Given how toxic the culture had become after the 2016 elections, I did my best to disengage from the venomous and vitriolic rhetoric that had infested my country (and others). I tend to hold both my political and religious beliefs and positions very close to my vest. They are no one's business but mine and I don't really care about everyone else's. Those people whose opinions I value already know that they can discuss such matters with me. And those whose opinions I don't care about get tuned out (though I will, on occasion, engage with them so long as they are polite).
But 2016 had reached new levels of stupidity. So much so that I had to walk away and let the culture run headlong towards the edge of the cliff. Reason had apparently fled and the nation was gripped with what I could only describe as insanity in its purest form.
Artists usually seem to thrive in such environments as they ply their trade, making art that mocks (or demonizes) one side or another. Personally, I find it all exhausting. So for 2017, I took some admittedly extreme measures to protect my own sanity and recharge my creative energies from what was an all-time low. I postponed my yearly women animator interviews. I left one animation group that had lost their focus on the art of animation and embraced the political climate becoming toxic in the process. I avoided most animation festivals so I wouldn't have to endure political venom during what would normally be an enjoyable escape into a wonderful world of imagery and storytelling. And I swore off most movies, not wanting to have someone's political views rammed down my throat. Instead, I looked for opportunities that would feed my artistic nature and get me back behind the camera, animating.
Fortunately, such opportunities are there if you look for them.
I was offered a tremendous blessing in January which enabled me to get out of town entirely, and get out of my comfort zone, when Steve Leeper invited me to spend two weeks teaching a course on the history of women animators at Huntington University.
My first experience teaching at a collegiate level,
hopefully not my last.
Also in January, animator, instructor, and historian Ray Pointer released his long awaited book: The Art and Inventions of Max Fleischer. Co-hosted by Kendall College of Art and Design and ASIFA Central, Ray held his launch party at Kendall in Grand Rapids.
Throughout the year, ASIFA Central was a godsend as there was always some animation event to attend, whether it be Ray's book signing, International Animation Day, the Vladimir Lesciov lecture and screening, or our annual Animators Retreat.
Latvian animator, Vladimir Lesciov
In March, it was back to Grand Rapids as every late-Winter/early-Spring, Meijer Gardens has their yearly 'Butterflies are Blooming' event where you can walk around and spend time with the butterflies.
At the end of January, Meijer Gardens has their annual Orchid show -- which I unfortunately didn't learn about until later on in the year. But it did explain why there always seems to be some orchids in the butterfly exhibit. It's now on my event calendar for 2018.
I made sure to spend time with 'my people' during March and again in August for Shuto Con and Gen Con respectively.
Where's a pokéball when you need one!
As a tribute to the anniversary of Gen Con and it's founder Gary Gygax, there was a beautiful display that discussed Gary's impact on gaming as well as history of gaming through the years.
A mock-up of the first Gen Con location in Wisconsin
In June, some friends of mine (who are historical reenactors) and I travelled to Ontario and visited the Aquina Tank Weekend. Being somewhat of a history buff and someone who was raised on a steady diet of giant robot animation (yes, the Combaticons are my favorite Transformers), the opportunity to gather photo and video references of tanks and artillery from World War I to present day was too good to miss, though I came out of it with a very bad sunburn.
Centurion MK 5 Main Battle Tank
September found myself making my yearly pilgrimage to the Ottawa International Animation Festival by way of Toronto.
Come for the films, stay for the cupcakes
at the Cartoon Network picnic.
It was in Toronto that I felt the gears start to turn again and at long last, I started drawing at the Royal Ontario Museum.
But it wasn't until I went back to RIT for our 2017 homecoming (my 20-year anniversary) that I really felt ready to start animating again. A quick trip to the local camera shop for a tripod and an even quicker trip to Amazon.com for a smartphone tripod mount and I was ready to do some simple time-lapse/stop-motion animation during one of the homecoming art events.
On the way back home, I even found time to visit the Niagara butterfly conservatory and make some new winged friends (and get lots of photo references).
All through the year, I made several trips to the Detroit Institute of Art, but many more from October to December in order to see the Monet exhibit which highlighted works of art by Monet and Renoir during their time in Argenteuil.
The Artist's Garden in Argenteuil - Claude Monet
But, as the year started to wind down, opportunities started to wane. So I made my own. I don't play the video game Overwatch. But I love the cinematics and the backstory of the characters and the game universe. So when I found out that Blizzard Entertainment had hired local artists to paint a mural in Ann Arbor to promote their game, I took a day trip down there on one of the last days of good weather we had here in Michigan.
And it wouldn't be a year without adding some music to my event calendar. Also in November, I took my little brother to the Magic Bag in Detroit in order to see the Cybertronic Spree perform live.
A Quintesson, Unicron, Rumble, Arcee, and Hot Rod (l to r)
Taking time this year to recharge enabled me to enjoy some triumphs, like finally getting my DSLR camera to work with Dragonframe so I can do more under-the-camera animation for myself as well as animation workshops for ASIFA. But it also gave me the strength to deal with the occasional heavy hit, like discovering that I was missing a whole half of my interview with Grandma Shults due to a technical glitch -- which means that I didn't have the dialogue/narration from one of her experiences as a child that I wanted to make into an animation. With her passing, that story is gone forever.
As I close the book on 2017 and look forward to 2018, nothing has really changed in the culture. Everyone is still acting like they're mentally unhinged. But I feel like I have the emotional reserves to let all the insanity slide off my mental armor so I can get back to what's really important to me: animating.
Now that my DSLR camera is working with Dragonframe and I have the latest version of OpenToonz working on my computer, it's time to get back to work. My goal for 2018: make one animated film every month. Nothing festival-worthy, mind you, just something under the camera that allows me to experiment, learn, improve and enjoy my craft.
Don't know about the rest of the world, but 2018 is shaping up to be a good year for me.
Napping Princess, Japan/2016—directed by Kenji Kamiyama
If you're looking for something animated to do during the upcoming holiday weekend, the DIA's Detroit Film Theater has you covered!
Two things worth noting:
1. While all three films start at 2 p.m. on their respective days, an all-ages tea party will be held before the show begins. The tea party starts at 1 p.m.
with complimentary beverage and snacks available for purchase.
2. All three screenings are FREE to the public!
During the New Year's Eve weekend, the DFT's 'Tea Time Theater' presents the following films:
"GKIDS proudly presents the latest film from visionary director Kenji Kamiyama (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex), coming to select US cinemas this September. NAPPING PRINCESS is a thrilling sci-fi fantasy set it the near future, which follows the journey of a young girl, Kokone, and her friend Morio, as they set out to find Kokone’s missing father who has been accused of a crime. Kokone soon realizes she must tap into a world only accessible through her dreams in order to solve the mystery."
"Paris, 1941. A family of scientists is on the brink of a powerful discovery when a mysterious force suddenly abducts them, leaving their young daughter April behind. Years later, April carries on her family’s research in secret with her cat, Darwin, but soon finds herself at the center of a shadowy conspiracy and on the run from government agents, bicycle-powered airships and cyborg rat spies! A rollicking adventure set in an imaginative alternate universe, April and the Extraordinary World is "beautiful, inventive and uncannily satisfying!” (Glenn Kenny, The New York Times) (Original Title - April and the Extraordinary World) - 2016 Universal City Studios. All Rights Reserved."
"Shizuku Tsukishima is a bit of a book-worm, spending her last summer vacation in junior high school reading and translating popular foreign music into Japanese. With aspirations to one day become a writer, Shizuku can't help but notice that the name Seiji Amasawa appears on every one of the books she borrows from the library.
Through a series of curious and magical incidents, she comes to meet Seiji and discovers he has dreams of becoming a famous violin maker in Italy. While their life-long goals pull them in two different directions, Shizuku and Seiji are determined to remain true to their strong feelings for one another."
So if you're looking for a chance to escape the weather over the holiday weekend, why not spend it watching some of the best animated films the world has to offer?
The Detroit Institute of Arts Detroit Film Theater is located at 5200 Woodward Avenue in Detroit, Michigan.
So for you folks who are into the French Impressionists like I am, the Detroit Institute of Arts currently has an exhibit highlighting a series of Claude Monet's paintings which were created during a short period of time (around the early- to mid-1870's) at his home in Argenteuil and accented by paintings by Pierre-August Renoir completed around the same time-frame.
Titled Monet Framing Life, this exhibit opened on the weekend of October 22nd, 2017. Tickets for adult admission cost $16, but is free for we members of the DIA (enter shameless plug for DIA membership here).
'Framing Life' has as it's centerpiece the DIA's own Monet painting "Gladioli"--which served as the figurative focal point for the paintings in the exhibit. All the paintings are centered around the time period that Gladioli was painted and highlight the scenes that Monet would have seen in Argenteuil during the few short years surrounding the creation of Gladioli.
The following are just some samples of the paintings included in the exhibit. And while I could show them all (non-flash photography "is" allowed in the exhibit), I really don't want to detract from the experience of seeing these paintings in person--partially because if the DIA makes money on shows like this, it will encourage them to bring in more, and partially because you just can't truly appreciate these paintings through a photograph on a website. You really need to see them in person. They're not behind glass (though the security guards are very vigilant at preventing people from getting close enough to set off the alarms or damage the paintings with an errant sneeze), the lighting is very suitable for viewing the paintings, and there's just something special about being able to study a masterwork from different viewing angles. All three times I've gone through the exhibit, I've picked up something different each time ranging from the angle of the brushstrokes to the choice of colors used to show the range of light and shadow to the different expressions on his subjects' faces.
Claude Monet, ~1872
Snow in Argenteuil
Claude Monet, 1875
The Artist's Garden in Argenteuil
Claude Monet, 1873
Claude Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1873
I was very fortunate to attend a lecture during the exhibit's opening weekend presented by Jill Shaw, Associate Curator of European art (1850-1950) and the curator of this exhibit. Jill not only covered historical information about the paintings and Claude Monet during this period of his life, but she also delved into the forensic work and research into the history of the only Monet painting that the DIA owns (Gladioli)--research which prompted the DIA to change the name of "Gladioli" back to "Rounded Flower Bed (Corbeille de fleurs)".
Rounded Flower Bed (Corbeille de fleurs), formerly "Gladioli"
Claude Monet, 1876
The last thing I'll share is the exhibit catalog. Written by Jill Shaw, the information contained therein covers much of what she discussed in her presentation during the members preview weekend lecture I attended.
It's only $20 and not only does it contain beautiful photos of the paintings but it also puts the paintings in their historical and geographical context before launching into a section discussing the history of 'Corbeille de fleurs'. It was this section that I found most interesting, especially in the greater context of the exhibit. The final painting in the exhibit is the newly (re)christened 'Rounded Flower Bed'. However, as opposed to being wall mounted like the other paintings, Rounded Flower Bed is mounted vertically in a glass box that allows one to see both the front and the back of the painting--including stamps and handwriting which were used to backtrack the history of the painting.
Upon my third visit to the exhibit, I did something a little different. Since 'Monet - Framing Life' is small, lightweight, and only sixty-four pages long, I took it with me into the exhibit and walked from painting to painting while reading the first half of the book. Doing so added an additional dimension to my enjoyment of the exhibit as I wasn't relying solely on the placards or on my memory of Jill's lecture to provide context for the paintings.
Given that I'm more of an auditory learner, if one was offered, I would have loved to take an audiobook through the exhibit so I wouldn't have to split my focus between the painting and the text. The Art Gallery of Ontario currently has a display on the horror films of Guillermo del Toro and he produced a series of short podcasts that you can download and listen on your smartphone while going through the exhibit. It's these value-add propositions that I think really breathes new life into museums as well as expands their educational offerings. They have been using audio guides for decades after all. That and the DIA is already experimenting with augmented reality on smartphones. Ah, Google Glass, you missed your calling. 'Augmented Reality museums'. It could have been the wave of the future!
Well, this exhibit is available to the public right now but will close on March 4, 2018 and the paintings will return to their respective owners, so I would visit the DIA to see this exhibit sooner rather than later.
The Detroit Institute of Arts is located at: 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit, MI48202 and tickets for this exhibit can be purchased either onsite or on their website.
My yearly working vacation came a little early this year. The Friday before the Ottawa International Animation Festival found me driving up to Grand Rapids in order to see the Japanese animated feature Napping Princess: the Story of the Unknown Me.
All-in-all, not bad. Good use of metaphoric imagery and a juxtaposition of two stories in order to make the metaplot more interesting. The film was a very appropriate use of animation to tell a story that might've been better told in live-action. 'Princess' wasn't the hardcore sci-fi thriller I was expecting--after all, it "was" written and directed by Kenji Kamiyama, a longtime Production I.G. writer/director/artist whose credits include Ghost in the Shell: SAC, Patlabor, and Blood: the Last Vampire--but it was a fun story with interesting, engaging characters nonetheless.
For interested readers, a concise summary of the plot to this Production I.G. film is on Wikipedia. But suffice it to say, this is one of those fun movies that you can safely watch with your kids, especially if they're used to seeing most of the films in the Studio Ghibli library.
Well, a frustrating detour to the John Ball Zoo after the movie found myself standing outside the new red panda display, patiently waiting for the little critter to come out of his hut so I could take pictures of him and then use them to tease a friend who moved out to California. "Wyatt" never showed his fuzzy little face. And while there, I received the call from work that none of us ever wants to get. Turns out that the night before, the daughter of a colleague and close friend of our forensics company was involved in a car accident. Apparently she was driving home when a deer ran into the road. Course, at this point, none of us knew exactly what had happened. So, my boss rallied the troops and on Sunday we converged on an auto salvage yard and gleaned whatever we could from the wreckage of her car. Fortunately, she survived the crash and a week or so later had recovered enough to tell her father what had happened. She's got months of physical therapy ahead of her, but thankfully, she's alive and on the road to recovery. Somber thoughts, I know, but sometimes life decides to remind you how good you have it. I left Michigan the next day, ever vigilant for the deer I loathe so much, and ever more thankful for my health and for something so simple as being able to walk.
The drive to Toronto was pleasant, as always. I left early in the morning after a good night's sleep, made good time, and the weather was beautiful the entire way. Halfway there though, I realized that I'd forgotten my fans at home.
Given that I've always been out-of-shape and slightly overweight, I sweat profusely on these trips to Ontario since they fit a year's worth of walking into one week. But, the older I get the less I care about how people perceive me, so I've taken to carrying around one of those collapsible paper fans with ornate screenprinting on one side that you can get for two-bucks in Chinatown. Yep. I look like a big, fat, sweaty dork standing there fanning myself, but I don't care. It dramatically cuts down on the time it takes my body temperature to readjust right after I've walked a couple miles in the humid, late-Summer/early-Fall weather that I encounter every September in Ontario. Eh, they're inexpensive and I can find them at the store down by the Dragon City Mall where I bought the previous two back in 2014.
After checking into the hotel, and a quick lunch at the Asian food court over by the Ontario College of Art and Design, I worked my way over to Chinatown to pick up my yearly cherry Arctic Rush from the DQ at the Dragon City Mall then off to find a replacement fan (or two).
Or maybe just "Made in Taiwan".
Sadly, I cannot read Mandarin nor can I read Cantonese, but I suspect the lettering roughly translates to "Sweaty foreigner wouldn't need me if he put down the fork and got more exercise!"
This year, I eschewed all my other haunts in Chinatown in favor of a little exploring. Ended up taking the TTC up to Koreatown and visiting the "Poop Café", a 'feces-themed' dessert café.
I had the Hong Kong waffle with vanilla gelato and strawberries. They even made it with lactose-free gelato! Yeah, I'm coming back. The decor was amusing. Walls were covered with kawaii inspired poop figures spouting cheesy poop themed puns. It was amusing enough, but to be honest, I'd come back just for the food.
Yup. I'm coming back here...
Stopped by BMV over on Bloor Street on the way back to the downtown. My goal of finding a copy of Frank Miller and Geoff Darrow's "Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot" in graphic novel format turned out to be far, far easier than I had expected. So with time to spare, I went back to the hotel for a nap. Even got some reading done beforehand. As I'm repairing an old Bell and Howell 8mm/Super8 projector, I'm taking the opportunity to reread Steven Woloshen's book on direct-on-film animation: Scratch, Crackle & Pop!
Later that night, I found a new restaurant for dinner: Korean-style fried chicken. Monga is another place on my list of restaurants that I 'must-come-back-to-in-the-future'. One of these days, I'm going to take a week off during the Spring, bring my list, and do nothing but go from one restaurant in Toronto to the next, eating my way from one end of the city to the other. Hm... starting to see why I have issues with my weight... maybe if I skip the TTC and walk everywhere...
Was still full from last night, so I skipped breakfast and slept an extra hour instead. Then it was off to the Royal Ontario Museum. Found a cold-pressed juice bar on the way. A little pricey, but good stuff. Wish we had something comparable back in Michigan. Would make giving up soda easier and add a little variety to my morning glass of orange juice. Am always a little concerned with getting sick on vacation so went with the 'immune booster': orange juice that had lemon juice, ginger, and cayenne pepper, among other ingredients. For all I know, it's probably just the placebo effect, but hey, every little bit helps.
Had a light lunch at the ROM Café while watching Rick and Morty on my iPhone. You can get smart phone stands on Amazon for under five bucks. VERY useful for those times when you want to grab a bite to eat but not have to hold your phone through the whole meal.
Afterwards, I found a comfortable chair in the gemstone exhibit hall and did a little more reading, then spent the better part of the day wandering the ROM and collecting photo references: gemstones, crystals, jewelry, dinosaur bones, bugs, vases and pottery mostly. Even found a nice spot on the third floor to sit and sketch for a while. Drew a stag beetle and a cats-eye stone that I had taken photos of with my phone. Was struck by the thought that with all the photo references I've taken over the years, I should've been doing this with my tablet computer long ago!
My drawing skills are still there but they have atrophied something fierce. Really need to build them back up, retrain those muscles, especially if I want to do urban sketching when I finally take that bucket list trip to Japan. My epiphany for the day was a reminder about how there are far too many distractions and voluntary obligations at home. Really need to simplify my life and refocus on what I really want when I get back to town.
A return to the hotel, followed by a delightful nap, I stuck with tradition and took the yellow line down to Marche's for dinner. It was a surprisingly tough choice though. There are lots of restaurants in the area I was staying at that look (and smell) so enticing. Maybe it's time to break away from tradition and fond memories a little more... make some new memories. I'm such a creature of habit when it comes to food. Most of that comes from not wanting to get a bad meal or one that isn't to my tastes. I went with the safe choice this time: stir fry, a strawberry crepe, and my yearly take-out bag of macaroons. Food was good as always, pricy, but good and worth the stop. I probably shouldn't focus so much on the past, but the older I get, the more important those good memories are to me. And Marche is one of the few locations in Toronto that is still left from those family vacations from back in the '70's and '80's.
Y'know, I don't like Mexican food that much, but a restaurant
this honest in their advertising might be worth trying!
Only been here two(ish) days. I feel relaxed. Pleasantly so. Dunno if I was expecting some great epiphany, but I know that I feel rested. Vacations have always been difficult for me. Coming from a family of overachieving workaholics, relaxation doesn't come easy--especially when I know that the work is piling up back at home. Part of my way around this problem is looking for educational opportunities during 'down time', like walking. I've been listening to podcasts and audiobooks while I walk around Toronto for the past two days. Am always trying to educate myself on one subject or another--just wish I could focus on a subject long enough to learn it well. Curse you adult ADD!
Made great time to the festival. Weather remained beautiful on the drive, as expected. No moose sightings on this trip though, unlike last year. After waiting a year to get back to the Ottawa International Animation Festival, I was absolutely giddy as I walked into the Arts Court to pick up my pass and swag bag. Walked through the lobby. Took a left. Down the hall. Then a right. And onto the elevator. I walked into the room to pick up my pass, and... nothing. The room was empty save for the volunteer manning the check-in station. Kind of disappointing given festivals past where I bumped into friend after friend as soon as I arrived.
Admittedly, I was a touch crestfallen, but such is life. Went back to the hotel and ran a load of laundry while reading another chapter of Steven's book. A short while later, I stepped out to get a shawarma and bumped into Linda Simensky in the elevator on the way back. Just a quick conversation with a professional acquaintance, but I'll take it.
The evening feature screening was a little better. Bumped into Lynn Slater and Carol Beecher while waiting in line. Always a pleasure to talk animation with them. Lynn had spent time teaching animation to her niece earlier in the year and Carol had finished a grueling seven year animated film that was now making it's festival run. Having seen a preview of some shots at last year's Ottawa fest, I couldn't wait to see the finished film at tomorrow's Canadian Panorama!
Masaaki Yuasa's film Night is Short, Walk on Girl was... yeah. It was fun, disjointed, and everything I hoped for given how outrageous his short film Kick-Heart was. I'm not exactly sure what dropping acid is like, but after reading some of Hunter S. Thompson's escapades in the past, I'm pretty sure this film is close to the experience.
Afterwards, I left the theater just in time for another Ottawa tradition: meeting up with Glenn Ehlers for the first short film screening of the festival. This year's visit with Glenn had a serious purpose behind it: I'm planning a trip to Japan in 2019 and the friend who's going with me wants to hike to the top of Mt. Fuji on the third day that we're there. Yep. I've got around two years to make up for a lifetime of bad habits! Fortunately, Glenn and his siblings are accomplished hikers who have hiked the Adirondack Mountains on several occasions. So the twenty or so minutes we stood in line afforded me the opportunity to get educated on what I was in for as well as a critique of my current workout and tips for how I can increase my endurance and lung capacity. 2019 will be here before I know it...
Before we went into the screening, I saw Pilar Newton-Katz and Steven Woloshen, then Carol showed up and told us all about her NFB film Skin for Skin. In a word: Skin for Skin was fifteen minutes of 'Wow!' Carol and her
husband Kevin had created a supernatural tale of greed and revenge set in Canada's fur trade from
back in the 1800's. Animated in Maya, the visuals were just hauntingly beautiful that matched the eerie soundtrack throughout the production. having watched earlier productions by their company Fifteen Pound Pink, I have to wonder what Kevin and Carol could do with a ten million dollar budget like many European productions have. Take a look at the Skin for Skin trailer below, then follow the link above to their Vimeo page. Pay close attention to Mr. Reaper's Really Bad Morning and the Zig 5 shorts and you'll see what I mean. And if you want a really special treat, on the NFB's Skin for Skin site, there is a short Q & A with Kevin and Carol where they describe a little more about their film and production process. After watching their film, it was a real treat to go back and read about their 2d/3d approach to the filmmaking process.
On the walk back to my hotel after the screening, I was struck how the evening was what I was expecting (hoping for): that 'no matter where I go, I see a friend or two' experience.
Gonna be a good festival.
The National Art Gallery has a café... who knew?
Skipped the morning's Folimage retrospective screening at the National Art Gallery in favor of an extra hour of sleep and prep time followed by lunch at the Earl of Sussex pub (a favored place for lunch with my brother in festival's past). Then I walked across the street to the Gallery and continued working my way through Steven's book. And who was there sitting across the room waiting for the theater to show the Canadian Panorama screening? Joan Gratz! As I waited for an appropriate moment to go over and say 'hi', Steven walked up and chatted with her and her guest (he knew both of them). During a break in the conversation, I got to say 'hi' to Steven and thank Joan again for her wonderful interview for my blog. Good to see she's doing well and still coming to the festivals. Steven and I agreed to make time to talk at the picnic.
Well, the "picnic chat" came sooner than I expected as after the screening, Steven and I walked down to the Bytowne with one of his friends -- me asking questions about direct-on-film animation and him giving me gold every step of the way!
As always, the competition films are hit-or-miss for me, but there were some real gems in there.
Kirsten Lepore's film Hi Stranger opened the first competition screening, and got the laugh that I knew it would. She remains on my shortlist of animators I'd love to meet (and interview).
Steven Woloshen brought his latest film Casino, a personal film in which he pays tribute to his father.
Dana Sink had a very clever film called Power that was visually engaging right up until the end where he inserted a very satisfying payoff to the Rube Goldberg-esque devices shown throughout his film.
Well, after the short film competition screening, I scooted back up to the National Art Gallery for the National Film Board of Canada's retrospective: Eleven Moving Moments with Evelyn Lambart. What a solid production! One part interview/documentary and one part screening of some re-mastered films of hers. You couldn't help but walk away with a greater insight into and appreciation for Evelyn's films and her place in animation history. It was definitely worth going to and once it's released, it will have to be part of my collection! Wish I had had access to that documentary when I was doing research for my Women Animators class last January.
Then after the World Panorama concluded, it was back to the Bytowne for another short film screening. Sure got my exercise on this vacation! Went to the Salon de Refuse party afterwards--pretty much just to say a couple "hellos" and then head back to my hotel room. Two hours later...
Turns out that while waiting in line to get a drink, I bumped into Steven and we continued our discussion from earlier in the day. Then I saw Pilar. Then fellow R.I.T. alum Sarah Hanson and Glenn... Then Barry Sanders... Then Pilar again... As it approached 1 a.m., my energy was starting to flag, so I said my 'goodbyes' and went back to the hotel. Big day of screenings tomorrow.
Mmmm... Cartoon Network cupcakes....
Got up and made it to the morning Gala screening in record time. Sat down and a couple minutes later, Glenn sat down with me. Afterwards, we had a nice lunch with conversation at the picnic but I didn't stay long. Said 'hello' to a couple people on the way out, was nice to see that Nick Fox-Gieg made it to the festival, then I hightailed it back to the National Arts Gallery for the Folimage retrospective screening that I skipped the other morning. There was some really decent work in their screening. Granted the first couple films were all themed as 'cave paintings' which got a little repetitive, but halfway through, they switched to different themes and genres. The high quality of their animation skills lasted throughout the whole presentation.
It really surprises me that the French animation scene doesn't seem to get much attention. The work that the French are producing stands up to anything that we're producing here in the States. And in many cases, the French seem willing to take more risks in terms of story and the artistic style of their films than we are. Course, like the Japanese, they're producing high-quality work on a fraction of the budget that we are here in the States, so I suppose they can afford to take chances. When you produce an animated film for 200 million dollars, you have to earn back 200 million dollars just to break even. Things are a lot different when you're only spending 7.5 million dollars (the reported budget for A Cat in Paris).
Watched the Cartoon Network "retrospective" afterwards and was a little disappointed. Billed as "25 years of drawing on creativity" it was just a screening of their current show lineup: Steven Universe, Regular Show, Clarence, etc. Given the mention of the PowerPuff Girls advertised in the lineup, I was expecting a mix of the Cartoon Cartoon shorts from the nineties as well as shows from today. And while the episode of Regular Show was solid, and I liked my first exposure to We Bear Bears, the real gem of the screening was "Infinity Train". Wow!! Just, wow!! Now that's a show I could follow religiously. It's only a pilot but I sure hope it gets a series. Smart female lead. Good sidekick character(s). Quirky jokes throughout. Eerie tone. Clever scenarios. This one is a winner!
Before the screening started, I was honestly concerned by the fact that a bunch of students walked in and sat down right behind me. But as soon as the lights dimmed, they quieted down. Must've wanted to see this screening as much as I did.
Then it was time to hoof it back to the ByTowne (starting to see a theme here?) in order to see the Breadwinner, the latest from Ireland's Cartoon Saloon.
The Breadwinner was impressive. Tough to watch due to the serious, dramatic nature of the story--a young girl struggling with her family to survive amidst the horrors of Taliban rule over Afghanistan--but still good. Loved the visuals throughout the movie, it was classic Tom Moore/Cartoon Saloon and well worth the time spent watching it.
Funny thing about that particular screening was the kids who sat behind me in the Cartoon Network screening walked right in before the movie started and asked if I was saving the seats in my aisle. Shared a laugh about the CN screening with the girl in the plaid skirt who sat right next to me and one of her classmates. Turns out that they were all from Pratt. Earlier in the week, they had taken a bus in from New York just for the festival.
Probably should have chatted them up a little more afterwards, but I skipped the student party that night -- never really felt comfortable crashing it, even though no one seems to mind. Instead, I grabbed a shawarma plate from 3Brothers (the Level One pub was busy hosting their board game night) and ate dinner in my hotel room.
Saturday was a light day for me. Three professional development workshops followed by a screening and the NightOwl party. The weather was still warm and humid and St. Brigid's doesn't have air conditioning so, during the workshops, people were trying to stay cool by fanning themselves with their badges. Personally, I was quite comfortable since I had my large fan with me. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a couple people looking at my fan with this pained look of longing in their eyes. Hrm. Guess the crazy fat guy isn't so crazy after all, eh?
After feverishly taking notes at the "Gettin' the Perfect Gig" lecture and watching the Cartoon Network Artist's Program talk with interest, I walked up to the Brig Pub over by the Byward Market. Few places in Ottawa have the significance for me like the Brig does. Only the Blue Cactus, where I shared a meal with my dear, departed mentor Erik Timmerman and both 3Brothers and Darcy McGee's, where I've shared many a meal with my little brother, hold such a special place in my heart like the Brig.
Back in 1996, the Brig was a pub where I was introduced to the joys of shepherd's pie by my fellow R.I.T. classmate John Mammano while we attended OIAF '96 and made the one mile hike from the Albert House Inn to the National Arts Centre every day to catch all the screenings and talks.
The Brig Pub, still there, but not there...
The Brig was a regular haunt of mine up until the mid 2000's when I made it a point to branch out and discover other restaurants in Ottawa. It had been years since I tasted their shepherd's pie and I was looking forward to reclaiming another good memory of Festival's past. Well, my lunch at the Brig Pub was not what I had expected. The food was excellent, but the décor was completely different. They had totally remodeled and it was a completely different menu. No traditional pub fare whatsoever--no shepherd's pie, Irish stew, nothing. I'd go back to the Brig just based on the quality of the food on the new menu, but was a touch disappointed at seeing another landmark give way to the changing times.
Was still in an introspective mood when I walked over to the Arts Court to buy my yearly poster and t-shirt. The woman working the register made a very nasty remark about 'Americans' when I handed her the wrong change due to the 'penny rounding' thing the Canadians are doing. Some people are determined to share their misery no matter what, I suppose. But, I was determined not to let one bigot ruin my festival experience.
So afterwards, I picked up my yearly Beavertail at the Byward Market and made my way down to the Bytowne for the next Maasaka Yuasa film Lu Over the Wall. While the production quality was solid, I really didn't like this feature as much as the first Yuasa film they showed on Wednesday. Lu was way too much like Studio Ghibli's Ponyo (my least favorite Ghibli film) in both style and character design.
After dinner, Serendipity struck at Ottawa when I walked back to the Arts Court to take the shuttle to the Night Owl party and discovered that the "shuttles" for the party were school buses just like the one my family's forensic business investigated a month ago. AND, they were using the visual wheel check devices on their lugnuts to ensure that the lugnuts maintain proper torque. The bus we inspected was a 'wheel off' case--one where the bus was driving down the highway and two of the rear wheels came off.
If there's a 'teardrop' pointing in a different direction,
the lugnut is coming loose and the bus needs to be
taken off the road immediately for repairs.
So, I explained who I was, what I did for a living, as well as the situation surrounding the investigation to the bus driver and she let me walk all around the bus taking photos to send to my boss. Once we were on our way to the party, I called my boss and he was ecstatic to hear about the photos--and asked me to send them to him as soon as I was back at the hotel. He was meeting with that particular client on Monday afternoon and wanted to incorporate the photos into his presentation.
I call this one: 'Night Owl reclining'
As always, the Night Owl party was fun. Spent it almost entirely talking to Glenn and Sarah. All the while, friends and colleagues would show up, join the conversation for a while, and then drift off. We all had a good laugh when Pilar donned an owl kigurumi and posed along with the other cosplayers.
At the party, I wanted to participate in the cosplay drawing session, but was having such a good time with Glenn and Sarah, I thought it far more important to be social. After all, I don't get to see them but once a year. Should really do something about that. Throughout this trip, I saw fewer people that I'm friends with, but spent a lot more time talking to them--the conversations have been richer, more in-depth and far more gratifying.
Before I left, I had the opportunity to chat with David Chai and James Murray. Even got to talk to the cute Pratt girl and her friends from yesterday on my way out the door. Don't know what they're doing down there at Pratt, but their students are some of the nicest and friendliest kids I've ever encountered in all my years attending the OIAF. There are some schools that I'd never hire anyone from, and some that I'd think twice before hiring their graduates, and there's even some students that I dread seeing every year at Ottawa because of how rude they've behaved in the past. But based on my experiences with Pratt students over the past decade since I met my first one, if I was a recruiter, I'd hire a Pratt student in a heartbeat.
Mike Rowe has this funny little bit about 'asshole testing' potential employees that goes something like 'sure you went to XYZ school and you've got ABC certifications, but where do you fall on the asshole scale? See, we've already got a couple assholes at the office and we don't need any more.' In my mind, you can always find students with decent art skills, but students with a good attitude and a solid work ethic that could fit right into a company on day one without causing personality conflicts, those are much harder to find.
I'm sure there are some exceptions out there, but I've personally never met a Pratt student at Ottawa who didn't behave like a lady or a gentleman at the festival.
Got up and walked across the street to the Arts Court and there was Glenn, walking away from the building. Turns out, he decided to sleep in after last night's Night Owl party. We chatted a bit about meeting up for R.I.T.'s homecoming in October. It's my 20th anniversary and Glenn lives an hour away in Buffalo so, figured we'd make time to say 'hi' if we were free. Then we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.
While waiting in line for the World Student Panorama, Festival Artistic Director Chris Robinson walked by, shaking his head and muttering to himself. Yep. It's definitely Sunday!
The World Student Panorama didn't do much for me, but the Canadian Student Competition was good. Very good in fact! There were a lot of solid films from some superb schools: Sheridan, Seneca, and Concordia, mostly. The films this year, both student and pro, have been a lot more on the 'artsy' side of things -- even the narrative short animations, which made it more difficult for me to pick out favorites, strangely enough. But there were some real standouts. Was very happy to see that Decolado won the public prize. And Yuasa's film Night is Short, Walk On Girl deserved the 'best feature' prize.
Made my final walk down to the Bytowne in order to see the last Short Film Competition screening. And as I walked onto the block, there was Andrew Doris and Lynn Scatcherd! After spending the entire festival only being able to see and say 'hi' to them in passing as we ran from screening to screening, I finally was able to have a short chat with them. Really need to make a concerted effort to meet up with the two of them next year. Will have to schedule some free time and invite them to lunch or dinner or something. They're definitely worth the effort to keep in touch with.
I watched the last screening and went to Level One for dinner. Found myself playing games on my phone while they ran Road to El Dorado on the television behind the bar and people all around me played boardgames. Wish we had a place like this back in East Lansing. If we did, I might even become a barfly like my brother... so maybe that's a good thing. Did a load of laundry at the hotel and took a quick nap. Then went to the closing night party. There wasn't anyone I knew there, except for Chris who was dozing on and off on the couch. After finishing my drink, and he sat up, I thanked him (and Azarin Sohrabkhani) for another wonderful festival experience.
And I left. For me at least, the festival had ended.
I spent the next hour or so walking around Ottawa and revisiting landmarks from my twenty-three years of attending the festival: 3Brothers, the Sugar Shack, Byward Market, Chapters, D'Arcy McGee's Pub, the Beavertails, they all hold special significance. I resisted the urge to walk down past Darcy McGee's over to the Lord Elgin hotel where Erik would stay when he attended the festival back when I studied under him in grad school. As I walked back past the National Arts Centre, I could still see him standing there on the sidewalk in his black leather trenchcoat, a smile spreading across his face as we students approached him to say 'hi'. Two decades later, Moustafa is no longer with 3Brothers having been bought out by his
partners. The Brig is virtually unrecognizable from the pub that John
introduced me to back in 1996. We're now watching screenings at the
ByTowne and the National Arts Gallery instead of spending almost the
entire festival at the National Arts Centre. And Erik died on June 30, 2000.
Time marches on and places have to change. But after twenty-three years of attending the Ottawa International Animation Festival, there's still enough here to provide me with both pleasant recollections and brand new memories for years to come.
Don't want to wait in line for three hours to get your ticket at YoumaCon but still want to do something Japanese-related that weekend? Need a break from the crowds at Youma but don't want to drive too far from the convention center? Not enough cash to do Youma this year but don't want to be left out of all the Japanese-related fun? (tickets for Thor: Ragnarok all sold out that weekend...)
Not a problem!
The Detroit Institute of Arts Detroit Film Theater is showing Makoto Shinkai's masterwork your name. on Saturday and Sunday, November 4th and 5th at the DIA's Detroit Film Theater.
Don't miss the opportunity to see this film on the big screen.
And while you're at it, the DIA is reopening their Japanese wing and celebrating the whole weekend with Japanese Cultural Events. Why not make a day out of it? :) From the DIA's flyer:
"A full schedule of cultural events accompany the opening weekend of the new Japan gallery. Master Japanese artists will fill the galleries demonstrating traditional Japanese crafts and presenting other forms of the country's heritage."
From October 14, 2017 until March 18, 2018, the Museum will be hosting "The Science Behind Pixar"!
From the Henry Ford Museum website:
"Enjoy a unique look into the Pixar process, and explore the science and technology behind some of the most beloved animated films and their characters with The Science Behind Pixar. This interactive exhibition showcases the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts used by the artists and computer scientists who help bring Pixar’s award-winning films to the big screen. With more than 40 interactive elements, the exhibition’s eight sections each focus on a step in the filmmaking process to give you an unparalleled view of the production pipeline and concepts used at Pixar every day."
More information is available on the following page on the Henry Ford Museum website along with resources and ticket prices. Additionally, you can visit the Science Behind Pixar website for more information about this travelling exhibit.
Friendly reminder folks: if we don't support all these cool animation related events in Michigan, we won't see many coming to our lovely Great Lakes state. :)
The film will be shown on Saturday, October 14th at the Detroit Institute of Arts' Detroit Film Theater. Additionally, it will be shown at the Urban Institute of Art in Grand Rapids on the weekend of November 17th.
The year is 2020, three days before the opening of the Tokyo Olympics. While she should be studying for her exams, Kokone Morikawa is often dozing off, stuck between reality and a dream-world full of fantastic motorized contraptions. But after her father, a talented but mysterious mechanic, is arrested for stealing technology from a powerful corporation, it’s up to Kokone and her childhood friend Morio to save him. Together they realize that Kokone’s dream-world holds the answers to the mystery behind the stolen tech, and they embark on a journey that traverses dreams and reality, city and country, and past and present. Their mission uncovers a trail of clues to her father’s disappearance and ultimately a surprising revelation about Kokone’s family.
From visionary director Kenji Kamiyama (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Eden of the East) comes a sci-fi fantasy that effortlessly weaves together the rapidly evolving technology of today’s world with the fantastic imagination of the next generation. With an ambitious mix of multilayered action, whimsical characters and inventive machines, Napping Princess is a genre- and universe-blending film that shows that following your dreams is sometimes the best way to discover your past.
As mentioned in my previous post, last October, I attended R.I.T.'s Brick City Homecoming.
It's a seven hour drive from Lansing to Rochester, so I tend to leave town early. Nexus pass notwithstanding, you never know what kind of traffic you're going to encounter on the bridges to and from Canada. After a last minute emergency at work, I left Michigan almost on time. Was pulling onto the highway when I realized I had no quarters for the tolls when driving through New York. A quick detour to a bank in Flint and I was on my way to Rochester. Got waved though the border and drove straight through Canada. There was a minor wait at the Ontario/New York border crossing, but the Nexus pass did its thing and they waved me through with no difficulty. All-in-all, the weather was beautiful and I made excellent time to R.I.T.
Arriving at my former home, the first step was to check in at the R.I.T. Inn & Conference Center, then head straight to campus. It was Thursday and other than Becky Simmons and my former classmate Leah, I hadn't told anyone that I'd be in town. So while it promised to be a quiet evening, I still wanted to check in at the Student Union.
I parked the car and started drifting through memories while walking through the Gannett Building. As is my custom, I stopped over at Erik's old office in quiet remembrance of my friend and then over to Marla Schweppe's old office. Stephanie Maxwell's office had been moved over near where Erik used to be. And Skip Battaglia has retired, so I have to content myself to catching up with him at the Ottawa International Animation Festival and her via e-mail whenever we have a spare moment or two.
One of the best activities at the OIAF:
the impromptu R.I.T. reunions!
As much as I wanted to linger, I had to pick up my welcome packet before the Union closed. So I ran over, picked up my tickets, swag bag, and shirt. Then bought an extra shirt, just because.
I then reacquainted myself with the Archives office at the Wallace Library. Didn't expect to be there for very long tomorrow, but this was a long time in coming. Was happy to finally move this project forward. Walking around at night, I was struck by how R.I.T. is so different. It has expanded so much in the past nineteen years, added so many amenities and buildings. It was going to look so different tomorrow in the light of day.
With the pressing things out of the way, I stopped by the R.I.T. store to pick up some memorabilia, then off to some old-ish haunts before they closed: Hammergirl Anime and Millennium Games to be specific. Wish they'd been around back in my day. Course, back then we had to get our anime and gaming fixes through Media Play and Crazy Egors. Both are now long gone, but back then they had their charm even though they were very different scenes. Crazy Egors used to be packed tightly with pile upon pile of vintage gaming boxes and books. Before an injury forced him into retirement, I used to see the owner and his son at Gen Con during the early-2000's. Was always nice to chat with them and catch up on the gaming scene in Rochester. While Media Play had a larger selection of animated films and anime (though admittedly on VHS), Hammergirl is still the best place to stock up on Pocky and HiChew for the weekend while browsing their DVD selection.
Then it was back to the hotel for some rest. Gonna be a good weekend.
Friday was an incredible day, from start to finish I almost always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. Went straight to campus and started off at Mary Bernard's office. Dropped off a copy of the Detroit Institute of Arts' animation book 'Watch Me Move' for Stephanie Maxwell. Stephanie was out for the day, unfortunately, but Mary said she'd put it in her mailbox. Before leaving, I chatted her up on what animation work we're doing in Michigan and she gave me the latest SOFA student film DVDs.
Then it was off to see Bill Landers.
For my two years as the Graduate Lab manager, I had the opportunity to work with Bill from time-to-time and each time it was a real education. I attribute the longevity of our equipment at my office to those out-of-the-classroom lessons I received from watching Bill working tirelessly on old video cameras, 3/4-inch analog tape editing stations, and finicky Bernoulli drives as well as routing yards and yards of cables and patch cords.
As many of the thesis films from my day have been lost, before driving to Rochester, I digitized every film from back then that I had on tape and loaded them onto a flash drive so he could add them to the SOFATube server at his leisure. Also snuck in a better copy of my thesis film on the flash drive--the VHS transfer they have of my film is terrible because the tape I gave the library wasn't good enough to stand up to the ravages of time. Still kicking myself over that one. Remember kids: never skimp on your archival media; quality costs money but it pays off in the long run.
Well Bill explained about how SOFATube came about and their plans for filling in the films from the '90's. Then I got the full tour of the new facilities. He walked me through the labs: 2d, 3d, Graduate, stop-motion, audio, and live action. In addition to the SOFA archives, set and model fabrication shop, and the theaters/screening rooms. The department is night and day from what we had back in the late-nineties. Was incredible to see what the program has become--and it's reflected in the films that the students are making today.
Bill said the program is based on the premise: "it all starts with the story." Erik would be pleased. I told Bill how after I graduated, Erik said I should teach the scriptwriting courses in his place. When I said that I told Erik that I didn't think I was good enough at the time, Bill said that if Erik recommended me for the job, then I was good enough. Bar none, one of the best compliments I've ever received.
After saying my goodbyes to Bill, I walked by Marla's office and there she was, sitting in her chair, reading before a class. We spent a few moments talking and catching up then it was off on a tour of her 3D Digital Design program. When we returned to her office, she asked for my CV and said there were possibilities of me teaching forensic animation long distance at R.I.T. Then she gave me a very touching gift: a pair of Erik's reading glasses she'd been holding onto. Said that of all the students that have passed through program, he'd be happy to know that I had them. I'm thankful for those six years that I knew Erik, but it wasn't nearly enough time.
I'm still not sure if I should replace the lenses with my prescription so I can use them when I teach, but for now, they occupy a prominent place on my bookshelf right next to my two photos of Erik and the group photo of me, Marla, Stephanie, and Skip from back in 2010 when we all went out to dinner together.
At this point, I had said all my 'hellos' and Marla needed to go teach her class, so I walked across the quad to the Wallace Library. Becky was out running her campus tour on R.I.T.'s campus landmarks but, as always, she was as good as her word and had left Erik's tape on her desk along with instructions to her assistants that I'd be arriving to digitize his film.
It's a kludge, but it works. :)
My recording process is a kludge. 4-head Stereo VCR patched into an old Sony DCR-TRV 120 via two sets of patch cords. The CCDs in the old DCR-TRV are burned out but the A/V inputs and the recording/playback mechanisms work just fine. Though I've tested many over the years, I've never found a really reliable and affordable way to digitize analog video and feed it directly into my computer. That's why I stick with the above setup I put together over a decade ago. The DCR-TRV camera records to 8mm tapes of various quality and can output to computer via a FireWire cable. Fortunately, my old XP laptop still has a FireWire interface port in the side. So, once the analog video has been digitized onto the Digital 8mm tape, it's a simple matter to feed it into Adobe Premiere as an uncompressed AVI. From there, you can clean it up, if necessary, and export it to any format needed.
As evidenced by the images, the recording went far, far better than expected. The tape held up exceedingly well over the past thirty-three years.
There are still some artifacts on the audio, a minute hiss and crackle that's only really noticeable when the dynamics of the music shifts downward.
I'm honestly not sure if I want to clean it up, so the audio is fresh and crisp, or leave it "as is". I'm wondering if it's an artifact of the film itself from when Erik originally recorded it instead of being a consequence of going from film to video to digital video--kind of like how you hear scratches and pops on vinyl records but the music sounds much richer as opposed to the same song when played from a CD or an mp4.
The film is only about four minutes long and I've been tinkering with the audio off and on for about a year now. Time I think to show it to Skip and Stephanie at this year's Brick City Homecoming and ask them for their advice. Skip remembered seeing Erik's film on a movie screen so I'm sure he's going to have some good advice on how I should proceed.
The rest of the evening was a whirlwind as I met up with Leah and we walked all around campus, reminiscing and marveling about how the campus has changed. Since it was after hours, everything was locked up. However, Michelle, a lovely young lady from the animation program, showed us around the labs and chatted us us up about what the program was like back in the nineties and we reassured her that, 'yes', there was job after college!
Earlier, as I sat on a park bench outside the Gannett Building waiting for Leah to arrive, a thought struck me about the current facilities and the quality of work that the SOFA students are producing. If I had to apply to the program now as opposed to nineteen years ago, it makes me wonder if I would've even been able to make it into R.I.T. Leaves me even more thankful to God for the time I got to spend there.
On Saturday, when walking back from the game design workshop I had signed up for, I waltzed right into another session of Becky Simmons' tour. Really appreciated the chance to give her a progress report in person and thank her for all her help on the Roadworks project.
At that point, I think that I did all that I could while I was in town. At the very least, I hit the most important events: digitizing Erik's tape, visiting Marla, spending time with Leah, dropping off some tokens of appreciation to my former professors.
When leaving for Michigan on Sunday, I had much to think about on my way back home: how much I missed Erik, how I wished that I'd done a better job keeping in touch with my friends Leah and Steve after graduation. How I'd like to go back in time and warn the me that I was not to take those days for granted and savor every moment. On the bright side, when I got back into town, I reached out to Norway where Steve was teaching and rekindled that friendship. And on Facebook, I continued the conversation with Leah that we started over homecoming weekend. Am determined not to have any regrets with those two friendships.
By day, I'm a mild-mannered forensic animator, but during evenings and weekends, I work on my own animated films and various artistic endeavors for clients. I'm a graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology's M.F.A. Computer Animation program and a current member of ASIFA, the Toronto Animated Image Society, and Women in Animation.
Building upon the 2008-2009 project for the NY MET and Bard Graduate Center, I am currently animating gold-and-silk needlework stitches and managing lesson webpages for an online course presented by Dr. Wilson-Nguyen for her Thistle-Threads Historical needlework website.