Friday, November 11, 2005

Observation from voting

It's interesting the way our minds work, and how we often react to things out of habit rather than really paying attention to what's going on.

I went to vote the other evening. At the place of polling, there were three lines of people waiting to get their ballots, with the lines dividing folks alphabetically based on their last name. Occasionally someone would trek to the back of the line and make sure that people knew about the division, as the o' so helpful signs were out of view once you rounded a corner and left the main room. Now, if I were describing this scenario as part of a fictional story I was constructing, I would most likely have the exchange go something like this...
Poll person: "What letter does your last name start with?"
Voter: "M"
What was interesting to note is that in all the exchanges I heard, the majority of them didn't go that way. Instead, they went like this:
Poll person: "What letter does your last name start with?"
Voter: "McIntosh"
Interesting, eh? I have a hunch that most people focused on the "last name" portion out of pure habit. Most of the time when we're asked about our last name, it's usually not just the first letter that someone wants to know, so it becomes instinctive to just rattle off our full last name.

That takes me back to the whole idea of writing this scenario as part of a fictional work. If we are so conditioned to instictively answer with our full last name, it would seem more natural to craft the story that way. The trouble is that during the course of writing, an author might not think about something like that. Because he/she generally isn't in the natural moment, or observing someone else in such a moment, the response that they write to that question will likely be logical, like the first version, rather than instinctive and natural, like the second version.

In terms of animation, what this experience reinforced to me was the importance of observation. We often think we know how a character will do a certain action or react in a certain situation, but in doing so, we're in danger of creating something that feels more logical than natural. By taking time to research and observe as we plan an assignment, we will often find things that might not have come to us if we'd gone purely on our own thought process.

An example of this was shared by Bobby Beck at the presentation he made here in Dallas during the Industry Giants event this past summer. He asked the audience to think about a child doing a somersault, and picture how that motion would look. He even did a somersault for us on stage, demonstrating the gut reaction that most of us would have if asked to animate something like this...just a plain ol' somersault.

He then showed us some video reference of that was shot while he was working at Pixar on Monsters Inc. In the clip, this little one- or two-year-old boy bent over and put his head and hands on the floor, ready to do a somersault. However, he had simply bent down from the waist, keeping his legs fairly straight, so he didn't have the leverage needed with his legs to push himself over. He shifted his feet from side to side numerous times in an attempt to finish the somersault, all the while balancing his upper body on his head and hands, and everybody in the audience just cracked up. It was hilarious to see, but more importantly, it was so much more natural because it was real.

It's entirely possible that someone could come up with the same idea if given enough time, but the point Bobby was making was that observation gets us to those instinctive, natural ideas much faster. And the sooner we can get to those great ideas, the sooner we can start putting those ideas into our work.

Observe, observe, observe!!!

Monday, November 07, 2005

More Escher and animation

I'm cleaning my desk (whew!) and found another one from a month ago that I should have posted. Great relevance for animation...
Whoever wants to portray something that does not exist has to obey certain rules. Those rules are more or less the same as for the teller of fairy tales; he has to apply the function of contrasts; he has to cause a shock.

More weekend thoughts from Escher

If this doesn't apply to animation, I don't know what does...

We hanker after the unnatural or supernatural, that which does not exist, a
miracle. As if ordinary reality isn't enigmatic enough!

The wierdest taste...

I swear, Taco Bell's pink lemonade has to be one-quarter Pepto Bismol. But I'm drinking it anyway.

That's all for now...

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Rest in peace, Maggie

Today was one of the saddest days I've had in a long, long time. So why am I sharing this instead of something more inspiring? Hang on for a paragraph or two and you'll see...

We've been watching the declining health of our beloved feline, Maggie, for the past three months. At first we thought it might just be age, as she was approaching eleven years old by our calculations. However, the vet suspected that a lump he felt in her stomach was some form of cancer. We couldn't afford the operation to find out exactly what it was, and x-rays were inconclusive, so we just took care of her as best we could.

She still ate, but her condition reached a point where the food would go straight through her in a matter of minutes, so she continued to lose weight. She did nothing but lie on the floor all day, although she would occasionally spend some time sitting in my wife's lap, purring softly. Early on we got some medicine for her, and kept hoping she would get better. As time went on, we realized the medicine wasn't doing any good, so we stopped administering it a few days ago.

Last night we talked a good deal about what to do, and decided that it was time to end Maggie's suffering. I delayed my trip in to work, and we took her to the vet first thing this morning and had her put to sleep. When you don't have kids, you invest a lot more love in your pets, and I was devastated at the thought of letting her go. As we said our goodbyes while she slowly drifted into an eternal sleep, I cried like I haven't cried in ages.

The reason I'm sharing this here is because Maggie was inspiring to me. She has been such a joy in our lives since we got her roughly three-and-a-half years ago. She was a very vocal cat, and there were times when she meowed in the oddest way, causing my wife and I to nearly fall over with laughter. We also discovered shortly after getting her that she loved to play "fetch" with her toy mice. She would bring one to us with a happy trill in her voice when she wanted to start playing, and if we played the game at night before falling asleep, we would frequently awake the next morning to find that the toy had been faithfully returned, and had somehow made its way under the covers. There were times when she would wake up my wife or I by licking our closed eyelids, and we knew that it was either time to play, or time to eat. As an animator, it was fascinating to not only watch her physical movements on a daily basis, but to notice her particular personality traits, which are forever locked away in the back of my mind for the day when I get to animate a cat. Maggie was quite a joy, and quite an inspiration.

The picture below was taken just a couple days after getting my new camera this past summer, while Maggie sat in one of her favorite spots, which happened to be in front of a special piece of needlework we received as a gift. When I began thinking of a picture we could share with friends and family as we announced this sad news, this image immediately came to mind. Maggie was and always will be family, and we look forward to seeing her again after this life is over. As my wife so eloquently pointed out today, heaven just wouldn't be heaven without our pets. :)

Rest in peace, Mags...

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A couple bits of inspiration

Been really busy at work lately, but some fun inspiring stuff has come across that I gotta share:

Fancy Footwork
This guy's good! I hope I never get burdened with the task of animating something that complex, but if so, this'll be my first piece of reference material.

Funny Faces
The music isn't my favorite, but some of the faces these guys make are just KILLER! Live squash and stretch at it's best!

And then there's the Halloween costume of one Jason Schleifer.! Rock on, Jason!