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.