Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Animated Thoughts: TAIS/NFB Elemental Magic Workshop

Joseph Gilland and the author
I spent last weekend in Toronto. It had been months since I have seen my friends in TAIS, so when they announced the Joseph Gilland "Elemental Magic" workshop at the NFB Mediateque, well, it was time for me to make my quarterly trip to Canada. This visit was another shining example of why I travel to Toronto every quarter for screenings and workshops: community!

The weekend began around 4:30 a.m. on Saturday morning when I woke up, showered, threw my stuff in the car and drove to Toronto (arriving around 9:30 a.m.). After checking in to the Grange Hotel, taking a one hour nap, and changing some USD into CAD, I jumped on a streetcar and spent the morning enjoying breakfast at Movenpik, walking around the St. Lawrence Market and capturing images for an animation I'm working on. But, as the day approached 3 p.m., I got on the TTC and hiked up to the Labyrinth bookstore just in time to meet Joseph Gilland. I had only planned to spend a couple minutes there as I didn't want to monopolize Mr. Gilland's time or get in the way of other people's enjoyment. But, community has a way of changing your plans. As there wasn't a line when I first got there, I was able to spend some quality time with Joseph before everyone else started showing up (score one for Mr. "I'd rather be fifteen minutes early than five minutes late!"). As has been my experience with famous animators, Joseph was very energetic and easy to talk to. He answered my questions, showed an interest in the animation work I was doing, autographed my copy of his book (Elemental Magic: The Art of Special Effects Animation) and drew a picture on the cover page.

Autographing books with a signature and a drawing
Just like my experiences meeting Bill Plympton, Martine Chartrand, and J.J. Sedelmaier, Joseph is another animator who exemplifies the kind of person I want to be should I ever attain anything approaching their level of success. As I'm a little socially stunted from spending years behind the computer, I don't always get social cues or know how to keep a conversation going. But Joseph made it easy with his lively banter, stories of working at Disney, and tips & tricks for producing hand-drawn special effects. Best of all, he didn't have any problem with me (or anyone else for that matter) hanging out there and listening to him talk while he autographed books.

It was during this time when I met fellow TAIS member, Graydon Liang. Graydon had taught a stop-motion SFX workshop that I had hoped to attend but couldn't make due to a prior engagement. Thirty minutes of shop-talk later and I regretted missing his workshop even more than before, but decided to redouble my efforts to make it to his next workshop!

The workshop begins!
That night found me sitting at a table with around twenty other animators (and guests), sharing stories with fellow TAIS members like Patrick Jenkins, Tara Schorr, and Bryce Hallett. Ever the odd duck, I was seated next to a girl who was attending the 'dinner with Joseph' with her boyfriend. Turns out she was studying to become a lawyer. So, a lively discussion of forensic animation and the differences between Canadian and American law ensued (little sidenote: at the day job, we sometimes do vehicle investigations in Ontario). I'm always humbled by the attitudes of the animators I meet in Toronto. I sat next to a professor of animation from Max the Mutt Animation School, an animator from Nelvana, an award-winning independent animator, and Joe himself. During all the shop-talk, not once did I feel out of place. The sense of camaraderie was overwhelming in the Toronto Animation community. Although, honestly, as everyone shared what projects they were working on, it felt like the first time you got invited to sit at the adults' table at the family reunion. I'm proud of the work that I do, but when I hear about what gets worked on in broadcast media or independent film, it's easy to see how much else there is for me to learn about my craft. :)

NFB's display station for projecting hand-drawn animation.
The next day was filled with volumes of information. Joe started off by presenting an overview of his history as an animator--from his work on the Heavy Metal movie right through his time at the Florida Disney Animation Studio (working on films like Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mulan, Lilo and Stitch, and Brother Bear) and climaxing with his latest independent animation.

Next, he discussed his book and why it was needed in the animation community. During the course of the workshop, Joe showed examples of hand-drawn special effects compared to computer generated special effects--put into the context of lines of force acting on the physical world and treating said effects as an actual character that moves along those lines of force, the difference between the two became dramatic.

Demonstrating lines of force on water to create waves.
He then dove right into a visual demonstration of hand drawn special effects. Condensed from his three-day workshop, Joe did an incredible job of explaining the theory behind special effects while illustrating said theory under the camera. For me, the highest point of the lecture came when Joe brought up Adobe Flash on his laptop and demonstrated these techniques using the paint brush tool and symbols--proving that in the hands of a master, Flash is an amazing tool! Joe finished off his presentation with a look at the sequel to his Elemental Magic book (examples of which can be viewed on his Elemental Magic blog).

Well, afterwards, a snow/ice storm in Michigan kept me in Toronto for another night. While I'm sorry to say that I didn't partake of the Toronto nightlife, I did spend an evening in my hotel room re-reading portions of Joe's book and further clarifying my notes.

The TAIS Summer screening, with its annual Anijam, is four months away in June. It can't come fast enough for me. I'm already looking forward to being a part of that community once more.