Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Animated Thoughts: Erik Timmerman

Erik had a number of theories (and witticisms). One of my favorites was shared during our first year.

As we were watching a Disney cartoon in one of our Photo Core classes, during a lesson on the principles of animation, Erik stated that within every Disney cartoon was an 'ass joke'. This remark was made during an analysis of Donald Duck as he swept the floor with a broom. Sure enough, within seconds, Donald turned around and started dusting with his tailfeathers.

To this day, I can't watch a Donald Duck cartoon without the phrase "Disney ass joke" popping into my head. And I've often wondered how difficult it would be to get a University grant and hire a couple students to index and watch all the Disney short films in order to see if Erik was right.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Animated Workshops: TAIS - Replacement Animation

So this June, Sunday the 2nd to be exact, the Toronto Animated Image Society held an online workshop dealing with replacement animation. Over the span of three hours, Cristal Buemi worked with us as we set up basic downshooters using our smartphones (and tablets) and filmed a short animation using the Stop Motion Studio app.

And while I already knew the technical side of filming with Stop Motion Studio on my iPhone--as well as all of the tips for migrating our filming setup to Dragonframe--where the workshop provided the most benefit for me was during all the pre-production and process information that Cristal provided. Needless to say, because you're going to be spending hours under the camera, swapping out similarly themed objects for one another, it adds an extra layer of complexity that can be best dealt with in pre-production (as most things can).

More than once, I thought about the early trickfilms of the silent film era, how objects "magically" appeared, disappeared, and transformed into other objects. I mused about how many of those early special effects were filmed organically on set with only a 'guy leans on chair, then chair disappears, then guy falls' outline and how many were meticulously planned out?

A thought for another day.

TAIS has done an excellent job migrating their workshops to cyberspace using video conferencing tools like Zoom. Whereas in the past, I was looking at around $300 to $500 USD to attend a TAIS workshop -- mainly given that I'd have to drive roughly five hours to Toronto, reserve a hotel, pay for food while I was there, and such. But now that they've gone virtual, the TAIS workshops are much more affordable as I can now attend from the privacy of my own studio. And many of them are free to TAIS members, another perk of that yearly membership fee even if you're not paying for that full-fledged "Studio" membership.

On the down side: no cool pics of Toronto in these TAIS workshop blog posts. Oh well, there's always a tradeoff.

But what made me want to spend a beautiful sunny summer day leaning over a downshooter inside a dark room, wishing I had dedicated more time that year to strengthening my abs and lower back?

I had become friends with animator Patrick Smith on Facebook a year or so ago. As a long-time fan of the independent films he's produced for his studio Blend Films (as well as the "Scribble Junkies" blog posts he did with fellow New York animator Bill Plympton), I've been following his recent short films with some interest. Y'see, Patrick has created four award winning films using the replacement animation technique: Board Shop, Candy Shop and Gun Shop released in 2019, and Beyond Noh which he released in 2020. You can watch the first three films on his Blend Films Vimeo page, however, as Beyond Noh is currently making it's way through the festival circuit, we'll have to be patient until it finishes it's festival run and he (hopefully) posts it online. However, Patrick does have the trailer for Beyond Noh on his Vimeo and YouTube pages for those interested. In each film, he uses this technique to flash through a series of images that are all related in one form or another to the overarching theme of the film. For example: in Gun Shop, Patrick explores the theme of American gun culture by cycling through a montage of 2,328 firearms. In Board Shop, same concept, just with skateboards, snowboards, and surfboards.

During a side-conversation on Facebook, we discovered a mutual respect and admiration for filmmaker Paul Bush, whose 2012 film Babeldom was one of my favorites from my days attending the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema. Paul has also done a couple films using the replacement animation technique, two of which I saw at the Ottawa International Animation Festival: While Darwin Sleeps... released in 2004 and the Five Minute Museum in 2015. You can see 'Darwin' on his Vimeo page, along with a trailer for a new film of his that uses replacement animation as well as more traditional stop-motion techniques: Orgiastic Hyper-Plastic. I patiently await its release.

Well, after seeing replacement animation so ably executed by both Paul and Patrick, I couldn't resist the opportunity to spend a morning playing around with my downshooter. After purchasing about $23 of candy and fruit at the local grocery store, I came up with the following film:

It took me a while to get the soundtrack right -- cycling 'mouth noises' that were recorded using my headset ended up being a little trickier that I had originally hoped. And I ended up just accepting the fact that my computer's fan was going to be white noise in the background, but I'm happy with the result.

It's nothing festival-worthy, just one of those fun little films where you experiment with a technique you're unfamiliar with. No real purpose other than to learn, explore, and have fun while you're playing in the sandbox.

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Thursday, May 28, 2020

Animated Thoughts: The best laid plans...

Normally this time of year would have me uploading lots of photographs of butterflies from the Frederik Meijer Gardens' Spring exhibition: Butterflies Are Blooming.

Every Spring, I usually package a trip up to Grand Rapids where I meet up with my accountant to either drop off or pick up my tax information. Then I'd head over to Meijer Gardens and spend a couple hours taking photographs of butterflies and flowers.

For obvious reasons, that didn't happen this year.

But, as the date for filing personal and business taxes was pushed back to July, I took the opportunity to catch up on other work before I finished itemizing the rest of my expenses and organizing my receipts. The fateful date arrived and I drove out to Grand Rapids. The meeting was three hours long, since Dave is also helping me plan for retirement. But when I left his office, the weather was still sunny and gorgeous. And although I knew they were closed, I couldn't resist making a trip out to Spring Lake to visit the District Library.

As animator Winsor McCay spent many a formative year living in Spring Lake, Michigan, the Spring Lake District Library has a historical marker (and a sizable collection of his works) to commemorate  the life and works of McCay. And while I would have liked to explore the McCay collection, it was nice to be out in the sunny weather, exploring those little bits of animation history in my "backyard".

Yes, there's more text on the other side,
but you'll have to visit the Library to see that.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Adventures in (Armchair) Historical Research

Cover for Das Loch im Vorhang
One of the direct benefits of the Internet is the ability for researchers like myself to track down rare material in other countries. Not only is there a plethora of films from other countries being uploaded to sites like YouTube and Vimeo, but sites like Google Translate lower the communication barrier with their tools for translating foreign languages and in some cases, the ability to translate entire websites into English on the fly.

An example occurred earlier this year, when I was looking through my collection of works that involved Lotte Reiniger. Among the books I've located in the past were an original German copy of Venus in Seide , which featured Lotte's silhouette illustrations, or an old library copy of Walking Shadows from a bookseller in England -- Walking Shadows being a hardback essay written about Lotte by Eric Walter White, one of her former assistants. This essay is particularly interesting as it gives details into Lotte's animation process – along with a few plates with images of models that she created but never used in her films.

Well, while I was looking at the short list of publications that Lotte directly worked with, one that has eluded me for years piqued my interest. A quick visit to the normal sites that sold international books, such as Abe Books or the German antiquarian who sold me Venus in Seide, proved fruitless. Then, for some reason, I decided to switch gears. A quick search on the German-language version of Amazon.com, and there it was: a copy of Helmuth Krüger's Das Loch Im Vorhang (English translation: The Hole in the Curtain). It’s the only other book, that I am aware of, for which Lotte created silhouette illustrations (there may be more, I'm just not aware of any other than the aforementioned two). However, purchasing from Amazon.de proved fruitless. Google Translate wouldn't work on the Amazon website, and I couldn't figure out how to a) select international shipping or b) ask the bookseller if they
even would ship to America.

Illustration from 'Flucht in die Rulissen'
English translation: 'Escape to the backdrop'
After thinking about it for a day, I went back to Amazon and puzzled out the bookseller's name then tracked down their website. Lo and behold, there it was, listed on their website. And while struggling to figure out the German website, I made the welcome discovery that their shopping cart had an English-language feature. A month later, I had a very weathered copy of this book from 1922 sitting on my desk, and a smile across my face as I tried to translate the handwritten dedication that the author -- Helmuth Krüger -- had written to someone named Rolf. The images included in this article are taken of Lotte's silhouette illustrations to give readers an idea of how detailed her work was back then. For those interested in looking at all the illustrations in this book, a copy of Das Loch im Vorhang was scanned and posted on the Deutsche National Bibliothek website, which is accessible at the following link: https://portal.dnb.de/bookviewer/view/1128443937.

Ain't modern life grand?

'Sumurûn' illustration on page 89
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Sunday, March 1, 2020

Notice regarding Yearly Women Animator Interviews

Greetings all,

I have made the decision to skip this year's interviews with women animators.

Reason being is actually an uplifting one: turns out that I was asked to teach animation history at a local university. As such, all the time I would have spent on doing interviews in 2019 was reallocated in order to read several books, prepare lectures, presentations, assignments and exams, locate and view films to show in class, locate visual aids, and all the other miscellaneous prep work that was required to teach a college-level course.

I apologize that I couldn't get any interviews prepared ahead of time, but there are only so many hours in a day and I'm already working two jobs between the day job and freelancing.

However, the women animator interviews will return in 2021 (and I may have a couple later this year to whet your appetite). In the meantime, I urge you to visit my Women of Animated Film FaceBook page as I am sharing a bunch of highlights, articles, and films spotlighting women animators over the month of March.

Thank you for your understanding,

Charles Wilson
Smudge Animation

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Sunday, January 26, 2020

Animated Thoughts: The 47th Annie Awards

Well, the 47th Annie Awards ceremony has come and gone. Time for the yearly "random thoughts" I had during the broadcast:
  • Opened by honoring Richard Williams. Nice. Very touching words from his daughters and colleague.
  • I immediately put Shadowmachine's Kaiju Confidential on my list of animations to track down and watch.
  • "Saving the polar bears" in... Antarctica... Um... whut?
  • Please God, let Fox and the Pigeon win Best Student Film!
  • YES!!!!! Congrats to Michelle Chua for such a beautiful film. One of my favorites from Ottawa the other year.
  • Best Short Subject... Hrm. Haven't seen 'Uncle Thomas' yet. Was hoping that Acid Rain would win -- though I reserve the right to change my opinion once I see the others in that category.
  • Hi Jerry! :)
  • Oh please, Love, Death, and Robots (The Witness) is nominated for Best Production Design - TV/Media!!! Let an adult-themed animation win...
  • Heh, the Clutch Cargo gag was pretty clever. Loved the mini history lesson.
  • Love Death And Robots (Sonnie's Edge) wins again! This time in the category of Music TV Media. A great night for adult animation!
  • Loved Charles Solomon's part on early CG animation honoring Dr. James Blinn with the Ub Iwerks award. Dr. Blinn sounded like a fascinating man. Wonder if there's a Ted talk or podcast out there with him.
  • Oh please, let The Secret War win Best FX TV/Media... that would be just awesome!
  • And another win for Love Death and Robots. This has got to be my favorite Annie Award ceremony ever!
  • And the award for Editorial TV/Media goes to... Love Death and Robots (Alternate Histories)!
  • Henry Selick wins the Winsor McCay award, and is well deserved. Would love to hang out with him at the OIAF picnic and listen to him tell stories about his career.
  • Satoshi Kon posthumously awarded the Winsor McCay award. Very well deserved. A life and a career that ended far too soon.
  • Y'know, as much as I like Patrick Warburton (we love you Brock Sampson), I'm really enjoying this new format where there are fewer monologues and they 'appear' to have given more time to the award recipients' speeches.
  • Hrm... The Hospital by Amazon Studios... looks interesting. Time to take advantage of that Amazon Prime subscription.
  • Love, Death & Robots missed out on the Best Storyboarding for T.V./Media award. Would have loved a full sweep but happy that they won at least four of the five categories they were nominated in.
  • Kind of wished I'd watched I Lost My Body at Ottawa... honestly glad it won the award. Going to have to re-up my Netflix subscription and track it down.
  • Lotta love for Netflix this year!
Congratulations to all the nominees and winners. See you next year! :)

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Monday, January 13, 2020

Animated Events: 2020 Academy Awards Nominees

This week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released the nominations for the 92nd Annual Academy Awards.

The following are the films nominated for Best Animated Feature and Best Animated Short Film. 

Best Animated Feature:
  • How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World - Dean DeBlois, Bradford Lewis, and Bonnie Arnold
  • I Lost My Body - Jeremy Clapin and Marc Du Pontavice
  • Klaus - Sergio Pablos, Jinko Gotoh, and Marisa Roman
  • Missing Link - Chris Butler, Arianne Sutner, and Travis Knight
  • Toy Story 4 - Josh Cooley, Mark Nielsen, and Jonas Rivera
Best Animated Short:
  • Dcera (Daughter) - Daria Kascheeva
  • Hair Love - Matthew A. Cherry and Karen Rupert Toliver
  • Kitbull - Rosana Sullivan and Kathryn Hendrickson
  • Memorable - Bruno Collet and Jean-Francois le Corre
  • Sister - Siqi Song
Additionally, the following two animated feature films had nominations in the category of Music (Original Song):
  • 'I Can't Let You Throw Yourself Away' from Toy Story 4; Music and Lyric by Randy Newman
  • 'Into The Unknown' from Frozen II; Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
As always, for those who would like to see these short films before the awards ceremony, they will be playing at the Detroit Institute of Arts' Detroit Film Theater in January and February.

The schedule from the DIA's website is as follows:
  • Friday, January 31, 2020 - 7:00 PM
  • Saturday, February 1, 2020 - 2:00 PM
  • Saturday, February 1, 2020 - 7:00 PM
  • Sunday, February 2, 2020 - 1:00 PM
  • Sunday, February 2, 2020 - 6:00 PM
  • Wednesday, February 5, 2020 - 7:00 PM
  • Friday, February 7, 2020 - 7:00 PM
  • Saturday, February 8, 2020 - 7:00 PM
  • Sunday, February 9, 2020 - 1:00 PM
  • Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - 7:00 PM
  • Thursday, February 13, 2020 - 7:00 PM
  • Friday, February 14, 2020 - 7:00 PM
  • Saturday, February 15, 2020 - 7:00 PM
  • Sunday, February 16, 2020 - 1:00 PM
The Academy Awards will be broadcast on Sunday, February 9, 2020.

Congratulations to all the nominees and to all the filmmakers who submitted their films for consideration.

* The Academy Awards and the Oscar are registered trademarks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Animated Events: 47th Annie Awards

On Saturday, January 25th at 7 p.m. PST (10 p.m. EST), ASIFA Hollywood will be streaming the annual Annie Awards, a celebration of the best our industry has to offer.

Both the Production and Individual Achievement categories are listed on the Nominees page, however some highlights are below:

Best Animated Feature
  • Frozen 2 - Walt Disney Animation Studios
  • How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World - DreamWorks Animation
  • Klaus - Netflix Presents A Production of The Spa Studios and Atresmedia Cine
  • Missing Link - LAIKA, LLC
  • Toy Story 4 - Pixar Animation Studios
Best Animated Feature - Independent
  • Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles - Sygnatia, Glow, Submarine, Hampa Animation Studio
  • I Lost My Body - Xilam for Netflix
  • Okko's Inn - Madhouse
  • Promare - TRIGGER, XFLAG
  • Weathering With You - Toho Co., LTD. / STORY Inc. / CoMix Wave Films
Best Animated Short Subject
  • Acid Rain - Animoon
  • DONT KNOW WHAT - Thomas Renoldner
  • Je sors acheter des cigarettes - Miyu Productions
  • Purpleboy - Bando à Parte, Rainbox Productions, Ambiances… asbl, Luna Blue Film
  • Uncle Thomas: Accounting for the Days - Ciclope Filmes, National Film Board of Canada, Les Armateurs
In addition to the Production and Individual Achievement awards, they'll also be presenting the Juried Awards for the following:
  • the Winsor McCay Award - 'for their career contributions to the art of animation',
  • the Ub Iwerks Award - 'for technical advancement in the art of animation',
  • the Special Achievement Award,
  • the June Foray Award - 'for their significant and benevolent or charitable impact on the art and industry of animation', and
  • the Certificate of Merit.
You can watch the 47th Annie Awards ceremony live right 'here' on the Annie Awards website.

Congratulations to all the nominees!