Sunday, September 30, 2018

A Year of Animation: Oh Canada!!

So I've got this idea for a silhouette animation, but I'm having trouble getting it off the ground. Well, sometimes you need to just dive right in and do some experimentation to get the project moving forward -- priming the pump as it were.


In this case, since I was going to be in Toronto for a couple days before attending the Ottawa International Animation Festival, I rented out the "Lotte Reiniger Studio" at the Toronto Animated Image Society for the day in order to play around and get a feel for this animation -- and draw a little inspiration from Lotte's tricktable.

That day, I went through six tests, animating the same scene over and over until I reached this one:



A lot of what I was looking for was getting a feel for how long the scene should be, what frame rate I should film the scene at, whether this should be filmed on ones, twos or threes, and how fast or slow the fish should move. After doing these tests, and taking lots of photo and video references at the Toronto Zoo and Ripley's Aquarium, while I'm not ready to animate just yet, I'm definitely ready to finalize my storyboards and move to the animatic phase of my production.

* * *

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Animated Thoughts: ASIFA Central Retreat and Lotte Reiniger



Silhouette illustration for I want you
Illustration by Lotte Reiniger
As seen in my last post, we held our annual ASIFA Central members retreat in August. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to work on my public speaking skills, I volunteered to give a short presentation on Lotte Reiniger. But rather than offering the same lecture that I had for Women's History Month, I decided to revisit and recycle a portion of that work while adding new information that I don't see any other researchers focusing on.

Much has been said about Lotte's animation work. However, rarely meriting more than a mention or a footnote in books and articles written about Lotte is that around 1918 to 1919 she created 'silhouette' illustrations for a book of German poetry written by Gustav Hochstetter titled Venus in Seide: Ein neues Liebesbrevier (Venus in Silk: A Breviary on New Love), published in 1919.

Hochstetter himself, was an author, poet, humorist, and professor of Jewish-German origin. During his lifetime, he wrote over twenty books, of which, Venus in Silk was one. Tragically, Gustav Hochstetter would be swept up by the Nazi's in World War II. He was deported from Berlin to the Radinkendorf labor camp in Poland and then, on October 3rd, 1942, sent to the Thereisenstadt ghetto in German-occupied Czechosloakia. Gustav Hochstetter would die a year-and-a-half later at the age of 70.

Venus in Seide (Venus in Silk)
by Gustav Hochstetter

After coming across his name (and the title Venus in Seide) while reading Whitney Grace's book Lotte Reiniger: Pioneer of Film Animation, I did a little digging into the history of Hochstetter. Confident that he was a part of Lotte's history that needed to be told, I then tracked down a first-edition copy of Venus in Seide at a bookseller in Germany -- Chiemgauer Internet Antiquariat, owned by Frauke Strassberger. About a week later, a weathered, well read book arrived in the mail.

Then came the difficult part.

Researching Hochstetter wasn't too bad. There's enough information about him on the internet to pull together a couple slides about his life. The tough part was translating portions of Venus in Seide! However, between my next-to-useless two years of college German and my fluency in Google Translate, I was able to cobble together several complete poems in addition to captions for Lotte's illustrations.

My initial plan was to show Lotte's silhouette illustrations in my slides and perform an analysis of her static models for print compared to her dynamic models designed for animation, but I quickly became swept up in the excitement of translating Gustav's poems. What first was an attempt to put Lotte's illustrations into their proper context rapidly became a welcome obsession as I tried to get into Lotte's mind, imagining what this young woman must have been thinking when translating the printed word into an illustration designed to accentuate the poem yet showcase it's own sense of beauty without detracting from the richness of the printed word upon which it was based.

The following is one of my favorite poems (from the few that I've translated thus far). You can see Lotte's silhouette illustration on the right side; I recommend looking back at it from time to time as you read Hochstetter's poem. I'm sure you will notice, as I did, how well Lotte's illustration accentuates and reflects Gustav's words and that Gustav's words (in turn) accentuate Lotte's illustration -- especially since Gustav's poem speaks of features that you cannot observe in a black-and-white silhouette.

Eine muß die Schönste Sein
(One must be the most beautiful)
Poem by Gustav Hochstetter, illustration by Lotte Reiniger


One must be the most beautiful (1)

One must be the most beautiful
On the far earth:
Narrow foot, slender leg,
Most charming gesture;
Eyes should be sensuous
Sparkling like diamonds,
Bodice, shoes, hat and dress
A glove resting.
Teeth dazzling; Tied up fine
As in racehorses -
One must be the most beautiful
On the far earth

One must be the singer
This beautiful beauty,
Your charms a magic spell
sounds sing out,
That through his portrait of the world
Watches this golden wonder
He that holds his mirror
You, the most beautiful woman,
That, the song the melody
To indulge in her grace -
One must be the singer
This beautiful beauty.


Now, if you go back and take a close look at the poem in the image above, you can see one of the main difficulties in translation. The font used was this flowing, artistic typeface that obscured some letters, like the 'tsch' or 'sch' consonants. Additionally, the 'S' had at least two separate and distinct forms depending on whether they were capitalized or in lower-case. A magnifying glass was a most helpful tool as I deciphered the individual characters, typed them into Word (making liberal use of their German symbol library), then copied the poem into Google Translate and waited for the English result.

Google Translate itself is an odd bird. After using it to translate portions of several poems, I quickly learned that the algorithms appear to translate many of the words based in part on the context of the sentence -- which can be both helpful at times and very frustrating in others. More than once, I broke down a sentence into it's component words and looked through various definitions in order to translate the sentence into something that was both coherent in English AND maintained the spirit of the poem in its overall context. For someone who loves working on puzzles, I often found myself wishing for more time to translate just "one more poem" before the presentation (and also for a friend who could check my German to English translations).

When paging through this old text, it was very apparent that even at this young age, Lotte Reiniger had developed a skilled eye in creating very clear, very 'readable' poses for her characters as well as the ability to maintain proper proportions for her characters when cutting them from paper. One can only imagine the delight Hochstetter must have felt when Lotte agreed to create the illustrations for his book.

On the day this blog post goes live, coincidentally on Yom Kippur, it has been ninety-nine years since Hochstetter first published his book. I can't even fathom what must have been going through his mind as he lay on his deathbed, having been betrayed by his country and watched friends, family, and countrymen imprisoned and killed. But I think, I hope, that he would be pleased to know that there are people who are still reading his books and enjoying his poetry a century later.

* * *

(1) translation by Charles Wilson

Friday, August 31, 2018

A Year of Animation: ASIFA Central 2018 Retreat

Gary Schwartz and Linnea Glas
During this past August, the annual ASIFA Central Animators Retreat hosted animators from all across the Midwest in Grand Rapids for a weekend of animated film, workshops, presentations and camaraderie. After working all by myself on each of the films for my 'year of animation', I decided to seize upon the opportunity to expand my skillset by working on a film as part of a team.

Every year at the retreat we all spend half the day working on animations. Sometimes it's workshops where we learn a new animation technique or share information, tips, and tricks on a technique we all know. However, this year, the workshop organizers broke us into teams and had each team working to produce an animation based on the same concept. So, each group started at the same point, but was allowed to interpret the project however they wished.

My team consisted of myself, Gary Schwartz of Single Frame Films, and Linnea Glas - a former student of mine from Huntington University - and the project centered on making an animation based on our visual interpretation of the following tongue-twister:

"On the moon, marooned baboons consume balloons to make cartoons."

Each group produced a distinct animation using their own visual choices and own audio recording of the tongue twister. Some used clay, others sand, still others found images. However, the three of us chose to do a "Gary Schwartz" cut-out animation. Y'see, during the year, Gary travels throughout the world and hosts animation workshops. One of his animation projects is using these stylized mouths to animate a line of dialog. So, we appointed Gary as our director and character designer, Linnea as our voice actress, model maker and animator, and I handled the technical side of the animation including camerawork and producing the X-Sheet.


Linnea working on the models

This was one of those great learning experiences as it allowed me to explore a facet of Dragonframe that I had only read about and tinkered with on a superficial level: incorporating dialog. While Gary and Linnea designed and created the cut-out mouth syllable models for our animation, I set to work processing the audio -- which consisted of loading it into an audio channel, identifying the syllables, and then making a mock-up animation using a stock figure that comes with Dragonframe.


Dr. Sock. Great concept, but they left out some syllables
when making this model so we had to improvise...

This was the result of my working with the "Dr. Sock" model, the sock-puppet monkey that comes stock with DragonFrame.



Once the audio was processed and the audio "animatic" completed, I created an X-Sheet that would allow us to select the correct mouth position models and line them up with the dialog. Afterwards, once Gary and Linnea had finished the models, I worked with Linnea (with Gary directing us) as she followed my X-Sheet and animated the mouth models.

Note the "syllable" column that lines up
with specific points in our audio track.

With a little under an hour left to produce our film, we quickly worked our way through filming the animation as Gary added input to improve the flow and visual variety of the animation (we were using a limited number of syllable models after all). And after the film was finished, Gary had the idea of adding one last set of frames with some soviet-era "dental models" that he picked up on his travels through Eastern Europe, followed by a quick fade-to-black. We all agreed that it added a really nice sense of surrealism to our animation.

Our completed film is as follows:



Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Animated Thoughts: A little nostalgia from Undergrad...

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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



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

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

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

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

* * *

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A Year of Animation: Jack Slutzky

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

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

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

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

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

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





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



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



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

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



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

* * *

Dear Charles:

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

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

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

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

Peace

Jack

* * *

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

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Animated Thoughts: My Summer Reading

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

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

by Bill Plympton

by Whitney Grace

* * *

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Animated People: Erik Timmerman

I was in my early twenties during my time at R.I.T. and my personality had the usual mix of maturity and immaturity that most young men possess during that age. As I've mentioned before, from time to time back then, and in his own inimitable way, Erik would help guide me into manhood -- this particular time by pointing out some of my ingrained behaviors that were counter-productive to navigating polite society.

Case in point: being someone who was a keen observer of human behavior, Erik once mentioned that I looked like I had been in prison -- this based on the fact that I gave off no body language and would do things like looking both ways before entering a room.

I responded that when you spend your childhood getting bullied at school and abused at home, you develop some self-preservation habits -- such as checking the room before you enter so you don't get jumped by a schoolyard bully or reducing your body language and facial expressions to the absolute minimum so as not to attract attention to yourself and piss off an already angry parent.

But it wasn't until Erik pointed out these behaviors that I really put some serious thought into how people might be perceiving me. It could have been that I had reached a level of emotional maturity that I could accept hearing that observation from someone without taking offense or getting defensive. Or perhaps it was how Erik said it... or maybe it was just because he was a third-party observer who had no malice towards me and was, in his own unique way, engaging in a simple act of kindness.

Regardless, I had been engaging in those defensive behaviors for so many years that they had become second nature to me.

Moving silently was one of those behaviors.

While at R.I.T., I worked at the now defunct R.I.T. Research Corporation. And unfortunately, one time I scared one of my supervisors so badly that he yelled out when he saw me standing there in his doorway. Course, Rich always had a great sense of humor about such things, so after composing himself, and I apologized for startling him, he quipped that I should wear a bell around my neck when we were working late in the office so everyone could hear me coming. He laughed, I laughed, and then I asked him my work-related question.

But afterwards, Erik's words would come back to me and I made it a point to take his observation to heart. No, I didn't start wearing a bell or anything silly like that, but I did make an effort to smile a little more, lurk a little less, and lighten up a little so those hard lessons from my past wouldn't control my future.

Twenty-some years later, I'm still somewhat guarded. I still look pretty intense when I'm walking around, lost in my own thoughts and not paying attention to how I look while I'm thinking. But instead of pausing at doorways and looking both ways before entering, I pause and look around in order to see if someone needs the door held open for them. And when they do, I'm always somewhat bemused when I observe how surprised people react to that simple act of kindness.

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

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A Year of Animation: ASIFA International Animation Day 2018

Well, since last month I (re)created four animations from grad school for June's "Year of Animation", this month I took it a little easy and participated in an Ani-Jam.

Image halfway through the morph cycle
ASIFA Central's intrepid President, Brad Yarhouse, is in charge of ASIFA's International Animation Day, so he proposed that members of ASIFA Central participate in an Ani-Jam centered around the IAD poster. Everyone was given two images from the final poster and instructed to create a transition from the first image to the second. So, your first image will be someone else's second image and your second image is someone else's first, and so on. When completed, the animation will transition from one image to the other in a continuous loop.

In my case, I'm animating a transition from the first image in the poster to the second image.

However, given how much time my grad school archival project is taking, I decided to do a simple morph for my two frames. Transitioning from a character with two eyes to a character with one eye was a bit of a challenge and in the end, I chose to set my control points so that they were focused on specific facial characteristics so that the morph would flow much more smoothly: like the outer ends of the two pupils on one character linked together so they'd match up with the one pupil on the other character. Or the bead of sweat morphing into the glare of light on the Cyclops' eye.

What I am most proud of, though, is how well the noses morphed from one to another. That coupled with the above really draws the focus away from the flaws in the overall animation (like the fade-in of the Cyclops' large green-colored iris). I originally wanted to do this animation freehand on animation bond, but the time and effort required for this project was a little more than I was willing to commit.

You can see the completed animation this Fall when it's debuted by ASIFA Central. I'll post links in my ASIFA Central International Animation Day wrap-up blog post so you can all watch the whole Ani-Jam online.

But, until then, here's a facial morph I put together just for fun.


* * *

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Animated Thoughts: Adventures in Animation

Life has been a mixed bag for me. I grew up bullied and abused. My weight has always been an issue. I've never been very lucky at love. And I feel like I've learned how to manage my money far too late in life to do me much good. But I'm willing to bet that if you conducted a survey of people and got honest answers out of them, nine out of ten would say similar things about their own lives. I believe that there's a tendency in humans to exist in a bubble whereby we see all of our experiences--good, bad and indifferent--as unique to us and us alone simply by virtue of the fact that we're the ones experiencing them at the time. And if that experience is negative, it carries far more weight than it otherwise would given our limited perspective of the experience--thus leading us to avoid similar experiences in the future where the negative result "could" occur.

I also believe that this unfortunate tendency causes us to miss out on those opportunities where God attempts to remind us of how blessed our lives really are.

Case in point: my nephew graduated from High School the first weekend in June. Which meant for me, a trip out to Boston in order to see him walk with his class. Given how hectic these trips out to the East Coast usually are, my natural reaction is to try to avoid them. It's pretty easy for me to get overwhelmed by the sensory overload caused by so many people making so much auditory and visual noise in such a confined space--so much so that it's hard for me to generate the emotional energy necessary in making such a trip. I usually come up with some excuse as to why I cannot make the event and offer my regrets for missing out. What can I say, I'm better in smaller groups.

But... he is my nephew, and I do love the lad, so off to Boston I went.


Factor in traffic and time spent crossing
the borders and it's about 13 hours one way.
My parents and my brother got some really affordable flights out there and back. Me? I made the 26 hour round trip drive to and from Boston.

What would make me choose a slightly more expensive 26 hour drive as opposed to a pair of more affordable two hour flights, you ask?

Well, I spent a day in Rochester, New York.

I was thinking of going back to R.I.T. for homecoming this year in order to do a special event outside of the Institute's yearly offerings for alumni and visiting parents. But David's graduation meant that I could have this singular experience five months sooner.

Some background is necessary.

Lotte Reiniger
German animator Lotte Reiniger created her first animated film: Das Ornament des verliebten Herzens (the Ornament of the Lovestruck Heart) in the Fall of 1919. First shown publicly on December 12, 1919, her film was a hit with viewers and soon was shown all around the world. Unfortunately, this black and white silent film would be lost to the horrors of World War II, along with many of her other early animated films. That is, until 2006 when a copy was found at the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York. Realizing what they had, Lotte's film was slated for preservation and eventually a copy was made available to the viewing public.

That morning on the second of May, while we were surfing the Internet looking at flight times and prices, my mother reminded me of the fact that I didn't have to wait until October to see Lotte's film. I had already done all the legwork, so all that was left was to make a phone call to the curator and set up an appointment. Four weeks later, I was there, sitting in a dark room in front of a viewing station, watching an almost forgotten jewel of animation history.


Frame from Ornament of the Lovestruck Heart, Lotte Reiniger, 1919
Courtesy George Eastman Museum

I grew up watching cartoons. As a child, we had cable t.v. back in the '70's so I got to watch the first wave of Japanese animation hit the shores of the United States. I enjoyed the singular experience that was Saturday Morning cartoons -- replete with reruns of classic 1940's and '50's animations along with the then current crop of Hanna Barbara shows from the '60's and '70's. Through vacations to Toronto with my parents, I was exposed to the animated films of the National Film Board of Canada. And since my parents were fans of Monty Python, I never missed a Terry Gilliam cut-out animation.

But I didn't see the films of Lotte Reiniger until much later in life. Though I had heard of the Adventures of Prince Achmed and had seen pictures of silhouette animation, it wouldn't be until the 2000's when I started watching Lotte's films -- starting with Achmed. Up until then, all my knowledge about Lotte Reiniger had been academic, things that I had read from books here and there. I attribute my newfound interest in the works of Lotte Reiniger to a TAIS workshop back in 2013 where Lynn Dana Wilton showed us clips from Achmed and explained Lotte's process in puppet design and filmmaking.

Frame from Ornament of the Lovestruck Heart, Lotte Reiniger, 1919
Courtesy George Eastman Museum
Since then, I've marveled at the exploits of Lotte's silhouette characters and even moreso at the life she lived. If you haven't already, I highly recommend reading the many resources available about Lotte's life, times, and animation process. Some of my favorites are:

1. Shadow Theaters and Shadow Films by Lotte Reiniger,
2. Lotte Reiniger: Pioneer of Film Animation, by Whitney Grace,
3. The Art of Lotte Reiniger video documentary by Primrose Productions (part one is on YouTube), and
4. The restored version of the Adventures of Prince Achmed (it has a documentary about Lotte Reiniger as part of the special features).

As I'm currently working on a silhouette animated film as my entry into next year's Ottawa International Animation Festival, I am in negotiations with the Toronto Animated Image Society to animate part of the film this Fall using the "trick table" that Lotte used to make one of her films in Canada -- a workstation that I had the pleasure of examining and animating on earlier this year.

Lotte's "trick table" located at the TAIS offices in Toronto

And that speaks to the point of this blog post. It's so easy to let ourselves get wrapped up in the minutae of our lives with all its trials and tribulations that we miss out on the adventures that are waiting for us right in our backyard. I'm very fortunate that my meandering path through life has afforded me the opportunities to travel to the George Eastman Museum and marvel at a film that was, at that time, the cutting edge of animated film.

In a blog post earlier this year, I made the somewhat casual remark that 'life is full of adventures... if you know where to look.' Nowhere was that statement truer than when I drove to Toronto to see (and animate on) Lotte's trick table back in March. Or when I stopped by the George Eastman Museum in Rochester on my way to Boston in order to watch the only known copy of Lotte Reiniger's first ever silhouette animated film.

So to amend my previous statement: Life is full of adventures, and hidden blessings, if you know where to look and if you leave yourself open to them.

*  *  *

Thursday, May 31, 2018

A Year of Animation: Some things lost and some things found

Carl "Skip" Battaglia, Stephanie Maxwell,
Marla Schweppe, me. (l to r)
My first experience with an Oxberry camera was in my Introduction to Animated Film and Graphic Film Production class under Carl "Skip" Battaglia.

Throughout the quarter, I had some great times while experimenting with these "old school" under-the-camera techniques -- even moreso because it was all non-digital, since up to that point in my education, almost all of the animation I had created was in the computer. Back then, Skip would give us the assignment, then we'd shoot our films during the week, watch them during the next class, and then he would cut the 16mm film stock into individual sections so we could take our films home if we wanted them. One of my few regrets from my time at R.I.T. was that most of those films have been lost, either during the class when I didn't pick up the film stock or during the time since I moved back to Michigan.

Fortunately, I still have a lot of notes and paper records from that class and even some models and cels. Admittedly, not some of the ones I really want, like the drawing I made for my direct-on-film project, but enough to reconstruct these films.

The projects that stuck out in my mind the most are listed below. I've recreated a couple of them using some materials from Skip's class that I still have in my files, and some were remade using all new materials using my notes as a framework. All of them though were recreated using present day software and equipment in order to make the production process a little easier.

Project 2 was a direct on film animation. I used clear filmstock and a fine-tip marker to create an animation where the "camera" panned left to right across a reclining nude woman from toes to head. Only, the shapely woman's figure had one of those 1970's smiley faces for a head. I'm still looking for the paper model I created for this assignment. I'm sure I kept it somewhere and, now that I own my own 8mm/Super8 film projector, I would love to recreate this direct on film animation just for fun. Would be an enjoyable way to spend a rainy afternoon... hunched over a light table... squinting through magnifying lenses... drawing a figure frame-by-frame... eh, it's not for everybody.

Project 5 was kind of a "trickfilm". Skip defined this project as:

"The production of a sequence approximately 10 seconds in length dealing with some aspect of color." (1)

I made the following film:


My goal was to make a play on the color reversal/retinal afterimage trick using a skull and both red and green colors. The viewer's attention would be focused on the movement of the eyes while the red/green skull image was "burned" onto the viewer's retina. Then, when the eyes finished their final move, the whole image was removed and the viewer was left watching a blank screen -- with the reverse image of the skull from their retinas filling up the screen where the visible skull image once was. The only thing I didn't do during the reshoot is the opening and closing fade to/from black that was part of the assignment.

Project 6 was intended to explore traditional ink-and-paint cel animation:

"The production of a sequence of approximately 10 seconds long involving a figure with movable limbs. The figure must be executed in the traditional ink and paint process." (2)

I remember being stymied originally, fortunately, it was Preston Blair to the rescue!


Money being tight back then, I skipped the whole "paint" element and went with good old reliable Sharpie markers! The original film had the guy walking in place -- set in the middle of the screen. But with access to DragonFrame some twenty years later, I used the onionskin feature to line up the character a little better and I even added a couple frames at the end where he walks off the screen.

Project 7 was a stop-motion film, described thusly:

"The projection of a sequence of approximately 10 seconds in length dealing with some aspect of type and typography." (3)

Decades ago, my sister sent me a small jigsaw puzzle with a funny "ransom note" on it. The plan was to write a date, time, and location on the back and then send it to the girl I was dating at the time, a few puzzle pieces at a time. When it was put together, she'd see the funny picture and then the date information on the back and we'd get together for an amorous rendezvous. Well, I don't recall ever using the puzzle for it's intended purpose. Thought it was too funny to give away so I ended up keeping it. In grad school, I would use it as the inspiration for project number seven.


I went into this project thinking that it would be "much" easier to animate in After Effects than it was under the Oxberry camera back in the mid-nineties... mainly because I'd be able to take my letters/words, attach them to motion paths, and then tweak the animation until it played out exactly like I wanted it. So I got to work, cutting out words and letters from magazines, just like I did back in 1995. But this time, instead of animating the pieces of paper under the camera, once the final image was assembled, I captured a high-resolution image of the completed note, and started to cut apart the individual text using Paint Shop Pro. They would then be imported as assets in After Effects and animated digitally.

Well it didn't take more than a few minutes until I realized the folly of doing this project digitally. It would take far too long to select the text, copy it to a new image file, and then mask out the background. After several unsuccessful attempts using Paint Shop Pro and Photoshop, I then abandoned that plan and instead wrote out the timing by hand, drew my motion paths on a couple images of the completed note, printed them out, and then drew the increments on the motion paths with a pen.

This "failure" turned out to be a very happy accident as I spent the next half hour using my printed images as a reference to create an identical set of "motion guides" in DragonFrame using the guidelines feature. Since DragonFrame allows you to specify the number of increments on your guideline (so you can line up your model from frame to frame), once those overlays were in place, I flew through the animation process in record time! Working under the camera was totally worth it in this case -- and I learned a lot about DragonFrame's onion skin and guideline features in the process.

A look at my downshooter setup

Project 8 was the last film I remember creating -- our final film project in the class. Here's how Skip described it in the syllabus:

"The production of a sequence of approximately 10 seconds in length through some experimental, non-standard process, e.g. sand, feathers, weeds, glitter xerography, wax block, rubber stamp." (4)

To this day, I still don't know what Skip meant by "glitter xerography", but I keyed in on the word "xerography". Having practiced the martial arts for years, I had a small library of books covering the many martial art styles that I've studied. Well, back then, you could find lots of these books with black-and-white photographs of martial art techniques and katas. So, armed with a book on Shaolin Long Fist Kung Fu, I went to the local Kinko's and Xeroxed a bunch of the pages. I then cut out the images of a Kung Fu kata and photographed them in sequence under the Oxberry. It didn't come out as well as I'd hoped, and the camera jammed near the end, but I got a good grade for the assignment, so it all worked out in the end.


This is one of those films that I think would've worked better digitally. Given the difference in size between some of the images, I would've liked a bit more flexibility in both scaling and aligning the images before finalizing the shot. In DragonFrame, the best I could do was use the onionskin mode and try to line it up as best I could. Additionally, I really would like the opportunity to change the frame rate on some of these individual images. With the exception of the first and last pose, everything was shot on threes -- as I did back in 1995. Given the fluidity of martial arts techniques, I think this film would've worked much better if some of the shots were two frames long, some were four or five frames long, etc. But, all-in-all, I'm pleased with the results.

Well, those are the films I remember producing in Skip's class. I wish I had taken better efforts to preserve the original films and the material used to create them, hindsight being 20/20 and all that. If I had, they would've been very nice mementos some twenty-odd years later. Still, it was a lot of fun rereading my notes from Skip's class and recreating these four animations.

One of my friends didn't enjoy their time at R.I.T., even though their education seems to have paid off rather well in light of the career opportunities they've been given over the years. However, every time we talk and the subject of R.I.T. comes up, they always seem incredulous about how fondly I remember my time in Rochester. I'm sure that if I mentioned how I was spending time recreating films from Grad School, they'd probably sigh heavily and make some remark about how it was twenty years ago so why bother. But for me, reliving the experience is worth a few hours of my time. I still have all my other films from R.I.T., and they still give me joy every couple of years when I watch them -- joy that goes far beyond the nostalgia factor. And how much I learned this past week about the under-the-camera production processes working with DragonFrame goes without saying (though I'm going to say it).

Another benefit of reshooting these films is what they taught me about aligning my DSLR camera with my camera stand, or using hotkeys in DragonFrame that allow for shooting multiple frames so I don't have to keep pressing the 'capture frame' button again and again and again (really good for those multi-frame holds), or the best placement of my side-mounted lights so that I get enough light to illuminate my images clearly but not so much as to wash out the colors.

As I was sifting through my notes, I came across some of the detailed plans that I wrote out for these films -- timing, frame to footage calculations -- information and rules that I can process and integrate into my current production workflow. I agree that we shouldn't live in the past, desperately yearning for a time gone by, but that doesn't mean that we should eschew all the lessons that we learned or ignore the new ones that are still there, hiding in our old textbooks, notes, and assignments just waiting to be rediscovered.

There's always something important to learn, or relearn... or find.

During the whole process of consolidating my notes and recreating these films, I located the only 16mm film from Skip's class that survived all those years: project #4--which I had digitized.

Skip described film #4 as:

"Production of a ten second black and white sequence using black and white still photographs. This is an exercise in recognizing abstract elements in representational images through the use of visualizing masks." (5)


Additionally, I also located my last two missing Animapasses from the Ottawa International Film Festival--one being the pass from 1994, my first OIAF. Not sure what I'm going to do with them exactly, but I'm leaning towards making a display that I can hang on my wall. As I've only missed one Ottawa festival since '94, I think a display like that would be a really nice momento from this period of time in my animated life.


* * *

Footnotes:
1) Project 5: slate, guide, paper model, production notes from 1995. Paper eyeballs, DSLR camera and DragonFrame from current day.
2) Project 6: slate, guide, cels, production notes from 1995. DSLR camera and DragonFrame from current day.
3) Project 7: slate, guide, production notes from 1995. Paper models, DSLR camera, DragonFrame from current day.
4) Project 8: slate, guide, production notes from 1995. Book/paper models from identical book (Shaolin Long Fist Kung Fu by Jwing-Ming Yang and Jeffrey Bolt) purchased on Amazon.com. DSLR camera and DragonFrame from current day.

5) Project 4: Original footage from 1995 shot on 16mm film. Digitized at the local Camera Shop. Cost me $37. Was worth every penny!


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Animated Thoughts: Archives

I'm a bit of a packrat. And though I try to pare down my possessions every year by getting rid of anything that I don't see myself using over the next year or two, it still feels like I'm drowning in "stuff".

Sometimes though, it does pay off.

About eight years out of Grad School, I accidently destroyed the hard drive that had all of the files for my student films, screenplays, term papers, and written assignments from R.I.T. When I realized what I had done, I was crushed. During the process of formatting a hard drive in order to install a new operating system on my computer, I typed a "1" instead of a "0" and so the program formatted my backup drive instead of my OS/Programs drive. Three years of hard work, gone forever, replaced by a series of "0"s in every sector.

Well, sort of.

I immediately turned to my backup backup copies: 3.5" floppy disks, iOmega Zip disks, even a pair of old SyQuest Bernoulli disks.


"Bernoulli disks, who remembers?
Between the Zip disks and the floppy disks, I was able to recover over half of my student films' original Macromedia Director files and all of the screenplays and written assignments (though I had paper copies of that work as well, so I wasn't too concerned about all of those files). Those now ancient disks also had most of the Director files for my first year film: The Chameleon. Most importantly though, in a rather uncommon flash of foresight, I had burned my M.F.A. thesis film Zero and all the files used to create it onto CD-ROM a couple years prior, so all of those files were intact.

Back then, in my desperate rush to recover data, I called upon Lansing Community College and asked them for help in the hopes that they might have a Bernoulli drive. As fate would have it, Program Director Sharon Wood said that they were replacing all of their Bernoulli drives in two days and if I wanted to use one, to come right in and they'd hook me up.

The Bernoulli drives held all but one of the remaining files that were missing from The Chameleon--that file was there, but it was corrupted so I couldn't recover it. Sadly though, I had no back up files for our Photography Core I group film: Mr. Big, nor the final "Animation Principles" film from my Photography Core II class. But, I had video copies of all and those would suffice.

Nothing spectacular, but it "did" win 2nd place
at the SMPTE/RAVA awards...
Looking at what I had lost, I then turned to the best VHS copy of the films that I had and digitized them before the VHS tapes deteriorated any further. All my films were there, so I quickly preserved Mr. Big and that last Photo Core II film.

Additionally... unfortunately... when I reformatted the hard drive, I had lost all the files for Stress, the first animated short film that I created after graduation and moving back to Michigan. However, even though the hard drive files were lost for good, "poor man's copyright" saved me. Y'see, back in 2000, I was operating under bad intel and had burned all those files onto a CD-ROM and mailed it to myself. Of course, that little procedure is a myth -- that of a sealed envelope with a postmark being proof of copyright -- and it certainly wouldn't hold up in a court of law (Yes, I know this "now"). However, that one act did give me a full backup of that film and all the associated files.

Eh, it's not bad. But, after watching it,
you can see why I didn't send Stress out to the festivals.

So in the end, despite the mistake and through all the drama, I lost nothing... sort of. Only a handful of files are missing, meaning that I can't recreate some of those films from the original files. And there's a term paper that I wish I still had. But as I have video copies of those two missing films (now digitized and archived), they're all still around in one form or another.

Fast forward a decade or so.

A couple months ago, I discovered by chance that Adobe was discontinuing Director, for good. After seeing those dreaded words "End of Product Lifecycle", I quickly downloaded the last trial copy that Adobe had released and made the unwelcome discovery that it wasn't backwards compatible with all the Director files that I had created back in the mid-90's. Well, at that point, the archiving bug bit me again. I pulled out my old Windows98 PC from storage and got it running, fished out my old copy of Director 6.5, and installed it on the now antiquated machine. The original plan was to export all of those old Director files as individual image files so that the next time the desire struck me, I could just import the images into Premiere on whatever computer I had at the time and make .mp4's out of them.

So, the task of archiving continued. This time though, there was a little gem hiding in plain sight. During this round of archiving, after reloading a bunch of disks to see what was on them, I made the welcome discovery that I had a separate backup of Director files from The Chameleon -- including the one file that was corrupted on the Bernoulli disk. So I can now go back and recreate that entire movie the next time the desire strikes me.

As you can imagine, I now have multiple copies of these files and movies all archived on DVD-ROMs (a full set is on archival Gold DVDs, which are supposed to last for 100 years). Course, as technology continues to develop, pretty soon, I'll have to find another compatible archival medium, cause how long are CD/DVD drives going to be around?

But for now, the archival bug has been swatted.

* * *

Monday, April 30, 2018

A Year of Animation: Sand Animation

So, once again, I let myself get too busy to work on an animation until the last two weeks of the month. I came up with two great ideas (which I'll probably do later on this year) but they required a bit more work than I had time for -- one being hand drawn and the other stop-motion, but both integrated sound effects and required some precise timing, read that: a much better planned out and detailed dope sheet.

In actuality, it was one part being really busy and one part "eyes bigger than my stomach". So, with time running out, I turned to a tried-and-true hands-on technique: sand animation.

Years ago, I ran an animation class for kids and adults at the East Lansing Rec Center and one of those days covered sand animation. The following is an example animation that I created and showed to the class in order to show them what you could do at a most basic level:



Just a simple morph from one shape to another (yes, the nautical motif that I've been working with over the past couple months is coincidental).

I'm a big fan of Corrie Francis Parks' sand animated films, most notably her award winning film: A Tangled Tale, the first hybrid sand/digital animation film. As such, I've spent a lot of time watching her sand animations over and over, studying her techniques and observing her Making of... video in order to unlock every little tidbit of knowledge from her production process as well as reading her book Fluid Frames: Experimental Animation with Sand, Clay, Paint, and Pixels (if you don't have it, it's available on CRC Press and Amazon.com in both hardback and paperback forms).

Setup for this film was a little different from works I've done in the past and it builds on the techniques I've been exploring over the past few months. After setting up my light table under my DSLR downshooter setup, I taped the usual sheet of tracing paper over the light table to further diffuse the light bulb and reduce the effects of 'hot spots'. However, taking a page from Lynn Dana Wilton's book, this time I also taped a blue lighting gel over the tracing paper in order to give the scene that underwater color. This is a departure from Corrie's setup. As you can see from her Making of... video on Vimeo, Corrie didn't use gels in her animation, preferring to animate on her light table with the set white(ish) background and then handle color in post.


As I wasn't really up to doing a lot of post-production work on these shorts, I stuck with the motto: "the more you can do in pre-production, the less you have to do in post", hence, the lighting gel -- that and I thought it might be something fun to experiment with. One of the things that I miss from college is that "experimental energy" where everything is one big sandbox that you can play in and try things out before gathering all your experiences, successes, and failures together as foundational material when you create your thesis film. More on that train of thought in a later blog post, I think.



As you can see from the animation, it was just a simple morph. Everything was shot on one's and I didn't deviate from the basic timing very much. What I thought was fascinating though was the fluidity of the sand. Yes, yes, I know "fluid frames" and all that. But as I was moving the sand with a small paintbrush, the structure of the sand really lent itself to an ebb and flow much like you would see in fire or water.

The original idea was to make the blob morph into a sea anemone, wave it's tentacles around, and then morph back into a blob. I had even studied my friend's salt water aquarium in order to see how the water current would affect the tentacles. Well, when I started moving the sand around, making the body and adding little buds that would sprout into tentacles, I found myself more fascinated with making the sand flow downward in waves -- seen mostly in the bottom half of the figure.

Not much else to say. I liked the blue gel background, though I did keep the blob of sand in the middle of the screen partially to mask a "hot spot" created by the florescent lights in my light table.

I would like to do two other tests with sand animation, but one where I have a flat plane and I'm simulating waves surging and crashing in the ocean and another where it's a campfire burning in the middle of the screen.

* * *

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Animated Thoughts: Another reason for ASIFA

In 2015, I ran an animation workshop at the annual ASIFA Central Animator's Retreat. The workshop I had designed for that weekend was all about traditional under-the-camera techniques and had us playing with multiple tactile, hands-on animation techniques: paint-on-glass, sand, hand drawn, cut-out/silhouette, and clay.

One of our attendees was a college illustration major (GVSU, if memory serves). While the rest of us played with sand, paint, and clay, she sat there with colored pencil in hand, focused intently on her drawings. When we broke for lunch, everyone left the lab and raced to grab some food before returning in the afternoon to finish our films.

Having seen what she was working on, and knowing that she wasn't one of our student members, I figured I'd take the chance to say 'hi', hopefully get a little feedback on the workshop, and maybe recruit a new member for ASIFA Central.



I caught up to the young lady on the sidewalk as she walked towards the bus stop, complimented her on the drawings she created, then asked her if she was coming back in the afternoon to film her artwork.

"No", she replied. "I was thinking about maybe getting a job in animation, but this is too much work."

And there it was. Another valuable reason for the existence of ASIFA.

With that one workshop consisting of four hours of the young lady's time, she was exposed to a hands-on experience with animation and discovered that she didn't want to expend the effort that it would take to become an animator--or at least a classical 2D hand-drawn animator.

In my mind, that had to be one of the most valuable four hour blocks of time that the young lady had ever spent during her whole college career. She obviously has skill at drawing and character design. But she discovered that she didn't want to animate. Now that she knows what she doesn't want to do, she can focus her efforts on finding her niche within the industry and concentrate on that career path instead of spending a priceless amount of time and money on what would be for her a career dead-end. Maybe she'll end up a character designer for animated films. Maybe she'll become a storyboard artist. Maybe she'll eschew animation altogether and go into storybook illustration. Opportunities within and without the industry abound for those who can draw.

I'm a big fan of minors. If I could have majored in minors when I was in undergrad, I think I would've gotten a lot more out of my college experience. It certainly would've prepared me for graduate school far better if I could've done a quadruple minor of art, computer science, English writing, and film/video production. But if I had access to a group like ASIFA back during those days, I definitely would've been able to learn more about my craft and focus my studies on those facets of the animation industry that interest me and that I'm good at.

Sketches where she reused the notecard for another animation.

I still have her drawings from that day--she never returned to claim them. When I see those notecards sitting there in my studio, I often wonder: 'how much trouble and heartache did that young lady avoid just by spending four hours at a free workshop?'

Knowing that we at ASIFA Central helped her narrow down choices for her career path makes running workshops worth every minute that we spend with students (of all ages).


It's too bad she left. Here's the other animation she was experimenting with.

* * *

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Animated Thoughts: Keeping up with the animation goals


Lotte's "trick-table"

As mentioned previously, for the year of 2018, I set a goal for myself to produce an animation every month. Again, nothing "festival worthy" or anything like that, just something to get me animating on personal projects, sharpen my skills, and expand my toolkit.

Well, February had me tinkering with one of my 3d animation programs but it produced nothing of merit. I wasn't worried about that since by the time the end of the month was coming into view, I already knew that I'd be in Toronto on the first of March at an animation workshop.

So the following is February's animation: my segment of the group animation that we created during Lynn Dana Wilton's Silhouette Animation Workshop for the Toronto Animated Image Society.

(background by Lynn Dana Wilton)

While working on this animation I had a couple thoughts regarding how to approach my segment:

Having made them in the past, this time I didn't want to create a 'jointed' puppet like the other attendees were doing. Rather, I had thoughts of the models in PES's stop-motion film: The Deep. In The Deep, PES combines replacement object animation along with stop-motion animation in the shot with the calipers (seen at 0:24 to 0:32 in his film). This conjunction of two animation techniques allows him to achieve the illusion of weightlessness: the use of slight movements using stop-motion animation provided the impression that his objects were "floating" in the ocean depths, and using replacement animation (by swapping out different sets of calipers), he changes what would've been a static, one-model character into a much more dynamic character. The addition of replacement animation in this sequence enhances the "illusion of life".

Additionally, there were six attendees at the workshop (including me), which meant that individual time with the animation workstation was limited. So, how could I approach the animation in such a way that I could maximize my animation time with a minimum of trial-and-error under the camera? Well, after creating my puppets and sketching out a rough dope sheet, I tested the motion on the table (not Lotte's trick-table).

Dope Sheet... kind of...

The motion looked okay in my mind's eye, but I still wasn't sure about the timing. So I turned to my trusty iPhone. I've got an app called Stop Motion Studio (which I used to create the time-lapse animation RITchie during last year's R.I.T. homecoming). Although I didn't have any camera stand with me to keep my iPhone steady, I was able to capture the motion clearly enough to test out my timing.



As you can see, the first test sequence was much closer to what I wanted. But, rather than assuming that I got it right on the first try, I animated the jellyfish a little faster in the second sequence... just to be sure. After that test, I decided to stick with the first one for my final animation (although I did tweak it slightly in the final version).

Well, not finished with the whole 'under the sea' motif, I decided to keep playing with the idea for March's animation.

As March is Women's History Month, and I post interviews with women animators on this blog, I decided to pair up with the Grand Rapids Community Media Center and ASIFA Central to present a day celebrating women animators--which included a Silhouette and Cut-out animation workshop.

After providing instructions and getting everyone working on their films, there was still enough time in the workshop for me to settle down and do a little animation of my own--my animation for the month of March.


I didn't follow any dope-sheet for the timing on the fish, choosing instead to wing-it. But I followed my earlier timing on the jellyfish, albeit at a faster overall frame rate--I was pressed for time and didn't want to leave the students to their own devices for too long.

All-in-all, if I played with this idea again, I would make the timing of the jellyfish totally independent from the other fish and much, much slower. Additionally, I'd take a page from PES's book and add one to two more models to the jellyfish--probably something that I could add as one or two frames in order to add a little more anticipation and follow-through to the jellyfish's action leading to the upward motion.

Might also switch to computer animation so I can play with the timing and run through multiple variations without having to go back and reanimate the figures by hand over-and-over. In my not so humble opinion, that's one of the strengths of computer animation: it facilitates rapid learning via the ability to cycle through multiple variations in a short period of time.

In the time it took me to animate the jellyfish in both films under-the-camera, I could've done multiple variations in Flash or After Effects just by copying-and-pasting the frames and tweaking the motion of the jellyfish, or the number of frames (filming on twos or threes), or both.

I love animating under the camera, mainly due to the tactile feeling of the models as you move them from position to position. And the greater challenge of tweaking the external lighting so you get the best possible shot. Frame-by-frame flicker removal and color correction is a pain in the ass though. Between that and my desire to do multiple tests for timing, it might lead me to do April's animation completely in the computer.

Food for thought...

* * *

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Animated Quotes: Lotte Reiniger

Shadow Puppets, Shadow Theaters and Shadow Films

"You must not copy a naturalistic movement, but must feel the movement within yourself, for when you will have to animate an animal you must be that animal, moving as it does. The animation will always be stylised, but this stylisation must be true."
~ Lotte Reiniger
Shadow Puppets, Shadow Theatres and Shadow Films
pp. 101-102

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Women of Animation: Lotte's Desk

Life is full of adventures... if you know where to look.

I had heard from a friend of mine, Lynn Dana Wilton, that the Toronto Animated Image Society had acquired a light table used by Lotte Reiniger to produce her films during her short stay in Canada back in the 1970's (though Lotte called them "trick-tables").

Questions abounded: was this the desk that she used at the NFB? If so, did the NFB give it to TAIS, and if so, how did that come about? What did the desk look like? Did she have it built from one of her previous designs? Or from the diagrams in her book Shadow Theaters and Shadow Films? And most importantly, during Lynn's upcoming silhouette animation workshop, would I be allowed access to the desk in order to take photos and measurements?

Well, the only way to find the answers to my questions was to go there. So I registered for the event, gathered up my gear, made arrangements for lodging in Toronto, and drove to Ontario for the weekend.

Lotte Reiniger produced two films when she was in Canada. The first was Aucassin and Nicolette, which she created for the National Film Board of Canada. The second was The Rose and the Ring, produced for Gordon Martin and Associates Limited and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

This was the trick-table created for Lotte which she used to create The Rose and the Ring.

When I arrived at TAIS's production facility on Dufferin Street, Lynn escorted me back to Lotte's trick-table. She and I agreed that day: Lotte’s trick-table is both overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time.

It's underwhelming because it doesn’t look like anything special at first glance. But if you know the history of who it was built for, it leaves you standing there with a sense of awe. Lynn joked about how she was expecting little animation faeries flying around the trick-table. Personally, at the very least I was expecting a golden plaque with the words “Lotte Reiniger animated here” emblazoned on the side.

But there it was, and there we were. Face to table with a part of animation history.

Lotte Reiniger's Trick-Table

It wouldn't be until later that Lynn would introduce me to the table's previous owner: Jonathan Culp. Though it was over the internet, I had the pleasure of talking with him. Jonathan patiently fielded all of my questions regarding the table.

What he told me was how his grandfather, Donald Carman of Carman Educational Associates was one of the main people in bringing Lotte to the National Film Board of Canada back in the 1970's. Although, it was one of the producers of Lotte's two films, Gordon Martin, who had the table built for Lotte. Gordon was also a family friend of Jonathan's. And before they died, Gordon and his wife Patricia gave the trick-table to Jonathan. Patricia herself was an animation assistant on Lotte's film the Rose and the Ring and she created her own silhouette animation on the trick-table, titled the Princess and the Pig Boy. Though he didn't know for sure, he believes that the trick-table was built by the Martin family--however he's going to ask one of the Martin's children for more details in the not too distant future.

Well, Jonathan, being a member of TAIS, generously donated Lotte's table to the organization.

"Lotte Animated Here"

And there it sits. A piece of animation history that has been given a new life with a new generation of animators using it to create their films…

While everyone else was making their silhouette puppets--and during my turn to animate on the table--I was crawling all over Lotte's trick-table with a camera and a couple of tape measures, taking photographs and making sketches, measurements, and designs of her trick-table... my intention being for it to be the subject of a future blog post.


Well, rather than put together an elaborate puppet with hinged joints, I've had visions of PES's deep sea animation running through my head, so I decided to do a little substitution animation instead of using a fully-jointed silhouette puppet. That and I wanted to spend more time sketching and measuring the table.



After I left the studio that evening, I already had future plans running through my head.

Membership at the Toronto Animated Image Society, a Studio Membership, costs $50 Canadian per year. But with this membership level, it offers you the perk that you can rent their studio facilities to work on your own films. In this case: the "Lotte" Studio which costs $20 per day.

I’ve already planned a return trip to Toronto in the Fall. And as I’m a member of TAIS, I can rent Lotte’s trick-table for the day for the measly sum of $20 Canadian.

Life is full of adventures... if you know where to look.