Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Animated Thoughts: Ottawa and Winterthur

Ottawa International Animation Festival 2011

Day One: Tuesday
After a longer than usual holdover at the border, I drove to Toronto for the day. Since I was going to be in Canada for the rest of the week, figured that I may as well relax and enjoy some inspiration. So I spent the night watching Cirque du Soleil's new show 'Totem'. It didn't take long to be blown away by the show. By the third act, I was totally hooked and raced out to buy the soundtrack during the intermission. I spent about fourteen hours out of the twenty hours in the car listening to the show's soundtrack. Clearly, Totem was a classic example where all the elements of a show fit together perfectly: music, lighting, acrobatic and comedic performances, costumes, this show worked on every level. Thus far, my favorite Cirque show has been OVO, but Totem definitely tied OVO for first place. I was so blown away with the show that I drove back to the hotel and forgot to eat dinner that night.

Day Two: Wednesday
Spent the morning at the Toronto Zoo photographing the animals before driving to Ottawa. I made a mental note to come back to the Zoo next year as they're in the middle of building a new section dedicated to the animals of Japan and Southeast Asia. I have to say that one of the reasons I appreciate the Toronto Zoo is that the animals are in larger than normal enclosures with lots of features--so they've got room to run around and things to climb on or dig under. It's always fascinating to watch a Red Panda thirty feet above ground as he climbs a pine tree or a jaguar stalking little kids on the other side of the fence... Seriously though, it's this time spent watching the animals move around that is particularly valuable to animators. An animal sitting in a small cage or enclosure provides an opportunity for the fine artist to study proportions and features, but it will never convey the sense of balance, weight, and attitude that an animal walking, running, or climbing will.

After arriving in Ottawa and checking into the hotel, I met up with David and Angie for dinner then spent the rest of the evening screening and Opening Night party with them. As much as I enjoy my professional relationships, there's just a certain something about being friends with students. With their unjaded optimism and enthusiasm it's hard not to come away feeling uplifted. The screenings started really strong: Chan Moon Kien's "Advertisers Without Borders 'Superhero'", Smith & Foulkes' "Intel 'The Chase'", Alexandria Hetmerova's "Swimming Pool", Nils Hedinger's"Animal Kingdom", and Vitaliy Strokous' "A.Breeze.From.Mt.Parnassus" were by far my favorite films that night. During the Opening Night party, I bumped into Barry Sanders and got invited to join the rest of the Toronto and Nelvanna crew for an after picnic burger on Saturday. I walked back to my hotel hoping that the rest of the competition screenings are as strong as the first night.

Day Three: Thursday
Spent almost the entire day watching the Short Competitions are the Empire Theatre--and tried my best to be friendly and talk to people. It took some effort to be sure, but had to keep it up and hold onto the momentum. Not sure how "people persons" do this all the time. Every so often, I had to fight the urge to go back to my hotel and read a book or take a nap--get some 'me' time in. I kept reminding myself that the purpose of coming out to festivals isn't just to watch films. Most of the people I had been meeting were students. I wonder how many there were at OIAF as compared to professionals? After watching three competition screenings in a row, the films started to become a little hit-or-miss for me, but the hits had outnumbered the misses thus far. Jamie Metzger's "Paso Doble", Piotr Sapegin's "The Last Norwegian Troll", Tsuneo Goda's "Nissan 'Plug, the New World'" and Ben Cady's "The Goat and the Well" had been my favorites from the day's screenings so far. I also met some local Canadian animators before the Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis Masterclass (more about that later). I really loved attending Amanda and Wendy's Masterclass the day after watching their film 'Wild Life'. Afterwards, I made a mental note to review the NFB website for more info on Wendy and Amanda's films.

The day ended much better than I expected. It was nice to meet two new students, Ann and Georgia, and then see them again after the screening--then chat with Gary Schwartz and visit with Madi Pilar. But the most pleasant surprise was walking out of my hotel elevator that night and seeing fellow R.I.T. Alum Glenn Ehlers standing right there! About 45 minutes of shop-talk later, I walked back to my room feeling like God is providing me with an experience that makes up for the abysmal one I had at OIAF 2010.

Day Four: Friday
You know you're in for a treat when the second Masterclass of the festival is all about Koji Yamamura. What I wouldn't give to go back to the days of being a student and interning for some of these seasoned animators.

Origami Robot
Well, since the Museum of Civilization had that Japanese cultural exhibit going on (Japan - Tradition - Innovation), and I had just spent a wonderful hour listening to Koji Yamamura, I decided to skip the Animator's Picnic and Canadian Showcase screening, walk over the bridge to Quebec and see the show. In a word, it was fascinating. The exhibit covered elements of Japanese culture from origami to robots, samurai armor to printed fabric, topped off with with fine crafts, anime, and manga. While I lingered in the anime/manga section of the display longer than the other sections, my favorite part of the exhibit by far was a three panel video display on the hallway as you walked into the exhibit where a Japanese animator had a roughly six minute video looping over and over . It's hard to describe. We weren't allowed to take pictures of it, otherwise I would've used the video feature of my iPhone to capture it in it's entirety. Basically, the camera tracked forward through different scenes, finally ending where it started, and it looped ad infinitum. I remember a Tokyo-esque cityscape with skyscrapers that had anime/chibi girls heads on top of them--that talked to each other in cutesy, high-pitched voices (one of those times where I really wished I spoke Japanese). And no, it wasn't really cute, it was actually kind of disturbing. Then there was a pastoral scene with butterflies, a graveyard in a forest with the same chibi heads impaled on pikes using tubes and medical machinery to keep them animated... I think I sat there on the bench for the better part of an hour watching that display... horrified and fascinated at the same time. I walked away with a lingering desire to watch some Hamtaro. Then, it was off to my hotel for a quick rinse in the shower, and an even quicker drive out of Ottawa to the burger party.

Entry from the annual Pumpkin carving contest
Barry's 'Burger after-picnic' party was pretty fun. I didn't get to mingle as much as I had wanted to, but had a really nice conversation with fellow TAIS veteran Bryce Hallett and met Ben (from the TAAFI festival) and Dominic (a journalist on assignment to the festival). Funny the variety of people you meet, all brought together by an appreciation for animation.

After the evening screening, the 'Salon des Refus├ęs' after-party was another experience that would have been filled with missed opportunities if I had skipped it and gone back to my hotel like I normally do. I had such a good time chatting with people at the Arts Court after party! Spent more time talking with Glenn. Met Pilar Newton-Katz from PilarToons, met fellow ASIFA member Dayna Gonzalez and reconnected with fellow TAIS members Nick Fox-Geig and his girlfriend Megan. I even bumped in to David, Angie, and Brianne (and a couple of the Pratt girls) who were on the way in to watch the films that didn't make it into the competition. It seemed like every time I turned around, there was someone I knew. As much as I hate to admit it, because we sure had some incredibly fun times together, I think that coming to Ottawa with my brother all these years has held me back from being social and really engaging with the rest of the community. Now if I could only learn a good trick to memorize people's names when I meet them at parties...

Day Five: Saturday
The Saturday workshops ran the gamut from 'surviving as a short filmmaker' to 'how to impress a recruiter' to 'directing animation'. There was tons of wisdom interwoven within these lectures just waiting to be unearthed and applied. I couldn't take notes fast enough.

Funny story: I'm waiting in line for Jessica Borutski's lecture on what she did for the Looney Tunes relaunch when Lynn Scatcherd, a Canadian animator from Dainty Productions that I met during the Tilby/Forbis Masterclass, walks over and stands in line next to me. Turns out that she knows Jessica pretty well and, when she saw me standing there with my "Foolish Kingdom" bunny t-shirt, she walked over to Jessica and told her that 'she's got a fan in the audience.' Well, after the lecture, I finally got to meet Jessica face-to-face and thank her for allowing me to interview her for this past year's 'Women in Animation' blog posts. Not missing a beat, she teased me about the bunny shirt. It was refreshing to discover that Jessica is as nice and genuine in person as she was via e-mail. I truly can't say enough good things about her!

The adult animation creator's talk was okay. A little too off color for my tastes, but it did give a pretty clear picture into creating films for the Adult Swim crowd. Really not my scene, but definitely good to know what the trends are in the various age groups. Afterwards, it was off to another Short Competition.

Saturday night's after-party wasn't bad. A little too loud for my tastes though. Sometimes it's just too hard to keep track of what people are saying with all the background noise going on. Personally, as much as I enjoyed talking to Bryce and Jeff, I preferred the smaller group dynamic at Barry's party far more. It's just too difficult to keep a conversation going with music blaring and everyone around you shouting so their companions can hear them. When you want to have a conversation, I can't see the appeal of the club scene.

Day Six: Sunday
I'm definitely feeling it. That sense of "it's time to go home." After forcing myself to be social, meet people where I don't know anyone around me, and hold conversations for longer than two minutes, I'm feeling really spent. After watching the making of Pixar's La Luna and Disney's Ballad of Nesse, I ran back to the Empire Rideau theatre so I could watch the Canadian retrospective before leaving town. That last screening was oddly fitting as I drove home (listening to the soundtrack to "Totem" almost the entire way). Overall, going to OIAF this year was the right decision to make. It feels like I've been snapped out of a really bad funk. I hope that I can hold onto the momentum and apply the lessons learned to my career and life. No matter how much a blessing it has been to work on the Goldwork project these past three years, being a virtual shut-in for 60-80 hours per week really takes its toll on your social skills.


September was a very busy month. I had only been back from Ottawa for a couple days when I flew down to Philly, met up with my sister, and we drove out to Winterthur for a benefactor's dinner. Since Tricia and I had worked on a video display for the Plimoth Plantation jacket exhibit, the museum was kind enough to invite us to a formal dinner with the benefactors and other historians and artisans who worked on the display.

Well, they split Tricia and I up between two dinner tables so I didn't have the advantage of a 'wingman', but the lessons learned and experience gained at Ottawa really helped out as I did my best not to embarrass myself or Tricia while surrounded by a crowd that obviously knew which of the three forks to use with which meal far better than I did.

Afterwards, we went back to the hotel and started working on ideas for Tricia's next project: "The Cabinet of Curiosities". This eighteen-month course will allow users to create a 17th Century casket from scratch--wood jewelry boxes, custom made locks and hinges, to embroidered overlays. As enjoyable as the day was, walking through the display and seeing how my work integrated into the larger exhibit, I have to give the high point to the meetings we held with the woodworkers and metalworkers who will be making the physical caskets for the "Cabinet of Curiosities" class. You see documentaries on artisans like these, but it adds a whole new dimension when you stand there in their workshops, grinding sawdust under your feet, smelling the varnish from other projects, and then witness the painstaking deconstruction of a 17th Century exemplar casket--just so that he can figure out what brass hinges and locks will need to be hand crafted. No matter how well documentaries disseminate information about our history, it is in little shops like this that history comes alive.

September was a very enriching month.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Animated Thoughts: International Animation Day

2011 International Animation Day poster
On October 28th, we celebrate the 10th annual International Animation Day.

From the ASIFA website:

"Since 2002, Asifa, celebrates and coordinates the « International animation day » (IAD), commemorating the first public performance of Emile Reynaud’s Theatre Optique in Paris in 1892. Such a celebration is an outstanding opportunity to put the animated film in the limelight and make this art more accessible to the public."

International Animation Day is another way that ASIFA chapters work together to share and foster an appreciation for the art of animated film. In many of my previous posts, I raise the issue of different countries developing their own unique visual style based upon their unique cultural voice or vision. IAD screenings are a perfect opportunity for viewers to witness this first hand. Most of the screenings show films from other ASIFA chapters from around the world and most of the films are 'shorts' (read that: usually under 20 minutes in duration). If you're looking to learn more about the world animation scene, then the International Animation Day screenings are for you!

Screenings local to Michigan and sponsored by ASIFA/Central are as follows:

Date: October 27 (Thursday)
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Davidson Auditorium
Davidson Visual & Performing Arts Center

Kellogg Community College
450 North Ave.
Battle Creek, MI, 49017

Showing: "Princes and Princesses" and an overview discussion of Tim Burton's films starting at 7pm in the Davidson Auditorium. There will be pizza and cheese.  Mmmmmmmm.

Map: Campus/Parking map available here.

* * * *

Date: November 1 (Tuesday)
Time: 1:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Room 112
Lake Superior Hall

Grand Valley State University
Allendale Campus
1 Campus Drive
Allendale, MI 49401

Showing: Australian Animations

Map: Campus/Parking map available here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Animated Inspiration: Simon's Cat 'Double Trouble'

Well, it seems like I'm on top of it today. Two hours ago, Simon Tofield uploaded his latest film. Since I saw my Grandma's new kitten playing with one of her older cats (Sammy the Scottish fold) this past weekend, Simon's film is pretty timely.

Something worth studying in this film is the difference in how the characters are animated--differences between the larger, older cat and the smaller, younger cat. Slight variations in weight and timing can state the difference between two similar character designs far more than visual differences in their appearance.

This is one of the mistakes that I made in my R.I.T. Thesis film "Zero". In my film, all the characters looked identical, however, all the protagonists and antagonists moved with the same weight and timing. While it worked okay for background characters, there wasn't enough difference in the motion of the lead characters. In the end, while my story was good, my inexperience showed through in the character animation and muddled the final result.

Just like what Shamus Culhane did while animating the seven dwarves in Snow White, Mr. Tofield has provided us with a great example of how you can make characters (who have similar design features) stand out from each other by using motion to illustrate the differences in their personalities rather than rely upon physical characteristics alone.