Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Animated Thoughts: OIAF 2019, pt. 1

Flowers from the Victoria's Mansion's Faerie garden
greeted me upon my arrival.
Fall is upon us, which means that it's time for my yearly pilgrimage to the second largest animation festival in the world (largest in the Western hemisphere) -- as well as time for my yearly rambling blog posts about "what I did on my (working) vacation".

Well, no trip to the Ottawa International Animation Festival would be complete without a stop over in Toronto. So, I massaged my schedule such that I'd drive out to Canada on Monday morning and leave for Ottawa on Wednesday. Wouldn't have as much time on the shores of Lake Ontario as last year, but such is life. I enjoy every minute spent with our neighbors to the North.


It's been an odd year. For whatever reason, 2019 has felt really surreal, even moreso because it was the end of September and it was time for my vacation. As I drove to Toronto, it honestly didn't feel real, like it was still the beginning of the year and I was looking months down the road on the calendar.

But, time off is time off, so best to make the most of it.

My plans for Toronto were to enjoy a "Best of" tour focused around the two Tasty Tours I did last year ('Chocolate Lovers' and 'Kensington Market'). So as soon as the car was parked and the suitcase was in my hotel room, I beat a hasty path to Monga Fried Chicken and Soma Chocolatemaker for a late lunch followed by hot chocolate and cookies for dessert.

Walked around town afterwards and found a good used book on origami at the ABC Book Store as well as some hard-to-find comics over at BMV Books for my college roommate. Wish I could see the look on his face when he opens up his 'care package' from up North.

I went for the Aztec recipe.
Tasty with a little bite from the peppers!

Stopped by Ginger for dinner and then curled up with the 'Origami Omnibus' -- visions of animating 3d CGI origami critters danced through my head as I drifted off to sleep.

I needed my rest, it was going to be a big day tomorrow.


Sleep was fitful -- got to sleep, woke up at 4 a.m., tossed and turned, slept a little more. Finally got out of bed around 8-ish. Made a quick run to the St. Lawrence Market and bought my brother his yearly ration of mustard from Kozlick's. Once they were safely deposited in the trunk of my car, it was off to the CN Tower for the Edgewalk!

For years, I've been joking with family and friends about going to the top of the CN Tower and walking around the outside, just above the 360 Restaurant. Well, it was put-up-or-shut-up time, so I plunked down the cash and donned the flightsuit.

For those who don't know, the Edgewalk is where they take you up to a secure room 351 meters (1151 feet) from the ground and from there you get to walk around the outside of the observation deck/restaurant area.

The Edgewalk is below the Skypod and
above the restaurant.

Well, the folks I went with made the Edgewalk experience really fun -- as did the handlers who took us through the event. It was a really good time, I'd recommend it to anyone. And while it was really tough to push the boundaries of my comfort zone, I'm really glad I did it. I've always had a sort of love/hate relationship with heights that has become more 'hate' than 'love' as I get older. Knowing that I'm capable of facing my fears was well worth the time and money spent -- and you couldn't beat the view of Downtown Toronto!

The following is a video that they gave us of the trip if you'd like to see highlights of what you do during the half-hour experience. If you pay close attention, you can also see all my nervous tics as I'm standing there, debating all the life choices that brought me to this point in time.

On the way out, I picked up the Lego CN Tower kit in order to commemorate my Edgewalk experience. I had planned on doing an animation of the CN Tower last year but couldn't find the model so ended up doing the Arc d'Triomph instead. It actually worked out for the best. Once I got the set home and put together, it was pretty clear that trying to animate that kit would have been an exercise in frustration.

The rest of the day was a blur. I skipped going to the ROM (eh, the Dutch Masters paintings exhibit will still be there when I return for TAAFI's Industry weekend in November) and instead went for some gourmet popcorn and poutine. Then had my yearly Cherry Arctic Rush.

Yup, this is pretty much my idea of a relaxing vacation.

Did a little more sightseeing, then went back to the CN Tower that evening. Part of the Edgewalk experience is a full-access ticket to the Tower and Skypod (to be used within the following three days) and I had planned something special for that night.

Ah, my sweet, sweet Toffle...

Last year, I received an extra Toffle when on the Kensington Market tour, so I saved it all year for a special occasion. I ate this remaining Toffle to commemorate the day's experience, slowly savoring the taste of butter tart and chocolate. This time I enjoyed the view of Toronto from the enclosed observation deck and the Skypod. Was still a little difficult to force myself to walk on the observation deck's glass floor, but... little steps and all that.

The next morning, it was off to Ottawa for five fun filled days of animation screenings, retrospectives, panels, and parties!

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Friday, July 26, 2019

Animated Thoughts: Time takes its toll from us all

Smudge died today.

When I moved back to Michigan in 1998, my brother was still in high school and working at our parents' auto repair garage in his spare time. One rainy day, a white kitten walked into the garage, sauntered into the office like she owned the place, found a box, curled up, and went to sleep. Ted took her to the vet and started treating her for ear mites. Then, he brought her home. She was white and fluffy with a gray streak down the top of her head that looked like she had walked under a car and gotten axle grease on her head. Our family cat expert, Aunt Claire, said that she'd probably lose it as she matured into a completely white furred cat. She did. But the name stuck.

As I started doing more freelance work, I quickly realized that an LLC had distinct legal advantages over a D.B.A. But I needed a name for my corporation and it was Smudge-kitty to the rescue. Since I had used the Photoshop smudge tool in my M.F.A. thesis film and we had a cat named Smudge, it seemed apropos. "Smudge Animation" would join the ranks of animation studios named after cats, like Carol Beecher and Kevin D.A. Kurytnik's Calgary studio: "15lb Pink".

Well, Ted went to college and I bought a house and moved out. Smudge stayed with Mom and Dad and their other cat, Claude (who I named after the Warner Bros. cartoon character "Claude Cat" from the Merrie Melodies cartoons Mouse Wreckers and the Hypo-Chondri-Cat ). Claude passed on a couple years back and my parents became a 'one-cat-family' with Smudgie doing double duty keeping my parents company when they were sick or bounding downstairs to say "hello... time to feed me" when they came home at night.

But time takes its toll from us all and Smudgie was no exception.

Recently, Mom and Dad were presented with the opportunity to take a 'bucket list' vacation with the grandkids and so I filled in on cat duty while they were gone. I'd feed her in the morning on my way to work, then spend a couple hours with Smudge after work. We spent most of our time in Mom's sewing room, sitting together in the big comfy chair while I read a book and pet her. But after 20 years, Smudgie had decided that she'd lived long enough. A couple days before Mom and Dad came home, she breathed her last while I sat there and stroked her soft, glossy white fur.

I wish that I had been able to convince Smudge to stick around long enough for Mom and Dad to come home and say 'goodbye' but we had to settle for me tracking them down in South America and resting the speakerphone right next to Smudgie so she could hear their voices as they told her how much they loved her and how wonderful it was to have those twenty years with her as their kitty.

I'm not going to change the name of my animation studio. But from now on, "Smudge Animation" will always have this feeling of melancholy every time I say it to people and tell them the story of how I named my studio after a cat.

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Sunday, June 30, 2019

Animated Thoughts: Erik Timmerman

During the years that I attended R.I.T., they were operating on the quarter system--a schedule that I much preferred to the semester system that Taylor University used.

With only ten weeks per quarter, there was really no time to slack off. If you didn't use your time wisely, it was easy to get overwhelmed and fall behind to a point where you couldn't catch up.

Case in point: during my first year's Winter quarter, we had a class where we grad students were taught the process of producing an animation. By the end of Winter quarter, we were expected to have our treatment, script, and storyboards completed and be ready to start animating on day one of Spring quarter.

So there we were, sitting in a circle and pitching ideas for our Spring films. I pitched an interactive comic book--something where I'd scan an existing comic into a multimedia program and then animate certain panels when the user clicked on them. Erik said, rather bluntly, that I didn't have the drawing skills for something like that. It stung. A lot. But he was right. When I started grad school, I could barely draw stick figures. Granted within one Fall quarter of figure drawing class, I had made tremendous progress, so much so that my professor said that she'd never seen anyone come so far in so short a time. Maybe I was operating at that intersection of desire and hard work or maybe desperation breeds miracles. Who knows. Again, if I'm being honest about the whole situation, Erik was right and I wasn't ready to tackle such a project. And that was part of his job, giving us enough rope to stretch and grow as animators but making sure we didn't hang ourselves on a project that we couldn't complete in ten weeks.

So there I was, sitting in a room, getting called out in front of my classmates about the level of my artistic skills.

I then had a choice: feelings or logic. I could react to what my feelings were interpreting as an assault on my personhood (and receive the consequences of said action), like I had done so many times before in my life, or I could shoulder the embarrassment and grow as a person. I made that rare choice to listen to the logical side of my brain and take another step forward towards maturity. I said, 'okay' and then stated that the only other idea I had was about a Chameleon who got stuck in an art gallery. Well, it turns out that Erik loved the art gallery idea and over the following ten weeks, he helped me develop the idea from treatment to finished script. And while "visually" it never matched up with what was in my head, due to both my drawing skills being what they were and the fact that I had to draw the whole thing in the computer using a mouse (these were the days before tablets caught on), The Chameleon would be finished on time, screened, and would go on to win 2nd place in that year's SMTPE/RAVA awards.

Unlike most of my fellow grad students, my background was in English writing and computer programming, not art. So I had to work harder to catch up to their skill and experience level within the visual medium and Erik was always there to help me in that regard by encouraging me through a judicious use of both the 'carrot and the stick', helping me select projects that were within my skillset and skill level AND would be just out of my reach slightly enough so that I had to grow as an artist.

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Sunday, June 23, 2019

Animated Thoughts: To All Things, An End

Maintaining a state of d├ętente with
the Fleet of Fog at Shuto Con.
As Shuto Con, Lansing's only anime and Japanese-culture con has been closed for good by its owners, and they're shutting down the Facebook group that so many of us used to frequent at the end of the month, I'd like to share a little something that's been on my heart and then give a little back to the community that embraced my interest in the history of Women Animators.

So, here's an open letter to the owners, staff, and attendees of Shuto Con who may be following my blog or may come across it in the future, cross-posted on the soon-to-be-shut-down Facebook group:

"Well, all good things must come to an end, I suppose. Thank you to all who made an old anime fan feel welcome and who put up with my 'yeah, my first anime was Speed Racer and Astro Boy' comments! A special 'thank you' to the Shuto Staff for giving all of us who feel like outsiders here in the Lansing-area a place to feel like we belong, even if only for a weekend. And lastly, as this group will be shut down shortly, here's the last batch of anime movies that will be coming to the mid-Michigan area.

Remember everyone, if we want to see more anime films in Michigan, we need to support the theaters who are willing to screen them for us! Hope to see some of you around town or at some of the other Michigan cons. :)"

(links are in the titles for those who wish to buy tickets)

Whisper of the Heart
Studio Ghibli's Whisper of the Heart is showing at Celebration Cinema Lansing, the Regal Lansing Mall 12, and Flint West 14 on Monday, July 1st and Tuesday, July 2nd.

Sound! Euphonium: The Movie - Our Promise: A Brand New Day
Sound! Euphonium: The Movie - Our Promise: A Brand New Day is showing at the Regal Lansing Mall 12, Flint West 14, and Emagine Novi 18 on Thursday, July 11th and Monday, July 15th.

Is it wrong to pick up girls in a dungeon? - Arrow of the Orion
For you Danmachi Fans, the Arrow of the Orion film will be playing at the Celebration Cinema Lansing, Regal Lansing Mall 12, and Jackson 10 on Tuesday, July 23rd.

Kiki's Delivery Service
Studio Ghibli's Kiki's Delivery Service: 30th Anniversary screening will be shown at Celebration Cinema Lansing, Regal Lansing Mall 12, and Flint West 14 on July 28th, 29th, and 31st.

Millenium Actress
On Tuesday, August 13th and Monday, August 19th, the late-great Satoshi Kon's masterpiece Millenium Actress will be shown at Celebration Cinema Lansing, Regal Lansing Mall 12, and Jackson 10 theaters. As an animator, I can safely say that this is one of, if not the best animated film that Kon ever created. Every time I watch this anime, I find something new in the animation, the editing, the layout, you could spend an entire semester studying this film and only scratch the surface of Satoshi Kon's genius.

My Neighbor Totoro
Studio Ghibli Fest continues with My Neighbor Totoro on August 25th, 26th and 28th at Celebration Cinema Lansing, Regal Lansing Mall 12, and Flint West 14.

Theaters haven't been announced yet, but Studio TRIGGER's latest film Promare will be screening on September 17th and September 19th. So bookmark the and check back for locations as tickets will go on sale July 3rd.

The Secret World of Arrietty
On Sunday and Monday, September 29th and 30th, The Secret World of Arrietty will be shown at the Celebration Cinema Lansing, Regal Lansing Mall 12, and Flint West 14.

Spirited Away
Just in time for the Halloween season, the Academy Award winning film Spirited Away will be shown at the Celebration Cinema Lansing, Regal Lansing Mall 12, and Flint West 14 on October 27th, 28th, and 30th. (be sure to attend in costume!)

Princess Mononoke
The visually stunning Princess Mononoke will be shown on November 17th, 18th, and 20th at the Celebration Cinema Lansing, Regal Lansing Mall 12, and Flint West 14. Great timing for those of us who need a quick pick-me-up before spending the Thanksgiving holiday with family members who just "don't get" our hobbies or our taste in film... ;)

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Studio Ghibli Fest 2019 comes to a close in December with the last film directed by Isao Takahata: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. Showing on Monday, December 16th and Wednesday, December 18th at the Celebration Cinema Lansing, Regal Lansing Mall 12, and Flint West 14, come and close out the year by paying tribute to a masterwork by one of the greatest directors in the pantheon of anime and the co-founder of Studio Ghibli.

'Sumi-Jaki' Shuto Con's "imp" mascot.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Animated Women: Suzan Pitt

As you longtime readers of my blog know, every March I post interviews and little tidbits of history about women animators. Well, it pains me to report this, but I have just learned that veteran animator and instructor Suzan Pitt passed away this weekend at her home in New Mexico.

For those who are unfamiliar with Suzan's work, I recommend watching the following video 'Persistence of Vision' created by Blue and Laura Kraning:

Persistence of Vision from Suzan Pitt on Vimeo.

Four of Suzan's films can be viewed on the streaming service Fandor via the following link: https://www.fandor.com/cast_and_crew_members/suzan_pitt.

Update [06/19/2019]:
Over on Animation Magazine's website, Ramin Zahed wrote a very nice summary of Suzan's life and career in animation. You can read the article here.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Animated Thoughts: Appreciate some art, pt. 2

Okay, I'll level with you all: I'm really busy writing another course on animation. As such, there's lots of reading, lots of screening films, lots of creating assignments and quizzes, and lots of writing lecture material and presentations. So I'm taking the rest of the month off from blogging.

But, as I have lots of photographs from my trips to the Royal Ontario Museum, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and Meijer Gardens, here are some of the pics I have taken during those travels for my ongoing art studies.

Royal Ontario Museum:

Detroit Institute of Arts:

Meijer Gardens:

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Animated Thoughts: Appreciate some art

In March, the 'post-Winter and yet still pre-Spring' doldrums were setting in. The snow was almost gone, leaving patchy brown grass in its wake. The sky was still grey and overcast. And although the time change left us with more light during the day, still, the warm sunlight was noticeably absent other than the occasional glimmer at sunrise and sunset. Rain and sleet were pervasive.

In order to get the much needed pick-me-up that would carry me to the first few days of Spring, I engaged in my time-honored tradition of appreciating some art.

As fortune would have it, the Detroit Film Theater was showing the English-dub version of Ruben Brandt, Collector. I had already seen this visually engaging film at TAAFI a month earlier, but I leapt at an opportunity to see it again. At TAAFI, they showed the English-subtitled version. And while I don't shy away from watching films in their original language, a film like 'Ruben Brandt' with all it's surreal visual imagery (and artistic Easter eggs) needs to be seen in a format that allows you to take it all in without having to split your attention between the film and the subtitles.

Still Life with Yellow Apple, 1858
John F. Francis

However, before the film, I decided to spend the better part of the afternoon looking at paintings. After observing the watercolors in the newly refurbished Asian wing, I headed upstairs to spend time with the DIA's lone Monet painting. Sadly, 'Rounded Flower Bed' (formerly known as 'Gladioli') wasn't on exhibition, having been loaned out to another museum for the next six months, but it did offer me the opportunity to do a little exploring of other works of art. I soon found myself tracking down one still-life painting after another with the common theme of 'food'.

The Sinfonia (Family Portrait), 1671
Michiel van Musscher

Other than an appreciation of the paintings themselves, much of what I was looking for with this little exercise were instances of near-realism within these paintings--like the use of color to create the illusion of three dimensions within a two-dimensional image.

A week later, I made a day trip over to the West side of Michigan, starting with Meijer Gardens up in Grand Rapids for their yearly exhibition of butterflies. I'll be honest, I wasn't feeling it. After struggling to navigate hordes of toddlers and crotchety older people for a half-hour in order get a decent photo, I switched tactics. Instead of standing over a butterfly, patiently waiting for it to spread its wings only for the insect to be scared away by a little kid or hear a nasty remark from an older person who wanted to get by me, I started looking for the butterflies that were simply resting. If you've ever been to a butterfly conservatory, you know that this pose is far more common (as seen in the picture below).

The pressure off, I left Meijer Gardens about an hour later with some beautiful photos of butterflies and plants that I was really happy with.

No idea what this is, but it looks like it could start
singing and dancing at any minute!

After a quick lunch at a Chinese restaurant by the gardens, I made my way down to the Riveria Theater down in Three Rivers for a screening of the documentary 'Loving Vincent, the Impossible Dream'.

Loving Vincent is a very captivating film and watching the documentary provided a very revealing look into the making of this singular feat of animation. It is the "world's first fully painted feature film", after all. And while I did find learning the background of the directors and their struggle to get this film financed and into theaters entertaining enough, I was honestly more interested in the nuts-and-bolts of the production.

For example: I found the transformation of an empty warehouse into an animation studio filled with curtain shrouded cubicles containing built-in projection systems for rotoscoping with oil paint to be far more fascinating.

What also piqued my interest was the process that they used to weed out all the experienced oil painters that they needed to create the 65,000 frames of film as well as how the painters were apparently paid per painting. If I understand correctly, on the production, the more paintings you produced, the more you got paid. No small feat when you look at the complexity of the images in the trailer below:

Loving Vincent is now available for viewing on various streaming services (like Amazon Prime, Hulu and YouTube), as well as available on DVD and BluRay. So if you have an afternoon, it is highly recommended viewing.

My cousin Circe dressed as Ruby Rose
from the animated series: RWBY.
Well, the last gasp of Winter was bittersweet this year as it was, what would be announced about a week after the convention, the last Shuto Con to be held in Lansing.

There were rumblings of declining quality, increasing prices, and financial instability over the past few years, but I took them all in stride as I had been attending my local con since it's inception in 2011.

This year, the con had scaled back to a fraction of its original size as the owners fulfilled the final year of their contract with the venue.

The mood that weekend alternated between festive and somber, depending on who you asked.

Don't get me wrong, I made a decision to have a great time no matter what, and I was not disappointed. However, my worst fears were realized when the convention owner went on social media with the announcement that they were throwing in the towel and ending the con for good--leaving Lansing with one less venue for animation and one less place where I felt like I belonged.

Shuto will always hold a special place in my heart as they were the first venue that provided me space and equipment to do presentations and screenings on the history of women animators. Even though they were a Japanese animation and culture con, they saw the value in my work and for that, I will be forever grateful.

Regardless, it "is" times like this when I wish I lived in a bigger city with more opportunities to be social and engage in activities that interest me. Such is life.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Festival Season, pt. 1: TAAFI 2018 or is it 2019?

This year, the management of TAAFI decided to split the festival into two parts: the first was an industry day back in November 2018, which was filled with presentations and talks given by industry luminaries, and the second was three days of the animation screenings we know and love so well.

With it being the beginning of the year, I decided to forgo taking any vacation time off of work to see the sights in Toronto and just drive out on Friday morning. However, after checking in to my hotel, I had some time before the evening's opening ceremonies and first screening, so I quickly grabbed a late lunch at Monga Fried Chicken (if you've never been, I highly recommend it) and gathered lots of photo references at the Royal Ontario Museum all on my way over to the Hot Docs Cinema.

My goal at the ROM this time out was seeing "Zuul" as he was now on display. For those who don't know, Zuul is the name of the ankylosaur "recently" discovered in Montana and purchased by the ROM. Paired up in the display with a gorgosaurus model, apparently of the skeleton found near Zuul, along with examples of other ankylosaur bits for comparison, examples of man-made armor, and some videogames that were used to teach kids about how much damage an ankylosaur could do when it swung it's armored club of a tail.

"Zuul crurivastator - the destroyer of shins"
(or some of him... parts are a model)

However, before leaving the ROM, I snuck over to the geology wing while they were setting up for a fund-raising event and took some photos of a couple gemstones and minerals that I had missed back during September's visit.

Then it was off to the Hot Docs cinema where I spent the better part of the weekend talking to Lynn Dana Wilton, Pam Rose, and Lynne Slater while waiting for the screenings to start. And although there were some pretty solid short films during the TAAFI experience, for me, the high-point of the screening lineup was the two feature-length animated films: Ruben Bryant, Collector and MFKZ. Both films were surreal experiences in their own way -- Ruben through the incorporation of classic works of art into its visual style and MFKZ through the frenetic action and character designs that looked like they leapt off the pages of Metal Hurlant magazine. I had many a wistful thought of the Waterloo Festival since these were two movies that would undoubtedly been screened by Joe Chen.

The rest of the festival was a blur with some really creative short films, a pre-release screening of How to Train Your Dragon 3 -- complete with a post-screening Q&A from director Dean DeBlois and Hiccup voice-actor Jay Baruchel -- and time left over for mixing with colleagues and students.

I'm honestly not sure if TAAFI will stick to this format, but I personally appreciated it. I love both TAAFI events (industry and screening) for different reasons. Both events focus on the two parts of the Ottawa International Animation Festival that I enjoy the most: animation presentations and films. And now with the new format, I can enjoy them to their utmost without having to skip out on one to enjoy the other. For someone like me who travels five hours to Toronto, having TAAFI now being two festival events may be a little more pricey, but they're both worth making the trip.

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