Friday, November 30, 2018

A Year of Animation: Giant Robots

Back in Grad School, we had a class called Photography Core. It was split into three sections across three quarters -- yes, we were on the quarter system back then. Well during the second section (Winter quarter), Erik took the better part of the quarter teaching us several principles of animation. I wasn't getting 'animation on a curve'. At all. So, after screwing up the first attempt at the assignment, when I talked to him about it in his office after class, Erik held up an imaginary gun and then acted out the motion of a gunslinger pulling the gun from the holster and raising the gun -- all the while explaining how the elbow bent during the motion and worked with the shoulder's motion as opposed to locking the elbow in place while making all the raising motion of the gun come from the shoulder alone. He compared how a gunslinger would perform that motion in real life and then exaggerated for an animation -- which led to a discussion on acting in animation and why these extra motions and exaggerations were important in animation. With my newfound knowledge -- though I must admit, I still didn't grasp the concept fully -- I took another stab at the assignment and came up with the following animation:

So, since I've been too busy to make a brand-new animation for November, I decided to tinker with an old one. The original animation had the robot taking a step, firing the gun, lowering the gun, firing a rocket, then raising and firing the gun again, and then lowering the gun -- obviously, different from the above.

As part of my grad school records and films reclamation project, I exported all of the above frames from Macromedia Director to Windows bitmaps. At that point, the animation was "saved" and I can import the frames into any editing program I wish, be it Premiere or whatever comes next a couple years down the road.

This was an interesting exercise. Copy-and-pasting frames to the end of the animation in order to make it longer was easy enough. But in order to get the animation to compile to an mp4 using the H.264 codec at the best resolution possible for an 8-bit image with a gradient for the background, that took some trial and error to get it right.

And that little bit of knowledge will serve me well when I decide to make mp4's of the other animations from Photo Core II or my Spring film "the Chameleon" from Photo Core III.

Oh, and I was on an Enya kick back then, so that's why the title card uses the "Enya" true-type font.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Animated Thoughts: Festival Season - Ottawa International Animation Festival 2018, part 2

The trip to Ottawa continues... in Ottawa.

Wednesday, September 26

Early breakfast at Marche -- would hate to break with tradition after all. The trains were running slow but all-in-all, no worries. The restaurant wasn't busy. The food was good. I would leave Toronto with a nice meal and a nice memory. Getting a little extra sleep the night before definitely helped my mood greatly. Then it was off to Ottawa.

Overall, the drive through Ontario was pleasant, until I hit that wall of rain on the 417! Fortunately, it didn't last long, but it was bizarre driving through sunshine and seeing a literal wall of rain in the distance with this clear delineation between the sun and the rain.

Arrived at Les Suites and as per usual, I immediately walked to the Arts Court to get my pass. Gary Schwarz and Brooke Keesling were there picking up their passes. Went to check into my hotel suite and there was Barry Sanders and his wife Caroline. Yup, I'm at the Ottawa International Animation Festival!

At the evening screening, I saw Kelly Neall and said my hellos. Then, while standing in line, was at the right place and right time to meet Nina Paley in person -- I spent the better part of a month this year trying to see if bringing Nina to the ASIFA Central annual retreat would fit into her schedule. Unfortunately, it wouldn't work for 2018, but maybe 2019...

Afterwards, I sat down in my favorite seat at the Bytowne Theater for the first competition screening, collected my thoughts, and one of the best parts of the fest occurred: my old classmate Glenn Ehlers walked over and said 'hello'. It's always one of the moments I look forward to most as it has invariably been twelve months since I last got to hang out with my friend and talk shop. We keep in touch over social media, but it's never the same as having a face-to-face conversation with your friends.

Thursday, September 27

Rose early so I could make it to the 'Selling and Distributing Short films' roundtable discussion. While a very invigorating discussion -- it was filled with lots of ideas and suggestions -- still, no one seems to have a clear idea on how to monetize short films in a self-sustaining fashion. Although he wasn't in attendance at the discussion, I still think that PES has the best plan that I've heard presented at these panels at Ottawa: do a limited amount of commercial work to finance your private projects.

Then off to the Stacy Stears lecture at the Arts Court. It was pretty interesting. I'm always amazed when I hear that people are still filming on an Oxberry in 35mm film! I like the visual stylings of Stacy's films, though the narrative structure is a little more loose than I prefer. While waiting for her presentation to start, I saw Joanna Priestley and had the chance to introduce myself and thank her for the lovely cel from All My Relations that she sent me back in 2016. She gave me her business card and both a postcard and a photo from her new film North of Blue. Afterwards, I hiked down to the Bytowne Theater to see North of Blue on the big screen.

North of Blue
It was sixty minutes of "wow!"

An abstract film of flowing motion and color all created using Adobe Flash. North of Blue really showcases what Flash can do in the hands of a master animator.

The film was visually stunning and I loved the soundtrack. I can't wait to add it to my collection of films by Joanna.

Unintentionally, Bryce Hallett and I followed her out of the theater and we all got in line for the next screening together so I got to chat Joanna up a little more. She seemed touched when I handed her my smartphone, which displayed a photo of the framed cel she gave me two years ago, and told her about how I had used it in my blog to describe some of the great perks you can get by supporting the film projects of women animators. I handed her my Women of Animated Film promo card. Hope she likes the website and all its interviews. Then, while we were talking, a woman jumped right behind me -- literally jumped -- and exclaimed "Joanna Priestley!" It was Nina Paley. The two laughed about how they had followed each other's work but had never met in person. Then they rushed around the corner for a quick lunch before the next feature screening started.

Nina's film SederMasochism was pretty good, visually at least. The story and soundtrack did feel a little choppy in some places. Being a fan of her work, I felt a little guilty about that mental critique until she publicly admitted during the Q&A session that her heart just wasn't in this film in the way that it had been during the production of Sita Sings the Blues. Nina stated, that she just wanted to finish SederMasochism and move on. As her late father provided the voice for the God character, I could see how working on the film would be an emotionally draining experience for her.

The rest of the evening consisted of me trying to get a meal at Level One before running out to the airport to pick up a friend and then bring him back to the party at the Arts Court.

I had actually been planning that part of the festival for the better part of a year.

Many months beforehand, I told friend and fellow animator Pilar Newton-Katz about my friend Steven Leeper, formerly of Big Idea -- the creators of Veggie Tales. Well, being a megafan of Veggie Tales, she was blown away that I knew someone who worked on that show.

When we got there, the party at the Arts Court was too crowded, so I took Steve to the Avant Garde bar across from our hotel to meet up with other animators there -- including Pilar. We spent some time with festival regular (and TAAFI co-creator) Ben McEvoy. We hung out with my fellow R.I.T. students Glenn Ehlers and Sarah Hanson, as well as the Villa Maria College crowd. Then I had the chance to introduce Pilar to Steve. As expected, Pilar totally geeked out for the better part of a half-hour as Steve told her story after story of his work with Phil Vischer on Veggie Tales before the studio closed.

Watching that meeting alone was worth the trip!

Friday, September 28

Mmmm... annual festival picnic cupcakes...
Went to the morning shorts competition with Steve. Was kind of helping usher him back into the festival scene. Didn't take much, just reminding him of the venues, really. He's a natural with people so he navigated the social scene at the OIAF like a pro.

The picnic was fun. After we arrived, we had lunch with Glenn and Sarah. And I got a good education listening to all three of them comparing notes about their respective college programs. Lots of good ideas there that I'd like to integrate into my workshops.

Bryce came over and sat with us after Steve left to mingle with friends, new and old. Then I met two girls from Pratt -- illustration and design majors attending the festival in the hopes of getting career ideas. Once again, I'm always impressed by how polite and gracious the Pratt students are.

Afterwards, I finally got to meet Corrie Francis Parks face-to-face. Lots of shop talk was had: the festival, our current film projects, and what's up with ASIFA (and our respective chapters). For years she and I have been working behind the scenes at ASIFA, trading e-mails back-and-forth as we try to get our work done, so it was really nice to finally meet her in person.

Afterwards, the noise was starting to get to me, so I took the bus back for the Canadian Panorama. It was very enjoyable as always. Richard Reeves' Twilight was a beautiful experience of direct-on-film animation.

David Fine & Alison Snowden's Animal Behavour was hilarious. It's well worth a watch!

Animal Behaviour (Trailer) from NFB/marketing on Vimeo.

And I absolutely loved Samuel W. Bradley's Space Between Stars which he created at Guru Studios.

SPACE BETWEEN STARS ★ TRAILER from space between stars on Vimeo.

The new OAG GAO building
My head still swimming with images of Space Between Stars as I walked over to the new Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG) building next to the Arts Court and after a few false starts, found the auditorium for the Stacey Steers retrospective.

I swear I've seen her work before but I can't remember where. Maddening! The third film with the bees was so familiar, but she's never had a film screened at the OIAF.

Afterwards, I asked her a question about the use of color across her films. She had a really good answer too -- first use in the second film was to help keep audiences clear on which character was whom since the actress was taken from different movies and had different costumes. After that, it was a natural evolution to add more color in her films and enhance the visual style/viewing experience. Am always leery about asking questions, a lot of angsting beforehand wondering if I'm asking something that should be obvious or that I assume is obvious to those more experienced or at least less isolated than I.

EdgeofAlchemy_dream seq vimeo 1 from Stacey Steers on Vimeo.

Closed out the day by going to the World Student Competition screening. Some good stuff, some... not to my tastes. But a lot more hits than misses.

Saturday, September 29

Saturday is my usual "favorite day at the festival." I just love the professional development seminars. Caught the "You've got the Gig..." talk. Good info, most of it I've heard before, but I recorded the talk on my phone so I can listen to it later. Sat with Gary Schwartz and chatted a bit about ASIFA Central (we're both on the board of directors). Had time to kill afterwards and was feeling a little adventurous so I grabbed some lunch at a new restaurant down on Daly Avenue. Japanese/Korean fusion. Bulgolgi prepared like sushi. I plan to come back at future Festivals!

Ah, sushi the way God intended it to be prepared:
no raw fish at all, just stewed beef!

Went back to the National Arts Centre and bumped into the two Pratt girls from the picnic. Was able to show them where their next event was. Right place, right time with the right info I suppose. Strange how the NAC didn't feel this 'maze like' back in 1994.

More serendipity: decided to be fashionably late to the Disney careers presentation. Ran back to the hotel and while waiting for the elevator, Nina Paley showed up so I got to chat with her on the way up. Then on my way back to the NAC, there was Joanna Priestley, so had a short chat with her. Another example of the "Ottawa experience". Then at the NAC, there was Steve Stanchfield from Thunderbean Animation. Tells me about a clay animation by Virginia May that he just digitized -- the George Washington film. Asked me about how we're doing at ASIFA Central. I envy those in California, Toronto, Vancouver, and New York somewhat. So many animators in such a small area. So much shop talk to be had. So much camaraderie.

Sat through Mindy Johnson's "Ink and Paint Girls" presentation. There was lots of good historical information there. Can't wait to finish reading her book. Met her afterwards and had a good chat. Turns out we both know some of the same folks in Women in Animation. I gave her my card and told her about my Women of Animated Films blog. Hope she finds it useful.

Before leaving the NAC, I noticed J.J. Sedelmaier standing by himself. So, I went over and chatted him up. He's trying to get his animation tool exhibit into more museums in the future. I really hope it happens. Would really love to actually see it. The weather was too bad to make the trip to Wisconsin when they hosted his exhibit across the lake so I couldn't go. The Detroit Institute of Arts is very friendly to animation. Wonder if they'd host Mr. Sedelmaier's exhibit in Detroit?

At the OIAF, they encourage you to draw on the walls.

Sunday, September 30

Last day of the OIAF. Went to the Canadian student screening with Steve then took him to the airport. Was somewhat crestfallen due to losing one of my Chinese fans the other night. I do have a backup, and it was only two bucks, so... won't be too hard to replace. But I really liked this one, it had a peacock on one side painted in rich colors. Is probably gone for good, but still, would be nice to find it before leaving town.

Walked over to the screening room at the OAG and watched a couple films from the previous night's Shorts Competition 3. Even though a screening station was open, I decided to watch Shorts Competition 5 in the Bytowne Theater -- bigger screen, more comfortable seats. Was a good decision because I bumped into Bryce on the way out. We went to the market and had a yearly Beavertail and talked about the Toronto Animated Image Society before heading off to our respective screenings. After Comp 5, I went to the Emma de Swaef screening -- they showed Oh Willy before This Magnificent Cake. Superb animation technique. Granted, I still have no idea what she's trying to say with her films, but they're certainly entertaining.

Afterwards, I went to the Keg and had a nice meal for my final night at the Fest. Decided to skip the "Best of the OIAF" screenings and went to the party instead. Spent some time with Gary Schwartz giving advice to a freshman at Algonquin College. Then said my congrats to Chris Robinson on another wonderful festival. And that was it. Went back to the hotel and got some rest for the drive back home.

Ottawa remains my go-to animation festival. More than nostalgia from my R.I.T. days, more than a place to watch the latest and greatest films, the Ottawa International Animation Festival has become a real community for me. And one that I relish every year.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Animated Thoughts: Festival Season - Ottawa International Animation Festival 2018, part 1

September arrived, and with it came my yearly trip to Canada for the Ottawa International Animation Festival.

However, this year was going to be a little different as I had spent the prior year saving a little extra money each month so that I could take some extra time off of work and spend it in Toronto before the festival. Every year, I like to drive to Toronto on Monday or Tuesday, spend a day relaxing in the city, and then drive to Ottawa on Wednesday. It breaks the nine-hour drive in half so I have at least a day to unwind before the festivities and I can always find something to do in Toronto that allows me to mentally shift gears from work to festival mode.

This time, the extra money was set aside so that I could spend five days in Toronto exercising those artistic muscles that never seem to get enough of a workout during the year. For those five days, I had lined up a solid schedule of events that would allow me to feed my artistic nature through a mixture of cultural events, animation research, and hands-on animating while I was in town.

My plan was to look at a rare book of animation at the University of Toronto, spend time at Toronto's cultural landmarks doing sketches, and then spend a day at the TAIS offices doing some test animations on Lotte Reiniger's trick-table for a silhouette animation that I'm working on.

But, things rarely go according to plan...

Friday, September 21:

"Packed the night before, actually got some rest, woke up early, got all my pre-trip preparations finished and left the house on time. But, I completely forgot my glasses on the way to get gas for the trip and had to drive back home. That should have been my first warning. Five hours later, I would be pulling onto Ontario Highway 427 in Toronto when I realized that I had left my sheet of blue Plexiglas at home. Doom on me. I had only planned on testing my fish models and their motion, but I still wanted to do it right with the nice blue background. My downshooter setup at home can handle what I want to animate. And as much as I would've loved to do the whole film on Lotte's trick-table, time limitations wouldn't let that happen. You can only animate so much in a single day. I'm planning that one-half of the animation will be completely CGI -- heck, I might do all of it in CGI. Dunno at this point. But it would be nice to test my idea on Lotte's table. Just wish I hadn't forgotten the friggin' blue Plexiglas!

Checked in to the hotel. Ran a couple errands -- like replenishing my brother's supply of artisanal mustard from a vendor at the St. Lawrence Market. Then hightailed it to the Art Gallery of Ontario for a presentation on Ethiopian Orthodox Christian artwork from the first century. The presentation itself was okay. However, I actually found myself enjoying the historical and archeological part of the lecture more than the art. But the real highlight of the AGO visit was making the most welcome discovery that they had a painting by Claude Monet hanging on one of their galleries! I made sure to get pics of 'Charing Cross Bridge, Fog' before I left.

Charing Cross Bridge, Fog
Claude Monet
Then it was off to dinner... then a trip out to BMV where I found a nice used book on Disney's 1930's animation concept art. All-in-all, a good first day."

Saturday, September 22:

"Had a really good time today, even though I upended my day for it by sleeping in and skipping my lunch plans in Kensington Market. Instead I went straight to the Dragon City Mall DQ for my yearly Cherry Arctic Rush.

Then it was off to the chocolate tasting tour hosted by Tasty Tours. Isabella kept us moving as we hiked through the city to visit six chocolatiers in Downtown Toronto over by the fashion district. On the way, I met three young ladies doing a private Lolita fashion shoot. They were a little upset when one of our party took pics of them, but I think it all blew over when I complimented them on their outfits and chatted them up about a friend who is part of the Lolita fashion club back in Michigan. My cred was firmly established when I asked them if Twylite Creations over in Kensington Market was still open. As I walked away, I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd met them before. Eh, my work with historical needlework takes me to some interesting people and places.

Another highlight was how Isabella took us through some alleyways with a lot of cool graffiti art and gave us time to take pictures. At every chocolatier, we got food samples -- always a different sample: gelato, truffles, macaroons, etc. -- and some tidbit of knowledge or history about the chocolatiers in Toronto or the chocolate making process. Strangers when the tour started, all twelve of us were joking around like old pals by the end of the tour. And as the tour came to a close, we were presented with a going away present: the Toffle, an exclusive truffle created by Tasty Tours. One part truffle, one part butter tart... I could eat a whole box of these in one sitting, if only they'd sell them outside of the tour.

Mmm... the Toffle! :o
If only they would sell these in bulk!

Afterwards, since I hadn't eaten anything all day, other than chocolate, I had to get something more substantial. Off to Wahlburgers I went -- since it was on the way to my next two attractions: the Aquarium and the CN Tower.

Wouldn't sit still for a picture.
Guess he was feeling a little crabby...
Really not much for me to say about those experiences. During the visit, I took lots of photos, spent a fair amount of time looking out on the city at night while thinking about life, enjoyed the cool weather, then went back to my hotel to do my five sketches from the Aquarium photos."

Sunday, September 23

"Had to swap out events on Saturday. As they were predicting rain on Tuesday, I drove out to the Toronto Zoo instead. The weather was gorgeous so it seemed like a good idea. Spent the better part of three hours walking around and taking pictures. Got to play with a caterpillar. Did some sketches and took a lot of great photo and video references of the giraffes for my silhouette animation. We only have two zoos back in Michigan with giraffes and they're a bit of a chore to get to from where I live, so, best to take the opportunity now while I have it.

He didn't seem to understand the concept of a concrete path so
I helped him find a nice tasty plant before a bird found him.
After hiking through every paddock at the Zoo, I drove back into town and immediately walked to the E.J. Pratt library where they have a copy of Walking Shadows by Eric Walter White -- the only copy that I have been able to locate in the Great Lakes region. Couldn't see the book that day but set up a time on Tuesday to have it brought out from the archives: Tuesday at 10:14 a.m. -- right before I go visit the ROM.

After dinner, I visited another used bookstore and found another book that is on my burgeoning list of books I want in my collection: The Art of Disney's Dragons. Gotta love it when you find a book that wouldn't fit in your budget when it was released, but you find months later in a much more affordable form at a used bookstore.

After perusing my find, I spent the rest of the night doing my ten Zoo drawings."

Monday, September 24

"Wasn't exactly sure what to expect out of Monday. I got up and went to the TAIS offices over on Dufferin. Then, over the next four hours, I worked with my three fish models and animated the same scene six times -- this was on purpose mind you. All my prior work in silhouette animation has either been research or tinkering with ideas at workshops. This was the first time when 'getting it right' really mattered. So I started at square one: set up my scene until the visual style (lighting and color) looked the way I wanted, then I started experimenting with the motions to answer those questions that were mulling around in my head: how long should the scene last, should I film on ones, twos, or threes, how much motion did I want the puppets to engage in -- finding that tenuous balance before the secondary motion becomes a distraction from the overall scene -- these were all questions that I could only answer visually. By the sixth take, I had learned exactly what I wanted to learn from the experience and much more.

Combined with the photos and video that I took at the Zoo and Aquarium, I left TAIS finally ready to go from my shotlist to storyboards.

The rest of the day consisted of a quick nap, a long walk around the Eaton Center, a couple chocolate truffles from Godiva followed by an excellent meal at Ginger, a Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall restaurant that I will definitely be returning to. I really wish we had a restaurant like that at home! And to top it all off, that night, I accidentally cracked the screen protector on my iPhone. Doom on me."

Tuesday, September 25

"Skipped breakfast again, but was up just in time to get to the E.J. Pratt Library to look at their copy of Walking Shadows. The book was only thirty pages long, with four plates showing some models that Lotte created for her films but interestingly enough never made it on screen in the final edits. That trip was well worth the visit. I devoured the book over the next hour then immediately jumped online and bought a copy from a bookseller in California -- the only one in the States that I could find for sale. Another nice addition to my collection of antiquities from the history of women animators (click here to see how that all worked out).

Then, it was a quick stop at the mall to get my cracked iPhone screen shield repaired at the Apple store, followed by lunch at Marche, one of the few remaining restaurants from those family trips during the '70's and '80's. Nostalgia never tasted so good!

Afterwards, I hopped back on the yellow line and took the TTC back up to the Royal Ontario Museum where I spent hours drifting from room to room and taking lots of photos. Was a little underwhelmed by the special exhibit on spiders until I came across the display with the largest textile produced with spider silk.

Yupper. Nothing but spider silk.
Beautiful, and yet still creepy!
One fun exercise I engaged in while there was to take some time to study the dinosaurs and do a few mental gymnastics comparing them in size and scale to modern animals in an attempt to figure out how they would move. Here is where video references of giraffes, elephants, and rhinoceroses become very useful. But the real highlight of the ROM visit was watching about an hours worth of video presentations on various metals over in the Geology room -- all the videos were very good examples of motion graphics and I found myself spending more time picking apart the video editing and speculating on how they could have produced the motion graphics using After Effects than focusing on the topic of the video.

When the ROM closed, I went back to Marche for my yearly strawberry crepe. Then back to the hotel. After a quick dinner at Ginger, it was time to pack up. This leg of the trip was almost over. My only regret from the day was that I never did my ten sketches from photographs that I took at the ROM. Rather than feeling relaxed, I was feeling a little overwhelmed from all the walking and the handful of toxic people encountered on this leg of the trip. But, tomorrow would be another day."

Come back next week for part two: my yearly visit to Ottawa!

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