Monday, June 27, 2005

Desk toys do have a purpose!

Earlier today I was talking with the creative director on the current project about a staging problem with a particular series of shots. We threw ideas back and forth several times, but we still didn't have a clear picture of the staging of a key character in these shots. Even sketching the setting on paper didn't fully help.

Solution: toys!

We took several of my smaller desk toys and set them up to represent the key groups and characters we needed to discuss. To represent the camera position, I laid a little mini-bottle of hot sauce on its side. With these aides, we worked out the problem in a matter of seconds.

Vive la desk toys!

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Illustration Friday: Black and White

Lady Liberty - 1999 - scratchboard

Okay, so I'm not exactly sticking with my goal of drawing new images for Illustration Friday. I am still drawing, which is good, but when the topic of "black and white" was announced, this older creation immediately came to mind.

This is my one-and-only (so far) excursion into the world of scratchboard. It was an exercise for a class in illustration styles and techniques. While it could clearly be a lot better, I'm pretty happy with how it turned out considering I'd never used the material before.

Friday, June 17, 2005

I am a chestnut tree!

Several years ago, a friend sent me a sort of "tree zodiac" list, in which the year is broken up into groups of dates, and each date group has a corresponding tree. You find the group that contains your birthdate, and the tree associated with that group supposedly represents specific character qualities and traits that apply to you.

Now normally I'm not the type that puts a lot of trust or belief in these types of things, but I took a look at it anyway. I went down the list to the range where my birthdate fell, and I and found my tree...

A chestnut tree.

Hmmm....chestnut. Okaaayyyyyy....

I looked at personality profile for the chestnut, and was kind of surprised to find that many of the attributes did fit quite well with me. One particular attribute, though, left my friend and I a tad confused: vivacious. We both had a rough idea what it meant, but we were curious to know the specifics.

That night when I got home, I dug out my handy-dandy dictionary and looked it up. When I read the first word in the definition, I laughed my head off. I called the friend who had sent me the list.

"You'll never guess what the first word is in the definition of 'vivacious'," I said.

"What? What is it?"


There couldn't be a better match.

I am a chestnut tree!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Escher and animation

I like to keep a page-a-day calendar on my desk at work, and this year I decided to get one containing the art of M.C. Escher. In addition to daily samples of his drawings and woodcuts and such, the weekend pages feature quotes from Escher, several of which hit home to me from an animation standpoint...
"The flat shape irritates me -- I feel like telling my objects, you are too fictitious, lying there next to each other static and frozen; do something, come off the paper and show me what you are capable of! So I make them come out of the plane."

"When, upon completion of high school, I became a student of the Haarlem School for Architecture and Decorative Arts, I came within a hairsbreadth of having the opportunity to become a useful member of society. . . . But the school also offered a course in graphic arts."

"There is indeed a great satisfaction in acquiring skill, in coming to thoroughly understand the qualities of the material at hand and in learning to use the instruments we have -- in the first place, our hands! -- in an effective and controlled way."

"That remarkable urge to obtain multiple images, for which I have no rational explanation, probably goes back to a primeval instinct. It has something to do with "Go forth and multiply..."

"The graphic artist's immaterial and purely spiritual ideal is the fruitful transfer of thoughts from one human being to as many fellow human beings as possible."

Wonderful stuff! I'll share more later as I come across them.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Illustration Friday: Summer

Harold has mixed feelings. He's happy that it's summer. He's sad that his hat is too small to protect him from the sun's burning rays.

Thus begins my venture into the world of Illustration Friday. I won't go into great detail on why drawing frustrates me, but it does. However, I know that I need to practice, even with uber-cheap little doodles like this, so I figured I'd give it a shot.

I scratched this out on a sticky-note at work yesterday. I didn't have a specific idea in mind when I began. I just started with the eyes and nose, then doodled my way out from there. Perhaps the sticky-note will be my surface of choice for all these weekly drawings. Hmmm....

Friday, June 10, 2005

Balance and Seward Street

I'm a relative newbie at this game called "animation," having only been in the business for four years. In that time, though, I've seen a hefty variety of attitudes about the the animation industry, and heard plenty of stories -- both good and bad -- about people, companies, projects, etc. I've also been thrown some interesting curves along the way, helping me to build my own collection of stories. I'll never forget attending my first company meeting on day three of my first animation job and finding that I was about to have my first brush with layoffs. *SMACK!* Hello, reality!

So after four years of ups and downs, I find myself blessed to be at a growing company, supervising a team of animators on a big project. In dealing with the unique joys and stresses of that responsibility (along with trying to figure out the ever-present problem of what on earth I'd like to do with my career going forward), the whole "balance" issue has been coming to mind with greater frequency and urgency. As though on cue, Jim Hull over at Seward Street posted a transcript of a great article about the importance of balance in an animation career.

One key aspect of this article is that it features examples of several successful animators who managed to have long, healthy careers despite the noise, chaos, and idiocy that's interwoven with the beauty, joy, and inspiration. While it's fairly obvious that balance is important, and it's not much of a stretch to think of ways that such balance can be achieved, having examples of folks who have pulled it off is an extra kicker, and a very welcome one at that. For me, at least, their presence helps to push the concept of balance from aspiration to inspiration, and these people become even greater heroes. They're not just successful animators. They're successful in spite of all the negative influences that can so easily cloud the mind and burden the soul. They've passed through the refiner's fire, letting the dross slip away while allowing the heat to appropriately refine them. They are truly great!

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Hilarious video

For this quick entry, I'm broadening the scope just a tad. This homemade music-video of a popular 80's song is just too funny to contain. One might even say that it's some way...I think...

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Artists and doubt

Just a quick thought I found in my archives...
The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize. -- Robert Hughes

It reminds me of a comment I heard from an animator friend several years ago. While I'm wild-guessing the exact words, the gist of it has stuck with me ever since...
Even the best artist has room to grow. If I ever get to the point where I think that I know everything, that I have nothing left to learn...I'm in deep trouble.

Monday, June 06, 2005

A Day In the Life of an Animator: Haiku

Some time in the late part of 2004, word was spread around the Reel FX office that we were going to be featured in some local business publication. As part of that project, the call was put out for folks to write little blurbs about what it's like to work at the studio, with the typical "day in the life" summary being specifically mentioned.

I tossed the idea around a bit, and decided to do the "day in the life" treatment, but compose it in Haiku form. I'll admit it's not pure Haiku (i.e. there's no mention of a season in each three-line verse), but it follows the Haiku meter restrictions, which was my primary goal. To date, the article has yet to be published, and I have no idea if my submission was even going to be included, so I'm taking the liberty of publishing it here first. (For what it's worth, the specific scenario described is purely fictional.)


A Day in the Life of an Animator

Walk in the front door.
"Good morning." Check for new snacks.
Up three flights of stairs. *

Animation room.
Three fellow pixel pushers
Share the tiny space.

Log in. Check mail. None.
What am I supposed to be
doing today? Hmmm...

Interesting thing,
Character animation.
Bringing stuff to life.

Today's task is to
Make a fat bear do a flip.
Google: Bears flipping.

Plan the shot a bit,
With the final goal in mind:
Three seconds a day.

Set the key poses.
Looks pretty good so far. Wow...
Lunch time already?

Gather the crew and
Walk to Tony Roma's. Mmmm...
Wedge salad and soup.

Back to work we go.
On to breakdown poses. Aargh!
Cooperate, knees!!

Three-thirty!? Curses!
Must work faster...focus, man!
Dailies are at five!

Four-fifteen: Almost
Finished...just a little more...
No!! The program crashed!!!

Four-fifty: Lost work
All made up, final polish
done. Off to dailies.

Please approve the shot.
What? He's flipping through a tree?
Where'd the tree come from?!

Set changes...again?
The set was locked! Okay, fine...
I'll do it over.

Pack my bag, head out
To catch the six-thirty train,
Look back on the day...

Interesting thing,
Character animation.
Bringing stuff to life.

Tedious? Perhaps,
But in the end, it's a joy
I would never trade.
* Before moving to our spacious new digs in a large converted warehouse, Reel FX occupied three of the four floors in a small converted coffee factory.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

The eyes have it

Several years ago I picked up a copy of The Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes at a book sale. One day while reading it during my train commute to work, I ran across an interesting passage that reinforced a certain animation concept.

The Adventure of the Cardboard Box began with Holmes and Watson attempting to relax in Holmes' apartment on a hot summer day. Watson found the morning paper uninteresting, and found Holmes unwilling to take part in conversation. He tossed aside the paper and let his thoughts wander for a bit, when suddenly Holmes broke in and response to Watson's thoughts. Watson was stunned that Holmes knew what he was thinking, and asked him to explain...
"I have been seated quietly in my chair, and what clues have I given

"You do yourself an injustice," Holmes responded. "The features are given to man as the means by which he shall express his emotions, and yours are faithful servants."

"Do you mean to say that you read my train of thoughts from my features?"

"Your features, and especially your eyes."
As Holmes went on to describe the reasoning that led to his conclusion, it served as a testament to the wealth of emotion and thought that can be conveyed by the eyes alone: a shift here, a subtle squint there, the length of time that the gaze is held on certain objects, how and when the gaze shifts to new targets. When carefully orchestrated, the movement of the eyes and brows can speak volumes, even when the character isn't saying a word.

If you think about the amount of work that Doyle had to do in order to present Sherlock Holmes as a master of observation, he must have become quite an observer himself. I wonder what he would have been like as an animator...

Why this blog?

Truth be told, I'm still trying to figure that out. I think I'm getting warmer, though...

I've been looking for a slightly easier way to share the odd thought about animation, art, music, or whatever related stuff comes to mind. Rather than mess with manually posting new pages to my site and trying to organize them all in some fashion, I thought it would be easier to collect everything in a blog.

Before things get too far, I should probably offer some sort of disclaimer. I don't claim to know everything there is about animation, art, music, etc. I've still got a lifetime of learning ahead of me in all those subjects. From time to time, though, something will pop up that I feel would be useful to share with others. It could be an original thought, a discussion I've had that has helped to clarify a principle for me, or perhaps something I run across that's really inspiring. On the latter note, I should point out that I don't want this blog to become a copycat of other blogs. While I'll occasionally post something that someone else has also posted, I'm doing it because the subject matter truly inspires me, and I'm eager to share the inspiration.

At the same time, not all of life is inspiring. There have been days when the krunk and depression have been so thick on my heart that I've felt like throwing in the towel on animation and driving commuter trains for a living instead. I'm sure many out there have been in similar situations. When those days come up, I hope this will be a place you (and I) can visit that will help to revive the drive, boost the creative juices, and provide encouragement to press forward.

Thanks for stopping by!

Howl's Moving Castle

My wife and I had the opportunity to see a pre-release screening of this film on Friday night.

The raw verdict: Awesome!

The details: I must admit, I'm not a huge fan of anime, but I'm becoming a pretty big fan of Miyazaki's films. HMC is just plain gorgeous! I'm amazed at the amount of detail that Miyazaki crams into his scenes. The beautiful thing is that it's not just detail for detail's sake. It all serves the story, the moment, the character, etc. It all has a purpose.

And the! The variety of characters that he puts into his films is always amazing. Granted, this film is an adaptation of a young-adult novel, and I'm quite curious to see how the characters appear in the original book (my wife ordered it today, so I'll eventually be able to satisfy that curiosity). Despite that, it totally feels like a Miyazaki original if you look at the cast of characters, how they're presented on the screen in both design and animation, and how he treats them throughout the course of the story.

I could go on, but there's really no point. It's just an awesome film. Score another winner for Miyazaki!