombies with a chaingun.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Animated Inspiration: "Carpark"

This short from UK's Birdbox Studio was too good not to share! Congrats to Birdbox on their latest short film! Hope we see it in the festivals real soon.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Animated Inspiration: OIAF 2013 Promo Reels



Well, the 2013 festival may be over, but Chris, Kelly, and Co. are still posting festival stuff on the web. Here's the Sponsor Reel produced by Dainty Productions. These shorts are usually played at the beginning of every screening and is one part, thanks to the companies and organizations who sponsor the Ottawa International Animation Festival, and one part notice for everyone to take their seat, cause the show's about to start!

Additionally, the McMillan Agency was back this year and put together the following series of promos for the festival. They produced several and showed each one on a different day during the festival right before the screenings.

Promo 1:

Promo 2:

Lastly, the 2013 Signal film, entitled "Spacemen from Brookstonia", was produced by Aaron Augenblick Studios.

These films are one of those little things that the Festival does every year which makes it so special to me. Every year, you don't know what you're going to see, but they're always entertaining.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Animated Thoughts: Ottawa International Animation Festival 2013

Well, the Ottawa International Animation Festival has come and gone in a blur of light, color, and motion. While the following is my recollection of events and films, afterwards I encourage readers to hop on over to my sister site "Animated Women" and read about some of my favorite short films, produced by women, that were screened at Ottawa 2013.

Monday, September 16th

Received a pleasant surprise from my parents. Since I gave up my Labor Day holiday weekend to take care of their house, cats, and business while they went out of town, they were nice enough to use their credit card points and rent me a car for the trip to Ottawa. Hello, direct connection between my iPod and the car's internal stereo system. Wow what a difference that made for the trip! I love my '03 Impala, but there's something to be said for listening to an audiobook without external radio interference bleeding over the speakers.

After picking up the car, I left for Toronto. While driving, I felt this odd sensation like there were chains holding me back to Michigan--chains called 'work to do', 'bills to pay', 'house to winterize' and 'flooded basement to finish cleaning out'. But this was the first vacation I've had since last year, so I soldiered on hoping that I made the right decision to leave town and 'try' to relax. Got to Toronto and pulled out the list of books I'm looking for. Walked to BMV over on Bloor Street and found a hardback copy of Bill Plympton's "Independently Animated" which he published with David Levy a couple years back. Mint condition in hardback for $14 CDN: "Score!!" This one has been on my shortlist for a while.

On the way there, I bumped into this girl on the street who was promoting the "Because I'm a girl" campaign. She gave me her pitch and said I should check out the campaign website as it promotes 'girl issues'. I told her that she should check out my website "Animated Women" as it encourages girls who want to become animators through interviews with current women animators. Was interesting to have a response to her cause--countering her with my cause.

Felt tired and a little sick that afternoon so after visiting Anime XTreme in Chinatown, I walked to the Dairy Queen in the Dragon City Mall to rehydrate with a cherry Arctic Rush (a Toronto tradition). Decided to take a nap back at the hotel and forgo any other shopping excursions (probably better for the wallet anyways). Woke up feeling a little better so walked to Hero Burger for dinner. I feel very unwelcome at restaurants when I eat there alone. Sometimes it's the waitstaff, other times its the host who seats me. This isn't just a Canadian thing, I get it back in the States all the time as well. No one did anything untoward at Hero Burger and the food was worth the walk, as always, but as I sat at a table for four people in a restaurant that was only one-third full of people (and had no available seats for single people), I felt uncomfortable nonetheless. Reminded me of a couple years back when the Thai restaurant down on Spadina wouldn't serve me just because I'm not Asian.

Went back to the hotel, crawled into bed, and watched Sleepy Hollow. Hoped that I could kick this quickly otherwise Ottawa was going to be miserable. Looked up the "Because I'm a girl" website. Some interesting stuff there. Like the idea behind it but am curious to know where they're getting their statistics from. See far too many examples of 'correlation does not prove causation' to take any stats at face value nowadays.

Tuesday, September 17th

 
What a difference a day makes! Felt about 95% to 98% when I woke up. Had a granola bar and some orange juice before going to the Toronto Zoo to see the Pandas. Ended up shooting some great footage at the zoo--of the Pandas as well as some other critters that I don't normally get to see. I don't know why, but I find the jellyfish oddly hypnotic. Every time I see them, more pieces of a 3d animation idea that I had years ago at the Lynn Smith TAIS workshop fall into place.


The drive to Ottawa was very relaxing. The weather was beautiful and there wasn't much traffic. Checked into the hotel and discovered that Barry had been there but was out and about. So I got unpacked and Esteban showed up before long. Had a wonderful dinner and conversation with him. The words flowed for the most part. Tried not to dominate the conversation but he is a very easy person to talk with and a really interesting person to listen to. It's always fascinating to hear about what he's working on as well as how his company, Echo Bridge, is growing.

Afterwards, we met up with Barry, then Ben joined in for drinks and conversation. One of the rather unique events of the evening was when Barry introduced us to the owner and the executive producer of Nelvana. Asked Barry if she was someone who wouldn't mind being interviewed for my Animated Women blog. He said she probably wouldn't mind but is extremely busy so she might not have time in the near future for anything extensive. He also gave me some great advice about organizing a "Women of Animation" screening followed by an enthusiastic "DO IT" when I mentioned giving presentations at ShutoCon next year. Said that the screening might be something that other festivals might be interested in. Filed that under 'subject for future thought.'*

Wednesday, September 18th

Walked to the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Left a message for the curator with my question about 2011's "Japan - Style, Innovation, Tradition" exhibit. Was drenched with sweat by the walk there and back to the Arts Court to pick up my festival pass. Once again, I made a resolution to exercise more before the next festival. Bought Tom Sito's book on the history of computer animation and Madi Piller's 'Canadian animated portraits' DVD when I picked up my festival pass. This year, the festival reader looks like a magazine format. There are no scholarly articles like there were in the past. I don't like that. The fact that additional copies were free doesn't really help. One of the things that has led me to hold onto every copy of the festival reader since 1994 has been the articles that Chris and Co. have included. It wasn't the only reason, I kept them, but it did make them more valuable in my eyes.

Was going to walk to a couple used bookstores but decided a 30 minute walk (one way) just wasn't worth it. Am grateful that the suite has a washer/dryer. Toweled off, changed shirts, then it was off to used bookstore just down the street from Dunn's Restaurant. Nothing there, but I did note how much more friendly Canadians are when you pass them on the street than Americans are. Lots of people smiling and saying 'hi' instead of trying not to make eye contact and rushing on to their next location. Went back to the hotel after lunch at Dunn's and did a load of laundry. Took a nap. Woke up feeling very poor, but the first film was in an hour so I went to the Bytowne Theater anyway. It was early so checked out the used bookstore right next door. No animation section, unfortunately, but shelves and stacks of graphic novels. Persistence paid off as I found a near-mint copy of Bruce Timm's sketchbook "Naughty & Nice". Check another book off of my wishlist. While Bruce Timm has been on my radar since the early Batman and Superman series, it wasn't until he was involved in the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited animated series before I really started studying his character design style. I love the simplicity in his designs but I find it a lot harder to emulate his style since you're taking the human figure and boiling it down to it's essence via minimal line usage and bold brush strokes. It's definitely something to strive for in my artwork. I just love how it incorporates the simplicity of design found in Sumi-e or the more modern works of Ty Wilson--particularly in his 'romance' series of illustrations.

I met up with Glenn Ehlers at the first screening and had a great conversation with him about teaching animation to students who don't realize how much work is involved in producing a film... and how we animators can ofttimes use our pre-production 'to-do lists' to promote a false sense of progress in our projects when, in reality, we are using said lists to keep us from putting pencil to paper and actually 'producing' our films! Was interested in pursuing that train of thought further, but the lights dimmed as the first movie of the festival beckoned.



"Approved for Adoption" was a very touching film. The movie provided a lot of insights into the whole mixed-race family adoption scenario as he discussed what it was like being Korean and growing up in a predominantly 'white' European country. It was very thought provoking to hear the director's feelings of how he never felt like he belonged to either European or Korean society along with his lifelong struggles to understand why his mother had abandoned him on a city street. Would really like to see this film again.

Well, since there was a very bad bus versus train crash in Ottawa that morning, Chris apparently threw out his usual opening speech and instead told bad puns about animation to lighten the mood. Probably the funniest opening speech I've ever heard him deliver. With delightful groaners like "what's a Japanese animator's favorite tie?" -- "Hentai", Chris's deadpan delivery really turned those bad puns into crowd pleasers. My favorite one came later in the week: "Did you hear about the rich animator?" -- "Neither have I."


なにぬねのの Na Ni Nu Ne No No from Manabu Himeda on Vimeo.

The shorts screening opened solid with some real standout performances. My favorite was "Na Ni Nu Ne No No", a light and fluffy Japanese short that showcased a real playful wit while teaching kanji--I assume to kids. Hoped to see it again the next day at the Japanese school show-reel screening. Other favorites were "Wind" by Robert Loebel and "Azul" by Remy Busson, Francis Canitrot, Aurelien Duhayon, Sebastien Iglesias, Maxence Martin and Paul Monge--all three were student graduation animations.

Later, I only stayed at the opening night party at the Mansion Nightclub for the span of a fifteen-minute conversation with Glenn. The venue was cool, but as always, the music was too loud and I couldn't hear what anyone was saying. What can I say: I like being able to hear what people are saying when they talk to me. It's a curse.

The day ended with a shawarma and a soda from Three Brothers Shawarma downstairs from the Mansion--another Ottawa Festival tradition started by my brother and I many, many festivals ago.

Thursday, September 19th

Felt isolated all day. Didn't talk to anyone. Adam Elliot's short films, Japanese school competitions, short film competitions, Spanish animation retrospective, I just went from screening to screening. Standout films that really grabbed me were a little sparse. But, Chris was consistently funny with his bad 'animator jokes'. All in all though there were some good films and some that weren't to my tastes, but even the ones I didn't like had interesting techniques. Often, I'd find myself disengaging from the films I wasn't enjoying and try to figure out how I would achieve the same visual style using the tools I am familiar with. At least the new seats in the Bytowne Theater were comfortable--thus removing my only complaint about the Bytowne as a festival venue.

One highlight was that they strung together all four of the shorts in the "Rollin' Safari" series and played them one after another. Was also happy to see "Crow's Nest" again.
Crow's Nest HD from Robert Milne on Vimeo.

The other film that I really enjoyed today was "Not Over" by Toru Hayai.
not over from Toru Hayai on Vimeo.

And I was completely stoked to see "Kick Heart", Production I.G.'s short film produced by former Lansing, Michigan resident Justin Leach and directed by Masaaki Yuasa.

Before the evening gala shorts screening, Chris admitted that the festival awards ceremony and after-party was moved to Saturday because of the first of two 'Breaking Bad' show finale episodes which screened on Sunday nights. I felt sick to my stomach.

My 'big thought' for the evening's screening was to wonder how many schools out there are still teaching drawing skills in their animation programs. I concluded from my unscientific sample of films during the day was either 'not many' or at least there aren't a lot who are trying to master the mark-one pencil. Probably just a trend though... a momentary dip in the technique that people are using as newer tools get to be the flavor of the month. Don't remember who told me this during the festival, but apparently Leonard Maltin said "the only thing we need for a 2d animation Renaissance is another Lion King." Might've been Eric Goldberg. I tend to agree--despite the fact that the longest running television animation show produced using 2d cel techniques just switched to being entirely digital (it's a Japanese animation called "Sazae-san". Has been on air continuously for the past 45 years. Take THAT Simpsons!). Made a mental note to spend more time drawing. After the screening, I saw Esteban back at the suite. He had landed a job for his company at the TAC conference. Paid for his trip and justified his being here. I'm envious on so many levels--or at least I was until I got back home and started working on the next three online classes for Thistle Threads. Nice to be busy with billable work.

Ended up the day with having some ideas for my paint-on-glass animation. Felt the creative logjam in my head shuddering a little as I began to feel a little energized. Not much, but would see by next Monday. Was going to have lots of stuff to think about on the ten-hour drive home.

Friday, September 20th

Spent the morning hanging out with Esteban. I reiterate: he's a real easy person to talk with. We went to the morning shorts screening then hooked up with Barry for the annual Cartoon Network-sponsored animators picnic. Met two nice kids from Pratt on the bus ride there--Spencer and Morgan. Morgan reminded me of Brianne. Would've been a Freshman when Brianne was a Senior--said she thought she'd heard Bri's name spoken of back at Pratt. Sweet kid. She was happy to hear that Bri was working in California--proof that there is job after graduation.

Was very happy to see Skip at the picnic. Got to chat with him about Pacific Rim--which he finally saw. Met a fair amount of Canadian animators (Vancouver, NFB, etc) and got to touch base with Brooke Kessling. She loved the idea of a "Women of Animation" screening at next year's ShutoCon and said I could show her film "Boobie Girl". Saw Lynn Smith, Michael Fukushima and Steve Stanchfield at the picnic but didn't say 'hi'. They were all pretty busy and I didn't want to intrude. So went back to the hotel and bumped to Gary Schwartz as he was on his way to the picnic.

Another change of clothes at the hotel--this time due to a minor spilled chili accident at the picnic--and then I was off to the Canadian Animation screening. While there, was pleasantly surprised to see Lynn Smith in the front row. Afterwards, I talked to Lynn and got to meet her husband. She said she appreciated what I'd written about her on my blog. Would've liked to talk to her longer (and set up a proper interview rather than just my recollections of her workshop and my appreciation for her willingness to share her animation techniques), but time was short and I had to bolt to get to the World Exchange Center for the Disney presentation of "Get A Horse". Once the screening/presentation was over, I got to meet Lauren MacMullan (Disney's first solo woman director). She said she loved the idea of my Animated Women blog and agreed to an interview. So I chatted with her publicist and started the process to interview her in a couple months. Also got to meet Eric Goldberg. He was genuinely interested in my forensic/historical animation work. Said I was the first forensic animator he'd ever met. I told him how much I loved his book on character animation.

Eric Goldberg and Lauren MacMullan

Course, because of waiting in line to meet Ms. MacMullan and Mr. Goldberg, I didn't get to see the Monty Python movie "A Liar's Autobiography" but it's available for rent on iTunes. So, like "Mary and Max", I'll see it when I get home.

The two films from today's screenings I enjoyed the most had to be an abstract animated piece called "Virtuoso Virtual" by Thomas Stellmach and Maja Oschmann...



and a narrative animation called "But Milk is Important" by Elrik Bjornsen and Anna Mantzaris.


Gull Visuelt 2013 - Animasjonsfilm “But Milk Is Important” from Grafill on Vimeo.

Saturday, September 21st

Went to the Professional Development workshops at St. Brigid's that morning. Got lost on the way there--thank you Google Maps. Was cold and wet from a downpour when I finally found the location. But received an unexpected blessing as Steve Stanchfield from Thunderbean Animation was sitting there by himself. We chatted for a while and then I asked him about film lifespans for films made back in the late 1800's to the early 1900's. He told me about the Library of Congress's short film archive then asked me what I was looking for. When I mentioned the 'lost films' of clay animator Helena Smith Dayton, he said that he had copies of four of her films--with one digitized on DVD even! After the workshop, he left. And that was the last time I saw him that weekend. My sister said that her career has been marked by the fact that she is always at the right place at the right time to meet the right person. After this week, I'm starting to know what that feels like. Every time something 'bad' or a minor inconvenience occurred, it was always right after I soldiered on that I was rewarded by being in the right place at exactly the right time to meet the right person and have an exciting experience that I wouldn't have had otherwise--more on that later.

The next workshop was from PIXAR about how they developed their short film 'Blue Umbrella'. Really nice stuff. Got a couple notes and some ideas. Afterwards was the Nickelodeon talk, pretty much the same. A lot of good information and insights into the creative process. I took some more notes. Then it was back to the hotel for lunch and to dry off. It had to have been during this time that I dropped my business card case with all my cards in them--more on 'that' later.

After drying off, I went back and hung out at the Disney talk with Glenn. Even though it was only forty-five minutes, I still learned a lot from Mr. Goldberg. But trying to follow Mr. Goldberg's presentation was like trying to take a sip of water from a firehose! I really need to go back and review the lessons in his book on character animation. There was just too much information for me to take in so I focused on what I could and made notes that will hopefully point me back to sections in his book for further study.

Snuck downstairs and talked to Tom Sito. He was surprised when I handed him a copy of 'Drawing the Line' for him to autograph. I was the first person to talk to him and the room was pretty empty. After our short chat about why he wrote the book and the importance of what the union was fighting for during the strikes, I shook his hand and turned away to walk upstairs. There was a line that stretched from one end of the room to the other. Good timing on my part! Went back upstairs and sat behind Glenn and a blond woman. He introduced her as Sherry Hansen. Turns out she's also an RIT Grad, from Glenn's class. We had a fair amount in common, or at least some common experiences at festivals with students. All three of us had a good laugh when we recollected getting snubbed by students as soon as they discovered that we didn't work in the Hollywood industry and couldn't give them a job.

The "Regular Show" presentation was pretty forgettable. I like what I've seen of the show, but the presentation was only 20 minutes long before the show's creator opened for questions. The guy seemed really unprepared. But, there was some interesting info in the Q&A session and he was really good with working the crowd. I particularly appreciated how he admitted to liking the writing process more than animating his show. Afterwards I took a nap in the hotel and then went to the Garret Van Dijk screening. My last communication with Garret was a little terse, so I really wanted to be there and support his posthumous screening. His widow was there in attendance to answer questions. Having never seen any of his work before, I was pleasantly surprised to find that he had some films in his library that were to my tastes. You could see the same visual influence in some of his work in '60's and '70's that influenced the style of 'Yellow Submarine' or Terry Gilliam's Monty Python animations. Mr. Van Dijk appeared to use lots of rotoscoping in his films. The guy also seemed obsessed with sex, based upon the content of the films the festival screened during his program. Wanted to say hello to Mrs. Van Dijk and thank her for screening her late-husband's films, but she was busy talking to people and time was of the essence, so I walked to the Arts Court for my next screening. Was devouring the novelization of 'Pacific Rim' when Barry walked in. I sat with him during the International Showcase screening and met his friend Scott. Barry sure knows a lot of people. The screening over, I grabbed another shawarma dinner at the hotel while Barry and Scott went to the party.



Noted that I hadn't had any epiphanies other than receiving some assurances that the Women of Animation stuff is a good direction for me to focus my energies on. Also that I need to make more films--at least one short per year, just like Bill Plympton does. At this point, I was finally starting to relax. But would be leaving the day after next and was almost at the stage where I was ready to go home and get back to work. Was really looking forward to the drive back with everything that I had to think about. Definitely made the right call on skipping the features this week as I can rent both "Mary & Max" and "the Liar's Autobiography" on iTunes and had experiences that I wouldn't have had otherwise had I gone to these screenings. The day closed with a discussion with Scott about my Women of Animation project as he told me about the woman animators that he knew--more people to interview! It was then that I discovered that I had lost my business card case.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sunday was a great end to the festival. I got up and said goodbye to Scott. Afterwards, I decided to retrace my steps and ask at the Arts Court if they had a lost and found, but not until after I went to the World Exchange Plaza to see the feature film "Cycle". Sadly, "Cycle" was forgettable. I had high hopes as I'm a sci-fi buff and the premise sounded interesting, but the director never gave the audience enough clues to understand what was going on. There were no groundbreaking visuals and the animation looked like it was just motion captured from a video game. If this movie is shown at WFAC, I'll skip it. Once was enough.

Walked up to the Arts Court. Was told that there was no lost and found at the festival per se, just at the individual locations. So as I walk out, who walks in but Stephanie Maxwell! We had a nice talk and she put me in touch with a couple of people at R.I.T. who might know how to get ahold of Erik's kids. She loved the idea of digitizing and posting Erik's experimental film. And that was the only time I saw Stephanie that weekend--another experience I wouldn't have had if I hadn't lost my business cards.

Next it was off to Tom Sito's talk on the history of computer animation at St. Brigid's. Sure enough, Kelly Neall said the card holder was turned in the other day. The cards were wet and ruined but the case was still good. It was on her desk at the OIAF Arts Court office--the festival's defacto 'lost and found'. Before Tom's talk (and getting his book autographed), Barry told me to be at the Bytowne Theater by 6:20 p.m. and we'd have a group animator's dinner together to close out the festival.

Then it was off to the National Arts Center for the Canadian Student film screening. There were some really good films shown during that presentation. And if that was the last screening I went to, I would've left the festival a very happy man. The selection was really uplifting with some great work produced by those kids, like "Fists of Finance", by Melissa Allen, "Unfortunately" by Camille Bertrand, and "Wind & Tree" by Konstantin Steshenko.


WIND & TREE Trailer from Konstantin Steshenko on Vimeo.

Then it was back to the Arts Court where I picked up my business card holder and wet cards. With lots of time, I packed up a bit of the hotel and went out for a beaver tail--another Ottawa tradition. The pastry was consumed with a black cherry soda and I continued to read Pacific Rim while defending my soda from yellowjackets. I did a little wandering through the farmer's market before going to the theater. Since I was about an hour early, I talked to Gary and Brooke while I waited. Bumped into David Chai afterwards--another guy I really need to make more of an effort to keep in touch with. Afterwards, Barry & Co. arrived and he, me, Pabla, Jo, Nick, Jeff, Alan & Corrie had dinner and great conversation at Dunn's. I drank up the community atmosphere. After dinner, we went our separate ways and a handful of us us went to the OIAF closing night party. One step inside the doors and I was done. The music was so loud, I couldn't hear anyone talking. Instead, I went to the 9:30p "Best of the Festival" screening.

It truly was the best of the fest. All my favorite films from the past week were shown (and only one that I didn't like). Contented that this was the perfect way to end the festival, I walked back to the hotel, packed, and got ready to go, secure in the knowledge that traveling to Ottawa was the right decision to make--if for no other reason than to be a part of the community that comprises the second-largest animation festival in the world.

* the 'thoughts' came in handy a week later when I discovered that the new MSU Art Museum has a public screening area where they show films. Barry's advice was very timely.

Animated Quotes: Lord Byron

"Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine."
  ~ Lord George Gordon Byron
     English poet & satirist
     (1788 - 1824)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Animated Inspiration: TAIS UFO Jam

I apologize for being a little lax as of late, I've had this animation on deck for a couple months now but am just now posting it. Here's the ten second films that we created for this year's Toronto Animated Image Society "UFO Jam" summer screening.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Animated Quotes: Thomas N. Carruther

"Faith that the thing can be done is essential to any great achievement."
  ~ Thomas N. Carruther

Monday, August 26, 2013

Animated Thoughts: Some random thoughts over the last month...

With everything that is going on, I'm finding myself unable to focus on a single coherent thought at the moment, so, to clear out the log jam inside my head, here are some random thoughts about animation that I've had over the past month.

  • Drove to GenCon the other week where I took two writing seminars that Mike Stackpole offered. One of the suggestions he gave during his lectures was to summarize your novel in six sentences, and if you can't do that, then you need to go back and recheck what you've written because your novel is in danger of being unfocused. Immediately drew parallels between this technique and writing treatments for animation scripts.

  • Pencils.com is advertising on CartoonBrew.com. They're billing the Palomino Blackwing pencil as "the pencil of choice for award-winning artists & animators throughout the 20th century". I'm left wondering how many people are going to buy these pencils under the assumption that using them will improve their drawing skills when in reality, the only thing that will help them improve is the constant cycle of practice and correction and more practice?

  • Am impressed (and nauseated) at how fast a bad episode (or three) can ruin a good series. The second season of "Oreimo (My Little Sister Can't Be This Cute)" wrapped up with three episodes that wiped away the theme of the previous two seasons and replaced it with something completely out of left field. For the past two seasons, we were treated with a funny and heartwarming (if ofttimes quirky) story about a brother and sister who are trying to repair their familial relationship after years of neglect and animosity. During those last three episodes, the author firmly drove the show's lead characters into an incestuous relationship because, by all accounts, he wanted to be shocking and thumb his nose at social convention--despite the warnings of his publisher and the show's director.

  • At the Ottawa Festival next month, they're going to have a preview screening of the sequel to "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs". Had it in my schedule, but wanted to see the first movie beforehand, so I bought the DVD online from BestBuy. Only cost me $5.29 and it arrived in five days--decisive win for Best Buy. I watched it. Afterwards, I had to find something else to do during that block of time at the Ottawa fest. It wasn't a bad film. Was amusing with good animation and voice acting, but it was clearly made for a target demographic of five to ten year-old kids, not a middle-aged man. The only other thing during that block of time is an international retrospective of films from Spain, so I guess I'll be reading subtitles for an hour. After watching subtitled Japanese animation for decades, I don't think it'll be a problem.

  • Am looking for a new series to watch on Crunchyroll.com since "Oreimo" is over and both "Railgun S" and "Attack on Titan" only have six more episodes to go. There sure are a lot of anime shows about girls with big boobs and lots of gratuitous panty shots. Think I'll go back and re-watch "Usagi Drop" instead. There's something about a show featuring a bachelor who gives up his career to raise his six-year-old cousin after a death in the family occurs that sort of restores my faith in the anime industry.

  • Over the summer, I watched "Pacific Rim" six times: twice in 3d, three times in 2d, once at the IMAX in 3d. Would've seen it seven times, but I already had plans with some friends on the last day that PacRim was in the theater. It's been a long time since I've seen a movie that I enjoyed that much. Can't wait until the DVD release. This film might actually push me into buying a BluRay player.

  • I'm wistfully remembering the days when the Cartoon Network showed cartoons, there was actual history on the History Channel, Mtv played music, and the Discovery Channel left me with a sense of wonder. Course, if I really want some exciting memories, I'll think back to when Mtv was showing "the Maxx", "Aeon Flux", "Liquid Television", and "Daria" and HBO was showing "Spicy City". I honestly wouldn't mind a little 'live action' on CN if it was something relevant, like a "Real World-esque" show about a handful of American students who are working at internships in Japan's anime industry.


  • Tuesday, August 13, 2013

    Animated Inspiration: The Retake



    Since the Annecy animation festival was two months ago and Ottawa is just around the corner, here's a signal film from the 2013 Annecy festival that caught my eye.

    "The Retake" was created by the students at Gobelins L'ecole de L'image for their Character Animation and Animated Filmmaking class.

    With the lush colors and vivid imagery, I would absolutely love to see a feature film created using this visual style!

    Thursday, August 1, 2013

    Animated Quotes: Benjamin Franklin

    "One today is worth two tomorrows"
    ~ Benjamin Franklin

    Tuesday, July 30, 2013

    Animated Thoughts: ASIFA/Central Midwest Animators Conference

    Saturday was the annual ASIFA/Central Mid-Western Animator's Conference held in Grand Rapids. While we usually hold this event at the Community Media Center and charge an admission to cover the costs of animation supplies and venue rental, however this year it was decided by the board to hold the meeting at the home of  one of our members and forgo the admission so that the event could be more focussed on a 'meet and greet' between our members.

    The board met up beforehand to provide reports on our office, brainstorm ideas about the direction that we'd like to take our organization, receive a report on the overall ASIFA organization, and discuss future events--like this October's International Animation Day screening and next summer's "Windsor McCay Day" up at Spring Lake.

    Additionally, our IAD administrator Brad Yarhouse talked about the "Exquisite Forest" project that he's been working on through Google Chrome and invited any interested ASIFA/Central members to add to the forest he's already started.

    Brad Yarhouse discussing the "Exquisite Forest" project
    as Gary Schwartz looks on.
    Afterwards, as members and guests started drifting in during the day, we held a potluck lunch/dinner and we all noshed while talking about ASIFA as well as our own personal projects.

    Gary Schwartz during the show-and-tell sequence discussing
    his animation workshop/lecture/screening series.  (also seen:
    ASIFA/Central Website Manager Jennifer Peterson)
    As you can see from the photo below, we continued to break with tradition as the annual ASIFA/Central cake survived the trip without falling on the ground on the way to the conference. :)

    
    The annual ASIFA/Central cake, courtsey of Jennifer Peterson.
    We had several guests who made the trip to our annual meeting who were happy to share their work with us and join the discussion on animated film as well as learn more about the role that ASIFA plays (both locally and globally). I was excited to meet a kindred spirit in Ian Bobaniac as we discovered our shared love of Japanese animation.

    ASIFA/Central President Jim Middleton and guest Ian Bobaniac
    Later on, after some of our members had left, Dave Baker, Jake Pollack, and Ray Pointer showed up to re-energize the meeting.
    
    Gary Schwartz discussing animation history with Ray Pointer
    One of the high points of the day for me personally was being a 'fly-on-the-wall' while Gary Schwartz and Ray Pointer discussed the events leading to the downfall of the Fleischer Studio (leading to Max Fleischer eventually working in Michigan for the Jam Handy Organization). Ray has done extensive research on Fleischer as Ray had actually met Max Fleischer when Max visited a friend at Jam Handy while Ray was working there back in the 1960's.* For an animation history buff like myself, who had just read about the Fleischer studio's animators strike in Tom Sito's book "Drawing the Line", it was fascinating to hear first hand accounts from someone who had actually met Fleischer.

    So, if you're in the Great Lakes region, I highly recommend keeping an eye out for our events. The next one is coming up on Monday, October 28th as we participate in the worldwide celebration that is ASIFA's International Animation Day.



    * Editor's Note: Ray was kind enough to e-mail me a clarification about his encounter with Max Fleischer at Jam Handy. In the interest of being as accurate as possible, I've updated the entry above and reprinted the following clarification from Ray's e-mail here, with his permission:

    "The event of meeting Max was that he came by to visit his friend, Frank Goldman, and the two of them came into the Camera Room while I was showing my version of THE WIZARD OF OZ that I was finishing that summer.  Max talked to me for about 20 minutes, but that was it.  I never worked with him.  He was quite elderly and obviously ill, have lost weight.  If I had not been told who he was, I may not have known him."
    ~ Ray Pointer - August 11, 2013 @ 7:46 a.m.

    Tuesday, July 16, 2013

    Animated Inspiration: Michel Gagné - the Saga of Rex

    Last August, I posted about Michel Gagné's 30-second animation: 'The Saga of Rex', a short trailer based on a graphic novel he published through Image Comics. Over the past year, Mr. Gagné ran a successful Kickstarter campaign which netted him enough funds to produce the first four minutes and 30 seconds of animation in what he plans to be a feature-length animated film.

    He asked for $15,000 and got a whopping $57,875 to produce four minutes of animation. If you've seen his work on Pixar's 'Ratatouille', his video game 'Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet' on X-Box Live, or his earlier animation 'Prelude to Eden' then you know that 'Saga of Rex' is worth every penny!

    If you get a chance, visit his homepage at www.gagneint.com where Mr. Gagné talks about producing 'Rex', has links to his other animations, and most importantly for collectors like myself, has a webstore where you can buy his books and DVDs of his independent animations.

    The premiere of 'The Saga of Rex' was today on his YouTube account: michelgagnefx and can be viewed below.


    Monday, July 1, 2013

    Animated Quotes: Charlie Chaplin

    "A day without laughter is a day wasted"
    ~ Charlie Chaplin

    Sunday, June 30, 2013

    Animated People: Erik Timmerman

    Another View of Ottawa by Erik Timmerman

    "You want a review of the Ottawa International Animation Festival?" The judges lacked the one quality essential to judges: judgment. There's your review of Ottawa.

    Skip Battaglia was robbed. His new film "Restlessness" was, in my book (JR by William Gaddis), the best film of the festival. And I'm not saying this just because he has an office down the hall from mine. Rarely do I see a film which evokes a "yes! that's exactly how it feels" response from me. "Restlessness" was one such film. Combine this with the adventuresome graphics we have come to expect in Skip's movies and you have an obvious winner. One mild criticism: he shoulda called it "Lust." Erica Russell was robbed. Her new film "Triangle" demonstrates significant artistic growth since her earlier, excellent "Feet of Song." "Triangle" is everything an animated movie should be: a good story told through motion and color. Russell's use of picture space to represent three dimensional figures in motion, while, at the same time, presenting us with formal, two dimensional geometrics, is simply exquisite. To quote my pal Morty Avalon, the Hollywood agent: "This [woman] is a gorilla!" High praise indeed. Barry Purves was robbed. His "Rigoletto." a 30 minute, in English, version of Joe Green's (well, how would YOU translate Giuseppe Verdi?) opera is a masterpiece of puppet animation. The sets are magnificent, breathtaking; the puppets imaginative, the puppetry flawless. I guess you can tell I liked this film a lot. Puppets, it is said, are better than actors because actors have to find the character whereas puppets are the character. Certainly true of Purves' film. Nick Park's "The Wrong Trousers" won the Public Prize (le Prix du Publique), and deservedly so. This is a half hour of rousing good fun in which Park tells the Hitchcockian tale of a mysterious roomer, an unscrupulous penguin, who, in dastardly fashion, disguises himself as a rooster. Gromit, a faithful dog, must use all his resources and then some to rescue Wallace, his boob of a master, from the penguin's evil machinations. Phil Mulloy, who shocked, outraged, and entertained the hell out of the Ottawa '92 festivalgoers with "Cowboy Fun," was back and topped himself with "The Sound of Music." I personally know a dozen audience members who are still recovering. "My Favorite Things That I Love" by Janet Perlman poured sweet syrup over the audience until we all were howling with laughter. Special mention must be made of "The Big Story" by Tim Watts and David Stoten. To make a movie in which all the parts are played...ahem, overplayed by Kirk Douglas is a significant (and hilarious) accomplishment. Both "Bob's Birthday" and "The Janitor" both won awards. Both shouldn't have. Both had clever and funny sound tracks. To which animated images added nothing. "Bob's Birthday" quite possibly would have been funnier as a live action short. I don't like bashing any animated film because the simple fact that it is completed and shown is a testament to human courage and endurance, but when I think that these two films won prizes and "Triangle" and "Restless" went away hungry, my mind reels (no pun intended). I can't rest until I comment on the film that opened the Festival: "Trawna Tuh Belvul." Somebody heard a 14 and a half minute monologue describing events on a train journey from Toronto to Bellville, Ontario and thought to himself: "hey, that would make a great movie." He was wrong. Dead wrong.

    Where is all the computer animation? There were only two or three computer pieces at the Festival. What are all you people doing with all your magnificent animation machines?


    * * *

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

    Article reprinted in it's entirety from the ASIFA/Central newsletter archive, circa 1994.

    Tuesday, June 18, 2013

    Animated Thoughts: Three Cautionary Tales

    It's June. By now a plethora of animation students have graduated from college and are (hopefully) working at their first job. So, I'd like to share three cautionary tales for those who are either embarking on their career in animation or are looking forward to taking their first college class on animated film this Fall.

    Cautionary Tale #1:

    At the last Ottawa fest, I was told of a student who plagiarized someone else's work to get a job at an animation studio. And when the (former) student was on the job, it became very apparent very quickly that they lacked the skills to produce work of sufficient quality to create the artwork in question--much less produce artwork necessary to hold a job at that studio. Some detective work later and it was discovered that the portfolio material was plagiarized. So, as it was nearly the end of the person's contract anyway, rather than deal with the hassle of firing them, the studio paid off the remainder of the contract and the person in question was let go. 1

    There are so many lessons to be learned here: promote your own work, make sure that the person who is interviewing you knows exactly what you did for that clip on your demo reel or that artwork in your portfolio--oh and most importantly, don't steal other people's work! But the thing to remember is that this is a relatively small industry. Sooner or later, everyone meets up at the festivals and talks to each other. If you're misrepresenting work that is in your portfolio/demo reel, WHEN you get caught, word will travel fast and you'll find yourself in an industry where no one wants to take a chance on you. So, if you're producing work as part of a larger project, be sure to denote EXACTLY what you did in that video clip. Don't try to pass yourself off as the lead animator if all you were doing was clean-up work. And never plagiarize work that is not yours. You WILL be found out eventually. I don't work in feature animated films, broadcast television, or the gaming industry. My forensic animation work for court cases and museums puts me squarely on the fringes of the animation macrocosm--so when "I" hear about an incident like this, you can bet that every HR Director at every animation studio in California, New York, Ontario and British Columbia knows the details. The risks of cheating do not outweigh the benefits. Show your own work and make sure it's the best work that you can produce. And if you're not good enough right now, work harder and try again.

    There are no shortcuts in this industry. Either you can do the work or you can't. So make the decision right now to master your craft.

    Cautionary Tale #2:

    A couple years back, I was asked to do portfolio reviews by a local college. Quite frankly, I enjoy doing them. While you don't get reimbursed for your time, it's a great way to give back to the community and help up-and-coming animators avoid some of the mistakes that you've made. During the review process, the other gentleman and I went through something like twelve or fifteen students over the course of a couple hours. They walked in, showed us their portfolio and demo reel, discussed it, we asked questions, and then we had time to write a review with praise for what they did well and suggestions for where they needed improvement. All the students were Sophomores, so at this point in their education, we expected that the quality of their work and interpersonal skills would be all across the spectrum--and there's nothing bad about that. Everyone has to start somewhere and college is a good place to learn what you don't know, as well as a good place to sand off the rough edges. And we were happy to help these kids out.

    So a smartly dressed kid showed up about halfway through the four-hour period and proceeded to show us his portfolio and demo reel... well, it wasn't actually "his" portfolio or "his" demo reel. It turns out that both of his older brothers were in the animation program and the three of them wanted to start their own company when they had all graduated. Nothing inherently wrong with that, however, during the entire session, he didn't show a single piece of work that he himself had produced or had even worked on. All he did was blather on about how his brothers did this and that and they were going to start a company when they all graduated. I was floored. Now all the students had varying levels of preparation for this portfolio review, but this kid had absolutely NOTHING of his own to show us and behaved as if he expected us to be excited about his two brothers' work and the future they had in front of them. Honestly, I've never had a student be that insulting. In my opinion, all he did was waste an opportunity that would've been better given to another student who deserved it more. Fortunately, the Dale Carnegie training kicked in and I did my best not to condemn or complain and left behind only that criticism which I hoped would be constructive.

    Afterwards, when I was writing my evaluation of his presentation, I held my 'poison pen' in check and stated that he had shown none of his own work and that the work his brothers were producing wasn't relevant as "he" was the person we were reviewing. While he was honest about the fact that he didn't produce the work that he showed us, how can we, or any human resources director, evaluate whether or not we should hire you if you don't show us anything that you yourself have produced? Clearly, this young man had either not understood the assignment or he just didn't care enough to do it--either way, the lack of preparation speaks volumes to a potential employer. When you're going in for a job interview, you want THEM looking for excuses to hire YOU, not YOU trying to give THEM excuses to hire you. The job market is tough, especially in the animation industry. You want to stack the deck as heavily in your favor as possible. If you don't have enough of your own material in your portfolio or demo reel, then apply the advice of NFB Director Michael Fukishima while you look for work or during that rare free time:

    "Make a ten-second film and send it to the festivals. Next, make a 30-second film... and send it to the festivals. Next, make a sixty second film... and send it to the festivals..."

    You get the point. Whether you're in school or during a hopefully rare gap in employment, you should always be working to improve your skills. Gaps in your employment can either work for you or against you, it all depends on what you do while you're looking for that next job.

    Cautionary Tale #3:

    Earlier this year, I attended an anime and Japanese culture con here in town. One of the panels I sat in on was all about improving your art. Well, the start time came and went and no one could find the presenter. So, something dynamic happened: people started posing questions to the crowd. As there were a couple pros in the crowd as well as a bunch of students, we all started answering the questions together. For thirty minutes, every question asked was something that either one or a couple people in the crowd had encountered before. There was an energy in that room that I don't see often as most people are content to absorb information from the speaker, whereas this was truly a collaborative environment.

    Well, the presenter showed up after a half hour and then preceded to give some of the worst advice I have ever heard. I got the distinct impression that she was a very disappointed (or disgruntled) art student (or former art student). For the remaining twenty minutes, it was "no one in Japan likes anime, it's just a fringe thing", "Art schools in America hate anime", "Anime cons in Japan are just glorified shopping trips", "don't try to get a job after art school, there aren't any". It's honestly been a while since I've seen someone suck all the energy out of the room like that. I sat there after she was finished with her presentation and watched Middle School and High School-aged kids walk out of the room with deflated looks on their faces.

    What a wasted opportunity.

    It did, however, get me to think about next year's convention and to make some decisions about my future participation. In the past, the con organizers have invited me to present a lecture or host a panel discussion at their con. I left the young lady's event thinking that it was time that a professional animator did a little research on what skills, backgrounds, and interests that animation schools are looking for in applicants to their programs--and how that information could be presented in such a way that these kids could maximize their chances of getting accepted to an animation program.

    Sometime in the future, you will be in a position where you are called upon to share your experiences and your knowledge with a bunch of bright-eyed students who are envious of your career path. Having performed this role in the past, I lean towards being the honest yet cautiously optimistic speaker. I'm honest about my successes and my failures as well as the current state of the industry. However, I'm not about to stomp on anyone's dreams just because they want to take a career route that I have not or because they don't seem to fully comprehend the fickle nature of the animation industry. One of these kids may have the developing skills and the drive to work at a major animation studio working on feature-length animated films--or create the next 'My Little Pony' or 'Venture Bros' for television. Yes, we should be honest about the challenges ahead of them as well as the amount of work it's going to take to be proficient in their craft--to say nothing of holding down a job as 'a creative'. But we should always phrase our lectures as a series of challenges to be overcome, not as a series of jackboots waiting to crush their spirits so that they walk away wondering why they should even bother trying to become an artist/animator.

    There is a man from my hometown of East Lansing, Michigan named Justin Leach. His father owns the video rental store about ten minutes from my house. He graduated from college in 1997, worked in Japan on Production I.G.'s animated feature film "Ghost in the Shell: Innocence" and the anime series "Last Exile". He performed modelling and rigging on such films as "Ice Age". "Rio", "Epic", and the TV series "Star Wars: the Clone Wars", among others. 2 And, "In 2012, Justin produced his first short film entitled, "Kick-heart"; Japan's first crowd-funded anime directed by Masaaki Yuasa in cooperation with Production I.G." 3

    If one guy from a small-ish mid-western city could get a job working in Japan's anime industry and then go on to work on blockbuster animated feature films here in America, you can't convince me that others couldn't do the same thing. It all depends on how much work you are willing to invest in your goals. We, as older animators have a responsibility to inspire the next generation through our films, our being a part of the global dialogue on animation, and through our example every time we're asked to talk to a bunch of kids about our jobs.

    Don't waste any opportunity you are given to inspire that next generation of animators.

    *  *  *

    1. Out of respect for the studio in question and the person who told me this cautionary tale, I'm not going to reveal which studio it was or who told me this story, so please do not ask.
    2. Source: IMDB http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0494838/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1
    3. Source: IMDB http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0494838/bio#trivia

    Tuesday, June 11, 2013

    Animated Inspiration: "SAWA"

    Well, Annecy, the world's largest animation festival is underway, so it would be remiss of me if I didn't share this beautiful signal film created by the students at Gobelins.

    Tuesday, June 4, 2013

    Animated Inspiration: Simon's Cat "Screen Grab"

    So my neighbor has this cat that she leaves outside all the time, all year round. When asked, the story I got was that it was because the cat kept peeing in the house. Understandable, I suppose, but when you have four kids under the age of five and your sister has a really nasty dog that she keeps indoors, it doesn't surprise me that the cat was acting out.

    At any rate, I discovered evidence that 'Tuna'* spent the better part of the winter living in my shed. And this spring, for reasons unknown, my neighbor abandoned her house and moved out in the space of, like, two days. On the one hand, I'm sorry to see her go cause she was the best neighbor we had living there since the house was built. On the other hand, she abandoned the cat.

    After a discussion with my roommate about the ups and downs of cat ownership, we began the process of feeding Tuna and letting her into the house for as long as she wants to be inside. Hopefully, by the time winter rolls around, she'll be used to using the litterbox again and will want to stay inside where it's warm. So, I guess I've got a cat now. She's friendly and well behaved so far, but I'm hoping that I won't have to deal with situations like in the new Simon's Cat. :3



    * My roommate and I call her 'Tuna' because since she moved in, my yard has been free of mice and moles. To reinforce her good behavior, every time she left a mole or a mouse on the front porch, we'd give her a can of tuna.

    Saturday, June 1, 2013

    Animated Quotes: Bruce Lee

    "It's not the daily increase but the daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential"

    ~ Bruce Lee

    Tuesday, May 21, 2013

    Animated Thoughts: TAIS 2013 AniJam or "what I did on my pre-summer vacation..."

    After submitting a short on the subject of "UFO's" to the annual TAIS AniJam, it was finally time for the drive to Toronto to see if the ten-second gag would get a laugh or not. A couple chuckles is really the most I can hope for. Every year, the TAIS ten-second film topic is announced and every year I wrack my brain until I figure out one good idea--which usually morphs into at least three or four really funny ideas--before I procrastinate, set aside the project in favor of billable work, or simply pass out due to exhaustion. And yet, a day or two before the film is due, something goes off in my brain telling me that I have to create a silly little gag film that reflects my off-kilter sense of humor, all so I can represent as the only American member of TAIS by driving to Toronto for the weekend. The ten-second shorts that I produce never live up to the raucous, gut-busting films that I see in my imagination as I invariably accept ten-seconds of animation that is far, far less then it could be since I'm only spending a few hours working on them the night before they're due. On the one hand, I'm reminded that this is why I did so poorly in undergrad, but on the other hand, I fool myself into thinking that I'm prioritizing my projects since the paying gigs are what helps me pay off the student loans with a little left over for that monthly Adobe Creative Cloud membership. However, these little ten-second gag films are what allows me to maintain whatever artistic sensibilities I have, so if ten-seconds every Spring is all it takes, who am I to complain? Especially since it means a weekend trip to Toronto where I can be a part of the most vibrant animation community in the Great Lakes region.

    Friday began as it usually did, with me leaving home around 7 a.m. and making the five hour drive to Canada's largest city with a list of stuff to do over the weekend. After arrival and check-in at my hotel (and receiving yet more proof at the border that my purchase of a NEXUS pass was an extremely wise one when I was waived right through security), I braved the construction in downtown Toronto to arrive at the St. Lawrence Market for lunch. A jar of gourmet mustard purchased for my brother and a pea-bacon sandwich later, I reviewed my list of used books and bookstores and then started walking through the underground city. This year, the plan was to continue the research started at the MSU and R.I.T. libraries and save myself overdue library book fines by hunting down my own copies.

    The first find of the day was at 'BMV Books' just north of the Eaton Centre: the 2004 printing of "Animation Now". I have the hardback 2007 reprint, unfortunately, that printing removed sections on CalArts, Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg, La Poudrière, and Supinfocom nor did it come with the sample DVD of animators' films. While I like the smaller footprint of the hardback 2007 copy, still I wanted the earlier printing to fill in the gaps left from the later printing. I also discovered a near-mint copy of the "Nelvana Story" and the hardback "Animation Magazine: the 20-Year Collection".

    The good thing was that they were very reasonably priced--only one or two dollars more than what I could get online and all were in excellent condition. The bad thing is that two were hardback copies, all three books were a combined eight pounds, and together were the size of a large dictionary. Still elated from my discoveries, I made the admittedly poor decision to not go back to the hotel and drop the books off before continuing my search through all the used bookstores in Downtown Toronto that I could find. My visits to 'Silver Snail', 'ABC Books', 'She Said Boom Books and Records', and a couple others not on my list were fruitless--some good finds, but nothing I didn't already have. Had hoped to find something good at 'She Said Boom' since that was where I found Karen Mazurkewich's "Cartoon Capers" a couple years back, but there wasn't anything there and the girl working the counter was pretty rude, so I went on my way.

    The Bloor Street location of 'BMV Books' was much more rewarding as it was there that I found a slightly-used copy of Giannalberto Bendazzi's "Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation". Knowing that Bendazzi is going to be releasing an updated copy of this book later this year, I didn't want to encounter the same issue as I did with "Animation Now". I'm confident that the additional information that Bendazzi is going to add in the updated version will be worth it, however, just in case he has to remove existing pages to make it all fit within a reasonable page count, I'd rather have my own copy now.

    Satisfied with the day's deals, I returned to the hotel for a change of clothes. Needless to say, sitting in front of the computer for over ten hours a day over the past four years isn't a very good workout to prepare yourself for a day of walking all around downtown Toronto in close to 80 degree weather!

    After a shower and nursing some blisters, I discovered that it had started raining. Even with an umbrella, I was going to get all wet again. So I stopped by the local Anime store (no love there, but admittedly the DVDs I'm looking for are pretty hard to find) then trudged through the rain to dinner at Hero Burger, and finally returned to the Grange Hotel. I spent the rest of the evening watching the last four episodes of "BTOOOM!" before doing some work in my production journal on the paint-on-glass film that I 'owe my Auntie Martine'. The Grange Hotel may be spartan, but their rooms have wireless routers. Makes for easy, uninterrupted streaming of anime over my iPad. "BTOOOM!" is another example of how far ahead of the game the Japanese are when compared to my American bretheren when it comes to breaking out of the animation age ghetto. The story may be slightly recycled from "Battle Royale", but it's still filled with solid storytelling geared for a more mature audience. Afterwards, I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I was able to solve a couple problems with my storyboards. I guess sometimes all you need is a change of scenery to jar your creativity and allow the ideas to flow through your pencil.

    Saturday was research day for new material for my sister blog "Animated Women" (no pun intended). After breakfast, I went to the Toronto Reference Library to scour their film and animation section, much like I did at R.I.T. and MSU. Having been warned ahead of time by Patrick Jenkins that the Toronto Comic Arts Festival was in full swing, I tried to arrive as early as possible. But even then, there were hundreds of people mulling around, buying product and getting autographs from independent (and some not-so-independent) artists in the comic book scene, like the Hernandez brothers and J. Scott Campbell.

    Was kind of unimpressed with all the crowds of people at the TCAF tables set up on the Library's main floor, so I went up to the fifth floor, which was much quieter and far less crowded! Still, it was five flights of stairs after being sore from all the previous day's walking. Again, not one of my more well thought out plans, but that's where the film and animation section was. There wasn't a whole lot there that I hadn't seen before, but I was able to review a couple books that are on my short-list: "British Animation: The Channel 4 Factor" by Clare Kitson, "French Animation History", by Richard Newpert and "The World History of Animation" by Stephen Cavalier. It was in Cavalier's book that I discovered a reference to the only book on cut-out animation that Terry Gilliam wrote: "Animations of Mortality". Gilliam, while still working with Monty Python, wrote this surreal little book in the United Kingdom back in 1978 and it only had one print run. It was also a book that I had seen on Friday as I searched through used bookstores--but I couldn't remember which one. Nightmares of running around Toronto a second time swam through my head and the clock was ticking as I was meeting Lynn Dana Wilton for dinner at 4:30 p.m.

    As the cosplayers and furries were starting to increase in number, I needed no greater reason to leave the throngs of TCAF attendees behind. So, I hastily exited the library and retraced my previous day's path in nearly reverse order starting with 'She Said Boom'. The book was not there, however, a different yet equally rude employee was. After deciding never to darken their doorstep again, I went back to' BMV Books' on Bloor Street. And sure enough, there it was. Turns out I had passed it over when I saw the slightly-used copy of Bendazzi's "Cartoons" on the shelf below. The copy purchased, I returned to the hotel for another shower. After two candy bars, some serious hydration, and watching a guilty pleasure, the latest simulcasted episode of "My Little Sister Can't Be This Cute" (season two) streamed via CrunchyRoll's iPad app, I went to meet up with Lynn for dinner at the Kit Kat before we attended the TAIS AniJam screening.

    Time flew by as we talked about our films, the motivations behind our projects, the state of the industry, and traveling to festivals. It was only through dumb luck that I checked the time on my phone during one of the very few lapses in conversation. We had talked through dinner and were left with only ten minutes to walk to the Cinecycle before the TAIS program began! Not more than once on the brisk walk up Spadina did I wish that I had more opportunities to break bread with colleagues--if for no other reason than the conversation.

    There were some great films during the screening, and I loved how there was a wide variety of media and technique, but my favorites had to be the following:

    "Hula Hoop" by Tess Martin was ninety seconds of visual wow! The story is a metaphor for the age old 'circle of life' tale animated with sand. But, in several places, the fluidity of the animation and precision with which the characters stayed on model left both Lynn and I wondering if some parts of this film were rotoscoped or if she had snuck in some computer animation. It's really refreshing to see some of the older, non-digital media used, but even more so when it's executed as well as this.
    Hula Hoop from Tess Martin on Vimeo.


    "The McIntosh Apple" by Janice Schulman was only a minute long, but this cute little mini-documentary about a "Great Canadian Invention" told the origin story of the McIntosh apple using a palette of bold lines and colored pencil textures.


    Directed by Astra Burka and animated by Pasquale La Montagna, "My Titanic Uncle" was a wonderful "drawn on glass" documentary that told the tragic story of Burka's great-great-uncle Adolphe Saalfeld--a man who survived the sinking of the Titanic but was never able to overcome the stigma of being a survivor.


    The screening ended on a high note with "Like Rabbits", the sequel to Osman Cerfon's delightfully twisted "Sticky Ends". A trailer for the continuing tale of the 'fish headed man' can be seen on Vimeo.

    
    Madi Piller and Chuck Wilson
    Special notice must be made for TAIS President Madi Piller's film "Animated Self-Portraits" where she contacted a plethora of Canadian animators with the instruction of creating an animated self-portrait using a cycle of only twelve drawings. While the film has not been released online, Acme Art and Works has posted the DVD packaging artwork on their website.

    Afterwards, it was time to have a drink at the Cinecycle's bar and chat with fellow animators before dropping Lynn off at her home, driving back to my hotel, and falling asleep before my head hit the pillow. As nice as it was to see everyone again, the highlight of the meet-and-greet after the screening had to be bumping into Graydon Liang of the Canadian Animation Blog who has been advising me as I make the transition to shooting traditional animation with a DSLR camera. Walking away with another two pieces of the image-flicker puzzle, hopefully, I'll get to start filming my paint-on-glass film sooner rather than later.

    
    Sunday arrived way too soon and immediately became a mixed bag for me. My plan to visit the Toronto Zoo was almost thwarted by a marathon that shut down nearly every entrance to the Gardiner expressway around Spadina Avenue. But, after finally making it to the Zoo, an hour behind schedule, the beautiful weather broke and it started to hail as I walked up to the admissions booth. The rest of the trip to the zoo consisted of me leaning into my umbrella against the rain and wind as I rushed from one enclosed display to the next. But, the critters inside the displays seemed to be a lot more active than the ones outside, and the weather kept most of the people away, so I had some time to collect photo and video references for animals that I usually only get to see in passing. My main reason for visiting the zoo was thwarted when I discovered that the newly renovated Asia section had been shut down to finish preparations for the giant panda display which would be opening in six days. Doom on me.

    One of the more interesting things that happened there was when I encountered a girl who was drawing a peacock. A short chat revealed that she was a student who wanted to go to CalArts. So, at her request, I looked at her portfolio and gave her encouragement on her drawings--which displayed an excellent grasp of perspective, proportion and gesture. But as I walked away, I was angry at myself for not having a card that I could hand her to promote the interviews on my AnimatedWomen.info blog--the interviews being far more encouraging and informative than anything I could muster in a five minute conversation.

    So, slightly crestfallen, I drove back to the hotel figuring that I'd walk around Kensington Market and maybe visit the chocolatier before going to dinner.

    Patrick Jenkins
    However, as fate would have it, when I returned to the Grange and checked my e-mail it turned out that Patrick Jenkins had sent me an invitation to come up and see his studio if I was still in town. A short jaunt on Toronto's public transportation later, and I got to spend the better part of the afternoon visiting with Patrick as he showed me his animation setup and provided me some first-hand advice on how he solved the flicker issue with his DSLR camera setup. Afterwards, he showed me the preliminary storyboards and test shots for his third NoirLand film. Not more than once during the afternoon, I was kicking myself for not bringing my digital audio recorder from home and continuing last February's interview.

    After dinner, I was tired from yet another day of walking, so I picked up a drink on the way back to the Grange and watched the latest simulcasted episode of "A Certain Scientific Railgun S" on Funimation's iPad app. Again, sleep came easy that night as I reflected on the main advantage of being wired in to the net: 24/7 access to animation, be it through Crunchyroll, Funimation, the NFB's iOS app, or a plethora of other services more than willing to take my money in exchange for sending me animated film wherever I am in North America.

    Monday morning rolled around sooner than expected and it was time to go, though I probably could've used another day or two in Toronto. There were still several used bookstores that I hadn't visited, but they would have to wait until this Fall when I stop through on my way to the Ottawa International Animation Festival. I bade farewell to the Grange for another few months and took the streetcars to breakfast at Marche Movenpik--one of the few landmarks still remaining from the days back in the '70's when my parents would bring me and my sister here for vacation. On the way back, I walked past the former location of 'Ginsburg & Wong', a Jewish deli/Chinese restaurant that was one of the three restaurants that my family would always visit on our vacations. With TAIS moving their offices away from the waterfront, the NFB Mediatheque closing their center on John Street, and the Silver Snail moving their store to Yonge Street, I drove home wondering how many places in Toronto that make it feel like a home away from home will soon only live in my memories?