Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Animated Events: An Afternoon at the DIA

It was October. The leaves were red, orange, and gold here in Michigan.

I had handed out midterms on Friday and they started to drift in -- a number of my more diligent students finished and turned in the exam the very next day. But as we headed into the holiday season, I knew that time was going to be more precious than ever. Grading forty-three midterms, followed by grading two separate writing assignments in November and a third quiz-based assignment in December, followed by the final exam and submitting course grades lay ahead of me. Then there was International Animation Day, the Grand Rapids Comicon, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and finally, my birthday on New Year's Eve.

I had to face the very real fact that I wouldn't get to visit the Detroit Institute of Arts until January. Not being able to visit an art museum isn't a Greek tragedy in the grand scheme of life. But considering how much I work during the week, I do enjoy getting away from it all for an afternoon of solitude, a little exercise, and some artistic inspiration. Recharges the internal batteries and all that.

So, with the weekend open, a friend and I drove down to Detroit for a good lunch and an afternoon of cultural enrichment. After we finished up at the DIA Café, Jon and I went our separate ways. He wanted to visit the DIA's library and do some research. I wanted to drift and look at some familiar pieces of art--see what was still there and what had been changed since my last visit. I was not disappointed.

Hanuman, early 1900's
Unknown artist

The first stop was the "hall of puppetry". The exhibit had been swapped out since my last visit. Some of the puppets I had seen before, but this time there was an interesting note in one of the placards dealing with the puppeteer making a puppet transition from one size to another during the performance and it explained a little technique. When I think about how Lotte Reiniger made transitions in direction or movement on the z-plane, how the Indian puppeteers handled the same issue was very thought provoking. Worth some further research... and testing... and I wondered how I could integrate that information into my lecture on the history of puppets... or the assignment on Lotte Reiniger.

Painting from an Album of Landscapes
after Old Masters, 1619
Shen Shichong

Then it was off to the "hall of Chinese paintings". There's just something about observing the complexity of the simple designs seen in both the layout and the brush strokes combined with a skillful use of the 'white of the paper' that I find so appealing. I once heard that during Mao's "Cultural Revolution" the communists tried to destroy China's history. How many priceless works of art and literature that represent the great history of the Chinese people are gone forever? Course, for that matter, how many were destroyed during World War II? Or when Rome fell... or Constantinople...?

Fruit Piece, 1849
Robert Seldon Duncanson

Having no plan in particular, nor any special exhibits to visit, I walked upstairs and revisited some artwork that I'd seen many times before. This time though, feeling no rush to be anywhere or do anything, I sat there and tried to observe the paintings with new eyes and from different angles. My patience was rewarded as I noticed details in the paint/brushstrokes on the pineapple in Duncanson's "Fruit Piece", details meant to simulate light and shadow and reveal texture. Then there were the speckles on the strawberries, obviously meant to represent seeds--or the individual painted drupelets that made up the raspberries. So many small details that make up a greater whole.

The Veiled Lady, 1872
Giovanni Maria Benzoni

Before I left the museum proper, I had to take some more photographs of the 'Veiled Lady'. Still breathtaking... not just the ability to make marble look transparent, but also the folds in the fabric and the detail on the woman's clothing.

It really makes me wonder how long it took Giovanni Benzoni to learn and master the skills necessary to create such a statue.

Mont Sainte-Victoire, ~1904-6
Paul Cezanne

Feeling a little tired by this point, I had a light dessert at the Kresge Court and did some reading. I've been jotting down notes about a fantasy setting that's been on my mind for the better part of five years--writing from the first-person perspective like Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, as if I was writing a travelogue of my experiences while I wander through a strange and wondrous land. I honestly don't think that it's something that I'd ever publish. It's more the act of creation and having something special for me to read and reread that I'm enjoying. A roommate of mine once wrote several novels in the time we lived together. They were all set in the universe of a game we played and from the perspective of the main character and the mercenary unit that my friend played. One day I asked him if he was ever going to submit them for publication, after all, he had been a playtester for the game, he knew the right people to talk to. But he said 'no'. Writing these stories was something that he did for himself. I didn't understand it then, but all these years later, I think I get it now. Sometimes the story is so personal that you want to keep it all to yourself rather than put it out there, be it published as official canon or as fan fiction. Jeff was right: sometimes it's all about 'creating art just for the sake of creating art'.

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Saturday, October 28, 2023

International Animation Day 2023

 Happy International Animation Day!

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Animated Thoughts: Return to the Ottawa International Animation Festival

Fall was here.

The travel restrictions had ended. And yet I was on the fence about going back to the Ottawa International Animation Festival.

Since 1994, I had only missed two festivals (though I made sure to collect the program books for those two years). As time had progressed, a Fall trip to Canada -- usually with a brief yet enjoyable layover in Toronto or Niagara -- had become a welcome routine. As we entered September, I still hadn't decided whether or not I wanted to go, but I reserved a hotel room just in case. I could cancel the reservation up to the day before the festival so I was in no danger there either way.

While I had attended the virtual OIAF festivals during the lockdown, and had scheduled other events during that time to ensure that I would have my own "Ottawa" experience, I had to face the very real fact that I wasn't the person that I was before the lockdowns. I had been broken out of my routine and saw what other things were out there (1).

But I received an e-mail from a colleague who asked me if I was going to the festival. And he was someone who I've wanted to hang out with for quite some time now, so the die was cast and the festival pass was purchased (2) and I waited patiently for the trip.

September 20, 2023

Day one of my triumphant return to Ottawa!

It turned out to be a ten hour drive to Ottawa. Would have been a nine hour drive, but the traffic in Toronto was pretty tough to wade through. However, time flew by as I was talking with Jim Middleton the entire way. We discussed film, animation, music, the state of the animation industry, vintage film and sound equipment, and teaching modalities.

We arrived in Ottawa around 8:30-ish. Plenty of time to pick up our passes before they closed at 9 p.m. and then check into the hotel. After a tasty dinner at the Aulde Dubliner, it was off to the opening night party. We saw festival Artistic Director Chris Robinson and chatted up fellow animator Pilar Newton-Katz. Didn't see anyone else that we knew. The Pub 101 was packed with students. Jim and I then walked around the city and reminisced about places that had closed down and were overjoyed a the larger number of places we remembered that were still there. Was looking forward to having a crepe and a Beavertail at the Byward Market that weekend.

Over dinner, Jim listened to one of my animated short ideas. He was very encouraging. I think that having a set of completed storyboards before the semester ends is an achievable goal. Would be nice to show something to the kids--let them know that I do produce something other than animations of car crashes. And maaaaybe have something for next year's International Animation Day... and TAIS Summer screening. Heck, would be nice just to have something non-technical and artistic to show. I honestly never realized how difficult it would be to complete a short film when you're working full time. Makes me appreciate the work my professors back at R.I.T. did all the more. Seemed like every other year, either Stephanie or Skip would have a film in competition.

September 21, 2023

Was a nice start to the day. Everyone is pretty friendly. Met up with some regulars (and ASIFA members) Gary Schwartz, Josh Harrell, Brooke Keesling, as well as Pilar while Jim and I were at the Chez Ani, waiting for the first event of the day: "Dots, Lines, Washes: Animating Ink". Should be a fascinating presentation. The presenter was introducing the films. I was hoping that she'd include some technique in her opening presentation and I was not disappointed.

The whole screening was good -- would've been better without all the stupid students looking at their stupid phones though. You paid to be at a festival, sitting in a theater where you came to see some beautiful art... and you're surfing the net and texting your friends instead of watching the films. I don't understand people. The program opened with Ryan Larkin's Walking. Still a solid film even after all these years. She also showed a clip about Disney's ink and paint process as well as how they did background painting back in 1938--I didn't realize that the backgrounds in Snow White used watercolor. You can see the segment she showed in the linked video at time marker 3:22 to 4:28. But the whole video on YouTube is worth a watch: How Walt Disney Cartoons are Made, 1938.

There were three other films that really spoke to me from the program: 1947's Boogie Doodle, by Norman McLaren, Feeling from Mountain and Water, a 1988 film produced by Te Wei, and lastly, a clip of some animated shrimps done in the style of artist Qi Baishi. The linked video shows Qi Baishi painting shrimps and shows a clip of the film at the end. The film clip we watched was from Three Shrimps, 1950, but the video on YouTube is 'Rare video of Chinese painting master Qui Baishi painting shrimp.' Such beautiful films. I made some notes so that I could go back later, track them down, and watch them again.

Saw Lynn Dana Wilton on the way out. Was real sorry to hear that she had been ill, but she's looking very rested and healthy. Wish that the two films she submitted had been accepted to the festival. Would really like to see more of her work. I had seen on LinkedIn that Lynn posted a link to an anijam she participated in. Would love to know what segment in the overall film was hers.

After a short conversation, it was off to the World Panorama. I could already tell that it was going to be a great day of screenings. Every program I really wanted to see was that day--including the Canadian and Canadian Student Panoramas. Once I'd seen those screenings, everything else that week would be gravy. There were some really decent films with amazing technique--especially a direct-on-film short by Richard Reeves titled Intersextion (the trailer for which you can see below)--but the one thing I noticed which seemed to be lacking from a lot of the films I saw that afternoon was "story". Jim noticed the same thing. We were left wondering if colleges are still teaching story in these animation schools. I must admit to being a bit spoiled in that regard. Back at R.I.T., Erik's philosophy was 'it all begins with a story'.

After dinner, we went to the Salon de Refuses party. Got the chance to catch up with Toronto animator James Murray. Met a student (Joshua) who recognized the "Stop motion" t-shirt I was wearing. Turns out a professor of his was one of the people who started the Montreal Stop-Motion Festival. Small world. Went inside the venue and it was packed, but not packed enough to prevent me from meeting 'the' George Maestri. He seemed surprised when Jim and I talked about reading his articles in Computer Graphics World back in the day and owning/using all of his books to study 3d CGI character animation.

George, if you ever see this, I wasn't kidding about owning your four books and how fascinating they have been.

Some are still available on Amazon... just sayin'

On the way out of the party, we bumped into Brooke. Once again, her husband was out camping in "redwood country" while she was giving panels and doing some networking at the festival for her company. The solitude he was experiencing sounds really lovely. For years now, I have been living vicariously through stories of him going camping out in the middle of nowhere with some books to read and peace and quiet to enjoy. I hope to meet him in person some day. Sounds like one of those really chill guys who you can hang out with and swap travel stories over a pint. Course, maybe next year I'll follow his example and head out to the wilds of Northern Michigan with a couple books and my camping gear (and a crate of bug spray).

Heading back to the hotel room, I saw Linda Siemensky on the elevator. She's working at a new company. Hope it's a good fit for her skills and talent. Reminded me that I hadn't yet seen Glenn, my friend and fellow R.I.T. alum. Wondered if he was going to make it this year? Didn't see our fellow grad school alum Sarah either. She was usually there shepherding a bunch of her students from the university over in Buffalo where she teaches.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Wow what a whirlwind of screenings and people. Saw Barry Sanders while in line for the morning screening. Wonder how many of the Toronto animation crowd were at the fest over the weekend? Afterwards, Jim wanted to get his steps in, so he and I walked to the picnic where we chatted with Gary, Brooke, Josh and some nice girls from a school in Philly. This was the two girls' first OIAF ever. I handed out lots of free info for job hunting. I'm a little disappointed in myself. I didn't take a photo of the festival cake... or cupcakes... I don't know what they had for dessert at the picnic. At that point, I was a little tired of fighting Canadian yellow jackets over who was going to drink my soda so I opted for enjoying a brisk walk back to the hotel and taking a delightful nap before the evening screening.

The nap after the picnic served me well. I was awake and alert--enough to see Joan Gratz standing there in the aisles right before the screening. Had a nice chat with her before the films started playing. Joan was a pistol as always, but unfortunately she had to deal with a number of delayed flights on the way here. This prevented her from arriving in Ottawa until later in the morning. She ended up dozing a bit through the screening. I couldn't blame her. Regardless, no matter how much or how little, it's always a treat to spend time with her.

The World Student Panorama afterwards was very impressive. There's a number of films there that I want to rewatch and analyze--once the films finish their festival run and the kids put them in their online portfolios (hopefully). A very Canadian-themed dinner with Jim consisted of poutine and Beavertails. And lots of conversation about the state of education--and how to be better teach students.

"Yeah, I really missed these!"

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Saturday morning. Weather was beautiful. It was such a nice walk to the National Arts Center for the professional development panels and the job fair. Saw Bryce Hallett and Lynn there with an animation stand--two more friends from Toronto. Took lots of notes at the morning session about thriving in tough times. A lot of good info, much of which will make it into some of my future lectures.

Stopped by the cosplay drawing area at the NAC before having shwarma's for lunch. I really need to get better at drawing! Could've spent more time there and I'm pretty sure it would've been very productive. At the beginning, I was struggling and producing nothing but crap. So I took a step back and started looking at action lines. I'd draw an ellipse for the models' heads then work my way down their spines to their legs -- all following the line of action in their poses. Within a couple drawings, everything started to open up. Then I focused on proper proportions and a bit of perspective. The gains came much faster. My arm loosened up and I shifted from drawing with my wrist to drawing with my whole arm. More gains were immediately reflected in the quality of my drawings. Didn't want the moment to end but had to get to the competition screenings. I took a number of photographs so I could go back and do some more drawings off of these models later on.

Before leaving the NAC, I had the chance to chat with Bryce and Lynn. It was far too brief. Afterwards, I made a mental note to attend the TAIS Winter screening if at all possible. Have missed my friends in the Toronto animation community terribly.

Bryce Hallet (l) and Lynn Dana Wilton (r)

The competition screenings were pretty much what you'd expect. Chris has stated to me that he programs the competition screenings "rhythmically". It has felt to me and colleagues that the screenings have a "thematic" sensibility--i.e. one screening is usually predominantly humorous, another dramatic, one that usually deals with human sexuality, and so on. After hearing from Chris about his process, I'd actually like to hear more about his methodology--programming "rhythmically" sounds pretty fascinating. I've only put together some private screenings for my friends or ASIFA events, so my experience is limited and it's usually based upon building a program based upon a variety of techniques and across several periods of time. This year, I was informed that the competition screenings were based on the theme of 'gender-based violence'. Honestly, had I know that going in, I would've skipped all the competition screenings and spent the entire day at the NAC sketching cosplay models and going to the panel discussions. A lot of good technique overall, but just not to my tastes. There definitely were some really good films in competition though, like Living the Dream by Director Ben Meinhardt.

And A Crab in the Pool (directed by Alexandra Myotte and Jean-Sébastien Hamel) was a very heartfelt look at two children coming to terms with their mother's battle with breast cancer--see the trailer below.

But my favorite film from the entire festival was the the OIAF "Sponsorship Reel" film by Chris Dainty and his crew. It's not on YouTube or Vimeo just yet, but Chris posted it on his LinkedIn page. It's worth a watch!

Watch it here: Dainty Productions on LinkedIn.

Seeing that little beaver flipping pages as he animates just gives me a chuckle every time. Chris and his team perfectly encapsulated the feel of an animation festival in Canada.

After the screenings, I had a decent meal at Level One -- but not until I had tried out the "Caves" VR exhibit. Was nice to know that my new eyeglass prescription allows me to see Virtual Reality, though it was a touch uncomfortable trying to wear VR goggles and my glasses at the same time. Saw Jim on the way in to the Saturday Night Party. Went to the 'drink and draw' event and did a little more sketching. Continued focusing on line-of-action and proportions. Continued to see immediate results, but still see so much room for improvement. Before I left, I had the opportunity to talk with José Pou from this morning's 'surviving in tough times' talk. We were on the same page in so many ways: especially about how these downturns in the industry are opportunities to hone your skills while you're looking for your next gig. That and there's no shame in delivering pizzas or doing some other job while you're out there looking for that dream animation job.

Then it was off to the hotel. Caught up with Jim. Ran a load of laundry and started to pack for the trip home. Felt waves of nostalgia over the past couple days. Saw some great people. It was well worth coming to the festival this year. The only epiphany I had was that many of the films I watched kind of reinforced the fact that I really want to make films that are funny and uplifting. Sort of follow the Bill Plympton model of 'keep it short, keep it funny'.

"Just a fraction of the booths at the job fair."

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Technically I wasn't due back to the office until Tuesday morning. But during the drive to Ottawa, I got a call from the office that the e-mail wasn't working. I recognized the error message. It wasn't good. Nor was it something that I could troubleshoot over the phone. I told them to use their tablets to access their e-mail directly from the server and I'd fix it when I got back. When we got to the hotel on Wednesday evening, I looked up some possible solutions online--and also found a couple refurbished computers from Micro Center if I had to do a full replacement. We got back to Michigan around nine-ish in the evening. Jim left for home. I ran to McDonalds, grabbed some dinner to go, and drove straight to the office. Three hours later, and the computer problem had just gotten worse. I fixed the problem (sort of), however, doing so required me to re-register the business versions of Microsoft Office--and the boss's computer wouldn't talk to the Microsoft servers. I went home, somewhat defeated. The next morning, I gave the boss the options: buy a new computer and I'd transfer all the software and data or I could call Microsoft and see if they could help. In short order, I was driving down to Detroit with purchase orders for two computers. So. Not the best end to my vacation, but it certainly had it's moments. And I have to admit, it was nice to have that three hour drive down to Detroit and back.

I did a lot of thinking about the trip during that short drive. Still don't know if I'll get to go back to Ottawa next year. But it was definitely worth attending the festival this year. Figured the best course of action was to start saving up money now so that if I decided to go, everything would be fully funded and all I would have to do is make some reservations and buy a festival pass.

* * *

1. For a couple years now, I've been planning a future trip to see some of the world's greatest art museums. I have already visited the Musee d'Orsay, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Boston Museum of Fine Art, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the National Art Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. On the list of museums to see are the Louvre, the Hermitage Museum in Saint-Petersburg, and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

2. And a rental car reserved as my car has over 285,000 miles and I wasn't going to push my luck.