Friday, July 23, 2021

Animated People: Evelyn Lambart

Today, July 23rd, is Canadian animator Evelyn Lambart's birthday and the NFB is pulling out all the stops to celebrate this amazingly talented woman of animation.

If you're interested in learning more about Evelyn and her work at the NFB, I encourage readers to check out this blog post at the NFB website written by Carolyne Weldon: Evelyn Lambart | Watch 6 Stunning Shorts by the First Lady of Canadian Animation.

Shared from the National Film Board of Canada's Facebook post:

'"Join us in celebrating Evelyn Lambart's birthday! Hired by the NFB in 1942 to animate the maps featured in our "The World In Action" series, she quickly became a master of paint-on-glass animation. Before striking it out on her own, she worked alongside Norman McLaren, animating several of his most famous films."

Revisit her filmography for free today → bit.ly/EvelynLambartNFB'

I hope that you'll use the link above and take time today to revisit a film or two from Evelyn's filmography.

Here's one of my personal favorites from her library of films, 1968's cut-out animation Fine Feathers:

'Fine Feathers', 'Evelyn Lambart', provided by the National Film Board of Canada

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Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Animated Thoughts: Erik Timmerman

Erik kept an eye on the players in the Rochester area. 

Being as we were smack dab in the land of Kodak, Bausch and Lomb, Hewlett-Packard, and dozens of companies that served the imaging industry, it was natural that many of his students worked in the area--both before and after graduation. 

One day, Erik mentioned a local multimedia company in Rochester that we should stay away from. He stated that some of the principles in charge of the company had a serious drug problem that led them to engage in questionable behavior like using company income to support their drug habit. His message received, we all looked for employment elsewhere.

A year or so later, one of my coworkers at the RIT Research Corporation took a job with that company. Who she hired on with was unbeknownst to me. At the time, all I knew was that she had left for a "better" business opportunity. Well, within about six months, she was rehired at the RITRC. 

When I asked her what happened, she told horror stories of the company having money problems, unrealistic deadlines and expectations, a pattern of unethical behavior, and an overall toxic work environment that caused her to become so stressed that her hair started falling out. It turns out that the company was the one that Erik had warned us to avoid at all costs. While she and I were on good terms, we weren't exactly "that" close, so finding out all this after the fact wasn't out of the ordinary. However, I still wish I had known at the time where she was moving to, that way I could've passed on Erik's warning and saved her a lot of heartache.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Miku Expo 2021 Online

I admit it, I was on the fence when my friend asked me if I wanted to attend Miku Expo 2020 in Toronto. I wasn't sure that the Coca-Cola Stadium setting for the concert would be as good as the Sony Center--both visually and acoustically. And I wasn't sure that the musical selection could top the line-up that they played in 2016. That and I kinda didn't want to spend the money. But, I hadn't spent much time with him since he got married and had a kid, and it was Miku, after all. 

So, I bought the tickets and booked the hotel and began the waiting game -- which in this case meant buying a couple t-shirts, the concert CD, some miscellaneous stickers and keytags, and a pair of the official multi-color glowstick/wand-thingiees. Eh, if you're going to eat a cheeseburger, eat the fuck out of it.

Bob Dobbs would be proud. (Fnord)

But as the lockdowns hit North America, the concert was postponed... and then rescheduled to the first night of the Ottawa International Animation Festival, much to my chagrin. But, as tickets were already purchased and I was committed to attending, we changed our plans to take two cars so I could drive to Ottawa after the concert and he could go home to Michigan. Then the US/Canadian border was shut down and the concert was cancelled entirely. After our tickets were refunded, we sat back and awaited word on what the Expo organizers would do next. Turns out they decided to crowdfund an online concert, which debuted earlier this month -- and it was AWESOME!

The setlist was filled to the brim with some classics and a number of new songs that I had never heard before. Personally, I loved how they opened with 'World is Mine', the first Miku song I ever heard and one of my favorites. And although it appeared to be a reduced setlist (16 songs in 2021 vs. 27 in 2016), they really seemed to get a lot of mileage out of the Crowdfunded budget that they were working with:

  • World is Mine - ryo(supercell)
  • Alien Alien - Nayutan Seijin
  • Drag the ground - Camellia
  • Buraikku Jikorizer - Jizasu-P
  • ungray days - tsumiki
  • GHOST CITY TOKYO - Ayase
  • Thousand Little Voices - Vault Kid & Flanger Moose
  • Highway Lover - mikito P
  • Karakuri Pierrot - 40mP
  • Romio & Cinderella - doriko
  • Inappropriate Lady - OSTER project
  • Reload Words - sat (Katajuna-P)
  • Teo - Omoi
  • All I Need are Things I Like - PinocchioP
  • Lucky☆Orb - emon (Tes.)
  • Highlight - KIRA

The Vocaloids were supported with an incredible performance by Rock Sakurai (bass), Masaru Angelo Teramae (guitar), Nao Nishimura (keyboards), and Junya Yamamoto (drums). I have to say that they were just as good as the 2016 musicians: Kensuke Ito, Tsuguhito Konno, Takahiro Misawa, and MEG.ME.

For this event, it appears that Crypton Future Media composited the live band with the animated characters as opposed to doing a live projection of the vocaloids on stage with the band. I didn't see the "Pepper's Ghost" projection screen between the camera and the band like it was in the live action performances. And there were a number of instances where the special effects took up a much larger screen space than the projection screen would allow (like in the below picture during the 'Alien Alien' performance).

I actually liked this setup. Not saying it was any better or worse than the live action setup, but it afforded the animators some good options. They cycled through a number of camera angles during the show and adding shadows to the vocaloid models mapped to the stage did a very good job of building the illusion that the 3d animated characters were right there on stage with the band. When not done well, composited characters look like they're floating above the ground and it really pulls me out of the moment.

As mentioned, another thing that this performance model provided was the ability to expand their special effects. In the live performance back in 2016 at the Sony Center, there were physical props on stage that were also part of the set lighting, but anything digital was restricted to the semi-translucent screen upon which the vocaloids were being projected. So there was enough space for some creative special effects: digital wisps of smoke, some text, etc, however it wasn't as all-encompassing as it was during the 2021 show.

With regards to watching a show online vs actually being there... man, that's a tough comparison to make. Personally, I tend to avoid live music because it's so hard to enjoy the show when people are singing over the performer or drowning them out with their cheering and whistling. But that really wasn't the case with Miku Expo 2016. And while I really, really enjoyed watching the show from the comfort of my living room--AND being able to hear the music clear as day--there is an energy that you get from being part of the crowd that I didn't feel during the online Expo 2021 performance. I like to think that they made up for a lot of what was missing in the live performance by making the online show more visually engaging with the extra special effects animations. But at this point, it's really hard to compare the two experiences since the positives and negatives of both forms of performance balance each other out.

Another pleasant surprise was the opening acts. I honestly don't remember much at all of the American band Anamanaguchi's opening set at Miku Expo 2016  (I do distinctly remember that Anamanaguchi played the encore which included their song "Miku") and the rest of the 2014 "ARTPOP Ball" in Detroit was forgettable after Miku left the stage. I didn't catch a lot of the opening acts at Miku 2021, but the one that I did was solid. 

The songs I heard Flanger Moose performing were fantastic. I especially loved how he used a couple songs with non-Crypton Future Media vocaloid IA, like 'This Is Our Time'. I was able to Shazam a couple songs during the performance but am hoping to find a full setlist of the songs he played for the concert so I can listen to them all again.

All-in-all, Miku Expo 2021 Online was an excellent experience that I'm looking forward to repeating. Hopefully, next time the show comes through town we can all see it in person again.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Animated Thoughts: Annies and Oscars, pt. 2

I stopped watching the Academy Awards many years ago, pretty much when an anonymous studio exec admitted publicly that he (or perhaps she) never watched the animated films in competition. Since then, we've heard stories from other members of the Academy about how they just ask their kids what animated feature they like and then they vote for that film. Personally, I'm of the opinion that if you're not invested in that particular category, then don't vote in that category at all.

At that point, the awards lost all meaning for me. If I was a voting member, I'd only vote for the animated feature, animated short, and SFX categories because those are the only areas where I have an interest to watch all the films in competition--and where my both my knowledgebase and experiences in filmmaking lie. 

Amid Amidi of Cartoon Brew maintains a pretty good series of articles that discusses this problem in depth--including 'should read' links to previous articles (Cartoon Brew). If you're interested in reading more about this problem within the Academy, I'd start my research there.

Now I have several friends who are members of the Academy and are very diligent to watch the films that they're voting for, meaning: it's kind of a delicate topic. Add to that, I have one of those Academy-related memories that is near and dear to my heart: seeing Nick Park's Wrong Trousers winning the Oscar in the Spring of 1994 and wishing I could watch that film--then, seeing the whole film at my first-ever Ottawa animation festival that Fall. So, while I've given up on the Oscar show itself, I still make it a point to watch as many of the Academy-nominated animated features and shorts as I can--which is made very easy by the Detroit Institute of Arts/Detroit Film Theater having a shorts screening program every year. It's a good use of your time: you take the better part of the day to walk around the DIA looking at artwork, have a nice lunch, then watch an hour-and-a-half's worth of animated shorts. And if I have time, I go back into the DIA to be further inspired by art. It's really tough to find a better way to spend a day.

This year was only slightly different. The DIA had hooked up with Eventive.org to stream the yearly Academy Awards shorts program to our homes (for a nominal fee, of course). So while it wasn't the full theater experience, I still got to see the nominated shorts along with a couple that were in the running but didn't make the cut.

The ones that really struck a chord with me were:

Burrow. Created by Madeline Sharafian and Michael Capbarat as part of Pixar's SparkShorts program, Burrow was as delightful now as it was the first time I saw it. And having interviewed Madeline back when she was a student at CalArts, it's been a very fun experience to watch her career progress and how she continues to grow and mature both as an animator and as a storyteller.

Genius Loci, by Adrien Mérigeau and Amaury Ovise. Y'know, this film was visually engaging, especially with their willingness to use the 'white of the paper' or the open spaces in their backgrounds. But I found the story convoluted and difficult to follow, so it really detracted from my enjoyment of the film. Visually, it reminded me a lot of the beautiful Brazilian feature Boy and the World. Might be worth a watch on it's own, not as a part of a larger program.

The Snail and the Whale was a nice story--good for the kids market. But it went on for way too long. I think it would've made a much better ten to fifteen minute film.

And finally, DreamWorks' To Gerard, which was a very heartwarming and enjoyable film. Not really impressive from a technical perspective, I don't think I saw anything visually that they hadn't done in their features, but it was a wholly enjoyable story. I'd easily watch this short before a feature film on family movie night.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Animated Thoughts: Annies and Oscars, pt. 1

It was an animated weekend. Friday, after teaching my animation history class, I quickly finished grading most of the daily writing assignments, then tuned in to the 48th Annual Annie Awards -- presented on ASIFA Hollywood's "annieawards.org" website. If you haven't watched the ceremony yet, it's in the YouTube video embedded below. Some random thoughts I had about the ceremony are as follows:

  • Really liked the animation that they showed at the beginning with the spinning zoetrope award animated through various styles.
  • Hrm... need to see Hertzfeld's latest film sooner rather than later.
  • Daisuke Tsutsumi seems like a really decent fellow. Very humble.
  • We love you Brock Sampson!
  • Nice to see Cartoon Saloon getting some love.
  • Shroom's Odyssey by Piccalo Pictures - I put this on my list of films to track down.
  • Am really liking the zoetrope bumper animations!
  • Awards ceremony seems to be going at a pretty steady clip since people don't have to walk to and from the front of the auditorium.
  • Another win for Wolfwalkers. Cartoon Saloon is getting the love tonight!
  • Heh. The Frank Gladstone teleconference "cat" filter thing was funny...
  • Epic Games' Unreal engine has come a really looooong way! :o
  • Hoping against hope that Riot Games wins the award for Best Character Animation - Video Game... they didn't :(
  • Nora Twomey is looking healthy. Glad she beat cancer. The industry would be greatly diminished without her.
  • Definitely need to watch Transformers: War for Cybertron.
  • Y'know, Over the moon looks interesting. Might have to put that one and Croods: A New Age on my list of features to track down.
  • Hrm. Pixar's Soul is getting some love tonight.
  • Heh. Pixar's Lamp Life looks funny.
  • Yeah, still need to see Farmageddon. My list of features to watch continues to grow! I really miss the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema. :(
  • Would love to hear all those stories about Willie Ito... Loved the little video trick they did for the presenting of his Windsor McCay Award.
  • Bruce W. Smith was pretty funny and sincere. Great acceptance speech for his Windsor McCay Award.
  • Okay, not the biggest Critical Role fan, but their intro was clever. Reminds me of the "Play All" gag on the Aqua Teen Hunger Force DVD.
  • Wolfwalkers wins again--this time for voice acting. Good night for Cartoon Saloon.
  • Okay the Pixar best writing award "because of zoom" intro was hysterical! Soul is getting bumped up on my list of animated features to catch up on once the semester is over.
  • Loved the animated portrait shout out to Brenda Banks during the In Memoriam video.
  • Oh wow! I had forgotten that Gene Deitch had passed. Man that stings. I remember reading his part-bio/part-lessons for animators e-book on AWN.com many years ago. :(
  • Probably the best, most touching 'In Memoriam' segment I've ever seen. with the animated portraits of select artists.
  • Tartakovsky's Primal won the award for Best TV/Media - General Audience. Still need to watch Primal but that opening sequence is so freaking brutal!
  • Primal wins again... Glad Tartakovsky is getting some love... not sure about the 'shower scene' acceptance speech though.
  • Wolfwalkers wins again! Best Direction Feature.
  • Best Indie Feature: Wolfwalkers! Cartoon Saloon wins big tonight!
  • Best Feature: Soul with a pretty clever acceptance speech by Pixar. I wonder if the award winners were told ahead of time so they could film these acceptance speech videos?

Afterwards, I finished grading the last few papers and shuffled downstairs to watch the latest episode of Invincible. I know that it premieres on Thursday night, but I kind of like watching it on Fridays. Nice treat for getting all my grading done.

Next on my list would be finding time to watch the Academy Award nominated shorts through the program that the DIA set up...

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Thursday, April 1, 2021

Animated Events: The 48th Annual Annie Awards

 

Nominations for the 48th annual Annie awards are live on their website and can be viewed at: https://annieawards.org/nominations

In the Best Feature category, Pixar appears to be starting strong with two entries: Onward and Soul. DreamWorks is matching them with two entries as well: The Croods: A New Age and Trolls World Tour. Additionally, Netflix/BRON Animation/Creative Wealth Media is in the running with their feature The Willoughbys.

Since I haven't seen any of the corporate features in the above list, of a little more interest to me is the Best Indie Feature Category with Studiocanal/Aardman Animation's A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, Maybe Movies/Norlum's Calamity Jane, Rock'n Roll Mountain/Tip Top's On-Gaku: Our Sound, Science SARU's Ride Your Wave, and finally Cartoon Saloon/Melusine Productions/GKIDS film Wolfwalkers.

So far, I've seen Ride Your Wave and Wolfwalkers. Personally, I hope to see Farmageddon, Onward, Soul, and the Croods before the Annies, but that is about all the spare time I think I'll have in order to get caught up with feature-length films.

The Annies will be broadcast online on Friday, April 16th, 2021 starting at 7 p.m. and the links to view the ceremony are usually posted on their website: https://annieawards.org. As always, I'll be posting my thoughts about the ceremony in the weeks thereafter.

Best wishes and congratulations to all the nominees.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Animated Women "Your Little Ear"

Closing out the month, here is Gustav Hochstetter's "Your little ear" with it's accompanying illustration by Lotte Reiniger. I'd like to thank everyone for visiting my blog this month to appreciate a little poetry and art from 1919 and for your patience with my imperfect translations. For those who are interested in this subject and would like to read another one of Hochstetter's poems with an accompanying silhouette illustration, I have another blog post from a presentation I gave at ASIFA Central in 2018 where I cover a little about Hochstetter and Lotte's history, the translation process, and the poem "One must be the most beautiful". You can read it here.

 
Your Little Ear 

Your little ear, the ultimate jewel,
Has no place for regulations nor orders.
Entry is strictly forbidden to the nobles;
Your ear hears what it likes to hear.

And yet it opens up the very best round
So nice and kind to my mouth:
For wishes, sparkling like champagne foam,
There is room for a thousand kisses.

Poem by Gustav Hochstetter (1873 - 1944)
Silhouette Illustration by Lotte Reiniger (1899 - 1981)
Originally published in Venus en Seide, 1919
Translation by Charles Wilson, August 28, 2020

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Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Animated Women "I want you"

Today's poem from Venus en Seide is titled "I want you" and features a larger, one-page silhouette illustration created by Lotte Reiniger.

I want you
 
My yearning breaks all walls and dimensions:
I want you! You!
My longing must endure life and time,
I want you! You!
 
And rocks pile up between us two -
I want you! (emphatically)
And I can forgive those who forgive your sins,
I want you! (emphatically)
 
My yearning does not flag at borders nor barriers,
I want you! You!
I mark this in the heart and in your thoughts:
"I want you! You!"
 
And I stumble, my yearning still called out of the grave:
"I want you! You!“
But I want to live, so I have you!
I want you! You!

Poem by Gustav Hochstetter (1873 - 1944)
Silhouette Illustration by Lotte Reiniger (1899 - 1981)
Originally published in Venus en Seide, 1919
Translation by Charles Wilson, February 22, 2018


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Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Animated Women: "The Devil in Love"

Continuing my look at Lotte Reiniger's silhouette "illustrations" found in Gustav Hochstetter's 1919 book: Venus en Seide.



The Devil in Love
 
I'll catch that,
That, little witch, is certain,
Great trouble and complaint,
Great escape and obstacle!
 
But fill me with doubt:
What is the future of the womb?
How shall I become a poor devil
You go again later?

Poem by Gustav Hochstetter (1873 - 1944)
Silhouette Illustration by Lotte Reiniger (1899 - 1981)
Originally published in Venus en Seide, 1919
Translation by Charles Wilson, February 22, 2018 

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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Animated Women: "Your Red Mouth"

As my women animator interviews are still on hiatus (am hoping to get back to them once things go back to normal next year), for Women's History month, I'd like to share some research that I've been doing into the lesser known aspects of Lotte Reiniger's History.

The following is a poem written by Gustav Hochstetter and published in his book Venus en Seide (Venus in silk). The silhouette illustration was created by none other than German animator Lotte Reiniger.

Your red mouth

Your red mouth is a crimson gate,
the multitude of words sounds so bright and happy.
And if the word were full of exuberance -
when you say it, everything goes bright and good.

Because every word flinches so, whether it knows,
that your red lips kissed it;
and every week a happy feast
when thundering it releases [from] your beautiful mouth.

Poem by Gustav Hochstetter (1873 - 1944)
Silhouette Illustration by Lotte Reiniger (1899 - 1981)
Originally published in Venus en Seide, 1919
Translation by Charles Wilson, August 28, 2020

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Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Animated Events: TAAFI 2021 - the Toronto Animation Film Festival

 

Well, normally around this time of year I'd be making plans to drive out to Toronto for the Toronto Animation Arts Festival International's Spring animation screening. For obvious reasons, that's not happening this year. Fortunately though, TAAFI will be going online (much like they did for their Fall Industry Conference back in November).

From Wednesday, March 24th until Saturday, March 27th, TAAFI will be hosting evenings (and a day) of animated short film screenings, feature films, and Q&As with animation luminaries. 

Tickets are $35 Canadian for general admission and $25 CAD for students (college and younger) and single event passes for $10 CAD -- all can be purchased on the Eventive website at https://watch.eventive.org/taafi2021. Be sure to read the fine print as some of the feature films and events are only available with a full festival (General Admission or Student) pass.

We may not be able to be together in person, sharing our mutual love of animated film, but we can certainly be there in Toronto virtually (and in spirit).


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Animated Thoughts: Heavy Metal - Gremlins

So last year, I tracked down a copy of 'the Art of the Movie Heavy Metal', the only book I am aware of that is dedicated to the production of the feature-length animated film Heavy Metal which was released in 1981. In my animation history class, I talk about the film and go into a little detail on the production as well as an animator that I met who worked on the film back in the day (Joseph Gilland, animator and author of the Elemental Magic VFX books).

Back when I was in graduate school, I spent long hours by myself, whether working on my thesis film, classwork, or my part-time job as a software engineer. And it was during those days that I discovered a man who would become my favorite Bible teacher: Chuck Missler. Chuck had a unique style, to me at least, of studying the Bible: he went book-by-book, chapter-by-chapter, and verse-by-verse from Genesis to Revelation. Chuck always did a lot of extra work in providing context to what he was reading including (but never limited to) historical information, scientific knowledge, archeological discoveries, current events, military technology (a naval academy graduate, Chuck used to work in the defense industry), and even some of the 'woo-woo' stuff like aliens and UFOs. No other pastor, priest, professor, or Bible teacher I had ever encountered taught the Bible like Chuck did. And after listening to his multi-volume set about the book of Genesis on cassette tape (remember those?), I went back and re-read the first half of Genesis. It was like I had never read it before, even though I had read Genesis multiple times over the prior fifteen years. The words just leaped off the pages and came alive, forming connections with the background information that I had learned through Chuck's Bible study. Whereas before, they were just words on a page, now it was like I was a blind man who was watching a full-color movie for the first time. It wasn't just names and places, I knew who these people were and the world that they lived in.

It was a singular experience that I have never forgotten and have only experienced a couple times thereafter.

And while I didn't feel that same sense of awe and wonder as I did back then, re-watching the Gremlins sequence after reading the Art of the Movie Heavy Metal did provide a lot of nice 'ah ha' moments as I looked for details within the film that reinforced what I had learned regarding the film's production process.

Like how they got photos of an actual B-17--including the interior--from an B-17 in California--the purpose being that they wanted to be more authentic in their set design. Or how they wanted to make it look like the plane was really flying, so they used an 'anicam' setup with black and white negative film stock to film a scale model of a B-17 that was painted black with white lines. The resulting effect was an image of the model looking like it had black outlines, which was then transferred to the cels and painted.

I guess there's no real point to get at as I write this conclusion--other than, I suppose, reading books on a films' production or watching the 'making of' features on the DVDs can really give you a greater understanding of and appreciation for how films are made.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Animated Thoughts: New year, New thoughts


After a disappointing and uncertain 2020, I started the year out strong: was brought back to teach Animation History at Central Michigan University and they're looking to bring me back in the Fall to teach again. The two-hour commute is a bit grating, but it's only once per week and I really enjoy the course material. That and I am having fun bonding with the students over our mutual love of animation. If you have the time, I highly recommend Maureen Furniss's book: A New History of Animation.

Conventions are still pretty much on hiatus, though even more seem to be going online this year. Gen Con is doing surveys to gauge public opinion, but a lot of us think that it's likely that Gen Con 2021 will be virtual like last year. It's nice that a lot of these con organizers are doing "something" but online cons are still not the same. I just don't feel the same sense of community from a virtual convention. But, I sheepishly must admit, it is nice to have more money to spend on games and such since you're not paying for travel and hotels.

It looks like ASIFA Hollywood has moved the date for the 2021 Annie Awards. It's now being held on Friday, April 16th and they've gone completely virtual this year. As I normally watch it online--streamed through their website--there's really no change for me this year. I'm just happy to watch the show any way that I can.

And TAIS workshops and courses are in full swing and scheduled out to April. I'm a little crestfallen that I missed out on the Animated Documentary workshop. I was just too busy getting ready for teaching at CMU. Hopefully I'll be able to carve out a little time this year to take a TAIS workshop or course (or two) and make that investment in my skillset and knowledgebase. Gotta keep moving forward no matter what the future looks like.

As the fortune cookie once told me: "May you live in interesting times."

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