|R.I.T.'s School of Film & Animation|
One of the side-projects I work on every year is adding to my remembrance of Erik Timmerman.
Erik was a great influence on my life both professionally and personally. During undergrad, I was an average student but came into my own at R.I.T. due in no small part to the investment that my professors made in me. As the story was related to me back in 1994, everyone was on the fence about letting me into the M.F.A. program due to my lackluster grades in undergrad. However, Erik went to bat for me and told everyone that I could handle R.I.T.’s intensive quarter system, I just needed a chance. His trust in me was vindicated three years later when I graduated from the M.F.A. program with honors.
Tragically, Erik’s life was cut short in 2000 due to cancer, but is survived by his son and daughter out in California—-both of whom still work in the film industry (last I knew), much like their father did before he came to work at R.I.T.
For the past several years, on the anniversary of his death, I have been been posting little stories and recollections about Erik on my blog. As a part of this remembrance, I'm exploring the possibility of obtaining permission from his son and daughter to digitize and post online the only experimental film that Erik ever produced. As few copies exist, this is one of the only ways that people will be able to see Erik’s film. But, I didn’t want to ask them to ship me what could be the only copy of his film that they have in their possession. So, I took a printout of R.I.T’s library listing for Erik’s film and asked R.I.T. Archivist Becky Simmons if she could help me find the library's copy.
As it turns out, she had never seen the numbering system for his entry in the database as it hadn’t been used for years. And, even after several phone calls to colleagues, she was unable to locate his film, if a copy even still existed at the Wallace Library. So, she apologized, we exchanged business cards, and she said she’d see what she could do. This was Friday at around 3 p.m. I thanked her for her time, and then walked across the library to do my research.
Around 4 p.m., I received a call from Becky stating that she had found the library’s copy. Fifteen minutes later, I was watching Erik’s film downstairs on one of the three remaining VCRs that the library still had hooked up. I was able to verify that it could be digitized with only minor clean-up needed for the soundtrack. When I returned the tape to Becky, she suggested that, once the necessary permissions were secured from Erik’s children, I could request that R.I.T.’s copy of Erik’s film be transferred to Michigan State University through their inter-library loan program. By doing so, I could make a ten minute drive with my equipment from my home to MSU’s campus instead of a fourteen hour round-trip drive between Rochester and Michigan.
Becky's commitment to helping an alumnus pursue a personal project on a Friday afternoon when most people would have been wrapping up their work for the week was very encouraging. Her professionalism was everything that I have come to expect from R.I.T.’s support staff. Needless to say, the university is fortunate to have someone of her caliber working at the Wallace Library. This was only one of the moments where it dawned on me that I had made the correct decision to drive out to Rochester.
With the exception of a visit to the local Anime store, dinner, and driving the route to the Little Theatre (so I wouldn't get lost on Saturday morning), I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening at the Wallace Library going through three entire bookshelves of animation books. I live a five minute drive from Michigan State University and they have some real gems in their library. However, as MSU doesn't have a dedicated animation production program*, the library's selection of books on animation history can get a little sparse and spread out--especially when the person running the section of the library where most of the animation books I want to review are located doesn't bother to show up for work and unlock the door! And while I'm pleased with what they can get me through inter-library loan, it's tough to justify the effort if I don't know if the books I'm requesting have what I want. Amazon.com does an adequate job in scanning the table of contents and indices in newer books but I've found that many of the books I want to research either aren't covered or some of the ones that do get scanned are illegible. So. Sometimes you have to go directly where you know they'll have the information you want. And there it was in the Wallace Library. On those bookshelves.
Earlier this month, I launched "Animated Women", a blog dealing with women who work in the field of animation, the historical contributions that women have made to the field of animation, and how we can encourage more girls to enter the field of animation (www.animatedwomen.info). So, at this stage, my research was geared towards uncovering more information about the rich history of women working in animation. I walked out of the library that night with a list of books that needed to be part of my collection, along with pages of notes. And I hadn't even finished going through all the shelves! As I sat on my bed in the hotel and perused new and used copies of books on Amazon.com, I made the welcome discovery that one of the two books that were at the top of my list was available through a used bookstore for only a dollar! For once, being wired in to the Internet 24/7 worked to my advantage! The book purchased, I loaded up "Wreck-it Ralph" on my iPad and watched the movie until I was tired enough to sleep.
Animated Women" (no pun intended) to read my review of this event and watch some of my favorite films from the 'Women of SoFA'.
Well, after a thoroughly enjoyable screening, and an even more enjoyable chat with my former professor, Stephanie Maxwell, I decided to visit an old haunt before returning to the library to finish my research. On the way to the Seneca Park Zoo--where I spent almost every weekend during grad school drawing the animals--I passed by a store called "Comic Book Heaven". After my little zoo trip, where I became reacquainted with the tiger who likes to let people with cameras get close to her cage only to turn tail and try to pee on them, I stopped off at this little comic book store. Serendipity struck once again as there in a box at the back of the store was the second book on my list: 'The Complete Kodak Animation Book' and priced at a mere four dollars no less.
As I sat in the library later that evening, my research complete, I read a book on Eiji Tsuburaya--the man who invented most of the special effects for the Godzilla films--and reflected on how silly it was of me to have doubts about this trip. It was a successful one on every level. Sometimes, it's only by going through these experiences that I'm reminded how many of the greatest adventures in life are the ones that you're not expecting--and would be missed if you stayed at home.
* While MSU's College of Communication Arts & Sciences does have specializations in Documentary Studies, Fiction Film Production, Game Design and Development as well as classes in their "Media Sandbox" which cover some computer-based 2d and 3d animation, they don't seem to have a dedicated and comprehensive animation program like one sees at schools like R.I.T. or Sheridan.