Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas and Elsewhere

To kick off this catch-up blog, here's the lastest installment of animation from my stop-motion students. We tried some green-screen shots for the first time with good-looking I added the facial expression exercises this time around.

After wrapping up this last class session of the year, another Christmas has come and gone...kind of crept up on everyone this year...that tends to happen when it's early in the week as it was. This year I felt like I did some catching up on my favorite Christmas traditions moreso at the last minute. For some reason I didn't muster up the spirit to embrace the holiday traditions I love until it was closer to the actual day. I didn't help Jay put ornaments on the tree or watch that many animated Christmas specials, or *gasp* play the John Denver Muppet Christmas album...not until Christmas Eve. I'm a little bit disturbed and perplexed as to the reason why. The only lame excuses I can think of would be I was too pre-occupied with work, or that Ariel is still not quite at an age that I can fully share these things with her, and have her understand. Or perhaps I still have lingering afterburn of Christmases past where I would lose the sense of magic there once was, or the over-commercialization of it all (and appalling, degrading commercials for the Deal or No Deal Christmas Special) makes me cranky. Or perhaps it's because my grandmother broke her arm and is going through a tough rehabilitation right now. Who knows...overall when it was all said and done, it was a special day for the family and we had a wonderful time, and even more wonderful food.

I've spent the last few days hastily preparing my presentation for the Hollywood Jesus Gathering in Renton, WA, where we are currently as I type this. Yesterday we spent the day driving down and combing the outlet malls so Jay could satisfy her kids' clothes curiosities and we could just have some family time. Today was the first day of presentations with Greg Wright, Peter Chattaway, Jeffrey Overstreet and David Bruce. Though I'm still a bit bleary-eyed from all that shopping and staying up until 2am the night before we left, overall I'm feeling inspired and empowered by the words that were said today. It's been nice seeing the people we met 2 years ago again, and also meeting some new faces...makes the e-mail correspondence more well-rounded and complete. Hollywood Jesus went through a bit of a rough patch last year with the many changes that had occurred in its management, but I feel that it's finally coming out of that shadow and moving towards bigger and better things again. I hope to contribute more to it as much as I long as there are more interesting movies to talk about. I've also had a book review idea for 'The NeverEnding Story' kicking around in my head, so perhaps I should tackle that soon. I got to meet the author and purchase a copy of Jeffrey Overstreet's book today, as I feel from seeing his writing and meeting him in person that we're very much from the same planet. I ended up having a conversation today about 'The Dark Crystal' (which I just picked up the 2-disc edition at the outlet mall) with Jeffrey and Peter that was good encouragement for the soul. (Peter had a comment that the split between the Skeksis and Uru was a metaphor for separation between the body and soul...and when they come together as the Urskeks, they are whole, spiritual bodies. Whoa!)

I find it endlessly fascinating that I have managed to put down roots in this part of the I keep finding more clues throughout my life that the Pacific Northwest had been beckoning me for so many years. Some gifts I got for Christmas were a live Queensryche DVD taped in Seattle, and the DVD box set for Twin Peaks. So far in peeking at the special features I was reminded that the series was shot only a matter of miles from where we are right now. Yet just a few fleeting examples of pop culture that made me go 'hmmmmm' when I was younger...just something about the flavor they had...the feeling...the calling, which only in hindsight do I see how I was led to put down roots and live here eventually...and as a result, meet some kindred spirits. Anyway, just another weird thing I ponder.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Concerts and Counting Down to Christmas...

Just a little bloggy update for the life of Ken...last weekend Jay and I had a night out on the town for the Bon Jovi concert. It was a really good show, and they sounded just like their records. I particularly liked the old stuff like Runaway, Raise Your Hands, Wanted Dead or Alive, all them 80s classics I grew up with. Funny thing about Bon Jovi is I've never actually owned an official copy of any of their albums, but rather snatched up singles I liked off friends. They were always sort of on the perimeter of the bands I was more obsessed with, but nevertheless I would say an important part of the soundtrack to my teen years. Jay is a really big fan, and it appears that Ariel is too.

So I suppose now the circle is complete by finally having seen one of the biggest rock bands from that whole genre of the hair-metal scene that I grew up with, and still have the occasional entry into my current ipod shuffles. I thought it would be fun to post a reminiscent blog about the various concerts I've been to over the years, if I can remember them all. Somewhere I have a whole bunch of ticket stubs still saved, but can't seem to recall where I've put them. But off the top of my head, I remember my first was Aerosmith in 1990, followed by Queensryche (eventually 4 times), AC/DC, Def Leppard (twice), Great White, Jimmy Page/Robert Plant (twice), Crosby Stills & Nash (twice), Metallica (twice), Pink Floyd, Black Crowes (twice), Jars of Clay, and Lollapalooza '92 (Pearl Jam, Chili Peppers, Ministry, Soundgarden). Also saw They Might Be Giants in an Ann Arbor record store. I know there are a few others I'm forgetting.

I shall muse on music once again the meantime, it's time to wrap up some freelance animation and my part-time courses and get ready for Christmas!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Ken Southworth 1918-2007♦

I found out today that my friend Ken Southworth passed away, so I immediately passed the news along to some of my friends in the animation community. Jerry has graciously shared my message on Cartoon Brew.

I thought I would post a few details on how I got to know Ken over the years. I first got to know who Ken was through his work, unknowingly by seeing films that he worked on, such as Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, etc...and then more intimately while I was working as an animator with Steve Stanchfield in 1997. We were working on a CD-rom title called Tonka Garage, and Steve told me he got an animation veteran named Ken Southworth to key out a scene for us, which I would be cleaning up and in-betweening. When Steve told me who he was, I was blown away that I would get to work with someone with that kind of experience on my first job!

Later in Spring 1998, we traveled to Los Angeles for the World Animation Celebration and made some time to visit him and his wife Carol at their home in Anaheim. Unfortunately, we didn't get to stay long because he arrived much later than we said we would, after driving around to pick up some other friends of ours who wanted to meet him! He was a bit disappointed that he only had about 20 minutes to spare with us, as he had to leave to pick up his daughter soon. But nevertheless, we got to have a nice visit and see the miniature train set that travelled around his swimming pool!

The following summer while I was studying at VanArts, I found the ironic twist of fate that Ken would be coming there as a guest instructor for the summer program, which I was also assistant-teaching. So it was great to see him again and spend more time with him.

(Ken & Ken, summer 1999)
In 2002, Janet & I went on our belated honeymoon to Arizona and Disneyland. We both paid Ken & Carol a visit and had a lovely dinner with them. Ken showed us his train again and played piano for us. Ken came to VanArts for a couple of summers afterwards, until recent years when his health made it too difficult.

My favorite quote from him was his description of what an animator is: "one-third artist, one-third actor, and one-third engineer." I use this description often to my students and find again & again that it rings true. I feel blessed to have known Ken and to have heard stories of his experience in animation. I deeply regret that I didn't try harder to keep in better touch with him for the past year or so. I need to remember to nurture the relationships I have with these animation legends.

Here is another link to my page about Ken featured on my old abandoned animation history website.

I'm proud to present here my collection of mementos from knowing and working with Ken Southworth over the years.

These are key drawings he did for Hasbro Interactive's Tonka Garage title, produced by Media Station in Ann Arbor, MI in 1997. Part of my job was to clean-up these keys and in-between them. Ken had a very methodical way of planning out his animation due to his many years organizing limited animation at Hanna-Barbera, and he really seemed to like 'stagger' movements.

I think this is one of my clean-ups for a key pose by Ken...I like the 'Scooby-Doo' quality in the design and posing.

For helping him teach his first summer course at VanArts, Ken gave me a copy of this classic book which had served as a guide for the early animators at Disney and other studios in the 1920s-30s. It was sort-of the preamble "Animation Bible" before the Preston Blair book came along. This is one of my prized possessions, even more so now.

In those days I was toying with using my middle name 'Ambrose' as a stage name, but it didn't really stick.

A few years later, on another visit to VanArts, he drew this for my wife, who was also a student there.

I also asked him to autograph my copy of this rare Disney book I had picked up at a used book store (Powell's in Portland, I think!)

(The same page is also autographed by Disney veteran Bill Matthews, so it's pretty special to me.)

Ken faxed over to us folks in the 2D animation department of VanArts these notes and photocopies of Mickey Mouse drawings, pointing out they were drawn by Freddie Moore and making reference to the fact that he had succeeded in drawing Mickey's ears more natural instead of round, apparently "behind Walt's back."

One year while tending to students in the classroom, Ken sketched out an animation scene, either for demonstration purposes or just for fun. He left the drawings behind so I kept them. These are just a few key poses and notes, followed by the resulting animation pencil test which I shot to the best of my ability based on his notes and timing chart.

Thanks Ken!