Thursday, August 31, 2017

Animated People: Erik Timmerman, pt 3 - "Brick City"

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.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Animated Events: DFT Animation Club - Tyrus

This September, the Detroit Institute of Arts "DFT Animation Club" will be hosting a special screening: Tyrus -- the story of Disney artist Tyrus Wong.

This film will be screened twice over the weekend of September 9th and 10th. Details below are from the DIA's website:

Saturday, September 9, 2017 - 2:00 PM
Sunday, September 10, 2017 - 2:00 PM
(USA. 2015, Directed by Pamela Tom.)

"The DFT Animation Club takes a rare trip behind the scenes for this portrait of Tyrus Wong, a Chinese immigrant to the United States who fought prejudice and persevered to become one of the most culturally relevant artists in film history. In Hollywood, Wong inspired Walt Disney and brought the delicate, majestic beauty of Bambi to life on the screen. Interviews with film historians, art curators, studio animation experts and the Wong family give a candid look at this unique man for our time, who passed away last year at age 106."
(73 min.)

Tickets for this event can be found at the following link:

And more details on this documentary film can be seen on the filmmaker's website:

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Animated Events: DFT Animation Club - My Life as a Zucchini

The third and final summer animation screening at the Detroit Institute of Arts' "DFT Animation Club" will be the Oscar Nominated film My Life as a Zucchini.

From the DIA's website:

"Saturday, August 12, 2017: 2:00 PM
Sunday, August 13, 2017: 2:00 PM
(Switzerland/France/2016—directed by Claude Barras)

After his mother’s sudden death, Zucchini is befriended by police officer Raymond, who accompanies him to his new foster home, where he meets other orphans his age. At first he struggles to find his place in this strange new environment, but with Raymond’s help and his newfound friends, Zucchini eventually learns to trust and to love as he searches for a new family of his own. Showcased at the Cannes Film Festival and nominated for Best Animated Feature at both the Academy Awards® and the Golden Globe Awards®, Zucchini is brought to vivid life through its memorable characters and expressive stop-motion animation – a story that soars with laughter, sorrow, and joy, an enchanting testament to the resilience of the human heart.

This English-language version stars Will Forte, Nick Offerman, Ellen Page and Amy Sedaris. Recommended for ages 12 to adult. (66 min.)"

Tickets for this event can be purchased at the following link: