Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Animated Thoughts: A small victory, but a victory nonetheless

I DID IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Can't explain it other than it being a gift from God.

So there I was, sitting in front of the computer, listening to a lecture on YouTube on my iPhone, and pretty much wasting time because I didn't want to go to bed yet.

To set the stage: the other weekend I was e-mailing back and forth with the creators of the old SGI 3d modeling and animation software ElectroGig 3DGO. We were trying to open some images from an old animation that I did over twenty years ago and convert them to something usable on a Mac or PC. Unfortunately, we didn't get anywhere, but one of the things we tried was going through a bevy of compression algorithms to see if the image files that I had were 'zipped' before I copied them off of the server.

So, as I sat there, avoiding going to bed, I tried to load up one of the 3DGO image files using a RAR program to see if I could unpack the file. Didn't expect it to work, but I was tinkering. And it didn't work.

But, just for the heck of it, I did a search online about unpacking an old DOS backup file from the older 'Studio 119' archived animation that Bill Thomas and I made back around 1993-ish.

By chance, I found a forum post that I had skimmed before and this time I read it in depth. The suggestion was to 'look at the files with a hexeditor and if the first two characters are the characters "PK" then use the free 7-Zip program to unpack it.'

Well. I did, and it did, then I did, and volia! the Studio 119 animation Bill and I created is now unpacked in all it's 320 x 240 FLI format glory!

After over a decade, one more "lost" animation has been found and reclaimed.

Merry Christmas to me!!

* * *

Friday, November 30, 2018

A Year of Animation: Giant Robots

Back in Grad School, we had a class called Photography Core. It was split into three sections across three quarters -- yes, we were on the quarter system back then. Well during the second section (Winter quarter), Erik took the better part of the quarter teaching us several principles of animation. I wasn't getting 'animation on a curve'. At all. So, after screwing up the first attempt at the assignment, when I talked to him about it in his office after class, Erik held up an imaginary gun and then acted out the motion of a gunslinger pulling the gun from the holster and raising the gun -- all the while explaining how the elbow bent during the motion and worked with the shoulder's motion as opposed to locking the elbow in place while making all the raising motion of the gun come from the shoulder alone. He compared how a gunslinger would perform that motion in real life and then exaggerated for an animation -- which led to a discussion on acting in animation and why these extra motions and exaggerations were important in animation. With my newfound knowledge -- though I must admit, I still didn't grasp the concept fully -- I took another stab at the assignment and came up with the following animation:

So, since I've been too busy to make a brand-new animation for November, I decided to tinker with an old one. The original animation had the robot taking a step, firing the gun, lowering the gun, firing a rocket, then raising and firing the gun again, and then lowering the gun -- obviously, different from the above.

As part of my grad school records and films reclamation project, I exported all of the above frames from Macromedia Director to Windows bitmaps. At that point, the animation was "saved" and I can import the frames into any editing program I wish, be it Premiere or whatever comes next a couple years down the road.

This was an interesting exercise. Copy-and-pasting frames to the end of the animation in order to make it longer was easy enough. But in order to get the animation to compile to an mp4 using the H.264 codec at the best resolution possible for an 8-bit image with a gradient for the background, that took some trial and error to get it right.

And that little bit of knowledge will serve me well when I decide to make mp4's of the other animations from Photo Core II or my Spring film "the Chameleon" from Photo Core III.

Oh, and I was on an Enya kick back then, so that's why the title card uses the "Enya" true-type font.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Animated Thoughts: Festival Season - Ottawa International Animation Festival 2018, part 2

The trip to Ottawa continues... in Ottawa.

Wednesday, September 26

Early breakfast at Marche -- would hate to break with tradition after all. The trains were running slow but all-in-all, no worries. The restaurant wasn't busy. The food was good. I would leave Toronto with a nice meal and a nice memory. Getting a little extra sleep the night before definitely helped my mood greatly. Then it was off to Ottawa.

Overall, the drive through Ontario was pleasant, until I hit that wall of rain on the 417! Fortunately, it didn't last long, but it was bizarre driving through sunshine and seeing a literal wall of rain in the distance with this clear delineation between the sun and the rain.

Arrived at Les Suites and as per usual, I immediately walked to the Arts Court to get my pass. Gary Schwarz and Brooke Keesling were there picking up their passes. Went to check into my hotel suite and there was Barry Sanders and his wife Caroline. Yup, I'm at the Ottawa International Animation Festival!

At the evening screening, I saw Kelly Neall and said my hellos. Then, while standing in line, was at the right place and right time to meet Nina Paley in person -- I spent the better part of a month this year trying to see if bringing Nina to the ASIFA Central annual retreat would fit into her schedule. Unfortunately, it wouldn't work for 2018, but maybe 2019...

Afterwards, I sat down in my favorite seat at the Bytowne Theater for the first competition screening, collected my thoughts, and one of the best parts of the fest occurred: my old classmate Glenn Ehlers walked over and said 'hello'. It's always one of the moments I look forward to most as it has invariably been twelve months since I last got to hang out with my friend and talk shop. We keep in touch over social media, but it's never the same as having a face-to-face conversation with your friends.

Thursday, September 27

Rose early so I could make it to the 'Selling and Distributing Short films' roundtable discussion. While a very invigorating discussion -- it was filled with lots of ideas and suggestions -- still, no one seems to have a clear idea on how to monetize short films in a self-sustaining fashion. Although he wasn't in attendance at the discussion, I still think that PES has the best plan that I've heard presented at these panels at Ottawa: do a limited amount of commercial work to finance your private projects.

Then off to the Stacy Stears lecture at the Arts Court. It was pretty interesting. I'm always amazed when I hear that people are still filming on an Oxberry in 35mm film! I like the visual stylings of Stacy's films, though the narrative structure is a little more loose than I prefer. While waiting for her presentation to start, I saw Joanna Priestley and had the chance to introduce myself and thank her for the lovely cel from All My Relations that she sent me back in 2016. She gave me her business card and both a postcard and a photo from her new film North of Blue. Afterwards, I hiked down to the Bytowne Theater to see North of Blue on the big screen.

North of Blue
It was sixty minutes of "wow!"

An abstract film of flowing motion and color all created using Adobe Flash. North of Blue really showcases what Flash can do in the hands of a master animator.

The film was visually stunning and I loved the soundtrack. I can't wait to add it to my collection of films by Joanna.

Unintentionally, Bryce Hallett and I followed her out of the theater and we all got in line for the next screening together so I got to chat Joanna up a little more. She seemed touched when I handed her my smartphone, which displayed a photo of the framed cel she gave me two years ago, and told her about how I had used it in my blog to describe some of the great perks you can get by supporting the film projects of women animators. I handed her my Women of Animated Film promo card. Hope she likes the website and all its interviews. Then, while we were talking, a woman jumped right behind me -- literally jumped -- and exclaimed "Joanna Priestley!" It was Nina Paley. The two laughed about how they had followed each other's work but had never met in person. Then they rushed around the corner for a quick lunch before the next feature screening started.

Nina's film SederMasochism was pretty good, visually at least. The story and soundtrack did feel a little choppy in some places. Being a fan of her work, I felt a little guilty about that mental critique until she publicly admitted during the Q&A session that her heart just wasn't in this film in the way that it had been during the production of Sita Sings the Blues. Nina stated, that she just wanted to finish SederMasochism and move on. As her late father provided the voice for the God character, I could see how working on the film would be an emotionally draining experience for her.

The rest of the evening consisted of me trying to get a meal at Level One before running out to the airport to pick up a friend and then bring him back to the party at the Arts Court.

I had actually been planning that part of the festival for the better part of a year.

Many months beforehand, I told friend and fellow animator Pilar Newton-Katz about my friend Steven Leeper, formerly of Big Idea -- the creators of Veggie Tales. Well, being a megafan of Veggie Tales, she was blown away that I knew someone who worked on that show.

When we got there, the party at the Arts Court was too crowded, so I took Steve to the Avant Garde bar across from our hotel to meet up with other animators there -- including Pilar. We spent some time with festival regular (and TAAFI co-creator) Ben McEvoy. We hung out with my fellow R.I.T. students Glenn Ehlers and Sarah Hanson, as well as the Villa Maria College crowd. Then I had the chance to introduce Pilar to Steve. As expected, Pilar totally geeked out for the better part of a half-hour as Steve told her story after story of his work with Phil Vischer on Veggie Tales before the studio closed.

Watching that meeting alone was worth the trip!

Friday, September 28

Mmmm... annual festival picnic cupcakes...
Went to the morning shorts competition with Steve. Was kind of helping usher him back into the festival scene. Didn't take much, just reminding him of the venues, really. He's a natural with people so he navigated the social scene at the OIAF like a pro.

The picnic was fun. After we arrived, we had lunch with Glenn and Sarah. And I got a good education listening to all three of them comparing notes about their respective college programs. Lots of good ideas there that I'd like to integrate into my workshops.

Bryce came over and sat with us after Steve left to mingle with friends, new and old. Then I met two girls from Pratt -- illustration and design majors attending the festival in the hopes of getting career ideas. Once again, I'm always impressed by how polite and gracious the Pratt students are.

Afterwards, I finally got to meet Corrie Francis Parks face-to-face. Lots of shop talk was had: the festival, our current film projects, and what's up with ASIFA (and our respective chapters). For years she and I have been working behind the scenes at ASIFA, trading e-mails back-and-forth as we try to get our work done, so it was really nice to finally meet her in person.

Afterwards, the noise was starting to get to me, so I took the bus back for the Canadian Panorama. It was very enjoyable as always. Richard Reeves' Twilight was a beautiful experience of direct-on-film animation.

David Fine & Alison Snowden's Animal Behavour was hilarious. It's well worth a watch!

Animal Behaviour (Trailer) from NFB/marketing on Vimeo.

And I absolutely loved Samuel W. Bradley's Space Between Stars which he created at Guru Studios.

SPACE BETWEEN STARS ★ TRAILER from space between stars on Vimeo.

The new OAG GAO building
My head still swimming with images of Space Between Stars as I walked over to the new Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG) building next to the Arts Court and after a few false starts, found the auditorium for the Stacey Steers retrospective.

I swear I've seen her work before but I can't remember where. Maddening! The third film with the bees was so familiar, but she's never had a film screened at the OIAF.

Afterwards, I asked her a question about the use of color across her films. She had a really good answer too -- first use in the second film was to help keep audiences clear on which character was whom since the actress was taken from different movies and had different costumes. After that, it was a natural evolution to add more color in her films and enhance the visual style/viewing experience. Am always leery about asking questions, a lot of angsting beforehand wondering if I'm asking something that should be obvious or that I assume is obvious to those more experienced or at least less isolated than I.

EdgeofAlchemy_dream seq vimeo 1 from Stacey Steers on Vimeo.

Closed out the day by going to the World Student Competition screening. Some good stuff, some... not to my tastes. But a lot more hits than misses.

Saturday, September 29

Saturday is my usual "favorite day at the festival." I just love the professional development seminars. Caught the "You've got the Gig..." talk. Good info, most of it I've heard before, but I recorded the talk on my phone so I can listen to it later. Sat with Gary Schwartz and chatted a bit about ASIFA Central (we're both on the board of directors). Had time to kill afterwards and was feeling a little adventurous so I grabbed some lunch at a new restaurant down on Daly Avenue. Japanese/Korean fusion. Bulgolgi prepared like sushi. I plan to come back at future Festivals!

Ah, sushi the way God intended it to be prepared:
no raw fish at all, just stewed beef!

Went back to the National Arts Centre and bumped into the two Pratt girls from the picnic. Was able to show them where their next event was. Right place, right time with the right info I suppose. Strange how the NAC didn't feel this 'maze like' back in 1994.

More serendipity: decided to be fashionably late to the Disney careers presentation. Ran back to the hotel and while waiting for the elevator, Nina Paley showed up so I got to chat with her on the way up. Then on my way back to the NAC, there was Joanna Priestley, so had a short chat with her. Another example of the "Ottawa experience". Then at the NAC, there was Steve Stanchfield from Thunderbean Animation. Tells me about a clay animation by Virginia May that he just digitized -- the George Washington film. Asked me about how we're doing at ASIFA Central. I envy those in California, Toronto, Vancouver, and New York somewhat. So many animators in such a small area. So much shop talk to be had. So much camaraderie.

Sat through Mindy Johnson's "Ink and Paint Girls" presentation. There was lots of good historical information there. Can't wait to finish reading her book. Met her afterwards and had a good chat. Turns out we both know some of the same folks in Women in Animation. I gave her my card and told her about my Women of Animated Films blog. Hope she finds it useful.

Before leaving the NAC, I noticed J.J. Sedelmaier standing by himself. So, I went over and chatted him up. He's trying to get his animation tool exhibit into more museums in the future. I really hope it happens. Would really love to actually see it. The weather was too bad to make the trip to Wisconsin when they hosted his exhibit across the lake so I couldn't go. The Detroit Institute of Arts is very friendly to animation. Wonder if they'd host Mr. Sedelmaier's exhibit in Detroit?

At the OIAF, they encourage you to draw on the walls.

Sunday, September 30

Last day of the OIAF. Went to the Canadian student screening with Steve then took him to the airport. Was somewhat crestfallen due to losing one of my Chinese fans the other night. I do have a backup, and it was only two bucks, so... won't be too hard to replace. But I really liked this one, it had a peacock on one side painted in rich colors. Is probably gone for good, but still, would be nice to find it before leaving town.

Walked over to the screening room at the OAG and watched a couple films from the previous night's Shorts Competition 3. Even though a screening station was open, I decided to watch Shorts Competition 5 in the Bytowne Theater -- bigger screen, more comfortable seats. Was a good decision because I bumped into Bryce on the way out. We went to the market and had a yearly Beavertail and talked about the Toronto Animated Image Society before heading off to our respective screenings. After Comp 5, I went to the Emma de Swaef screening -- they showed Oh Willy before This Magnificent Cake. Superb animation technique. Granted, I still have no idea what she's trying to say with her films, but they're certainly entertaining.

Afterwards, I went to the Keg and had a nice meal for my final night at the Fest. Decided to skip the "Best of the OIAF" screenings and went to the party instead. Spent some time with Gary Schwartz giving advice to a freshman at Algonquin College. Then said my congrats to Chris Robinson on another wonderful festival. And that was it. Went back to the hotel and got some rest for the drive back home.

Ottawa remains my go-to animation festival. More than nostalgia from my R.I.T. days, more than a place to watch the latest and greatest films, the Ottawa International Animation Festival has become a real community for me. And one that I relish every year.

* * *

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Animated Thoughts: Festival Season - Ottawa International Animation Festival 2018, part 1

September arrived, and with it came my yearly trip to Canada for the Ottawa International Animation Festival.

However, this year was going to be a little different as I had spent the prior year saving a little extra money each month so that I could take some extra time off of work and spend it in Toronto before the festival. Every year, I like to drive to Toronto on Monday or Tuesday, spend a day relaxing in the city, and then drive to Ottawa on Wednesday. It breaks the nine-hour drive in half so I have at least a day to unwind before the festivities and I can always find something to do in Toronto that allows me to mentally shift gears from work to festival mode.

This time, the extra money was set aside so that I could spend five days in Toronto exercising those artistic muscles that never seem to get enough of a workout during the year. For those five days, I had lined up a solid schedule of events that would allow me to feed my artistic nature through a mixture of cultural events, animation research, and hands-on animating while I was in town.

My plan was to look at a rare book of animation at the University of Toronto, spend time at Toronto's cultural landmarks doing sketches, and then spend a day at the TAIS offices doing some test animations on Lotte Reiniger's trick-table for a silhouette animation that I'm working on.

But, things rarely go according to plan...

Friday, September 21:

"Packed the night before, actually got some rest, woke up early, got all my pre-trip preparations finished and left the house on time. But, I completely forgot my glasses on the way to get gas for the trip and had to drive back home. That should have been my first warning. Five hours later, I would be pulling onto Ontario Highway 427 in Toronto when I realized that I had left my sheet of blue Plexiglas at home. Doom on me. I had only planned on testing my fish models and their motion, but I still wanted to do it right with the nice blue background. My downshooter setup at home can handle what I want to animate. And as much as I would've loved to do the whole film on Lotte's trick-table, time limitations wouldn't let that happen. You can only animate so much in a single day. I'm planning that one-half of the animation will be completely CGI -- heck, I might do all of it in CGI. Dunno at this point. But it would be nice to test my idea on Lotte's table. Just wish I hadn't forgotten the friggin' blue Plexiglas!

Checked in to the hotel. Ran a couple errands -- like replenishing my brother's supply of artisanal mustard from a vendor at the St. Lawrence Market. Then hightailed it to the Art Gallery of Ontario for a presentation on Ethiopian Orthodox Christian artwork from the first century. The presentation itself was okay. However, I actually found myself enjoying the historical and archeological part of the lecture more than the art. But the real highlight of the AGO visit was making the most welcome discovery that they had a painting by Claude Monet hanging on one of their galleries! I made sure to get pics of 'Charing Cross Bridge, Fog' before I left.

Charing Cross Bridge, Fog
Claude Monet
Then it was off to dinner... then a trip out to BMV where I found a nice used book on Disney's 1930's animation concept art. All-in-all, a good first day."

Saturday, September 22:

"Had a really good time today, even though I upended my day for it by sleeping in and skipping my lunch plans in Kensington Market. Instead I went straight to the Dragon City Mall DQ for my yearly Cherry Arctic Rush.

Then it was off to the chocolate tasting tour hosted by Tasty Tours. Isabella kept us moving as we hiked through the city to visit six chocolatiers in Downtown Toronto over by the fashion district. On the way, I met three young ladies doing a private Lolita fashion shoot. They were a little upset when one of our party took pics of them, but I think it all blew over when I complimented them on their outfits and chatted them up about a friend who is part of the Lolita fashion club back in Michigan. My cred was firmly established when I asked them if Twylite Creations over in Kensington Market was still open. As I walked away, I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd met them before. Eh, my work with historical needlework takes me to some interesting people and places.

Another highlight was how Isabella took us through some alleyways with a lot of cool graffiti art and gave us time to take pictures. At every chocolatier, we got food samples -- always a different sample: gelato, truffles, macaroons, etc. -- and some tidbit of knowledge or history about the chocolatiers in Toronto or the chocolate making process. Strangers when the tour started, all twelve of us were joking around like old pals by the end of the tour. And as the tour came to a close, we were presented with a going away present: the Toffle, an exclusive truffle created by Tasty Tours. One part truffle, one part butter tart... I could eat a whole box of these in one sitting, if only they'd sell them outside of the tour.

Mmm... the Toffle! :o
If only they would sell these in bulk!

Afterwards, since I hadn't eaten anything all day, other than chocolate, I had to get something more substantial. Off to Wahlburgers I went -- since it was on the way to my next two attractions: the Aquarium and the CN Tower.

Wouldn't sit still for a picture.
Guess he was feeling a little crabby...
Really not much for me to say about those experiences. During the visit, I took lots of photos, spent a fair amount of time looking out on the city at night while thinking about life, enjoyed the cool weather, then went back to my hotel to do my five sketches from the Aquarium photos."

Sunday, September 23

"Had to swap out events on Saturday. As they were predicting rain on Tuesday, I drove out to the Toronto Zoo instead. The weather was gorgeous so it seemed like a good idea. Spent the better part of three hours walking around and taking pictures. Got to play with a caterpillar. Did some sketches and took a lot of great photo and video references of the giraffes for my silhouette animation. We only have two zoos back in Michigan with giraffes and they're a bit of a chore to get to from where I live, so, best to take the opportunity now while I have it.

He didn't seem to understand the concept of a concrete path so
I helped him find a nice tasty plant before a bird found him.
After hiking through every paddock at the Zoo, I drove back into town and immediately walked to the E.J. Pratt library where they have a copy of Walking Shadows by Eric Walter White -- the only copy that I have been able to locate in the Great Lakes region. Couldn't see the book that day but set up a time on Tuesday to have it brought out from the archives: Tuesday at 10:14 a.m. -- right before I go visit the ROM.

After dinner, I visited another used bookstore and found another book that is on my burgeoning list of books I want in my collection: The Art of Disney's Dragons. Gotta love it when you find a book that wouldn't fit in your budget when it was released, but you find months later in a much more affordable form at a used bookstore.

After perusing my find, I spent the rest of the night doing my ten Zoo drawings."

Monday, September 24

"Wasn't exactly sure what to expect out of Monday. I got up and went to the TAIS offices over on Dufferin. Then, over the next four hours, I worked with my three fish models and animated the same scene six times -- this was on purpose mind you. All my prior work in silhouette animation has either been research or tinkering with ideas at workshops. This was the first time when 'getting it right' really mattered. So I started at square one: set up my scene until the visual style (lighting and color) looked the way I wanted, then I started experimenting with the motions to answer those questions that were mulling around in my head: how long should the scene last, should I film on ones, twos, or threes, how much motion did I want the puppets to engage in -- finding that tenuous balance before the secondary motion becomes a distraction from the overall scene -- these were all questions that I could only answer visually. By the sixth take, I had learned exactly what I wanted to learn from the experience and much more.

Combined with the photos and video that I took at the Zoo and Aquarium, I left TAIS finally ready to go from my shotlist to storyboards.

The rest of the day consisted of a quick nap, a long walk around the Eaton Center, a couple chocolate truffles from Godiva followed by an excellent meal at Ginger, a Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall restaurant that I will definitely be returning to. I really wish we had a restaurant like that at home! And to top it all off, that night, I accidentally cracked the screen protector on my iPhone. Doom on me."

Tuesday, September 25

"Skipped breakfast again, but was up just in time to get to the E.J. Pratt Library to look at their copy of Walking Shadows. The book was only thirty pages long, with four plates showing some models that Lotte created for her films but interestingly enough never made it on screen in the final edits. That trip was well worth the visit. I devoured the book over the next hour then immediately jumped online and bought a copy from a bookseller in California -- the only one in the States that I could find for sale. Another nice addition to my collection of antiquities from the history of women animators (click here to see how that all worked out).

Then, it was a quick stop at the mall to get my cracked iPhone screen shield repaired at the Apple store, followed by lunch at Marche, one of the few remaining restaurants from those family trips during the '70's and '80's. Nostalgia never tasted so good!

Afterwards, I hopped back on the yellow line and took the TTC back up to the Royal Ontario Museum where I spent hours drifting from room to room and taking lots of photos. Was a little underwhelmed by the special exhibit on spiders until I came across the display with the largest textile produced with spider silk.

Yupper. Nothing but spider silk.
Beautiful, and yet still creepy!
One fun exercise I engaged in while there was to take some time to study the dinosaurs and do a few mental gymnastics comparing them in size and scale to modern animals in an attempt to figure out how they would move. Here is where video references of giraffes, elephants, and rhinoceroses become very useful. But the real highlight of the ROM visit was watching about an hours worth of video presentations on various metals over in the Geology room -- all the videos were very good examples of motion graphics and I found myself spending more time picking apart the video editing and speculating on how they could have produced the motion graphics using After Effects than focusing on the topic of the video.

When the ROM closed, I went back to Marche for my yearly strawberry crepe. Then back to the hotel. After a quick dinner at Ginger, it was time to pack up. This leg of the trip was almost over. My only regret from the day was that I never did my ten sketches from photographs that I took at the ROM. Rather than feeling relaxed, I was feeling a little overwhelmed from all the walking and the handful of toxic people encountered on this leg of the trip. But, tomorrow would another day."

Come back next week for part two: my yearly visit to Ottawa!

* * *

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

A Year of Animation: Replay Entertainment Exchange

My little brother owns a used media store: CDs, DVDs, video games, stuff like that. Over the years, he's moved his store multiple times due to fire, flood, better parking, cheaper rent, etc., and he's finally found a location where Replay Entertainment Exchange will probably stay for years to come (I hope).

After his fourth move, I animated a couple commercials for him as a favor. Unfortunately, after each subsequent move, he would come to me and ask me to redo the end title credit with the new website and store address. Eh, it is what it is. He's family after all. And access to his store has helped me expand my DVD collection.

So, the animation for this month was to redo the end title for his commercials. Not much, I realize, but it needed to be done and I've been travelling so much this Fall, it hasn't left much time for anything else.

Here's the new end titles, it follows the progression of original titles, second edit, and the most recent edit:

And here's one of the commercials that uses it:

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Animated Thoughts: Father Knows Best

Well, I wanted to buy a book for my Women Animators research (and collection), but apparently the Lord had other ideas.

The only copy of Eric Walter White's Walking Shadows (an essay on Lotte Reiniger published in 1931) that I have been able to locate in the Great Lakes region resides in Toronto at the University of Toronto's E.J. Pratt Library. After having the librarians pull it out of the special collections and reading it during my trip to the Ottawa International Animation Festival, I immediately went online and purchased the copy on Amazon that a bookseller in California had listed for sale.

$303.49 is a little pricey for a 31 page essay with four photographs, however... the book was printed in 1931, the info contained about Lotte's process was very good, and honestly, when am I ever going to get the chance to own this book again?

Unfortunately, after arriving home from Canada a week later, I received a notice that the bookseller had refunded my $303.49 since they could not find their copy.

Sucks to be me. Or so I had thought.

Having read Walking Shadows, there was enough unique and interesting material in there that I still wanted to make it a part of my collection. So, for the following week, I poked around the internet when time permitted in the vain hope that there was a copy of this obscure 87-year old text for sale.

Then, about to give up the search, my stubbornness paid off! I switched my search from US based resellers of domestic and overseas books to directly searching UK booksellers' websites, and there one was. It's an old library copy so there's a little bit of wear, and they frustratingly put a sticker on the book's cover which caused a little marring when I removed it, but it's still in astonishingly good condition.

Best of all, including the 5 to 8 day priority shipping from the UK, the final cost was $41.96 USD (which also includes the international transaction fee on my credit card).

Far, far better for my women animators research budget than the $303.49 I had been willing to pay!

*  *  *

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.



* * *

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

* * *

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Animated Thoughts: An unexpected blessing from an unexpected source

Well, last night was like Christmas and my birthday all rolled into one.

The label on this disk... it mocks me with
ideas of what treasures it must contain!
For weeks I've been trying to do a sector-by-sector recovery of data from an old Macintosh formatted floppy disk and resigning myself to the fact that I'll probably have to pay to have it professionally done--if there's anything still on that disk at all. It seems that whether I use the tools on my Mac or on my PC, the physical disk simply will not load.

Well, last night, I was poking around some deleted files that I recovered from another disk and not only did I find two lost papers from my 3D Animation I class but the term paper from Stephanie Maxwell's Film History class that I thought was gone for good (and that I thought was locked away on that floppy disk, given what I had written on the label).

Then, when scanning in my handwritten notes from the Film History class, I came across a reference to an additional book that Stephanie recommended we read. I look over to my left and realize that I bought it at a garage sale for $.50 over a decade ago without even remembering what connection it had to her class.

This grad school archival project has been one unexpected blessing after another. At this point, between all the stuff I still have (paper copies of notes, drawings, and physical models), the videos of animations I produced, and the films that I've rebuilt from either my notes or my original material, I think I will have recovered almost 99% of what I lost by the time this project is done.

The only thing I can't recover is my Computer Music project because all of that was on a Zip Drive that I handed in to the professor during class which he accidently lost back in '96 (though I am still holding out hope that I might still have the cassette tape with my three songs on them).

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.

*  *  *