Monday, May 30, 2011

Animated Thoughts: Attitude of Gratitude, update

May was a busy month. In addition to the forensic work for my day job and the two monthly Goldwork animations for Thistle Threads' online university, I found the time to give back and get energized.

Cherry tree next to R.I.T.'s Admissions office
During the third week of May, I returned to my alma mater: the Rochester Institute of Technology. For years, Stephanie Maxwell had been after me to come back home and talk to students about my life as an independent animator. In truth, I had been putting her off for years because I never thought that I had the body of work that would make it a worthwhile experience for them. Well, it took me fourteen years, but I had finally amassed enough animations and experience to provide an interesting look at life outside of "the industry."

My talk was part professional work and part biography as I tried to stay humble about my successes and brutally honest about my failures. The hope was twofold: one, show a wide range of examples so students would see that there is enough work to support yourself after graduation should you not get that dream job at Pixar. And two, be open and honest about my mistakes so that the students could either avoid making them or at least minimize the damage if/when they do make them.

I knew going into this presentation that the folks at R.I.T. would be first-class all the way and would treat me as such, so I tried to ensure that they'd get the biggest bang for their buck. Instead of recycling my forensic animation presentation from the 2009 Kalamazoo Animation Festival International, I wrote a brand new two-hour lecture that covered the entire breadth of my work -- from commercials to museums to court cases. Additionally, R.I.T. gave me the opportunity to teach an hour-and-a-half workshop on Forensic Animation where students could see what it takes to do an accident reconstruction and get a finished piece for their portfolios.

Preparing for my lecture was an exercise that will be the subject of an upcoming post. But by the time the presentation was completed, I had practiced the lecture--actually speaking through it slide-by-slide over ten times (including the night before I was to speak at R.I.T.). As it was a two-hour lecture, that put my preparation time at twenty hours--not including the time it took to compile my research, proof the videos, and write the slides. The prep time was invaluable as it showed me every place where I needed more info or was at risk for meandering off topic. I think that the best compliment I received was from a professor who said that he had three students who he wished had heard my lecture.

However, what I enjoyed most about the trip was the chance to hang out in a pub the night before my lecture and talk one-on-one with Stephanie. Whenever I see Stephanie (or Skip, or Marla) at festivals, we're usually so busy with workshops, screenings, and networking with other animators. There never seems to be time to sit down, and have a relaxing conversation with your mentors unless you make the time. Later that evening, I was left with the thoughts that I graduated 14 years ago and my professors still have so much to teach me--and how fortunate I was that they are still more than willing to share their wealth of experience!

On the way home, since it was right off the highway, I treated myself to an hour's visit at the Niagara Butterfly Conservatory. I've been to Butterfly houses all around the Great Lakes region and I have to say that the Niagara Conservatory is the best (with Wings of Paradise in Kitchener a close second). At any rate, the Butterfly Conservatory was a very nice reward for confronting my reservations about public speaking.

My trip to R.I.T. was Monday through Wednesday. On Saturday, I drove up to Grand Rapids for the annual ASIFA/Central Midwest Animators Retreat.

Paired up with David Baker and Gordon Peterson, we spent four hours doing a couple stop motion animations using crayon on posterboard. David had this really cool organic vision for our animations that had us dividing up the posterboard into sections and each of us drawing abstract imagery that grew from multiple focal points on the page.

It's coming right at us!
After lunch (and a meeting), we retired to the little theatre and shared examples of our works-in-progress...

All-in-all, it was a very busy week but one that was filled with the excitement of connecting with old friends and meeting brand new friends. My lecture at R.I.T. put me in the best possible mood for interacting with the animators at the ASIFA meeting. I'm very happy to see so many professional animators and student recognizing the value of the community we're building through ASIFA/Central.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Animated Inspiration: Bird Box Studio

Here's another funny short from England's 'Bird Box Studio.' This one is a commercial for Three Olive Vodka.

With their simple character design and limited graphic design for the backgrounds, the animators at Bird Box continue to let the motion and actions of their characters speak volumes. These commercials (and by extension, many of their short films) remind me of the old Pink Panther cartoons--animations where the motion of the characters carried the entire film since most of the characters did not speak. Additionally, they used the limited detail, monochromatic backgrounds seen in many cartoons from that time period. Whether intentionally or not, Bird Box Studio is providing us with a refreshing look into the style and substance of cartoons from the sixties.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Animated Inspiration: Redline

'The Illusionist' may have been the best animated film I saw last year, but 'Redline' was both the most creative and the most insane! Screened at the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema, 'Redline' is the story of an intergalactic race to determine who is the best driver in the known universe!

'Redline' was like the Wachowski Brothers' movie 'Speed Racer'... if it was on enough adrenaline to kill an elephant! Seriously, the visuals during the frequent and frenetic action sequences were enough to cause seizures. Add to that the creative use of camera work that I rarely see in anime.

I remember being a child, watching Saturday morning cartoons with wide-eyed enthusiasm after ingesting several bowls of cereal infused with sugar, preservatives, and artificial colors and flavors. Back then I didn't know anything about ADHD, all I knew was that I could barely sit still while imaginary characters danced across the screen in a ballet of color and cartoon violence--all for my viewing pleasure. 'Redline' brought back all those memories and feelings in a tidal wave of adrenaline and endorphins!

You see, 'Redline' is more than just your standard high octane anime--through it's creative use of color, distortion and camera lens effects, it becomes a cinematic treat that pushes the traditional visual conventions and stylings of anime into the realm of arthouse films and Hollywood blockbusters. The most exciting thing is that Anchor Bay Entertainment has just announced that they've acquired the North American rights from auteur animation studio Madhouse in Japan! So we'll be seeing 'Redline' available on DVD this Fall.

On Wednesday nights, several friends and I gather together to watch anime. 'Redline' will be added to the lineup this Fall and my friends will be introduced to the seizure-inducing experience that is Madhouse!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Animated Inspiration: The Illusionist

To celebrate today's release of Sylvan Chomet's brilliant film "The Illusionist" on DVD and BluRay, here's the trailer to whet your appetite for traditional 2d hand drawn animation.

Since I'm not a fan of BluRay (due to it's increased cost and hardware requirements), I'm a little crestfallen that this film appears to only be available as an expensive 'combo pack' which contains both the BluRay and standard DVD copies of the film. However, this was the best animated feature film that I saw in 2010 and I know that it'll be worth the purchase (once I scrape the cash together and swallow my pride over buying a BluRay disk).

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Animated Inspiration: Simon's Cat

Well, Simon Tofeld has done it again. I found this a month late (I think he released it for Easter), but here is the latest Simon's Cat. As always, it's chock full of character and mirth and worth two minutes of your valuable time!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Animated Quotes: Joe Murray

"Success" arrives when you find you no longer need it.

Joe Murray (Creator of Camp Lazlo and Rocko's Modern Life)