Thursday, December 31, 2020

Animated Thoughts: 2020 End of year wrap-up

2020 was a tough year for everyone. When the lockdown hit, my workload doubled. In addition to working from home at the forensics job, I had to record my lectures and teach the rest of my animation history class online. And if that wasn't enough, I found myself in the middle of a full website backup and migration that a Smudge Animation client needed as the features she used to operate her online education business were being discontinued in the latest server upgrade. Add to that, all the Flash animations I had created for her needed to be redone in a new format since the Flash Player was being decommissioned by Adobe. And if that wasn't enough, the new site solution was so good, so easy to implement and maintain AND integrate with her webstore that she didn't need me to manage her website anymore and that account closed.

I need to fold those clothes, Fuzzy...
On the good side, I was able to handle it all. On the bad side, it left me even more exhausted and burned out. 

As I watched friends and neighbors treating the lockdown as extra vacation time and free time with their families, all I could think of was "I wish I had the time to go outside and get a little exercise, or catch up on my reading, or binge watch a series on NetFlix, or work on that 'honey-do' list of things that needed to be fixed around the house." But whenever I started to feel a little resentful, I reminded myself that I still had a job and extra work coming in, thus eliminating a lot of the uncertainty that many others were experiencing. And as I'm pretty much a shut-in to begin with who has been preparing for a non-linearity event like this since Y2K, the lockdown was more of an annoyance than the life-altering experience that others were dealing with. If nothing else, life has taught me that a little gratitude paired up with a self-served slice of humble pie is always good at changing your moods for the better.

So, in that line of thought, here's a couple things that I was thankful for this year:

  • The Toronto Animated Image Society workshops moved online so I was able to learn a couple new animation techniques from home: replacement animation and digital rotoscoping using Photoshop.
  • During online Gen Con, I picked up a great deal on the three core rulebooks for Dungeons and Dragons 5e. Shortly thereafter, I discovered a vibrant online community of people who play D&D by themselves--with lots of rules for playing homebrew adventures, prepublished adventures, and adventures specifically written for solo play--and an online forum where we can all share our gaming experiences and war stories.
  • The Ottawa International Animation Festival expanded their duration from four days to two weeks and the online service they used allowed us ample opportunity to watch screenings, panels, and retrospectives.
  • Because of the lockdown, I was holding paychecks until the clients paid. Then it all came in over a two-week period late-Fall and I found myself flush with cash--just in time to have the roof completely replaced on my house. Within one day, it was done and all I had to do was write the check.
  • My last cat, Fuzzy, passed away the week between Christmas and New Years. And she died the way I wanted her to: I was there with her to the very end, petting her, and telling her how good it was to have her in my life for the past twenty-two years.

Fuzzy, napping on her last day with us.

And with that somber note, my 2020 comes to a close with a lot of hope that no matter what mountains and valleys I may experience in 2021, I will persist. For as Grandma Wilson often said: "this too shall pass."

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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Animated Reviews: Wolfwalkers

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to see Wolfwalkers, the new film from Ireland's Cartoon Saloon.

 It's been a while since I've seen a movie in the theater--so long in fact that I don't even remember what the last one was... Weathering With You down in Ann Arbor, maybe? It was back in March I think, right before the lockdown. Anyways, about two Summers ago, I had saved up enough money to buy a nice larger-format-screen television with a speaker bar and hadn't gone to theaters much since then. 

Nowadays, the theater experience isn't one that I look forward to what with people talking on their phones (or to each other) and the high prices that theaters charge for tickets and concessions. But, there are some films worth braving the crowds for and they're usually films that GKIDS brings to the theaters, in this case through Fathom Events. So I went online and bought my ticket, then drove to the Celebration Cinema theater on a blustery Sunday afternoon. Turns out, out of all the people in my city, I was the only person who came to the theater that day to see this film. Their loss.

Some random thoughts I had while walking to my car afterwards:

  • Eleven dollars for a bottle of water and a medium popcorn. Yeesh.
  • While I liked the private screening experience, I do wish more people would come out for non-big-budget-Hollywood animated features like Wolfwalkers, The Red Turtle, Ernest and Celestine, and The Big Bad Fox and other Tales.
  • During our screening, the directors introduced the film along with a short 'making of' video that showcased some of the talent working on the film. Was a really nice addition to the experience.
  • I loved the lush backgrounds in this film as well as the shots where they made the whole city look like one of those European tapestries hanging in a museum.
  • Liked the sketchy feel to the characters. It takes us back to the days when animation cel Xerography was introduced to the industry in Disney's short film Goliath II.
  • This 'sketchy feel' did lead to some interesting shots where you could see the lines that outlined the heads of Mebh and Moll over their flowing red hair. It left me wondering if this was a stylistic choice or a digital ink-and-paint accident that made it into the film.
  • The music in this film was beautiful, especially the "running with the wolves" song, and it really enhanced my enjoyment of the movie.
Loved the backgrounds in this film.
  • The motion and body language that the animators chose for Mebh and Robyn revealed their internal characters brilliantly, and provided a very nice contrast between the two girls when they were on-scene together.
  • By the end of the film, I wasn't certain who the filmmakers hated more: the English or Protestant Christianity. Seriously, I'm Irish and Scots on my father's side of the family and there were a number of scenes with dialogue and actions in this movie that left me feeling really uncomfortable.
  • I think the downside of the incomplete education that we receive here in the States is that I went in not knowing a lot of the historical context of 1600's Kilkenny, so some of the characters' actions and reactions were difficult to process. Both Brendan and the Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea were more... broader in their appeal, a lot more approachable to an international audience.
  • There were two cute "Easter egg" references to Cartoon Saloon's earlier films Brendan and the Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea that I caught, so keep your eyes and ears wide open or you'll miss them.
  • The ending was kind of predictable, but it did leave you with a good feeling as you walked out of the theater. Had some nice messages on family and forgiveness.

If you look closely at Mebh's hair, you can see what I mean by the outline of her head.

All-in-all, this film is another solid performance for Cartoon Saloon and directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart as well as producers Nora Twomey, Paul Young, and Stéphan Roelants. And while I didn't like it as much as I did Brendan and the Secret of Kells, it was still an enjoyable film that showcases the massive animation talent that is working today in Ireland, Belgium, and France.

* images used from the GKIDS Presskit.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Animated Quotes: Walt Disney

"The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing."

~ Walt Disney

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Animated Events: the OIAF 2020

"We'll... meet again..."
Normally at this time of year I would be traveling to Ontario for some much needed rest and relaxation in Toronto before making my yearly pilgrimage to the beautiful city of Ottawa for the Ottawa International Animation Festival. Yet along with the rest of the world I was stuck at home, tragically discovering that (like most introverts) my normal lifestyle was called 'quarantine'.

Fortunately, the fine people at the festival were working hard so that animation lovers all over the world could enjoy the festival. All of the events and screenings were moved online and the festival was extended from four days to two weeks so attendees would have lots of time to watch screenings and talks (and replays of talks).

Personally, I spent a lot of time looking for inspiration and motivation.

While I like to take daytrips to museums and zoos and the occasional 3-day weekend trip during the year for events that are usually animation or art-related (because, well, that's where my interests lie), my trip to the Ottawa festival is THE event that I look forward to every year. Taking some time off to explore Toronto and visit with friends for a couple days then enjoying the sights and sounds of Ottawa between festival screenings, it really recharges my creative batteries. While I split the nine-ish hour drive up into two parts on the way to Ottawa, I'm usually so excited and charged up that I make the whole drive home to Michigan in one day. Clearly, that didn't happen this year, so... looking for inspiration and motivation.

Over the two week span of time, I recaptured the experience by rediscovering and recreating some of the things that I liked (and missed) most about the festival:

So that I wouldn't miss anything, I went to FedEx Office and created a printed and bound copy of the OIAF Program book. Then made my own festival badge--gotta keep those collections current.

During what would normally be the Friday Animators Picnic hosted by Cartoon Network, I made some OIAF 2020 cupcakes.

On Sunday, I found the only Dairy Queen in the Lansing area that serves a Cherry Arctic Rush (although apparently here in the States, it's called a 'Misty Slush'. Go figure).

And in keeping with my usual "dining with something to read", I took my favorite light novel series to the local Chinese restaurant for dinner.

Well during the first week, I was kind of feeling that festival atmosphere and kind of not. So I decided to write down the pros and cons of the experience in hopes of getting a little perspective.

PRO: Not spending tons of money on travel and lodging.
CON: Between my housemate and my geriatric cat, it's so noisy during the day that I have to lock myself in my studio in order to watch the screenings.

PRO: I get to do things while I'm listening to the talks, like fold laundry and organize my desk and bookshelves.
CON: I'm not getting nearly as much exercise as I normally would while walking around Ottawa.

PRO: I don't have to deal with rude groups of people cutting in line while waiting to get into the theater.
CON: I don't get to see the films on a large movie screen--though my television is pretty choice, luckily it'll take an HDMI link from my laptop.

PRO: Lots of my favorite snacks which I can't take into the Bytowne Theater cause the wrappers make too much noise and I don't want to bother the other theatergoers.
CON: No big bags of Bytowne popcorn topped with freshly melted butter! :(

PRO: The festival has extended the OIAF by a week so I get to see everything I want to no matter when it's scheduled.
CON: If this freaking cat doesn't leave me alone, I swear I'm gonna...!

PRO: I can duck out for three hours and attend an online TAIS workshop on digital rotoscoping without missing any screenings.
CON: Y'know, there's no real "con" to balance that out. Through the miracles of modern technology, I can still experience events at TAIS and the OIAF instead of having to choose one and missing out on the other wonderful experience.

By Saturday's day of Professional Development events, I was in a much better headspace. So I started recording comments and thoughts that I found inspirational; like the following:

"At the end of the day, there is no experience wasted if you learn from it."
~Latoya Raveneau
Director, Disney Television Animation

"Classical music makes tiny worlds feel so grand."
~Madeline Sharifian

"Chance favors the prepared mind."
~Jermaine Turner

"You always be humble."
~ Jay Francis (on breaking in to the industry)

"Every mistake you make is a mistake you never have to make again."
~ Lauren Faust

"Not everyone has to go to their dream school to get their dream job."
~ Maaike Scherff

"Act like a professional not a fan." - regarding internships
~ Maaike Scherff

"Quality over quantity. I have a small portfolio... You want your work to be consistent."
~ Marisa Torres

While home on vacation for the second week of the festival, I took some time between screenings and sifted through my big box of Ottawa Festival curiosities and found some fun stuff from the past twenty-six years. Lots of good memories sitting in that box just waiting to be rediscovered.

Treasures ranged from postcards to a 'Bunny and Squirrel' game that they gave out in the festival bags, buttons I picked up at the studio and school room on Saturdays, and even a film strip from Carole Beecher and Kevin D.A. Kurytnik's Mr. Reaper's Really Bad Day.

I didn't watch any of the features this year. None of them really spoke to me. I started one, but ended up turning it off about twenty minutes in, so the only reviews this year are from short films that I found inspiring.

I've really been enjoying Patrick Smith's series of replacement animations -- inspired by the works of Paul Bush, apparently. Well, his latest Beyond Noh holds a special place in my heart due to the fact that during pre-production, Patrick put out a call for photographs of any masks we had in our possession and apparently some of mine got included in his film.

KKUM, by Kang-min Kim was an interesting entry--the characters and sets for this stop-motion film were made out of big blocks of Styrofoam. It went on to win awards, and rightfully so, but the thing I remember most was Kang-min talking about his film after it screened and he warned the audience not to melt Styrofoam in a room with poor ventilation.

Women Undercover 'Yola' (Les esponnes racontent 'Yola') by Aurelle Pollet was a fascinating look at one woman's role in the Israeli spy agencies. I won't say more because you can watch the full episode in the embedded video above. But it's worth a watch not just for the story but for the graphic style of the film.

Bøygen was one of those abstract animated films that I found very enjoyable not just because of its own artistic merits, but also due to the fact that I taught a chapter on visual music in my Animation History class. Learning about the origins and history of visual music enriched my experience when I first saw Bøygen. As I watched the film, I was taken back to the works of Walter Ruttman and Oskar Fischinger. Would really like to see this film again in it's full-format, not just an excerpt.

It was a real treat seeing Burrow Madeline Shariafian's short film created through Pixar's Sparkshort program. Burrow is a cute film filled with cute little characters and very subtle wit. Would love to watch it again.

And then there was Jean Franscois-Levascue's stop motion film. It was awesome to finally see Jean-François Lévesque's film I, Barnabé. I had the privledge of visiting the NFB and having a guided tour of his set a couple years back. And not only did Jean-François show us models, sets and the lighting setup he'd assembled for his film, Jim Randall was also there with prototypes of the models he was building for I, Barnabé. And then, a couple weeks before the OIAF, Jean-François gave a presentation on the making of I, Barnabé at the online-version of the 2020 Montreal Stop Motion Film Festival--even though they didn't show his film! You can see the trailer on the NFB website, and hopefully the full film soon. It's a real treat!

I, Barnabé, Jean-François Lévesque, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

The last experience I tried to recreate was musical. At the festival, I usually hear a song that really speaks to me. Occasionally it's a song played during an animation. Mostly though, it happens to be a song that is either playing in the theater before the screenings or a song that was used as a musical score for the festival trailers or bumpers that play before and after the events. When I find a song that resonates with me, and the festival experience, I'll find it on iTunes and drop a buck or two to buy it and load it into a playlist for the drive home. You can experience this year's song embedded below on YouTube.

See you next year Ottawa (hopefully).

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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Animated Thoughts: TAIS Workshops in the time of COVID

Because of the lockdown, the Toronto Animated Image Society had moved all their workshops and courses online--with many of the workshops offered free to TAIS members. While there's nothing like an in-person workshop at the TAIS offices (and an "animation tour" visit to Toronto), taking a couple workshops online was a very cost-effective way to learn some new skills.

As I was in the middle of  the Montreal Stop Motion Film Festival, the timing of this TAIS event was very fortuitous as it provided a very nice break from the screenings. As much as I enjoy screenings and panels, sometimes you want to get your hands dirty and interact with the subject matter.

My current workspace

This particular workshop was really interesting and rather unique. Titled 'Stop-motion in Small Spaces: Setting up a home studio', Neil Burns ran a session dealing with the challenges of stop-motion animation production -- not of making a film on a limited budget, but of having a limited space where you could animate. So, in the preceding week, we all sent in photos of our home studios (or the spaces that we had to work with) and then Neil helped us come up with solutions that would allow us to best utilize the space that we had to film a stop-motion production -- both using a downshooter setup as well as using a 3d set.

Over the next three hours, Neil provided some excellent critiques of our workspaces based on the films we wanted to produce, the animation techniques/visual styles we were going to use, the equipment (and software) we had available to us, and the lighting issues we would most likely face in our setup. Unfortunately, while he had some good suggestions for (re)organizing my workspace, there was one issue none of us could solve during the workshop: my carpeting is really soft and plushy so it tends to make tripods, lights, and sets move slightly when I'm navigating a stop-motion set and animating.

A lot of workshops I see (and attend) deal primarily with filmmaking techniques: storyboarding, scriptwriting, animation software, and animation styles (2d hand drawn, replacement, etc). However, not too many deal with some of the peripheral (yet still very important) production issues, like financing your film, managing production assets, and--in the case of this workshop--designing an efficient workspace that meets the needs of your production. Workshops like this one hosted by TAIS helps fill in some of the gaps in our filmmaking knowledgebase. While trial-and-error can work, and the internet is a vast well of information, it's nice to talk to someone who has actually been there and can provide hands-on experience directly to your personal situation.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Animated Events: Gen Con Online

Gen Con was kind of wild card this year. I had purchased the online badge and rolled over my in-person badge to next year in order to help out the convention. The online badge was only $20, but I opted to have a physical copy shipped to me. Just because. But I was left wondering if there would be anyone running events that I was interested in. Well, I shouldn't have worried. Like I do during in-person Gen Con, I chose to split my time between events that would help me grow as an artist as well as some fun stuff--usually shopping and gaming.

Turns out that Amazon was running a heavily discounted special on the three core rulebooks for D&D 5e, so I took the plunge. I bought the Beginner boxed set when it first came out back in 2014, but wasn't impressed enough with the set to want to get back into it, and every attempt afterwards stymied my efforts -- including when I tried to get into the local D&D Adventurer's League games only to find out that everyone was running them on Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. (I usually get out of work around 6-ish). But, the price was right so I plunked down the cash, and when they arrived, I was very pleased with the purchase. The foil covers were nice, but I think I might get another copy of the Players Handbook--a standard edition so I won't get upset if the cover gets dinged or dented. During this time, I looked into registering with Zero Session and playing a beginners game of D&D online. Zero Session is a group of tourguides and actors down in New Orleans who are also gamers. When the lockdown hit, they went online and now, for a modest fee, run RPGs for people all over the country who are also in lockdown. My experience with them would prove fun enough that I started looking into playing D&D solo until I could find a group in my area that could accommodate my wonky work schedule--even if it means I have to start DM-ing again. The "History of D&D" panel and the "what led to the downfall of TSR" panel pretty much sealed the deal for me. Before the con was over, I ordered the Essentials boxed set, one setting book, two adventure modules and a pair of the splat books. Even after forty years, D&D is still in my blood.

The drawing session that Gen Con hosted was okay. Unfortunately though, because the models were streaming video from their homes, and there was a wide variety of cameras and lighting, it didn't exactly go smoothly as one would hope. A lot of the lighting really didn't work for the cosplay outfits that the models had chosen. And it was sad too, some of those outfits looked like the cosplayers put a lot of effort into them. I also liked how the organizers had selected models across a range of ethnicities and body types. It was really nice to get a little variety in my sketchbook.

Well, at this point, I think I'm through with the Gen Con animation panels. They're usually hit-or-miss for me, usually more miss than hit. But this year was pretty much the end. One of my big pet peeves is when you have a fifty minute panel to cover a topic and you bring in more than three people (not including the moderator) and you spend most of the time introducing the panel speakers by having them talk about themselves and their careers. It usually leaves about ten to fifteen minutes where they talk about the subject and then open for questions. Idiotic. Needless to say, when the guy who dominates the conversation during the panel is a live-action filmmaker whose only experience is watching anime with his kids--and he gets most of his comments about the Japanese animation industry and the production process completely wrong--well, it's time to move on. Add to that: the "Production Sound" panel was totally forgettable. No more film and animation track at Gen Con for me. I'd rather go back to the "Author's Avenue" cause at least there I'll learn something useful about developing relatable characters or building believable worlds or how 'print-on-demand' is changing the publishing industry. As much as I want to learn things at Gen Con that further my animation career, sometimes you just have to cut your losses and move on.

One of the high-points of the con was the poisons and toxins panel for 5th edition D&D. Run by an actual doctor, he gave a good summary of the types of poisons and toxins out there in the real world, how they are classified, and what effects they have on the human (humanoid) body. Then, he converted them into a nuts-and-bolts version that was directly applicable to 5th edition D&D campaigns complete with suggestions for how DMs could "simulate" the effects of being poisoned over time on a Player Character who missed their saving throw. His presentation was so good, I immediately signed up for the same panel that he would give on the following day.

Now, with regards to gaming, I had the chance to play both Senet and the Royal Game of Ur with a bunch of people over Zoom. Both games were very much like Backgammon and both were very enjoyable games. I put them down on my ever growing list of games to buy (once I find someone to play them with). Online virtual gaming is... interesting. While I had a good time playing the card game "Sushi Go" in an online venue that will eventually be a VR gaming environment, I don't think they're ready for primetime yet. But it will be interesting to see how it all shakes out once VR is more widespread as a gaming interface.

And thus, Gen Con Online 2020 came to an end. I can sum up my experience in one sentence: Online Gen Con may not be best Gen Con, but it is much better than no Gen Con.

Hopefully next year we can all meet up again in Indianapolis for the best four days of gaming.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Animated Events: ASIFA Central 2020 Animators Retreat

Well, holding our annual ASIFA Central Animators Retreat online this year provided the best numbers we've ever had at an event. As per tradition, we opened the event up to anyone who wanted to attend -- members or not (we're cool like that). And since we held all of our events on Zoom, we had people from all over the world attending.
All of us feverishly taking notes on James' talk.
We had 'Zoomed-in' some great guests this year, starting with James Suhr. James discussed his career in the Hollywood animation industry working as a storyboard artist, then provided some great point-by-point advice for students (and professionals) about managing their careers.

The next day, there was kind of a downer with one of my events. I was in charge of running the "Saturday Morning Cartoons" block, where we all got together with our favorite bowl of sugary cereal (or granola) and watched a playlist of vintage and current animated shorts that I put together on YouTube. Well, wouldn't you know it, halfway into the second cartoon, YouTube shut the stream down for technical reasons so we all had to log into YouTube on our browsers and start up the show individually. A bit disappointing as it meant that we couldn't all watch together as a group--like an Amazon watch party, but regardless, everyone seemed to enjoy the films that I had curated.
Zoom Pixilation

Next, we did our yearly microtalks followed by afternoon workshops. I attended Julie's 3d world-building using Maya workshop. But a number of the other attendees worked on a cut-out animation group project, others created a pixilation animation using Zoom.

Seder Masochism
And afterwards, we had an evening with Nina Paley. We screened a copy of Nina's film Seder Masochism and afterwards, Nina was available for a Q&A session. For the better part of an hour, she fielded questions about her career and production process, as well as her other feature Sita Sings the Blues.
On Sunday, we held our members meeting where we all met up in a Zoom conference room and discussed the ASIFA Central charter, what it is/is not, what it states regarding personnel positions and election procedures, and all of the proposed changes that were made based upon prior discussions. All told, I thought it was a very productive meeting--and I'm not just saying that because I was the person who was running the meeting. As I'm one of those people who believes in transparency within an organization, I think that it's always good for our members to know how the organization is run, who is doing what, and how funds are being spent.

One of the highlights of our yearly retreat is when Jim Middleton does a talk explaining current public domain law, changes to public domain, and lists out some of the films and music that has entered the public domain. Jim did a five minute microtalk on Saturday talking about public domain resources for music then expanded upon it during his Sunday lecture.

On Sunday, our final guest, Chris Sullivan, discussed his current feature film project 'Orbits of Minor Satellites' and showed us clips of his progress.

It was hard to capture the energy of an in-person ASIFA Central retreat, not going to lie. But it was fantastic to have so many people showing up from all around the world and it brought it's own energy to the event.

Can't wait until next July.

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*Photos from the ASIFA Newsletter, used with permission.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Animated Thoughts: Erik Timmerman

Erik had a number of theories (and witticisms). One of my favorites was shared during our first year.

As we were watching a Disney cartoon in one of our Photo Core classes, during a lesson on the principles of animation, Erik stated that within every Disney cartoon was an 'ass joke'. This remark was made during an analysis of Donald Duck as he swept the floor with a broom. Sure enough, within seconds, Donald turned around and started dusting with his tailfeathers.

To this day, I can't watch a Donald Duck cartoon without the phrase "Disney ass joke" popping into my head. And I've often wondered how difficult it would be to get a University grant and hire a couple students to index and watch all the Disney short films in order to see if Erik was right.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Animated Workshops: TAIS - Replacement Animation

So this June, Sunday the 2nd to be exact, the Toronto Animated Image Society held an online workshop dealing with replacement animation. Over the span of three hours, Cristal Buemi worked with us as we set up basic downshooters using our smartphones (and tablets) and filmed a short animation using the Stop Motion Studio app.

And while I already knew the technical side of filming with Stop Motion Studio on my iPhone--as well as all of the tips for migrating our filming setup to Dragonframe--where the workshop provided the most benefit for me was during all the pre-production and process information that Cristal provided. Needless to say, because you're going to be spending hours under the camera, swapping out similarly themed objects for one another, it adds an extra layer of complexity that can be best dealt with in pre-production (as most things can).

More than once, I thought about the early trickfilms of the silent film era, how objects "magically" appeared, disappeared, and transformed into other objects. I mused about how many of those early special effects were filmed organically on set with only a 'guy leans on chair, then chair disappears, then guy falls' outline and how many were meticulously planned out?

A thought for another day.

TAIS has done an excellent job migrating their workshops to cyberspace using video conferencing tools like Zoom. Whereas in the past, I was looking at around $300 to $500 USD to attend a TAIS workshop -- mainly given that I'd have to drive roughly five hours to Toronto, reserve a hotel, pay for food while I was there, and such. But now that they've gone virtual, the TAIS workshops are much more affordable as I can now attend from the privacy of my own studio. And many of them are free to TAIS members, another perk of that yearly membership fee even if you're not paying for that full-fledged "Studio" membership.

On the down side: no cool pics of Toronto in these TAIS workshop blog posts. Oh well, there's always a tradeoff.

But what made me want to spend a beautiful sunny summer day leaning over a downshooter inside a dark room, wishing I had dedicated more time that year to strengthening my abs and lower back?

I had become friends with animator Patrick Smith on Facebook a year or so ago. As a long-time fan of the independent films he's produced for his studio Blend Films (as well as the "Scribble Junkies" blog posts he did with fellow New York animator Bill Plympton), I've been following his recent short films with some interest. Y'see, Patrick has created four award winning films using the replacement animation technique: Board Shop, Candy Shop and Gun Shop released in 2019, and Beyond Noh which he released in 2020. You can watch the first three films on his Blend Films Vimeo page, however, as Beyond Noh is currently making it's way through the festival circuit, we'll have to be patient until it finishes it's festival run and he (hopefully) posts it online. However, Patrick does have the trailer for Beyond Noh on his Vimeo and YouTube pages for those interested. In each film, he uses this technique to flash through a series of images that are all related in one form or another to the overarching theme of the film. For example: in Gun Shop, Patrick explores the theme of American gun culture by cycling through a montage of 2,328 firearms. In Board Shop, same concept, just with skateboards, snowboards, and surfboards.

During a side-conversation on Facebook, we discovered a mutual respect and admiration for filmmaker Paul Bush, whose 2012 film Babeldom was one of my favorites from my days attending the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema. Paul has also done a couple films using the replacement animation technique, two of which I saw at the Ottawa International Animation Festival: While Darwin Sleeps... released in 2004 and the Five Minute Museum in 2015. You can see 'Darwin' on his Vimeo page, along with a trailer for a new film of his that uses replacement animation as well as more traditional stop-motion techniques: Orgiastic Hyper-Plastic. I patiently await its release.

Well, after seeing replacement animation so ably executed by both Paul and Patrick, I couldn't resist the opportunity to spend a morning playing around with my downshooter. After purchasing about $23 of candy and fruit at the local grocery store, I came up with the following film:

It took me a while to get the soundtrack right -- cycling 'mouth noises' that were recorded using my headset ended up being a little trickier that I had originally hoped. And I ended up just accepting the fact that my computer's fan was going to be white noise in the background, but I'm happy with the result.

It's nothing festival-worthy, just one of those fun little films where you experiment with a technique you're unfamiliar with. No real purpose other than to learn, explore, and have fun while you're playing in the sandbox.

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Thursday, May 28, 2020

Animated Thoughts: The best laid plans...

Normally this time of year would have me uploading lots of photographs of butterflies from the Frederik Meijer Gardens' Spring exhibition: Butterflies Are Blooming.

Every Spring, I usually package a trip up to Grand Rapids where I meet up with my accountant to either drop off or pick up my tax information. Then I'd head over to Meijer Gardens and spend a couple hours taking photographs of butterflies and flowers.

For obvious reasons, that didn't happen this year.

But, as the date for filing personal and business taxes was pushed back to July, I took the opportunity to catch up on other work before I finished itemizing the rest of my expenses and organizing my receipts. The fateful date arrived and I drove out to Grand Rapids. The meeting was three hours long, since Dave is also helping me plan for retirement. But when I left his office, the weather was still sunny and gorgeous. And although I knew they were closed, I couldn't resist making a trip out to Spring Lake to visit the District Library.

As animator Winsor McCay spent many a formative year living in Spring Lake, Michigan, the Spring Lake District Library has a historical marker (and a sizable collection of his works) to commemorate  the life and works of McCay. And while I would have liked to explore the McCay collection, it was nice to be out in the sunny weather, exploring those little bits of animation history in my "backyard".

Yes, there's more text on the other side,
but you'll have to visit the Library to see that.

* * *

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Animated Thoughts: ART 384 - Animation History

Flipbooks used in class
Well, my animation history class is winding down for the semester. It's been a roller-coaster as we moved from in-person classes to online learning due to the lockdown. But regardless of the modality, one thing that I like about teaching is that I invariably end up learning more about my subject than I did before. For example: I openly admit that my knowledge of flicker films was pretty weak. But this was one of those interesting facets of animation that I just had to dig into a little bit deeper as I wrote my lectures and explored new films to show my class.

1948 DeJUR 8 mm movie camera
from my private collection

Another one was the refreshing experience of reading about films that Maureen included in her book--films which I had seen at festivals or discovered on my own.

 But I have to say that the most fulfilling experience that I had while teaching was showing clips from the 1981 Heavy Metal movie (the B-17 sequence in particular) and having a student come up to me after class, telling me how amazed he was at what I had shown him that day, and that he was going to track down and watch Heavy Metal that weekend. There's just something special about inspiring someone to learn about a new facet of animation on their own.

I'd give this experience an 'A'.

* * *

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Adventures in (Armchair) Historical Research

Cover for Das Loch im Vorhang
One of the direct benefits of the Internet is the ability for researchers like myself to track down rare material in other countries. Not only is there a plethora of films from other countries being uploaded to sites like YouTube and Vimeo, but sites like Google Translate lower the communication barrier with their tools for translating foreign languages and in some cases, the ability to translate entire websites into English on the fly.

An example occurred earlier this year, when I was looking through my collection of works that involved Lotte Reiniger. Among the books I've located in the past were an original German copy of Venus in Seide , which featured Lotte's silhouette illustrations, or an old library copy of Walking Shadows from a bookseller in England -- Walking Shadows being a hardback essay written about Lotte by Eric Walter White, one of her former assistants. This essay is particularly interesting as it gives details into Lotte's animation process – along with a few plates with images of models that she created but never used in her films.

Well, while I was looking at the short list of publications that Lotte directly worked with, one that has eluded me for years piqued my interest. A quick visit to the normal sites that sold international books, such as Abe Books or the German antiquarian who sold me Venus in Seide, proved fruitless. Then, for some reason, I decided to switch gears. A quick search on the German-language version of, and there it was: a copy of Helmuth Krüger's Das Loch Im Vorhang (English translation: The Hole in the Curtain). It’s the only other book, that I am aware of, for which Lotte created silhouette illustrations (there may be more, I'm just not aware of any other than the aforementioned two). However, purchasing from proved fruitless. Google Translate wouldn't work on the Amazon website, and I couldn't figure out how to a) select international shipping or b) ask the bookseller if they
even would ship to America.

Illustration from 'Flucht in die Rulissen'
English translation: 'Escape to the backdrop'
After thinking about it for a day, I went back to Amazon and puzzled out the bookseller's name then tracked down their website. Lo and behold, there it was, listed on their website. And while struggling to figure out the German website, I made the welcome discovery that their shopping cart had an English-language feature. A month later, I had a very weathered copy of this book from 1922 sitting on my desk, and a smile across my face as I tried to translate the handwritten dedication that the author -- Helmuth Krüger -- had written to someone named Rolf. The images included in this article are taken of Lotte's silhouette illustrations to give readers an idea of how detailed her work was back then. For those interested in looking at all the illustrations in this book, a copy of Das Loch im Vorhang was scanned and posted on the Deutsche National Bibliothek website, which is accessible at the following link:

Ain't modern life grand?

'Sumurûn' illustration on page 89
*  *  *

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Notice regarding Yearly Women Animator Interviews

Greetings all,

I have made the decision to skip this year's interviews with women animators.

Reason being is actually an uplifting one: turns out that I was asked to teach animation history at a local university. As such, all the time I would have spent on doing interviews in 2019 was reallocated in order to read several books, prepare lectures, presentations, assignments and exams, locate and view films to show in class, locate visual aids, and all the other miscellaneous prep work that was required to teach a college-level course.

I apologize that I couldn't get any interviews prepared ahead of time, but there are only so many hours in a day and I'm already working two jobs between the day job and freelancing.

However, the women animator interviews will return in 2021 (and I may have a couple later this year to whet your appetite). In the meantime, I urge you to visit my Women of Animated Film FaceBook page as I am sharing a bunch of highlights, articles, and films spotlighting women animators over the month of March.

Thank you for your understanding,

Charles Wilson
Smudge Animation

*  *  *

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Animated Reviews: Ride Your Wave and Weathering With You

Watched a decent pair of films this month, no big surprise that both were from Japan.

Created by Masaaki Yuasa and Science SARU, Ride Your Wave was a good movie, but it's one that I don't ever want to see again as it touches on some really emotional concepts: the death of a loved one and dealing with the resulting grief. Ride Your Wave was a sad movie about dealing with grief but it is told in a lighthearted and quirky fashion which helps ease the mood of the film and keeps it from being a depressing film. Basically, when one of the love interests dies, the main character starts seeing them in water every time they hear their favorite song. I won't spoil the rest of the story, but watch this film with a box of tissues handy. Ride Your Wave was a beautiful departure from Yuasa's earlier trippier films (like Kick-Heart and Night is Long, Walk On Girl) that showcases how he has the range to tackle more serious stories.

The second film was Weathering With You: the story of a pair of paranormal researchers who are looking for a girl that could (possibly) control the weather. Directed by Makoto Shinkai, of Your Name fame, 'Weathering' was a beautiful film with lots of richly defined characters. But cinematically, I still felt like I've seen it all before. Don't get me wrong, it was a decent film and well worth seeing in the theater with it's richly illustrated backgrounds and lush scenery. Maybe not one I'd buy on DVD and add to my collection, but it was a film I'd watch again, though admittedly for some odd reasons. Y'see, while the main story was interesting enough, I honestly found the subplot with Paranormal Research Keisuke Suga who was trying to rebuild his life (with assistance from his niece Natsumi) in order to be reunited with his daughter far more interesting that the main storyline. I guess that was just where my head was at when I watched it, but his story of dealing with grief while still striving to be a good father really resonated with me.

 All-in-all, both films were quite enjoyable and a good watch for a rainy Saturday afternoon or an evening in.

 * * *

*images from official movie presskits found on the GKIDS website

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Animated Thoughts: The 47th Annie Awards

Well, the 47th Annie Awards ceremony has come and gone. Time for the yearly "random thoughts" I had during the broadcast:
  • Opened by honoring Richard Williams. Nice. Very touching words from his daughters and colleague.
  • I immediately put Shadowmachine's Kaiju Confidential on my list of animations to track down and watch.
  • "Saving the polar bears" in... Antarctica... Um... whut?
  • Please God, let Fox and the Pigeon win Best Student Film!
  • YES!!!!! Congrats to Michelle Chua for such a beautiful film. One of my favorites from Ottawa the other year.
  • Best Short Subject... Hrm. Haven't seen 'Uncle Thomas' yet. Was hoping that Acid Rain would win -- though I reserve the right to change my opinion once I see the others in that category.
  • Hi Jerry! :)
  • Oh please, Love, Death, and Robots (The Witness) is nominated for Best Production Design - TV/Media!!! Let an adult-themed animation win...
  • Heh, the Clutch Cargo gag was pretty clever. Loved the mini history lesson.
  • Love Death And Robots (Sonnie's Edge) wins again! This time in the category of Music TV Media. A great night for adult animation!
  • Loved Charles Solomon's part on early CG animation honoring Dr. James Blinn with the Ub Iwerks award. Dr. Blinn sounded like a fascinating man. Wonder if there's a Ted talk or podcast out there with him.
  • Oh please, let The Secret War win Best FX TV/Media... that would be just awesome!
  • And another win for Love Death and Robots. This has got to be my favorite Annie Award ceremony ever!
  • And the award for Editorial TV/Media goes to... Love Death and Robots (Alternate Histories)!
  • Henry Selick wins the Winsor McCay award, and is well deserved. Would love to hang out with him at the OIAF picnic and listen to him tell stories about his career.
  • Satoshi Kon posthumously awarded the Winsor McCay award. Very well deserved. A life and a career that ended far too soon.
  • Y'know, as much as I like Patrick Warburton (we love you Brock Sampson), I'm really enjoying this new format where there are fewer monologues and they 'appear' to have given more time to the award recipients' speeches.
  • Hrm... The Hospital by Amazon Studios... looks interesting. Time to take advantage of that Amazon Prime subscription.
  • Love, Death & Robots missed out on the Best Storyboarding for T.V./Media award. Would have loved a full sweep but happy that they won at least four of the five categories they were nominated in.
  • Kind of wished I'd watched I Lost My Body at Ottawa... honestly glad it won the award. Going to have to re-up my Netflix subscription and track it down.
  • Lotta love for Netflix this year!
Congratulations to all the nominees and winners. See you next year! :)

*  *  *

Monday, January 13, 2020

Animated Events: 2020 Academy Awards Nominees
This week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released the nominations for the 92nd Annual Academy Awards.

The following are the films nominated for Best Animated Feature and Best Animated Short Film. 

Best Animated Feature:
  • How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World - Dean DeBlois, Bradford Lewis, and Bonnie Arnold
  • I Lost My Body - Jeremy Clapin and Marc Du Pontavice
  • Klaus - Sergio Pablos, Jinko Gotoh, and Marisa Roman
  • Missing Link - Chris Butler, Arianne Sutner, and Travis Knight
  • Toy Story 4 - Josh Cooley, Mark Nielsen, and Jonas Rivera
Best Animated Short:
  • Dcera (Daughter) - Daria Kascheeva
  • Hair Love - Matthew A. Cherry and Karen Rupert Toliver
  • Kitbull - Rosana Sullivan and Kathryn Hendrickson
  • Memorable - Bruno Collet and Jean-Francois le Corre
  • Sister - Siqi Song
Additionally, the following two animated feature films had nominations in the category of Music (Original Song):
  • 'I Can't Let You Throw Yourself Away' from Toy Story 4; Music and Lyric by Randy Newman
  • 'Into The Unknown' from Frozen II; Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
As always, for those who would like to see these short films before the awards ceremony, they will be playing at the Detroit Institute of Arts' Detroit Film Theater in January and February.

The schedule from the DIA's website is as follows:
  • Friday, January 31, 2020 - 7:00 PM
  • Saturday, February 1, 2020 - 2:00 PM
  • Saturday, February 1, 2020 - 7:00 PM
  • Sunday, February 2, 2020 - 1:00 PM
  • Sunday, February 2, 2020 - 6:00 PM
  • Wednesday, February 5, 2020 - 7:00 PM
  • Friday, February 7, 2020 - 7:00 PM
  • Saturday, February 8, 2020 - 7:00 PM
  • Sunday, February 9, 2020 - 1:00 PM
  • Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - 7:00 PM
  • Thursday, February 13, 2020 - 7:00 PM
  • Friday, February 14, 2020 - 7:00 PM
  • Saturday, February 15, 2020 - 7:00 PM
  • Sunday, February 16, 2020 - 1:00 PM
The Academy Awards will be broadcast on Sunday, February 9, 2020.

Congratulations to all the nominees and to all the filmmakers who submitted their films for consideration.

* The Academy Awards and the Oscar are registered trademarks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Animated Events: 47th Annie Awards

On Saturday, January 25th at 7 p.m. PST (10 p.m. EST), ASIFA Hollywood will be streaming the annual Annie Awards, a celebration of the best our industry has to offer.

Both the Production and Individual Achievement categories are listed on the Nominees page, however some highlights are below:

Best Animated Feature
  • Frozen 2 - Walt Disney Animation Studios
  • How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World - DreamWorks Animation
  • Klaus - Netflix Presents A Production of The Spa Studios and Atresmedia Cine
  • Missing Link - LAIKA, LLC
  • Toy Story 4 - Pixar Animation Studios
Best Animated Feature - Independent
  • Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles - Sygnatia, Glow, Submarine, Hampa Animation Studio
  • I Lost My Body - Xilam for Netflix
  • Okko's Inn - Madhouse
  • Promare - TRIGGER, XFLAG
  • Weathering With You - Toho Co., LTD. / STORY Inc. / CoMix Wave Films
Best Animated Short Subject
  • Acid Rain - Animoon
  • DONT KNOW WHAT - Thomas Renoldner
  • Je sors acheter des cigarettes - Miyu Productions
  • Purpleboy - Bando à Parte, Rainbox Productions, Ambiances… asbl, Luna Blue Film
  • Uncle Thomas: Accounting for the Days - Ciclope Filmes, National Film Board of Canada, Les Armateurs
In addition to the Production and Individual Achievement awards, they'll also be presenting the Juried Awards for the following:
  • the Winsor McCay Award - 'for their career contributions to the art of animation',
  • the Ub Iwerks Award - 'for technical advancement in the art of animation',
  • the Special Achievement Award,
  • the June Foray Award - 'for their significant and benevolent or charitable impact on the art and industry of animation', and
  • the Certificate of Merit.
You can watch the 47th Annie Awards ceremony live right 'here' on the Annie Awards website.

Congratulations to all the nominees!