Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hollywood Jesus Gathering

More info...


A Hippo for Christmas

Here's a little video from Christmas morning last year, with our idea for me to give a puppet performance for Ariel's amusement. I'm not sure what she thinks though....she fell asleep shortly after we did this.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

New Adventures

Well, since Jay has announced this at her blog, I figure I should break my silence here too. My next big project coming up is a new job offer I've accepted to build and teach an online stop-motion animation course for the Academy of Art CyberCampus based out of San Francisco. I was referred to them by David Nethery, who I met at the Ottawa Animation Festival last year. The idea has been in the works for a few months now, but it's finally been made more official. The process has barely started at this point; I've been assigned a team to work with me in putting the course together, and currently collecting resources and brainstorming the outline. I expect things to start rolling along within the next month or so, and will keep me pretty busy through most of the new year. The course is supposed to be launched in Sept 2008. So, I'm quite looking forward to this new challenge.

It's especially amazing to me to see how the hand of God has brought this opportunity to light. It was through more of a chance meeting with David, who had worked with Calvin, who came with me to Ottawa, and gave us a more unique chance to connect. And then nearly a year later...I had been contemplating how I really wished I could spend more time teaching, and then this option fell into my lap, much like how my book got started. So the chess pieces were very well aligned in this case!

Also coming up is the second Hollywood Jesus Gathering in Renton, WA over New Years. I'm scheduled to give a presentation on 'Animation as an Act of Worship' on the Monday Dec 31. All are welcome to attend! (I'll post more details soon)

Friday, November 09, 2007

Pixar Story Review

My new review of The Pixar Story is now posted live on Hollywood Jesus here.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

2D or not 2D Day 3

Saturday was the last full day for the festival. The first film scheduled to screen at 9:30am, a feature film (apparently about a farting pig?) was cancelled due to the fact that it didn't arrive in time. We were too wiped out to attend anyway, and found out when we did arrive that they replaced it with the festival winners from last year...which included A Mano. I was pleased to see at least a dozen of the full-time VanArts students (see below) make the trip down for the show today. Some of my part-timers too.

11am began the first initial program of shorts. This was probably my favorite line-up out of all of them. Included with this set was our Librarian from the Black Lagoon, which was received very well with many laughs. (Nancy Beiman was particularly taken with it, since her mother was a librarian). Other highlights from this program were A Dogs Life by Adam Comiskey (very funny 2D film about the various antics of a dog around the house while his owner is away), My Happy End by Milen Vitanov (also 2D, about a dog whose best friend is his tail), and Alien for Christmas (very well-directed Flash music video with excellent character design). There were a few repeated films as well, such as a live-action/CG animated short we ended up seeing a few times altogether, called Fish, about a fish that shares a flat with a human; starts off funny enough but ends with a stomach-churning burp & fart war. All of the films in this segment were narrative and more cartoony; no abstract stuff.

Following was lunch break with Calvin and Nancy, and then back to the theater by 2pm for the next program of shorts. This one was a mix of different styles, including both narrative and abstract. Highlights were Marcelino and Bartolomeo by my friend and fellow VanArts alumnus Mario Pochat, a CG short he completed through AnimationMentor...Everything will be OK by Don Hertzfeldt, which is still brilliant the second time around for me, and a brilliantly-executed Flash(?) sci-fi epic called Glitch with great editing, design and overall slickness. At the end of the screening, I got to see that Mario and another ol' friend from VanArts, Peter Fiala, had finally arrived, unfortunately too late to see his film play.

Next up was a presentation by Michel Gagne, who showed us his various character & effects animation from his own films like Prelude to Eden and feature projects Quest for Camelot, Osmosis Jones, Iron Giant, Ratatouille and Insanely Twisted Shadow Puppets. In addition were some top-secret projects he's currently working on, which I'm supposed to pretend I didn't see. Michel's work is breathtakingly amazing, and he is absolutely dedicated to his art & craft. I've seen very few artists as passionate and productive as this guy, and he's also slightly insane, but in a good way. Just shake your head and drool at the beauty of his work.

Next we had a brief window of time open for dinner so Cal, Nancy & I were joined this time by former Disney/Simpsons Movie animator/producer Bert Klein and Hyun-Min Lee, director of The Chestnut Tree. Hyun-Min is now in the apprenticeship program at Disney, and deservedly so! As I said yesterday, her film is wonderful. After dinner we rushed back for presentation by Tony White about his career with Richard Williams & Animus Productions, the Animaticus Foundation and DigiPen. The goals that Tony has for the future of animation are admirable and exciting, and should surely be supported by anyone who is passionate about the art form.

Next up was the keynote speaker Don Hahn, who was eloquent, humorous and incredibly enthusiastic sharing his passion for filmmaking, animation and illustration art. A literal gold mine of material was shown, including archive material by Disney artists from the early 80s and beyond. Trying to condense Don's talk into a summary would barely do it justice. A big highlight for me was the inclusion of Lorenzo, which I've been wanting to see for YEARS since reading about it. It was worth the wait...quite an amazingly surreal piece of work.

After Don's wonderful presentation was the Awards Ceremony, which went by pretty quickly since most of the filmmakers spread all over the world were not present. Librarian received a Certificate of Merit which I got to accept on Galen's behalf.

We closed the evening with a Gala Event of food and mingling. I got to chat with Don Hahn and was honored to discover that he owned a copy of my book and had made reference to it in preparation for a stop-motion panel he recently was in. He's a fan of stop-motion and is glad to see it becoming popular again. It was a great honor to meet him.

The 2D or not 2D Animation Festival is a great event that is still in the fledgling stages of gaining momentum, and I hope it continues to get bigger & better every year! I hope to make it an annual tradition, so I encourage all to check it out again in 2008!

2D or not 2D Day 2

Today was Friday, a very long day. Started with some shopping and a few random observations about local Everett. For starters, popping into Borders Books so Calvin could inquire if they possibly had the new Pixar Story BOOK in stock. It took the girls working there about 10 minutes to figure out how to use their computer, in order to tell us that NO, they didn't have it yet. Which brings me to the 'random observance.' Every girl working there (I believe we counted three different ones) had the exact same appearance: long dark-blonde straight hair tied in a ponytail, slender, about 5'7" with horn-rimmed glasses. (Think of the brainy girlin your high school yearbook who loved cats) All of them! The same! It was like the Stepford Book Store Employees! This gave way to many musings about their hiring policies.

Whereupon we shopped around for some movies, books, stocking stuffers for the family, whatever we could find for a good deal on our current US dollar. Got a few books for the VanArts library, and I also found a DVD of Walt Disney:Man Behind the Myth documentary and a small Gumby set including episodes spanning 3 decades and the original Gumbasia. This made me happy cuz all these years I always felt strange not having any Gumby clips to show in my stop-mo history lectures.

In Everett we also got to see some local statues and architecture.

Visiting with the world's largest pear.

Whoever lives on the top floor of this building got gypped on the size of their balcony, compared to everyone else.

In the afternoon we had some appointments with two prospective students, one of whom did not show, but the other girl came with her mom and had a fantastic sketchbook, so that was great to see. Then I killed some more time exploring the local comic shop and used book stores yet again with Calvin and Nancy Beiman. We also grabbed dinner together; Nancy had many amazing stories about working at Disney and various other studios, too multi-faceted to document entirely here, but they involved everything from the funny to the tragic...from studio pranks involving Saran Wrap to animators committing suicide. I found out through their conversation that Disney animator Nik Ranieri, whose work I've always liked, wrote a Christian childrens' book called The Great Elephant, so I'm gonna have to check that out.

The festival itself commenced at 7pm to a decent-sized crowd. Festival Director Ken Rowe (in picture) introduced the opening film program of shorts, which were all directed by women, including Nancy Beiman herself (with an intriguing short based on one of her nightmares!) Many of the films were student projects, and about half of them were abstract in nature, which is sometimes good and sometimes causing a bit of squirming. The highlights, I felt, were Geirald the 5-Legged Spider by Sam Rusztyn, Invaders from Inner Space by Tristyn Pease, I Am PillowCat by Elaine Lee, and Especially (the capital E is intentional) The Chestnut Tree by Hyun-Min Lee. The latter film, apparently a tender silent tribute to the filmmaker's late mother, listed the assistance of Don Hahn, Bert Klein, Eric Goldberg and other Disney people in the credits. Goldberg's influence was deeply felt...it was straight pencil on white backgrounds with the classic flowing Disney touch. Absolutely breathtaking! I hope to acquire a copy somehow.

Following was a presentation of Girls Night in Animation with three reknowned women animators. First was Nancy Beiman (in picture), who showed her character designs and animation work from Hercules (the three Fates) and Treasure Planet (Billy Bones). She had worked on these scenes also with Nik Ranieri, and Calvin whispered to me that he had done clean-up on Nancy's Treasure Planet sequence she animated. We also were lucky enough to see her amazing short film from 1983, Your Feet's Too Big. Though I've met Nancy briefly before upon her visit to VanArts in 2005, it was a treat to get a better sense today of her great artistic talent.

Next up was Kathie Flood from Microsoft, who talked about game animation vs. film animation and how the two are similar yet different. The game promo she showed, for a PC racing game, was incredibly realistic for an intro reel. Pretty interesting stuff, and many questions from the Seattle-game-happy audience.

Finally we heard from and met afterwards Kureha Yokoo, an animator from Pixar who started as a crowd animator on Bugs' Life and has been there eversince. Got to see progression reels from scenes she animated for The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Beautiful work, and a humble spirit. She was rather delightful to listen to.

Next up was the "Surprise Screening" of the evening, which turned out to be Dianne Jackson's The Snowman. I had never actually seen the entire thing on a big screen before tonight, so it was a joy to see. And finally, the late night 11pm screening of more 'adult' animated films for the midnight movie crowd. A rather eclectic mix of styles, techniques and genres, including film noir, blood, poop, zombies, an insane homeless guy, Mexican cowboys shooting robots, a young boy who leaves his clothes all over town, a messed-up My Little Pony parody complete with a burning castle, and a stop-motion vicar who wants to have a "relationship" (of a more explicit nature) with God. Yeah, I'm not kidding. One thing about some animated films that bothers me is the occasions when you have a great-looking film but questionable content. Oh well.

As you can imagine, I'm exhausted and ready to recharge for another full day of animation!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

2D or not 2D, Day 1

Here's my first post from Everett, WA where Calvin Leduc and I are in town for the 2D or not 2D Animation Festival. We drove down this morning and arrived at the Everett Theatre for our presentation to a group of high school students. Afterwards we explored the town and found some used book stores. One of them had a very good copy of 'Of Muppets and Men' for $14, which I would have bought on the spot if I didn't have a copy already. Calvin bought it instead. Another store was run by an eccentric old lady who said she didn't have any books that would have been published after 1960, unless we did a Google search for a specific title to see if they had it. (I don't know what it is about Washington...sometimes it's literally like traveling through Twin Peaks. Funny people.) In yet another book store we found, literally called 'Half Price Books', all the books were...you'll never guess...half price! I got some good deals, but I can't reveal all of them here because some of them will be Christmas gifts. The only one I will mention is finding a good-condition copy for only $10 of Where the Sidewalk Ends, one of my favorite books which I plan on keeping to give Ariel in a few years when she can read. And I will also mention that if any hard-core Walt Kelly's Pogo fans out there (paging Mr. Fott? Mr. Nethery?) have an extra $350 kicking around, you can find a signed copy of one of his books inside a glass case there.

Today's other big event was making the trek to see the documentary The Pixar Story. As some others have said, most of the information about the studio itself was not new to us, as we have been following the studio in the news since its birth. The historical background of John Lasseter and his CalArts days was a bit more informative, highlighting the struggles the animators went through in those early days of computer animation. The film does a good job of tracing the roots of the medium, and really emphasizing it as a technique that was developed largely by scientists and artists working together, and that one group could not have advanced without the other. I've always felt the first Toy Story was a metaphor for this whole relationship, with Woody representing the traditional arts and Buzz representing the new technology. Overall, the whole film inspired me to re-watch all of the Pixar films again and soak them in more...and the ending notes signal a song of hope for what they will continue to do in partnership with Disney. No matter how much you already know about this amazing studio, you're bound to learn a bit more and see some amazing rare footage of the pioneering steps that brought them forward. Go see it, if it comes through your town!