Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Still decompressing from KAFI


Arrived at the hotel. Shuddered when I thought how much four days at the Radisson is going to cost, but figure it'll be worth it based upon the fact that I won't have to commute between the Comfort Inn and the festival (and the fact that I won't have to deal with a noisy bar across the parking lot preventing me from sleeping). Picked up our passes and had the chance to test my laptop with the equipment in the room where I'll be giving my Forensic Animation presentation. Everything works! One less thing to worry about.

Went to the museum and spent some quality time playing in the hands-on Japanese Animation exhibit.

Stopped by the vintage candy store and grabbed some chocolate. Discovered that the chinese restaurant by the State Theatre has gone out of business. Had dinner at the Blue Dolphin instead.

Trudged back to the hotel for a quick change of clothes then it was off to the opening night party. Met up with some old friends and made some new ones. Spent some quality time talking to Ellen Besen, Deanna Morse, and Gary Schwartz. Tried to corner Jim Middleton and see what he was up to, but failed miserably. Hope to catch up with him later on this weekend. Went to the Opening Ceremony screening at the Stryker Theatre -- I got chills while sitting there watching the movies. Ended up going to the pub afterwards with a bunch of our friends from Canada. We closed out the pub. Going to be a good weekend!


Had the distinct pleasure of attending the Direct-on-Film animation workshop in the morning. I really miss tinkering with these non-computer styles of animation. On the bright side, my church has a 16mm projector they're looking to unload and Margo told me where I can get clear film stock! Went to Ellen and Aubry's storytelling techniques discussion followed by Heather and Linda's creating animation for children panel. Am left with the distinct impression that I have GOT to step up my game as an animator! Don't get me wrong, I love what I do, but the technical nature of forensic animation doesn't lend itself to engaging storytelling or a higher artistic nature.

Went into the installation art display. Wish I had one of those at my house. The organic shapes flowed all around me while soothing music and sounds played. Felt strangely centered afterwards--maybe I'll do some experimenting with Groboto and a projector in my guest bedroom when I get home.

Feeling tired from the night before, I skipped the animation and realism presentation to take a quick nap at the hotel. I slept through the second film competition--a fact that still bothers me. I hate feeling like I'm missing out on something cool--this weekend will be over before I know it.

Jon and I met some people who also missed the afternoon screening, so we all hung out and talked until the evening screening--which was followed by another night of mingling...I've got to get some sleep! Left early and went back to the hotel to practice my presentation.


What? Heather Kenyon is talking about pitch bibles? Yeh, I'm there. As always, Heather was the portrait of grace as she shared her knowledge on the inner workings of the animation industry. Another screening at the State Theatre--more films that leave me more than a little self-conscious about how I've been so wrapped up with client work to produce some independant art. Grab lunch and race back to the hotel to change into my dress clothes. Moment of truth is almost upon me! Went to the 'moral premise' lecture. Looking forward to reading Dr. William's book on the subject--might even help jumpstart one of those projects on the back-burner.

Then it was time for my presentation. Only six people showed up (not including the volunteer, Jonathan, and Ellen). It was okay for a first presentation--the small number of people made it a lot easier on me. I was left feeling self-conscious as I stammered and stuttered my way through the lecture. But afterwards, Ellen gave me some incredible insights into how I could improve the presentation and encouraged me to write a book on the subject. Personally, I think it's time to join ToastMasters and get that weekly practice on public speaking. Don't think I'll ever learn how to competantly talk in public without that concentrated effort. I spent two months researching and preparing for this talk and still feel let down by my public speaking skills. Oh well, at least the Detroit Metro Police officer in the audience liked the presentation.

Went to the picnic at Bells. Good food. Hard for me to hear anything though--too many head injuries scrambling my grey matter. Going to events where everyone is talking just short circuits my brain. I spent the hour sitting there trying to block out the noise that sounded like a bird house at the zoo. On the bright side, once everyone started filtering out of the picnic area and into the bar, Mike shows up and I get to have a really good conversation with a former-Disney animator.

The evening screening commences and I'm blown away once more. Can't begin to describe how much I loved Bonnie Mitchell & Elainie Lillios' abstract animation "2BTextures". Elainie hands Jonathan the last DVD they have of the film and he promptly gives it to me. I've already watched it four times since then.

We head over to Burdicks with about twenty animators to watch the impromptu Toronto animation screening. Was alternately impressed with the quality of the films and horrified by the inappropriate nature of the interstittals between the films. Would NEVER even dream of going to Canada and showing something as offensive as that. Got ready to close out my bill and discovered that Ed Desroches had picked up the tab for everyone. Make a mental note to finish at least one film this year so I can send it to him for International Animation Day.


Got up and packed my bags. Went to my Paint-on-glass workshop. Had equipment problems, but everyone took it in stride and had a good time. Think I need to do some more hands-on explanation (or have to produce a video to illustrate the technique). Another presentation to refine I suppose.

Checked out of the hotel and then raced to the ASIFA Central meeting. Realized that I really miss these people when they're not around. Made mental notes to carve out more time to visit with Jim, Deanna, Gary and the ASIFA Central crew over the coming months.

After an engaging conversation with Stephen Leeper of Huntington University (and a return visit to the Japanese Animation exhibit) it was off to the awards ceremony. Was seated at the table with Howard Ng (another friend from Canada). He handed me a copy of his film "the Inquisitive Snail". Now I REALLY have to complete a film that I can pass out to everyone.

Then, the festival was declared over. I picked up Jonathan and we drove home.

Once again, I remain in awe of the people in the animation community. Ellen Besen took me under her wing and spent a tremendous amount of time talking to me, giving me tips on my presentation, and making sure that I was prepared and charged up to give the talk. Deanna and Jim were always standing around the corner ready to hand out a wave or a 'hi' or a 'what was your favorite film so far'. And Gary was this bundle of frenetic energy passing out stories and advice to everyone around him. As I reflect on my many flaws (personally and professionally), I'm consistently encouraged towards attaining a greater level of character by the people that I meet at these festivals, who lead the charge by their own example.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The power of inspiration

Last week, I bought the CD soundtrack to the movie Tron and have been listening to it almost non-stop in my car ever since. I have two copies of Tron on DVD. The first is the standard edtion that was released in the 90's. The second is the platinum edition that was released for Tron's 20th anniversary. Down in the basement storage closet, I think I still have the betamax copy of Tron that my aunt Claire and uncle Jack recorded for me off of cable tv back in the 80's. Somewhere in storage, is my first copy of the novel 'Tron' (I haven't seen it for years, but I know it's there safe and sound packed away in a box for safekeeping*).

Last Thursday, after mowing the lawn, working on my KAFI presentation, and running a couple errands, I sat down with a pizza and a soda to watch my favorite movie of all time. To answer your question: yes, there are better movies out there--Ghost in the Shell, the Matrix trilogy, the Lord of the Rings trilogy--but Tron remains my favorite.

I grew up watching Godzilla movies and trying to make flipbooks of him fighting monsters. I remember Saturday morning cartoons fondly when I would wake up and watch t.v. from 7 a.m. until well past noon (usually bookended by a British horror film on channel 50, sanitized for an American audience, of course). So animation has always been a part of my life, whether it was cartoons, Disney movies, or video games (and yes, I remember fondly being on the forefront of the 'Japanese Animation invasion'--though to call it an invasion does a serious injustice to the great impact Japanimation has had on the art of animation, IMNSHO).

I don't have very many fond memories of my childhood where my father is concerned, story for another time**. But one of the fondest memories was when, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, my father took me to see Tron in the movie theatre at the Meridian Mall. We missed the first five minutes of the show, coming in when Clu was in his tank with Bit and they were getting ready to 'merge with this memory'. Well, I was hooked. I wanted to be an animator. And, more than that, I wanted to be a computer animator. When my aunt Claire asked us if there were any movies that we wanted her to tape off of cable tv, the four of us each picked one movie and Tron was mine. I watched that movie over and over and the tape miraculously never wore out. With the possible exception of Mirrormask, I have watched Tron more than any other movie during my life!***

Tron continues to be my inspiration today. I am now a computer animator (with my educational background and experiences, I can also lay claim to being a traditional animator) and I work in my field as a forensic animator. But sometimes, when I am being challenged by a particularly difficult issue or am down on how my life hasn't turned out 'exactly' the way I wanted it to, it's helpful to return to the thing that inspired me down the road I have taken. Over twenty years later, I still feel refreshed and energized by watching Tron and I still find something new and exciting about the movie every time I watch it.

If you need a boost of energy for when you're losing focus, remember your own inspiration, and if you can, revisit it often and be thankful for it.

In the words of Stan Lee: 'Excelsior!'

* The copy of Tron, the novel apparently written off of the script, was obtained when a book club came to Bath Middle school and offered us a table of free books that would inspire us kids to read. For a kid with no money to buy a book, finding this treasure was truly a gift from God.

** Dad and I work together at Investigative Mechanics (my day job), so our history is currently a story with a sort-of happy ending. Dad and I will never be 'pals' per se, but we have built a casual friendship and working relationship and with the Lord's help are working to forgive and forget the past. Let's be honest, he may not have been the best father, but I wasn't the best son, either.

*** After 50 viewings, I lost count of the times I watched Mirrormask on DVD. So Tron is easily past a hundred viewings when I add in the times I've watched it since purchasing both DVDs and estimate the time spent watching it as a child.