Thursday, April 25, 2013

Animated Thoughts: Serendipity and Research

My research trip to R.I.T. began with the usual bevy of doubts as I pulled out of the driveway on Friday morning. Did I really want to make a fourteen hour, round-trip drive to Rochester just to see a festival screening and do a little research in the library, knowing that I'd probably be spending the entire weekend by myself? Add to that, I'd be skipping my Friday night wargame at the local comic book store--the only time during the week when I get to visit with my friends. But, I was stir crazy from a winter that didn't seem to want to end and the next chance I'd have to get out of town wouldn't be for another month. So, I soldiered on during an overcast Friday morning, turned on the radio to hear about the latest events in Boston, and drove to Rochester

R.I.T.'s School of Film & Animation
After a pleasant enough drive, I arrived at my alma mater around 2 p.m. and picked up my parking pass from campus security. A quick visit to the School of Film and Animation later, I discovered from Mary Barnard that everyone had either gone home for the day or were involved in student project reviews. Not a big deal, I had work to do and was really only interested in saying 'hi' to some of my professors if they had been around. Since these visits to R.I.T. are rather infrequent, I like to be sociable, but I don't want to be a pest either. I don't like the idea of taking their attention away from the current bunch of students. So, after a nice chat with Mary about the High Falls Festival SoFA event, it was off to the library.

One of the side-projects I work on every year is adding to my remembrance of Erik Timmerman.

Erik was a great influence on my life both professionally and personally. During undergrad, I was an average student but came into my own at R.I.T. due in no small part to the investment that my professors made in me. As the story was related to me back in 1994, everyone was on the fence about letting me into the M.F.A. program due to my lackluster grades in undergrad. However, Erik went to bat for me and told everyone that I could handle R.I.T.’s intensive quarter system, I just needed a chance. His trust in me was vindicated three years later when I graduated from the M.F.A. program with honors.

Tragically, Erik’s life was cut short in 2000 due to cancer, but is survived by his son and daughter out in California—-both of whom still work in the film industry (last I knew), much like their father did before he came to work at R.I.T.

For the past several years, on the anniversary of his death, I have been been posting little stories and recollections about Erik on my blog. As a part of this remembrance, I'm exploring the possibility of obtaining permission from his son and daughter to digitize and post online the only experimental film that Erik ever produced. As few copies exist, this is one of the only ways that people will be able to see Erik’s film. But, I didn’t want to ask them to ship me what could be the only copy of his film that they have in their possession. So, I took a printout of R.I.T’s library listing for Erik’s film and asked R.I.T. Archivist Becky Simmons if she could help me find the library's copy.

As it turns out, she had never seen the numbering system for his entry in the database as it hadn’t been used for years. And, even after several phone calls to colleagues, she was unable to locate his film, if a copy even still existed at the Wallace Library. So, she apologized, we exchanged business cards, and she said she’d see what she could do. This was Friday at around 3 p.m. I thanked her for her time, and then walked across the library to do my research.

Around 4 p.m., I received a call from Becky stating that she had found the library’s copy. Fifteen minutes later, I was watching Erik’s film downstairs on one of the three remaining VCRs that the library still had hooked up. I was able to verify that it could be digitized with only minor clean-up needed for the soundtrack. When I returned the tape to Becky, she suggested that, once the necessary permissions were secured from Erik’s children, I could request that R.I.T.’s copy of Erik’s film be transferred to Michigan State University through their inter-library loan program. By doing so, I could make a ten minute drive with my equipment from my home to MSU’s campus instead of a fourteen hour round-trip drive between Rochester and Michigan.

Becky's commitment to helping an alumnus pursue a personal project on a Friday afternoon when most people would have been wrapping up their work for the week was very encouraging. Her professionalism was everything that I have come to expect from R.I.T.’s support staff. Needless to say, the university is fortunate to have someone of her caliber working at the Wallace Library. This was only one of the moments where it dawned on me that I had made the correct decision to drive out to Rochester.

With the exception of a visit to the local Anime store, dinner, and driving the route to the Little Theatre (so I wouldn't get lost on Saturday morning), I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening at the Wallace Library going through three entire bookshelves of animation books. I live a five minute drive from Michigan State University and they have some real gems in their library. However, as MSU doesn't have a dedicated animation production program*, the library's selection of books on animation history can get a little sparse and spread out--especially when the person running the section of the library where most of the animation books I want to review are located doesn't bother to show up for work and unlock the door! And while I'm pleased with what they can get me through inter-library loan, it's tough to justify the effort if I don't know if the books I'm requesting have what I want. does an adequate job in scanning the table of contents and indices in newer books but I've found that many of the books I want to research either aren't covered or some of the ones that do get scanned are illegible. So. Sometimes you have to go directly where you know they'll have the information you want. And there it was in the Wallace Library. On those bookshelves.

Earlier this month, I launched "Animated Women", a blog dealing with women who work in the field of animation, the historical contributions that women have made to the field of animation, and how we can encourage more girls to enter the field of animation ( So, at this stage, my research was geared towards uncovering more information about the rich history of women working in animation. I walked out of the library that night with a list of books that needed to be part of my collection, along with pages of notes. And I hadn't even finished going through all the shelves! As I sat on my bed in the hotel and perused new and used copies of books on, I made the welcome discovery that one of the two books that were at the top of my list was available through a used bookstore for only a dollar! For once, being wired in to the Internet 24/7 worked to my advantage! The book purchased, I loaded up "Wreck-it Ralph" on my iPad and watched the movie until I was tired enough to sleep.

Saturday morning came around sooner than expected and I made my way to Rochester's Little Theatre for the High Falls Film Festival. The 'Women of SoFA' event included a mixture of live action films and animated films. Rather then detail that here, I urge everyone to visit my sister-site: "Animated Women" (no pun intended) to read my review of this event and watch some of my favorite films from the 'Women of SoFA'.

Well, after a thoroughly enjoyable screening, and an even more enjoyable chat with my former professor, Stephanie Maxwell, I decided to visit an old haunt before returning to the library to finish my research. On the way to the Seneca Park Zoo--where I spent almost every weekend during grad school drawing the animals--I passed by a store called "Comic Book Heaven". After my little zoo trip, where I became reacquainted with the tiger who likes to let people with cameras get close to her cage only to turn tail and try to pee on them, I stopped off at this little comic book store. Serendipity struck once again as there in a box at the back of the store was the second book on my list: 'The Complete Kodak Animation Book' and priced at a mere four dollars no less.

As I sat in the library later that evening, my research complete, I read a book on Eiji Tsuburaya--the man who invented most of the special effects for the Godzilla films--and reflected on how silly it was of me to have doubts about this trip. It was a successful one on every level. Sometimes, it's only by going through these experiences that I'm reminded how many of the greatest adventures in life are the ones that you're not expecting--and would be missed if you stayed at home.

* While MSU's College of Communication Arts & Sciences does have specializations in Documentary Studies, Fiction Film Production, Game Design and Development as well as classes in their "Media Sandbox" which cover some computer-based 2d and 3d animation, they don't seem to have a dedicated and comprehensive animation program like one sees at schools like R.I.T. or Sheridan.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Animated Inspiration: International Animation Day 2013

It's a little early for us to start announcing screening events and locations for this year's ASIFA International Animation Day, but they just released the official poster for 2013's event, designed by Oscar Grillo.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Animated Quotes: Abraham Lincoln

"You can have anything you want -- if you want it badly enough. You can be anything you want to be, do anything you set out to accomplish if you hold to that desire with singleness of purpose."
~ Abraham Lincoln