Monday, February 29, 2016

Animated Events: DFT Animation Club: Welcome to the Space Show

From the DIA/DFT Website:

DFT Animation Club: Welcome to the Space Show
Saturday, March 26, 2016
3:00 p.m.
(Japan/2010—directed by Koji Masunari)

With an intergalactic cast of thousands, Koji Masunari’s colorfully explosive debut feature sets a new high for visual spectacle, in what has to be one of the most gleefully surreal depictions of alien life forms in cinema. It seems like just another lazy summer for Amane and her cousin Natsuki, until they ind an injured dog in the woods—only to discover that he is not a dog at all, but an alien botanist sent to Earth to track down a rare plant called Zughaan (better known to Earthlings as wasabi root).
(136 min.)

See more and buy tickets online at the DFT website.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Animated Events: 2016 Academy Awards Nominees, Update
Geek Flag achieved!

On Friday afternoon, I made the trek down to the Alamo Drafthouse Theater in Kalamazoo and watched the stop-motion film 'Anomalisa'. I have now seen all the Academy Award nominated Animated Features and Animated Short-Films and can give my predictions.

This year, I'm predicting that Pixar's "Inside Out" will win in the Animated Feature category and either "Bear Story" or "Sanjay's Super Team" will win the Animated Short Film category.

However, having now seen all the nominees, the films that I think are most deserving to win the Oscar are Aardman Animations' "Shaun the Sheep" or Studio Ghibli's  "When Marnie Was There" in the Animated Feature category. And either Don Hertzfeld's "World of Tomorrow" or Konstantin Bronzit's "We Can't Live Without Cosmos" in the Animated Short Film category. Out of all the nominees, these four are the most deserving of your time. They had it all: a solid story, engaging characters, superb animation and visual artistry--and two of them even had no dialog causing the visuals and animation to carry the entire film. Whether or not any of these four films win, I hope that you'll take the time to track them down and watch them. They are well worth the experience.

The 88th Academy Awards ceremony will be broadcast live tomorrow night: Sunday, February 28th.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Animated Thoughts: The Power of Repetition

Cherry blossoms at R.I.T.
Back in 1996 when I was working on my Master of Fine Arts thesis at the Rochester Institute of Technology, I found myself facing some major artistic roadblocks with regards to drawing my characters--mainly because I was not the most experienced artist in the program. Having an undergrad degree in English Writing with a minor in Computer Science, as you'd imagine, my strengths were in story and the background technology for computer animation, not in traditional hand-drawn animation. However, even though I could barely draw stick figures when I entered grad school two years prior, I had made some great artistic gains in the figure drawing and 2d hand drawn animation classes that I had taken in those first two years at R.I.T. and had committed to producing a film that mimicked the C.A.P.S. system that Disney was currently using: at its core, 2d hand drawn animation scanned into the computer then colored and composited digitally. Well, my thesis advisor Jack Slutzky had some simple advice to solve my problem: draw fifty copies of each of my characters in different poses EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. And he was right. At first I struggled mightily and found myself staying up until all hours of the night just to get those one-hundred drawings completed. I'd sit there at my desk and leave late night television playing in the background--unexpectedly, those infomercials spawned my affection for '40's and '50's rock-and-roll that persists to this day. It was incredibly slow going at first, but the more I threw myself into the task, the more I progressed. And, more importantly, the faster I was able to draw those two characters. By the time my storyboards and animatic were approved by my thesis committee, I was ready to sit down and animate my film, shot-by-shot. I graduated on time with a completed thesis film.

Shot from "Zero", my MFA thesis film
In 2011, I was invited to return to R.I.T. by my former professor Stephanie Maxwell to give a presentation on Forensic Animation in both the legal and historical fields of study. The thought of public speaking filled me with dread as most of my time since graduation had been spent behind a computer (except for a short diversion where I took a Dale Carnegie class). And I really didn't want to show up there with a bunch of slides and 'wing it'--those presentations usually sound half-assed to me. So, I wrote my presentation, assembled my slides in PowerPoint, then grabbed a timer to see how long it took me to talk through my entire presentation. That first run was an unmitigated disaster. But, Jack's advice held true, so I mercilessly cut slides from my presentation and talked through it a second time. By the time the presentation was completed and ready for public consumption, I had stood there in front of my laptop and spoke through the entire lecture slide-by-slide over ten times (including one time at my hotel the night before I was to speak at R.I.T.). Since 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 time spent in preparation was invaluable as it showed me every place where I needed more information or was at risk for meandering off topic. And the practice helped me keep my voice at an appropriate volume level throughout the presentation. Afterwards, I received two compliments that have stuck with me all this time: one professor said that he had three students who he wished had heard my lecture, and Stephanie said that she completely forgot to attend a scheduled meeting because of how engrossing she found my presentation.

Samantha Inoue-Harte and I at AlmaCon 2016
This past month at AlmaCon, animator and producer Samantha Inoue-Harte presented a lecture titled "Animation 101". Am not sure what the other attendees got from her talk, but the one story she told that resonated with me personally was about the power of repetition. Sami spoke about how, at the time, she was working for Powerhouse Animation Studios in Texas on the short film 'the Origin of Stitch' (from Disney's 'Lilo and Stitch'). When they received the assignment from Disney to animate their short film, she said that the animators got together and laid out copies of the characters that they would be animating. Then, they took tracing paper and traced the characters over and over until their muscle memory had been trained to the point where they could reproduce the characters rapidly and fluidly in different poses and without the initial references.

Isn't it funny how many of those basic lessons become some of the most important tools in our animators toolkit and keep showing up when we need them the most?


Monday, February 22, 2016

Animated Events: "Kizumonogatari Part 1: Tekketsu" in Kalamazoo

Went looking for Isao Takahata's "Only Yesterday" at the Alamo Drafthouse theater in Kalamazoo. Found this instead for Friday at 7 p.m.: KIZUMONOGATARI PART 1: TEKKETSU. Have no idea what it is, but, hey, it's playing in Michigan, so...

From the Alamo Drafthouse website:

March 25th - Just another day during spring break.

Koyomi Araragi, a second year high school student at Naoetsu High School, befriends Tsubasa Hanekawa, the top honors student at his school. Tsubasa mentions a rumor about a “blonde vampire” that has been sighted around their town recently. Koyomi, who is usually anti-social, takes a liking to Tsubasa’s down-to-earth personality. That evening, Koyomi encounters this rumored vampire: she is Kiss-shot Acerola-orion Heart-under-blade, also known as the “King of Apparitions.” The blonde, golden-eyed vampire cries out for Koyomi to save her as she lies in a pool of her own blood, all four of her limbs cut off. Kiss-shot asks Koyomi to give her his blood in order to save her life, and when he does, the very next moment he awakes, Koyomi finds himself re-born as her vampire kin.

Presented in Japanese with English subtitles

Remember folks, if we don't support animation in our local theaters, they won't show more! The Alamo Drafthouse in Kalamazoo has been doing a Studio Ghibli marathon over the past month. Ticket sales show theaters that there's a demand for quality animated films in Michigan.

Monday, February 8, 2016

43rd Annie Awards Wrap-up

Well, the 43rd Annie Awards ceremony was tonight. Some random thoughts I had during the ceremony:

  • Very sad to see "Kahlil Gibran's the Prophet" get passed over, but at least it got some nominations. 

  • Don Hertzfeldt got some well deserved recognition... and he wasn't there to accept the award.

  • Isao Takahata wins the Winsor McCay award. Doesn't make it to the ceremony but sends a really classy acceptance speech that devotes serious time acknowledging how animation is a collaborative effort and thanking those who work with him on his films.

  • Phil Roman also wins the Winsor McCay award. I really hope ASIFA Hollywood recorded his speech for the archives. A lot of great history there.

  • Was nice to see the NFB shorts "If I was God..." by Cordell Barker and Claude Cloutier's "Carface" get nominated.

  • Huh. So that's what the voice of Spongebob looks like...

  • Felt that "Shaun the Sheep" and "Boy & the World" should have done far, far better than they did.

  • "Bob's Burgers" got some serious love tonight.

  • Was nice to see some anime features represented, but there needed to be more...

  • ASIFA Hollywood added a 'Best Animated Feature ~Independent~' category. Glad to see some of these features get some real recognition--it is long overdue. Hope this doesn't prevent future "independent" features from going toe-to-toe for the 'Best Animated Feature' category. Have seen so many animated features in the past few years that are just as good, if not better, than those that are being produced by the big studios.

  • I wonder why people feel the need to add the word 'fuck' into their speeches?
ASIFA Hollywood President Jerry Beck's website "Animation Scoop" has a very nice summary of the awards ceremony along with the complete list of winners. You can view it here.

Congratulations to all the award nominees and winners.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Animated Events: 'Only Yesterday' at the Alamo Drafthouse in Kalamazoo

Well, looks like Kalamazoo is the closest that 'Only Yesterday' will make it to Lansing. Isao Takahata's film for Studio Ghibli will be playing at the Alamo Drafthouse in Kalamazoo, Michigan on Friday, February 26th.

More details can on the film can be found on their website:

Tickets aren't live yet, but when they are, they can be purchased online at:

From the 'Only Yesterday' website:

"It’s 1982, and Taeko (Daisy Ridley) is 27 years old, unmarried, and has lived her whole life in Tokyo. She decides to visit her family in the countryside, and as the train travels through the night, memories flood back of her younger years: the first immature stirrings of romance, the onset of puberty, and the frustrations of math and boys. At the station she is met by young farmer Toshio (Dev Patel), and the encounters with him begin to reconnect her to forgotten longings. In lyrical switches between the present and the past, Taeko contemplates the arc of her life, and wonders if she has been true to the dreams of her childhood self.

Written and directed by Studio Ghibli co-founder and Academy Award® nominee Isao Takahata (The Tale of The Princess Kaguya), Only Yesterday is a masterpiece of time and tone, rich with humor and stirring emotion, from one of the world’s most revered animation studios. Critically acclaimed but never before released in North America, the film is receiving a national theatrical release in a new, Studio Ghibli-produced, English-language version in celebration of its 25th anniversary."

Remember folks, if we want to see more non-mainstream animated films in our geographical region, we need to get out there are show the theaters that there's a demand for them! :)

UPDATE: The screening dates have been changed. 'Only Yesterday' will be showing in Michigan on:

March 4 - Kalamazoo, MI - the Alamo Drafthouse Kalamazoo, and
March 11 - Grand Rapids, MI - Celebration Cinemas Woodland

Monday, February 1, 2016

Animated Events: DFT Animation Club: Song of the Sea

From the Detroit Institute of Arts/Detroit Film Theater website:

DFT Animation Club: Song of the Sea
Saturday, April 09, 2016
4:00 PM

(Ireland/2014—directed by Tomm Moore)
From the creators of the Academy Award®-nominated The Secret of Kells comes a breathtakingly gorgeous, hand-drawn master-piece. Based on the Irish legend of the Selkies, Song of the Sea tells the story of the last seal-child, Saoirse, and her brother Ben, who go on an epic journey to discover the secrets of their past. Pursued by the owl-witch Macha and a host of mythical creatures, Saoirse and Ben race against time to keep the spirit world from disappearing forever. (93 min.)

See more and buy tickets online at the DFT website.