Saturday, December 25, 2010

Animated Thoughts: Attitude of Gratitude, Part Three

NOTE: This is part three of a series. Part one can be read here and part two can be read here.

Since Erik Timmerman's untimely death on June 30, 2000 and Marla starting her own program at R.I.T. (with her taking up the role of Director of Visualization), Carl "Skip" Battaglia and Stephanie Maxwell fell into the role of being my mentors--whether they realized it or not. It started out rather casually with my seeing them every other year at the Ottawa International Animation Festival.

I'd always bump in to Stephanie either on the way into the Friday or Saturday evening screenings or in the theatre itself. We'd talk for about a half-hour about what projects we were working on as well as how the program at R.I.T. was developing, then I’d ask her for some advice for a project I was tinkering with, she’d give me her latest business card, I’d ask her when she was going to release a DVD of her work, and we’d part ways until the next festival. A DVD of her animated films was released in 2008 and is distributed by iotaCenter, by the way.

My path to Skip was a little more roundabout. Like with Stephanie, I only had one class with Skip during my time at R.I.T. but that class had an impact on me. Both of their classes opened my eyes to a broader range of animated film and developed in me an appreciation for non-narrative and abstract animated films. After seeing an obituary in a newspaper for Carl Battaglia, my heart sank as I thought about how I had lost another professor. Well, after checking in with R.I.T., it turns out that a different Carl Battalglia in Rochester, New York had passed, though Skip would later tell me of stories how random people would walk up to him and exclaim “Skip! You’re alive!” This, I think was the real wake-up call for me. Erik’s death had left me in a kind of stupor where I got on with my life, my work, and my hobbies. As the years passed, just like Stephanie, I’d see Skip at the Ottawa animation festival, we’d chat, I'd buy a DVD of his latest film, then we'd go our separate ways. Other than yearly Christmas cards and bi-yearly Ottawa trips, I drifted away from these three people who had such a profound influence on my life. So, in 2008, I resolved to do something about it. I started to e-mail Marla, Skip and Stephanie on a more regular basis, usually just to say ‘hi’ and tell them what I was working on or ask for a quick bit of advice on filmmaking. And in April of 2010, an opening presented itself.

I received an e-mail from my sister, Tricia. She had been invited to speak at the Rochester Institute of Technology about how she was applying Fourier transforms to her work in historical embroidery. Well, if my sister was going to speak at my Alma Mater, then I was going to be there. After taking some time off of work, I drove out to Niagara Falls for the night. The next morning, I made the ten minute drive across the border to the Buffalo airport and picked her up. After a hour's drive to Rochester (followed by a a lunch meeting where we shop talked about the online class we were working on together), I had the singular pleasure of seeing my sister speak about the Plimoth Plantation jacket project, in addition to the work we did for the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Bard Graduate Center for Decorative Arts.

The next day, I dropped Tricia off at the airport and drove back to Rochester. That night, I did what I should’ve done years ago, and took Marla, Skip, and Stephanie out to dinner just to say ‘thank you for helping me get where I am now.’ At this point in my life, I may not be where I want to be in my career, but I’m further than I had ever dreamed possible that first day at R.I.T. when Erik stood up at the front of the classroom and said the phrase which would define the following three years for me: “Grad school is not about how little you can do, it’s about how MUCH you can do.” More than many other people in my life, it was this handful of professors at R.I.T. that showed me how to refine the tools that made my career possible—the tools that have gotten me this far and will carry me well into the future.

So we ate, we drank, we talked about our personal projects, what I was doing for my jobs, what changes had come to R.I.T. since my graduation, and we shared our memories of Erik. After dinner, we parted ways. Marla and Stephanie went home, Skip and I watched a film at the Eastman House, then we drove back to his home where he showed me his studio, we talked about his current film, and he showed me his production methods for animation. Between Tricia and my professors, I couldn’t have asked for a better trip. With all the great things that happened to me in 2010, the only event that surpassed that evening with my professors was a trip to England with Tricia two months later (but that's another story). The next morning, I checked out of my hotel and made the seven hour drive back across Canada to Michigan.

(Skip, Stephanie, Marla, and me)
So I guess the point of this three-part run down memory lane is just to encourage others (and to remind myself) to take the time to thank the people in your life who helped get you where you are. While I did thank Erik "for everything" before he died, I did not get to spend the future years with him that I wanted to--thanking him over and over again whenever the Spirit brought him to the forefront of my consciousness and reminded me to call him up, give him an update on where my career (and life) is, and say those two simple words: 'thank you'. I consider myself blessed that I have that opportunity with Marla Schweppe, Carl "Skip" Battaglia, and Stephanie Maxwell.