Sunday, December 31, 2023

Animated Thoughts: End of the Year Introspection

The year has come to an end and once again I find myself looking both backward and forward. What projects have I completed? What would I like to accomplish in the coming year? Well, in addition to updating my history class for it's new format, there were two main projects I worked on this year that I'm particularly proud of.

The first was a cookbook for my nephews. One graduated from high school and the other from college. So I spent over six months talking to my mother and other relatives in order to gather recipes that have been in the family for generations--a number of which my nephews would have tried out when they came to visit. Each recipe had a story (or just an anecdote) on why it was in the cookbook as well as snippets of our shared history. I also included as many stories of our family history as I could find--even going so far as to trace our family tree back seven generations, which included the geneology work performed by relatives who had done much of this research in the years leading up to my project. 

Sadly, due to the Bolshevek Revolution and the Vietnam War, I couldn't go back very far through the Shemko and Nguyen/Pham lineage since most of those records have been destroyed. But, we do have some very detailed records of the Wilson, Crotty, and Shults lines. One big surprise was the work that my cousin's family did in discovering who my Grandpa Wilson really was and where he came from. I never knew that six generations back, we have an ancestor who immigrated from Italy to Ireland. 

Well, I honestly doubt that the cookbook will mean much to my nephews right now, at their current ages and where they are in life. But in about fifteen to twenty years, when they have kids of their own and they start fielding questions of what it was like when they were kids and 'where do we come from', I think the Family Heritage Cookbook will mean something really special to them.

The second project was no less of an achievement, one years in the making and that has been on my mind since being furloughed during the economic crash of 2008.

On more than one occasion, I've stated that I want to make more films that are fun and uplifting. A lot of this comes from my work as a forensic animator. The rest comes from my trips to Ottawa. The Ottawa International Animation Festival is a very inspiring experience and yet at the same time it's a very humbling experience. I see the works of filmmakers like Michèle Cournoyer and Andreas Hykades. They are entertaining on one level, thought provoking on another, but overall they make me confront the fact that I don't yet have the ability to handle serious topics with the skill and delicacy that they do. I know that we shouldn't compare ourselves to other people, but I often find myself listening to podcasts and audiobooks about serious subjects (like the Rape of Nanking or the history of Russia) and wonder how I would portray such events in animated form--an attempt to convey the tragedy and the horror of the event without it devolving into a spectacle that robs the event of its meaning.

This all leads into the other thing I'm proud of this year: convincing my boss to let me do a little internet advertising towards our existing client base. Yeah, yeah, I know, how does this relate to the above, bear with me. I've worked for Investigative Mechanics for over twenty years now. During that time, I've been filming car wrecks (and animating a few) in order to document evidence for court cases. Sometimes, I even get to make these 'mini documentaries' that explain technical issues to non-technical judges and juries.

And for at least the past fifteen years, through the good and bad economic times, I've been trying to convince my boss to advertise the company. As he's somewhat old-school, he's always balked at my ideas, preferring to gain new business by word-of-mouth advertising through satisfied clients. However, we've got a rather sizable library of cases that we've worked on and some are pretty interesting. So, when I pitched the website update and redesign this year, I took a little time to write-up some cases and animated the following video about one of our more interesting cases -- complete with some new animations to explain the issue we discovered.

Now it's one thing to produce a short like this one: dry, technical, but interesting to its target audience. It's another thing entirely to produce a film that can tackle a more difficult subject and make it appeal to a much broader audience. This is where I really admire filmmakers like Cournoyer and Hykades. I've watched Hykades' film "The Runt" many times over the years and discussed it with a fair number of people. I keep coming back to the 'rite of passage' theme of guiding a boy into manhood by teaching him the lesson that 'for him to live, something must die'. Most people I've spoken to are stuck on being horrified by the death of bunnies. They stop there and don't seem to consider the deeper lessons that Hykades may have been trying to reveal to his audience--some that he may have learned as a boy himself. Cournoyer's film for the NFB "A Feather Tale" with its themes of sexual fetishism and objectification is a little easier to find common ground with people who've watched it. We tend to see the same themes in the metaphorical imagery of a man who objectifies his wife told through the visuals of a farmer and a chicken.

I'm honestly not sure if producing films like the aforementioned is a goal I should be working towards or if I should stay in my lane. Though films like "A Feather Tale" may not have the immediate payoff as a comedic animated short film does, I suspect that the serious animated film may have a longer term payoff as it's meant to affect us at a deeper level. Bears further thought.

I remember sitting in a Toronto theater in 2014, watching the annual TAIS Summer Screening. They had put out the call to their members for the yearly anijam. That particular year's topic was "robots". So I banged out something quick over an evening and submitted it. That night, knowing that I couldn't match the artistic skills of my fellow animators, I went for a simple one gag story with a 'subversion of expectations' event thrown in for good measure.

And it worked.

The crowd got a good chuckle out of the ten second animation and I heard someone in the audience say that it was clever. I had taken my roll of the dice and it paid off.

There are a lot of funny stories in my past that I'd like to share to a wider audience. But there are also some serious and poignant ones as well. The first step to take is to write them down--which I've been doing for several years now, if for no other reason than to get them out of my head. As I close the book on the 2023 projects and look at my free time for 2024, I'm left wondering which stories I should invest my limited time and energy into: those that will make people laugh in the moment or those that will make people think over the long term?

Well, enough rambling. Happy New Year, everyone. Time for me to get back to learning the latest upgrade to Moho Pro.

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