Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Old School VanArts

VanArts, the school where I work, is about to enter a new era. We're down to the last few days of occupying the original building at 837 Beatty Street, and starting next week we will all be living at the new campus on Pender. A big part of me is looking forward to a change of atmosphere. The school is now offering more diverse programs and is no longer the tiny animation-only Termite Terrace it once was. I think there are many good things to happen ahead, but at the same time, it's kind of sad leaving behind such a legacy of great memories and the feeling of the 'old school' VanArts. So I thought it appropriate to dig through my photos and present here just a small slice of the history behind this place that changed my life.

I first found VanArts on the web while finishing up my BFA at UofM and working as an animator for Steve Stanchfield. I thought it would be a good way to focus my self-taught animation skills into just one year of formal training, so I could develop a demo reel and then get crackin' applying to studios. In Spring of 1998 I traveled with Steve and animator Kit Mobley to Los Angeles for the World Animation Celebration. I just had applied to VanArts, and they had a booth at the event. It was there that I first met Lee Mishkin, who was the founding director of the Classical Animation program. I saw him enter the trade show floor and recognized him from the VanArts brochure, so I rushed over to introduce myself and he responded, "Nice to meet you! Do you know where our booth is?"

Lee Mishkin, 1927-2001

At the end of that summer I drove across the country from Michigan to Vancouver with my friend Brandon Moses, who flew back home a few days later we arrived. That road trip is a whole 'nother story (documented on my old website), but the day after we landed, September 2 1998, we went over to VanArts to check it out. We were greeted by school president Alan Phillips who graciously showed us around. In those days, Alan did everything...there was no admissions department or many other managers. The school was only on the 2nd floor, with some additional 1st floor space in an adjacent building. The 2nd floor was shared by Soul 2 Soul Hair Salon, which blasted hip-hop music and emitted a 'wet dog' stench every now & then.

In a few days I started my animation classes with instructors Lee Mishkin, Charles Phillips, & Marcos Gonzalez. I made a few quick friends and got an apartment with another student from India named Rahul Dabholkar, who has since had an amazing career in animation. Most of the other students spent most of their time bragging about how drunk they got the night before and how sick they got. This disappointing turn of events I didn't try to let affect me too much...I just animated away and would then go home to watch more animation. On the weekends I would go to Stanley Park, walk along the seawall pondering my future, and take naps in the trees.

Our animation lab upstairs for the first half of the year. My roommate Rahul is in the right corner in the sweater. I sat a few seats away in the same row.

For the second half of the year, the big class was split into classical and CG, and us classical guys were moved downstairs. This space later became a plant shop, and is now a ticket place. I think the classical group (CA5 as we were called) started with 11 students. By the end of the year we were down to 4 or 5. One student ran away with some guy she met at a rock concert...several others got homesick or stayed up all night playing video games so they rarely showed up.

The new CG lab upstairs with the scary wood floor, after they built the wall dividing up the old life drawing room.

The late Lee Mishkin watches over us while Abdiel, one of our Mexican casualties, poses for the camera. I took over his desk after he dropped out.

Me at my new desk with my puppet friend Skraboonikus, who would accompany me to English Bay Beach on weekends to perplex young children.

When summer of '99 rolled around, things got really fun, because not only did we all get caught up in the Nerd Frenzy surrounding the release of The Phantom Menace, but the summer students arrived! I was asked to be a T.A. for them while finishing up my studies, and I instantly fell in love with teaching, and with many of the young students there who were so enthusiastic about the art form.

My good friends Nick D'Auria and Kate Freeman were kids when they first came, and years later they returned as college hippies, and then became animators.

Kens Unite! Our guest instructor, Disney/MGM/Hanna-Barbera veteran Ken Southworth. Ironically, I had already met Ken in L.A. previously because Steve hired him for one of the Tonka games we made together. I got to in-between his scenes!

My original plan was only to stay in Vancouver for 1 year of training, then return to Michigan and continue working for Steve until more animation jobs came along. But meanwhile, the studio back home had slowed down, so this was a big turning point when I made the difficult decision to stay. The school had offered me the chance to stick around for a 2nd year and make a film, while working part-time as a T.A. and assisting their new smiley admissions guy Chris.

My new 'desk' where I began returning to my stop-motion & puppet-building roots. Note the head of the Skeksis Chamberlain on top, which was part of a full body puppet I made for Halloween. I can't believe they let me set up shop here. I'm sure I freaked everyone out, which was OK by me, really.

I was well on my way now to becoming the Hagrid of VanArts. Lots of changes rapidly occurred thereafter, including the arrival of a new batch of animation students who came to my apartment a couple times to party.

A gaggle of animators! I'm still very good friends with many of these folks, especially the cute one on the right sitting on the floor in the red sweater.

Yep...this turn of events brought Jay into my life. Good thing I stuck around eh?

Romance blossoms at VanArts, complete with funny hand puppets.

The past few years at VanArts have become such a blur, really. I couldn't really tell you anymore what year most students started or finished, and some of their names are starting to fade from memory, but I really must emphasize it's only "some"...most of the souls I've had the pleasure to meet there are still very good friends and colleagues. And of course there were a few students who really freaked me out, not always in a good way, but you know how artistic people are. I haven't the energy or inclination to spill out every single memory I have of this place, as there are only so many hours in a day. There's mountains more where this came from, but here's just a sprinkling of images (hey, we're all visual people right?) from my archives...

Me and Jay with "Uncle Bill" Matthews, Disney Legend and dear friend.

"A Phone Call" director Chun-Sin Loh with "A Mano" directors Carlos Miranda and Jose Perez, all now making their marks in the animation industry.

Colby, Katie, Steph, Tomoko, Kristy, Carling, David & Josh pose with all the food collected for the annual Christmas Food Drive.

Allan Cortez, Clarissa Koo, Micah Baker & Nick again(see? he's a college hippie now!)...guilty, as usual. Crazy kids...

Me with Galen Fott and his family...who would have thought years later he'd hire me? (Currently animating freelance on another film he's directing!)

Christmas Party!

Mario is scary on Halloween, and Killer Bunny eats his head.

Me with the great Bob Godfrey!

Bob and Nancy Beiman at a Grad Show.

Birgitta Pollanen with one of her Layout classes.

The dark & mysterious Chris Woods ponders just how the phenomenon of animation is possible.

Several successful grads!

This barely stratches the surface and doesn't come close to doing justice to all the wacky stuff that's happened in that old building. As a job, it's had the ups and downs that any workplace would times it was all-consuming. But overall, it's the dozens of talented artists, animators and co-workers I've had the privilege to know that has made everything worth it. Today was my last day entering the building to work, and then leaving it. Times of change are good and necessary, but they're sad at the same time. Leaky roofs and all, I owe a lot to this place and the opportunities it's allowed me to experience. Thanks to everyone who made VanArts what it was in the Old Beatty Place.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Afternoon at the Beach

Today we went to visit our friend Bonita Versh down in Vancouver and got to take Ariel to English Bay Beach for the first time!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Let's play some Zeppelin, Daddy!

Free Saturday

Very nice to have Saturdays free for awhile. Today was for shopping, family time and ordering our new compy. Our current and first computer was built & purchased in 2002, and is definitely showing signs of age. Time for a fresh start! We'll have it next weekend.

In our shopping adventures today, besides getting me new's become a tradition that every Christmas I receive some kind of Jack Skellington item from Jay. Well, this year it's come a bit early, since you never know how long these things will last on the shelf so sometimes you gotta grab 'em when you see 'em. Still, I'm not allowed to open this until Christmas, so nobody tell me we bought this. It's a surprise, of course.

He even has a fuzzy beard! But how would I know that?

In other news, I recently completed the proposal for my next book and e-mailed it to Thomson Course publishers, who made the last one. By contract I have to submit my 'next work' to them for right of first refusal. I wasn't sure if they'd go for a history book but through their recent merger with AWN Press, perhaps they will, who knows? We'll see what happens.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Family Week

I took all last week off since my mom & brothers were in town for Ariel's birthday and general Vancouver sightseeing. Much more to see at Jay's blog but here are some highlights...

Ariel tries to get Jonathan's attention. Look at me! I'm cute!

We are very bad brothers.

Everybody look at my Mommy!

Ariel loves her Grammy...

...and Uncle Dan.

Is your liver lazy? I've often wondered about mine.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

My Little Puppetoon is One!

My little Ariel-
A year ago today I was breathing a sigh of relief that you had finally arrived after waiting so long. After all this time, I still look at you and wonder if you're really here. It's amazing to me how much you've grown and changed, and I've loved being able to show you the world and let you learn who Mommy & I are...and how much we love you. Always remember that since before you were born you've been surrounded by people who love you. Not just people you can see and touch, but a whole community of "fans" who have watched you grow through our blogs here. Remember that whenever you feel alone.

I look forward to the years ahead, when we won't only be able to play as we have this year, but also begin to talk, teach, learn and reason through life together...and of course, watch cartoons! You've brought me lots of joy, and it's barely even started.

Happy Birthday my little Puppetoon...don't grow up too fast!
Much love,

Saturday, August 11, 2007

New Stop-Motion Dialogue

Ta-dah! It's Stop-Motion Dialogue film #6, from my latest class at VanArts. Some really great puppets, sets and ideas from these guys. Enjoy!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Family Time

Time to take a break from animation and see what's going in the rest of my life. (what? I actually have one? Yes!) Had my Aunt Nancy, Uncle Bill and cousins Ryan & Trevor over for awhile last night, since they're all in Bellingham for a music festival. So glad it worked out for them to come see us, after spending a day sightseeing in Vancouver. Ariel took a liking to them right away, just like last time we were in Michigan...she loves attention, and was again quite drawn to Trevor. Must be a generation-transition thing.

In other Ariel news, she's only just started to walk and already she's levitating too! Makes Criss Angel look like the Amazing Mumford.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

At a loss for words...

I finally forced myself to check out the new Alvin & the Chipmunks trailer with those sad CG abominations in it....I wish I hadn't. As a long-time fan of their records and cartoon show, I feel like I've watched old friends executed before my eyes. The TV intro takes me back to the exact feeling in my childhood basement every Saturday morning. You won't find any links to the new trailer here, cuz it's not worth watching, so here's my tribute to how they were, thanks to whoever posted these.

...and this clip, though slightly disturbing at times, is a highlight from their feature film, a strange mix of iffy TV-quality animation and great rubbery feature-quality animation by some very talented animators (Glen Keane, for example) right before the early-90s boom.