Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Busy Bee

A busy time ahead...where should I start?

I've received word that "I'm Dirty", the short film I animated on through the Fall for Galen's BigFott Studios, is in the can, and is currently in post-production for a release date later this year. Can't wait to see it! Needless to say I look at back-hoe loaders a whole different way now.

I just got another little animation gig from Galen on another short film, so I'll be working on one short sequence throughout the next month or so. The character designs are really fun on this one.

Enrollment for my part-time courses this session has turned out to be rather low...the lowest it's been in years! Can't really figure out why, but anyway I'm still running my 2D course but had to cancel Stop-Motion, which I haven't needed to do in several years. So unfortunately, no student dialogue exercises on YouTube until late summer folks, (if my May course runs). A big part of me is actually quite OK and relieved, because as much as I enjoy my one day of teaching, it takes its toll after a long week. The last session took quite a lot out of me! I'm extremely grateful for the extra time, since I not only have this little animation gig but also my online course to start building, plus allowing for more family time. So it's actually quite a blessing!

Speaking of the online course, hopefully soon I will know when I'm going to San Francisco for the video shoots. This probably means no Michigan visit until later this year, most likely. Sigh...

Oscar noms released today...for the most part I don't really care this year...didn't see any of those deep, arty films I haven't heard about. New dramatic movies just ain't cuttin' it for me these days! Excited to see many noms for Ratatouille though. Tonight I watched the stop-motion Peter & the Wolf by Suzie Templeton which is nomimated, and loved it! (Watch it in 3 parts starting here)

I hope it wins, although it will probably go to Madame Tutli-Putli which would also be a good choice, and props for Canada too!

I absolutely adore Peter & the Wolf as a musical piece, a story, and for the many different ways it has been expressed through animation. (Just found a neat version narrated by David Bowie on iTunes, hoping I would find the Weird Al version, which I have yet to hear, sad to say) I have an old British audio version of it on vinyl and the Disney version on 16mm which is a joy to project now and again.

As a child, my Mom got me really interested in the piece as a way to learn about different instruments. I was particularly drawn to the french horn because I loved the wolf's theme. Later on when I had to pick a musical instrument to learn, I went with trumpet instead...oh well, that was fun too.

Ariel actually sat still with me and watched most of the stop-motion version this evening, and even laughed a few times. I also just got the Chronological Donald Vol 3 and we both sat on the couch last night to watch it. Ariel laughed out loud several times...I can't even begin to express the joy I felt! My daughter loves Donald Duck! What a role model...oops, now we're in trouble! Jay will have to counter-balance it with Strawberry Shortcake or something to keep her temper in check.

Finally we are getting close to the phase where she will begin to sit still for a book or a short film. Once she starts to comprehend what she's looking at, the fun will really begin! I can't wait to curl up with her and introduce her to Snow White, Beauty & the Beast, Mary Poppins, and all the rest...not to mention Star Wars and Lord of the Rings when she's a bit older. I'm really excited that the Narnia films will likely continue to unfold into her generation; for her and any future siblings, those stories could be what Star Wars was to my generation. (Until then, we have the finger-puppet spider book.)

Tomorrow night I'm going to a test screening of Edison & Leo, the first Canadian stop-motion feature film. Back in the Fall I visited their set here in Mission and was blown away by the lovely detail of the sets and puppets. Hopefully the story works just as well. I've never been invited to a test screening before, so I'm honored for the opportunity.

In other future news, coming up soon is my Sunday Morning message, "The Breath of Life: Animation as an Act of Worship" at my home church Cedar Park, this Sunday (eeek!) January 27. Service starts at 10:30 and directions can be found at this link to their new site, if anyone local reads this in time, you are invited!

To help me prepare my thoughts for this momentous occasion, Pastor Dave just happened to find me a copy of an amazing book I just read within the last couple of days on the bus, called EPIC: The Story God Is Telling and the Role That Is Yours to Play by John Eldridge. It's a wonderful, quick, inspiring read about how fairy tales, myths and movies reflect the grand story we are all a part of...God mending the universe and calling us home to a life of adventure and abundance. It gave me a sobering reminder of what the Christian life truly is all about. I highly recommend it to you reading this, whoever you are and wherever you are on your journey. Find out more about it here.

In other future news, it's finally official that I will indeed be introducing the films King Kong (1933) and Jason & the Argonauts on Thursday, January 31 for the SIGGRAPH Spark VFX Film Festival. In addition, on Saturday Feb 2 I will be giving a re-cap of my historical Kong Introduction and then segueing into a Q&A with Brett Purmal, a current employee at Electronic Arts, who was an animator on the Peter Jackson's King Kong film. Brett has a limited edition replica of the original Kong armature, which should make a nice conversation piece, don't ya think?

There's many more of my favorite films playing throughout the weekend, in particular Close Encounters and Raiders of the Lost Ark...not sure how many of them I will drag myself to, if any...Raiders would sure be awesome to see in 35mm though. At this rate, I'm not sure if my brain could handle it...my life is so boring!

I need to get out more eh?

"I wonder what sort of tale we've fallen into?"

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Old School Films

Playing with the magic Canopus some more this weekend (my last REAL two-day weekend before teaching starts again), I've captured a bunch of my old films from my University of Michigan days for posting to the masses. In no particular order, here's some of my roots.

This one is from an "animation" class I took which was really more of a course on how to use Director 5, which was kind of a pre-cursor to Flash. The main character was actually built out of clay and animated into basic poses, which I took photos of (non-digital, mind you), scanned them in and imported them into Director. The TV images are a combination of 2D animation and still images. This film won first prize for digital animation at the final term film screening, which I was absent for because I stupidly mis-read the schedule for the radio station and had to do a show that night. This was created in 1997.

The second level of this Director course dealt with creating an interactive animated project, so this one was a "game" of sorts that included roll-overs and movies that played when clicked in certain places. It was technically never finished...there was supposed to be a different "horoscope" movie for each Zodiac sign, but I only had time to do half of them. All the animation was done on paper and scanned in, with the notable exception of the fly and the baby fairy, which were "puppeted" in real time by moving the icon with the mouse and recording it. Primitive but fun, also from 1997.

Flashback a couple years to 1995 and my first 16mm filmmaking class. I didn't direct this one really, but rather starred in it, and technically was the "producer." I was in a group with 3 other students and we all got to share director, producer, grip and cinematographer on different projects. This was the "lighting exercise" film, shot over the weekend right before Halloween. It wasn't too difficult to act in this, since I for real can't play basketball and I seem to remember being pissed off the whole time. The soundtrack was also mixed by myself...I used 'Apostrophe' by Frank Zappa and a spooky Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan song from the 'Natural Born Killers' soundtrack. The music synced up perfectly as I mixed it LIVE along with the film, with no planning involved. Twisted but fun...the moral being that idol worship solves any athletic shortcomings.

This was our final film project for the semester, which ended up being 'co-directed' by myself and a student named Ed Tsai. Our team had a difficult time agreeing on an idea for this film, so I thought, "why don't we make a film about a person who can't think of an idea for a film?" That way we could each come up with a little idea to use, though in the end it was me and Ed's ideas that made it. Ed came up with the "Superman" and "romantic melodrama segments", and the "boy-girl-donut" and "WTF?" segments are mine. Again, I also mixed the entire soundtrack.

Within this same class, there was an 'experimental film' project which I chose to direct, combining live-action with my first attempts at cut-out animation. I was going to hold off on posting this one due to a not-so-good film transfer, but I figured since it's on YouTube with not-so-good quality anyway, what the hell. My story is not complete without it. Just ignore the fact that a cat goes through the projector at the climax of the film, OK? Once again, I mixed the entire soundtrack and the classical piece I randomly selected JUST HAPPENED to sync perfectly with the actions as I played it live along with the film...don't ask me how! The lead actress in this film, Amanda, was a musical theater major who was in another film project we did (which doesn't have any sound so it's not very exciting to watch) and we liked her so much we kept using her over and over. She's particularly brilliant and deadpan in this one.

This is my independent study film "Random" which was mostly done for experimental purposes and getting used to animating in clay. My brother Dan joined me in animating some of these segments, some of which were done in our basement, others in my dorm room. The B/W stuff was all done, sadly underexposed, on the school's Oxberry. Music by Frank Zappa makes it a bit more bearable to sit through...this film taught me a lot about timing.

Here's a bunch of "dweeble" animation I did on my first actual animation job with Steve, all done at his house for Media Station in Ann Arbor, for the CD-rom game Tonka Search & Rescue, only playable on Windows 95 and ended up given away for free in cereal boxes. That being said, I did find another post from someone who was quite fond of the game in his youth, which also includes little animations I did. This animation was all done in Photoshop at 10fps and compiled in Movie Player, for various parts of the game.

And from my Vancouver past, here is most of the animation I did at VanArts during the one-year program, almost 10 years ago now...

And my Halloween costume from 1999, wandering the streets of Vancouver as the Skeksis Chamberlain from 'The Dark Crystal.'

Good times all around. Still to come...Snot Living...

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Happy Animators!

Props to my fellow animation comrade Ryan McCollough for generously plugging my book on his blog. Check out his work...I'm amazed by the sheer VOLUME and QUALITY of it! He's been animating since he was a kid and appears to have made a good career out of clay animation; not an easy feat!

Last night Maddie Ferguson was murdered by Bob on Twin Peaks. Man, that was brutal! How did they allow that on TV? I wish David Lynch had done more TV...he blends horror and comedy very well, (especially when he has a cameo.) Reminds me a lot of another TV series I've seen from Denmark called 'The Kingdom' which was simultaneously side-splittingly hilarious and disturbingly frightening.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Random Creepy Things and Whatnot

So I've been easing into 2008 after the holiday hooplah by gradually balancing preparations for the years' events (building the online course, travels, work, etc) with enjoying the fruits of recent Christmas gifts and just being with the family, getting back in touch with old friends, and taking it all in.

The new Hollywood Jesus Review book is out, including my review of Ratatouille and tons more from the other writers. It's a thick volume this year...check it out here.

Jay and I have been making our way through the Twin Peaks series at night. It's brilliant stuff, and most of it I've been wanting to see for many years. I never caught every single episode when it was in its heyday, but I remember being so blown away by what little I do remember. It's easily my favorite work from David Lynch, since it has the quirky humor that's missing from most of his feature films...his features I find intriguing enough, particularly Blue Velvet, Eraserhead and Dune, but Twin Peaks is the best by far. Since it was made for TV, it's creepy Lynch-ness without getting as extreme and gross as his features do. Why is it possible to be simultaneously scared s***tless by something but also strangely attracted to it? Like this scene I saw for the first time last night (don't watch this if you are calm and happy right now)...

I can barely watch this without freaking out, yet...it's....just...so...interesting!

I got some goodies with my iTunes gift cards tonight too...some classic Bill Cosby, rare Oingo Boingo stuff I used to frequent while I was a VanArts student, random tunes by Led Zeppelin and Soundgarden I remember, and a few unfamiliar songs by Toad the Wet Sprocket that sound good. I'm holding out for their 'Fear' album to become available there...can't imagine why it's not, as they had some minor hits off it. I was really fond of that album in my high school/college days, and I miss it. Oh, whither Toad?

...and thanks to 'Studio Toledo' for the animated care package! I can't say I'm lacking in entertainment these days, that's for sure.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

SIGGRAPH Stop-Motion Screening

This hasn't been made as an official announcement yet, but I can't contain myself, so...the local Vancouver SIGGRAPH Chapter is planning a series of screenings in late January/early February of influential Visual Effects films. I tried helping them arrange the possibility of flying Ray Harryhausen out as a special guest, but that idea doesn't appear to have materialized. Nevertheless, on January 31, they want to do a stop-motion night and screen the original King Kong along with a new print of Jason and the Argonauts. I've been invited to introduce the films, so naturally I'm rather honored and excited! Should be a fantastic night.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Andy Kaufman does CTV News

Recently I got myself a new toy, a Canopus ADVC-110, which allows me to capture video again, since the old Matrox I used to have got fried by our old computer. I used this new one to capture clips for my Hollywood Jesus presentation, and it works like a charm! So expect to see lots more interesting video clips showing up here from now on as I become more and more obsessed with it.

Thanks to the magic Canopus, I'm finally able to post this video I did at the CTV booth at the Vancouver PNE Fair this past September. It's a little bit dated now that it's 2008, but oh well...

It's 2008, Charlie Brown!

We're home again! The Hollywood Jesus Gathering has come and gone, and it made for a great weekend. Overall I learned alot and got a great deal of inspiration from the various speakers and their wisdom; they all did such a great job! My presentation on animation went very well...a few minor technical glitches but I had a great time sharing it. Any opportunity to share more on the marvels of animation is a blessing...I'm sure glad I had that opportunity before presenting to tons more people in church in a few weeks! News Flash: I'll be presenting an abridged version of my presentation at Cedar Park Church on January 27th!

Best quote of the weekend:
Greg Wright: "You know, some people are going to say you're in danger of being desensitized to all that bad stuff in movies."

David Bruce: "Yeah, I'm so desensitized to Jesus, I don't want anything to do with him."

It will be nice in the future to be able to involve all of us, that is Jay and family, into the discussions and screenings more. Ariel is sure getting more active these days! Walking her up and down the hallways in the hotel was fun...she was terrified of the pop machine, which was interesting. At least there weren't any creepy girls at the end of the hall...


Hotel hallways always make me think of 'The Shining'...but not necessarily this version:

Merrie Neue Year!