Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Animated Thoughts: 2019 in review

2019 was rough.

It started off well enough. I attended the TAAFI Screening in February -- lots of good films enjoyed with friends from the Toronto animation scene. Things at ASIFA Central were going well. January and March had two nice local anime cons where I was something of a regular. I was finding lots of opportunities to visit the Detroit Institute of Art as well as see animated films at my local theaters. And best of all, I had been approached by a colleague at Central Michigan University to teach a history course on animation. Then the hits started coming.

Mojo napping in his box
It started with my cat Mojo dying in March. Well, he was my brother's cat, but I was taking care of him and his "sister" Fuzzy. Both cats were having some serious behavioral issues and my brother and sister-in-law just didn't have the time to deal with them. So I took the cats in. Aside from the occasional respite, Mojo never stopped pooping on the floor and Fuzzy was as needy as ever. After trying for a couple years to retrain Mojo, I just gave up and kept a roll of paper towels handy so every morning we could play his favorite game of "find the turd". My rationale was that he was almost twenty and the carpet needed replacing anyways so as long as he kept peeing in the litter box, I would just deal with his scatological issues since I didn't figure he'd be around much longer anyways. It was still a shock though when I came downstairs after a nap and he didn't show up to be fed. When I looked for him, he was lying on his side in an unnatural pose and was so weak he couldn't lift his head. So, I called my brother and roommate and we spent the next couple hours comforting Mojo until he breathed his last. That was the first hit. I shrugged it off. Mojo was old and the signs were there, so him dying wasn't unexpected--just how fast he went was the shocker.

A week later, I went to Shuto Con, which had shrunk down to a fraction of its' prior size and was now just occupying one floor at the Radisson hotel. While we in the Lansing-area anime and cosplay community had been seeing the signs for a couple years now, in June, the official notice dropped that Shuto Con was shutting down for good. Having never missed a single one in its nine-year run, this one hurt. Being kind of a social recluse makes it hard to find people with similar interests and make friends. But it was easy at Shuto to make conversation with complete strangers and walk away as acquaintances, if not friends, all bonded over a shared love of anime, manga, costuming, and that narrow subset of Japanese culture that supports them. There are other cons in the mid-Michigan area, but they're just not the same. They don't have the same feeling of community that I found at Shuto. I started feeling adrift and more of a shut-in as I lost yet another place that made me feel not so alone in the world.


Smudgie reclining in "her" chair.
A month later, another family pet died. The family cat, Smudge -- whom I name my animation studio after -- died at around twenty-plus years of age. Mom and Dad were on the trip of a lifetime to South America with the grandkids and I was on cat duty. We spent her last two weeks sitting in the comfy chair together every day after work as I read a book on animation history and pet her. Then we'd invariably take a short nap before I fed her dinner and went home for the night.

But try as I might, Smudgie couldn't be convinced to hold out two more days for when Mom and Dad came home to say goodbye to her. I took Smudgie's death pretty hard. I know that she was over twenty years old and it was her time, but when a beloved family pet dies on your watch, it's hard not to take it personally and feel like you failed everyone.

Now, let's keep some perspective here: losing a yearly hangout and two pets in so many months isn't the end of the world, nor is it even really "tragic" compared to having a family member or close friend die or losing everything you own in a natural (or unnatural) disaster. But when your pets have been a part of your life for twenty years and you lose another one of your few bridges to the outside world, these non-linearities will still do a number on your head, even if you're trying to be stoic.

When Smudgie died, that was when I detached from life. Time didn't seem to have much structure or meaning as one day blended into another. Blog posts went unfinished. My animation desk went untouched. The library of animation books, unread. My historical research on animated films went to fallow. Even when I went to Ottawa that September, I still felt like I was just going through the motions. About the only thing I was able to keep working on during this time was writing the history course that I'll be teaching in January.

I would like to say that I spent the entirety of this time in quiet, productive introspection and reemerged as a stronger, more focused person. But in reality, I spent a lot of time trying not to think about anything. And when I did, my thoughts were mostly about how I had spent my time during the past twenty-two years since leaving Grad School. There were no epiphanies or grand revelations or anything like that. Just wondering what I could do with the next twenty-two years that would be different and hopefully more productive.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Animated Events: TAAFI Industry Day & G.R. Comicon

November was a decent month for animation between the Grand Rapids Comicon and the TAAFI Industry Day.

It's my policy to not buy a ticket for a comic convention (or an anime convention for that matter) until after they've published the schedule of events, but the GRCC usually delivers some choice events and guests so it's been on my list of cons to not miss for a while now and this year did not disappoint.

There were really only two "events" I was interested in this time around in addition to visiting with a pair of voice actresses.

The first was Jarrett Ardell's lecture on animation history, specifically events surrounding the divergence between the Western animation style and the Japanese anime style. All-in-all, rather informative. Didn't tell me anything I didn't know already, but it's always useful to hear someone present a topic in new and unique ways. Even if I'm already well versed on a subject, it never hurts to learn new ways of communicating ideas.

The second event was a presentation by Patrick Warburton. For those who aren't familiar with his work, he's the actor from Seinfeld and Rules of Engagement who also does a lot of voice acting, like Brock Sampson from the Venture Bros. and Cronk from the Emperor's New Groove. Always a good time hearing how someone got into the business and the funny things that happened during the span of their career.

And I was able to get two more voice actresses to autograph my Art of Overwatch book: Carolina Ravassa, who voices Sombra, and Chloe Hollings, who voices Widowmaker. I really love the Overwatch and League of Legends cinematics, so it's a real treat to meet the people who played a role into bringing those properties to life.

A real highlight of the experience was when I was waiting in line with a couple other people for Carolina Ravassa to open her booth for autographs. She and her handler show up, she sidles right next to me and starts complaining about how irritating it is when voice actors don't show up on time and make people wait, as if she was one of the people waiting in line. Love her sense of humor.


A week earlier, the first weekend of November found me returning to Toronto for the Toronto Animation Arts Festival International's yearly Industry Conference: two fun filled days of lectures, presentations, and networking opportunities about my favorite subject in the whole world: animation!

This year, my schedule went pretty heavy on the Canadian animation scene. Granted TAAFI focuses primarily on Canada's animation industry, but I found myself gravitating towards those presentations more than those focused on the American industry. Toronto is a major hub for the Canadian animation industry and, given its proximity to Michigan, is a lot easier to get to than Hollywood or New York City. So, I attended TAAFI hoping to glean information on what the job market looked like for new graduates in the States looking to maybe jump the border for internships or jobs. And TAAFI did not disappoint. I repeatedly heard that the Vancouver and Toronto animation industries were in the midst of an animation production boom and were looking for animators. Always good to hear, even if it's a number of American productions that are outsourcing to Canada.

One high point of the presentations was how there seems to be a growing level of respect for short films produced by independents and animation studios in their spare time. Shorts are a fantastic way to tell those smaller stories that'll never be made into a feature and at the same time test new tech that could be used in feature films (see Disney's Paperman and the Meander software). With regards to large studios making shorts, Sony's Oscar winning film Hair Love and Pixar's Kitbull (which came out of their SparkShorts program) are two of the most recent examples that really struck a chord within the community.

A benefit of Disney having their own streaming service is that these shorts could find another audience outside of the festival circuit and (sometimes) YouTube channels. I remember many, many years ago when my brother and I were at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. The festival events were over for the day and we were back in our hotel room watching the Canadian Teletoon channel when, between a couple of shows, they showed some independent short films instead of commercials. For the longest time, the only way to see these innovative shorts were at festivals or the occasional traveling program, like the 'International Tournee of Animation' or 'Spike and Mike'. And while websites like Atomfilms and Icebox may have floundered back in the early 2000's, YouTube, Vimeo, and now sites like Disney+, are bringing these films to a wider audience. :)

Even new construction downtown can't hide the CN Tower.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Animated Thoughts: OIAF 2019, pt. 2


Wednesday

As always, the drive to Ottawa was lovely. The weather was simply gorgeous, sunny and blue skies the entire way -- a far cry from the wall of rain I encountered in years past (no matter how visually stunning it was at the time, wish I had taken a photo of it when I could). Skipped my yearly breakfast at Marche in favor of extra sleep. The correct choice. Meant I was very hungry when I arrived in Ottawa though. Eh, I'd be able to visit Marche in November when I returned for the TAAFI Industry Conference. Nostalgia can wait a month.

The rest of the day was like clockwork: shuffled over to the Arts Court, got my festival pass, bought all the books and DVDs off of my list at the Aniboutique, chatted up Chris Robinson, got settled in to my room, then it was over to Level One for a nice meal.

Festival was off to a good start: Saw friends Lynn Dana Wilton, Lynne Slater, and Ellen Besen at the evening's competition screening. I even got to touch base with fellow ASIFA International member Thomas Renolder before the screening. Saw our ASIFA Central members Gary Schwartz and Jim Middleton. Even got to say 'hi' to Joan Gratz. Glad to see that she's still attending the festival.

Gonna be a good week.

It's all about that garlic mayo sauce for the fries!

Thursday

My screening schedule was well planned out for Thursday: spent the entire day at the Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG). It was all panoramas and special screenings in a venue right across the street from my hotel (meaning I wouldn't have to walk anywhere across town). After one of the screenings, Lynn Wilton introduced me to Jennifer Hinton -- should probably ask her for an interview. Her film was a little outside the realm of my experience, but I liked the quirky sensibilities of her film. Between the screenings, I spent some quality time talking to Jim -- don't always get that one-on-one conversation time at our ASIFA events. As more people drift into the festival, I'm recovering that sense of camaraderie with other filmmakers, the one thing I wish I had more of in East Lansing. Also took the opportunity to do some healing this year by making piece with some people I've clashed with in the past or at other festivals (rude behavior and all that). The efforts were rewarded.

In other ASIFA news: ASIFA China shipped the North American batch of this year's ASIFA magazines to the festival office in order to save money on shipping, so I picked up ASIFA Central's allocation from the festival and secreted them safely in the trunk of my car (along with a batch of OIAF program books generously donated by the festival for our membership). Was nice to have that task out of the way so I could enjoy the rest of the fest without having to check-in constantly to see if the magazines had arrived.


Then got a text message from my folks. Turns out that the vintage stereoscopic viewer that I ordered from a pawn shop in Pennsylvania arrived at the office. Dad seems to like playing with it. Another fun little toy for the students in my animation history class to play with.

Went to the Salon de refuse party later that night, but didn't see anyone I knew. Just wasn't feeling social so got some food at the Metro and called it a night.



Friday

The healing continues. Saw a friend at the morning competition screening and she "introduced me" to another person who has been a burr in my saddle for a couple years now. Took the opportunity to mend fences in my heart with them as well. Felt like I was being rewarded by God when Lynn Slater unexpectedly sat down next to me in the theater and we had a lovely chat about the Toronto independent animation scene before the show.

Linked up with Jim afterwards and went to the picnic. Got kind of a slow start to networking but it picked up rapidly when I got to chat with Barry Sanders, Steve Stanchfield, and Glenn Ehlers. And while I did get the chance to chat up fellow R.I.T. grad Sarah Hanson several times over the fest, this was the first time in years that I didn't cross paths more than once with Glenn. Felt kind of wrong to not have the opportunity to spend time catching up on the year's events with my friend -- is honestly one of the things I look forward to the most every Ottawa Fest. Hopefully, I'll get the chance to hear about what he's been up to in Toronto next month. Being friends on social media can never replace that face-to-face time spent with a good friend.

Unexpectedly, I even met a recent grad from R.I.T. at the picnic (helps to identify them when they walk around wearing shirts and baseball caps from our alma mater). Wish I had better contacts in the industry to help these kids find a job. But, you do what you can. Like me, he didn't want to move to California for work, but luckily, he lives in Buffalo, so Toronto might be an option -- especially now since they're looking for animators and seem to be relaxing some of the restrictions on Americans working in Ontario.

The Cartoon Network Picnic, now with truffles! :)

Rode back to the festival on the bus with Lynne and Lynn. Now that my plans for attending Youmacon are a wash (a friend from out of town had to back out from her plans to attend), it looks like I'm going to TAAFI that weekend. Made plans to have dinner with Lynn while in town.

Well, Marona's Fantastic Tale was a tough film to watch. After losing two cats this year, the bittersweet story of a dog's life was tough to process. I'm not a dog person by any means, but it was a very well crafted film that skillfully dealt with the melancholy in it's story without it becoming a painful dirge. What really helped, and what I appreciated the most, was the visuals that seamlessly flowed from concrete to abstract along with the emotional ebb and flow of the story. Glad I had Jim there to watch it with me, though.

And the Canadian student films? They were all very well produced, as expected.

Walked over to Darcy McGee's for dinner after the competition screening -- another old haunt with good memories attached. Was way too loud, but the food was as good as I remembered it. Didn't feel the same without my brother there though, smartphone in one hand, pint of Guinness in the other. As I reflected on the films I had just seen, one stood out among the rest. Acid Rain, impressed me. Based on the first couple minutes, I thought that it wasn't going to do it for me, but the story and the character development really drew me in and it turned out to be a very engaging film.



Catgot from Wing Ho on Vimeo.

But I have to say, Catgot was easily my favorite film at Ottawa this year. It's funny how back when I started attending the festival, I couldn't stand abstract animated films or visual music, but with a little education and from watching a lot of them, I've developed a taste for non-narrative films. Hrm. Personal growth. Who'd've thought?

Saturday

Wow! What a Saturday! Met up with Jim at the Disney shorts program, then over to the Lizzy Hobbs presentation. Sat with Joan and had a nice chat before the program. Afterwards, saw Ellen Besen and talked to her for an hour! As I was walking out of the Arts Court, there was Stephanie Maxwell! Ended up chatting her up for an hour as well. Also saw Torrill Kove on the elevator. Such a friendly and gracious person.

Skipped the Spike & Mike documentary in favor of having lunch/dinner at the pub. Mmmm... scotch eggs. Was kind of a mistake. I got my wires crossed, was hoping it'd be a documentary but heard that it was a retrospective of films that they'd shown so I skipped it. It was a documentary after all. Met back up with Jim and watched the Children of the Sea anime feature. Then the competition screening. So far Comp 3 had the largest number of films that I liked. Later on, the NightOwl party was kind of a wash, so I bailed early. Saw Jim and Barry in the lobby though. Was nice to chat with them, but I'm really not feeling too social--kind of burning out. I'm not ready to go home yet, but am getting there. I am, however, looking forward to my yearly Beavertail and steak dinner at the Keg tomorrow.

"Another" food picture?! Eh, screw it, I'm on vacation after all.

Sunday

The World Student Panorama was pretty good. But I went to the competition screening at the ByTowne and it really wasn't for me. I ended up leaving partway into the second film. The people behind me were too noisy and an usher kicked over my popcorn when leading someone to their seat. Sometimes you gotta listen to the signs that you're being given. I couldn't take it so went back to the Arts Court to see if a screening station was open... and bumped into Torril Kove on her way out of the OAG. Pretty heady when Academy Award winners at the festival recognize you by face. Then saw Gary Schwartz--glad to see more ASIFA Central people attending the fest, even though Gary is a regular attender like me. A screening room viewing station was open by then, so I watched a selection of films from Comp 2 and then watched Catgot a couple times more. Went to the Chez Ani and there was Lynne Slater. We started to chat and Lynn Wilton sauntered in. Was a very good conversation with both. Wish I'd had more time to chat with Bryce Hallett though. Then it was off to my yearly steak at the Keg and some exploring at the Byward Market (somewhere, there were macrons waiting to be devoured). A quick nap later and I hurried over to the party. Said my goodbyes to Thomas Reynolder and left for my yearly Beavertail. The OIAF drew to a close for me. I'll be back in Canada next month for TAAFI, but until then, there's lots of work to be done back in Michigan. I hardly feel like I've spent any time away from home, but I already feel like I want to be home, sleep in my own bed, return to my routine. And hopefully complete a few new projects.



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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.

Monday:

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 old 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 Mayan 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.

Tuesday:

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 -- Toronto Popcorn Company and Moo Frites in Kensington Market. Then had my yearly Cherry Arctic Rush over at the Dragon City Mall.


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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Thursday, September 19, 2019

Animated Reviews: Promare


Y'know, as a rule, I don't like dogging films. Offering constructive criticism? Sure. But flat out telling people not to see a movie? That's really rare for me.

You see, I understand better than most how difficult it is to bring a film from concept to screen. Sometimes compromises must be made due to money or production time or dictates from on high by the suits who control the purse strings. Sometimes, even though you have a decent concept, you end up becoming a victim of your own previous successes.

And while the animation in the film was decent enough and I liked the concept -- a group of firemen who are called upon to stop mutated pyrokinetic humans from burning down the city -- however, everything from the story to the characters personalities and character designs to the frenetic camerawork to the plot twists all looked like they were lifted from Studio Trigger's previous hits: Gurren Lagann and Kill la Kill.

Galo Thymos? He was Kamina from Gurren Lagann. Aina Ardebit? A cross between Ryuko Matoi from Kill la Kill and Yoko Littner from Gurren Lagann. Lucia Fex? Nonon Jakuzure from Kill la Kill. Vulcan Haestus? Ira Gamagoori from Kill la Kill. Even the whole climax of the film felt like it was ripped from the final episodes of Kill la Kill as they battled the villain on a big ship. They even got the same voice actress who played Nonon Jakuzure (Mayumi Shintani) to play the exact same voice stylings for Lucia Fex.

Needless to say, the whole film really disappointed me as I walked out of the theater feeling like 'yep, seen it all before and done much better in the originals'.

And I felt the same way with the ending of Satoshi Kon's Paprika with it's overt parallels to the ending scenes of his earlier series Paranoia Agent, so it's not a problem unique to Studio Trigger.

I honestly got the impression that Promare was a film where the studio was pressured into making a feature and tried to take elements that they thought were successful in their other hit series and combined them to make something that they hoped would speak to the die-hard Studio Trigger fans.

I'm still in Studio Trigger's corner and I do look forward to their next production (BNA: Brand New Animal, due out in April 2020). But, I'm sorry to the Studio Trigger fans who like me enjoyed Gurren Lagann and Kill la Kill, I just can't recommend this movie. You're better off spending your time going back and watching episodes of Little Witch Academia.



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Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Animated Thoughts: Tales of the Night

It's been a decent year for animated feature films. Between the Detroit Institute of Arts Detroit Film Theater and my local theaters, I've been able to partake of a number of features in the first half of the year.

The first was Tales of the Night, by Michel Ocelot.

There's just something about watching a modern feature using an old-school animation technique, in this case silhouette animation. Make no mistake, this is a film for the younger kids and tween crowd, but there's still a lot there for us older fans to enjoy.



If you're interested, the following link is to the GKIDS webstore where you can purchase this film on DVD: "click me".

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Next on my line-up was Danmachi: Arrow of the Orion.

This film takes place in the Orario setting of Is it wrong to try to pick up girls in a dungeon? series. And while there are appearances from our favorite characters in the Loki Familia, the story focuses mainly on the Hestia Familia. And while the story was a bit predictable, it was a fun look at the relationship that is building between Bell and Hestia along with some tantalizing hints of what's going to happen in the next season of Danmachi. If you're  fan of the series (and of it's spinoff Sword Oratoria), you'll enjoy Arrow of the Orion.



*  *  *

Then there was Mirai, the latest from Mamoru Hosoda, director of Summer Wars and Wolf Children.



Mirai wasn't bad... it was just a little too "kiddy" for my tastes. Is a good film for parents to watch with the pre-teen crowd. But honestly, I had more fun hanging out with fellow ASIFA member Gary Schwartz and his wife before the film than I did in the theater. I think that if I had kids, I'd enjoy the film more since there were a lot of events and situations in the film that I just couldn't relate to.

Well, with Studio Trigger's Promare coming up in September the week before the Ottawa International Animation Festival, the Fall looks to be a very animated one!


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Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Animated Thoughts: ASIFA Central 2019 Retreat

Meet me in St. Louis...

This year, the ASIFA Central retreat was held in St. Louis and graciously hosted by Webster University, home of our Social Media Coordinator: Chris Sagovac. After a joyful seven-and-a-half hour drive filled with discussions about animation and gaming with fellow ASIFA Central members Brad Yarhouse and Robert Sweringa, we arrived in St. Louis for a fun-filled weekend of animation -- starting with a meet-and-greet over dinner at Blueberry Hill between our members and Chris's colleagues and students from Webster.

Keynote address delivered by ASIFA Central President Brad Yarhouse

A lot of the animation workshops we played with during the retreat followed the theme of non-traditional animation techniques: direct-on-film, digital direct-on-film, and pixilation.


At one station, Chris had set up markers and ink with strips of clear 16-mm film where we could experiment with direct-on-film techniques.


Additionally, in one of the computer labs, Steve Leeper demonstrated his Photoshop scripts designed to produce digital direct-on-film animation. Fortunately for me, I remembered my Adobe Creative Cloud username and password so Deanna and I were able to share a workstation and produce some short films using Steve's technique. I begrudgingly pay my monthly "rent" to Adobe for the Creative Cloud but I have to admit that it did pay off this time.


When finished, Steve compiled all of our films together for viewing later that afternoon. My section of the digital direct-on-film animation is below:




In the other room, a group of members and students were producing an animated film using the pixilation technique. Former honorary ASIFA President Norman McLaren would be proud to know that there are kids still using the animation technique that he used to create his award winning film Neighbors.


After a delightful lunch generously provided by Webster University, we devoured the yearly ASIFA Central cake, which miraculously survived the trip, and settled in for an afternoon of screening our films, Brad's update on International Animation Day, Deanna's update on ASIFA International, and a series of microtalks which included my in-memorium presentation of experimental animator Suzan Pitt and a very informative student presentation on Astro Boy.


The next day, we packed up our cars to go home, but beforehand, we all met up for breakfast at the Highway 61 Roadhouse, another St. Louis landmark, for brunch and a little more community before making the hours long trek home.

(Image courtesy of ASIFA Central)
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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.


Promare
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: