Thursday, December 30, 2010

Redefining Success

I was raised to believe—like the majority of Americans—that success means making a lot of money, living in a fancy house and driving a fancy car. Period. That's it. That's the entire definition of success in the USA. I've actually been criticized by people close to me for "not making money" and for working at "those" kinds of companies (in other words, unprestigious companies.) I suffered during some of the best time of human life—one's twenties and thirties—worried about making money. That's almost TWENTY YEARS of worrying about earning enough coin so I can not eat cat food when I'm no longer "employed."

Wow, there are so many things wrong with this model, I'm not sure where to begin!

First, success is how you define YOURSELF. You're the only person that can define your success. How can someone else possibly tell you if you're successful or not? If you feel successful, then you are. Period.

Second, I refuse to believe that we spiritual beings—having a human experience here on Earth in the Milky Way galaxy—are here for NO OTHER REASON than to spend our few years alive collecting as many as possible pieces of green paper and trinkets until we die. Does anyone actually say on their deathbed, "Hey, look, my pile of paper and trinkets is bigger than yours!!" Once we die, that paper and trinkets gets transferred to SOMEONE ELSE ANYWAY! So the point was…???

Third, if your identity is what you own, then all I can say is I feel sorry for you. No wonder there are so many miserable people in this country.

I've decided to take a new approach. I've decided that I'm successful because I've either completed or have in some form of production approximately 15 films. 15 FILMS! How many people have done 15 of anything that's valuable except collect 15 pairs of shoes or 15 watches. I'm creating. They're consuming.

I'm successful because my rented studio apartment is rodent and roach free, has 6 windows that face east (sunlight is very important to me) and is located in a safe and clean neighborhood.

I'm successful because I have a plan for my future AND because I'm putting effort and action towards my plan, daily. The first part of that sentence is worthless without the second part. First plan, then take MASSIVE action.

Do not let anyone tell you you're not successful because you don't have Bill Gates dollars or Oprah dollars. It's perverse that in the USA the only way to be successful is at the extreme end. We are, indeed, a nation of extremists. There's no middle ground with us, just one end of the spectrum or the other.

Success is simple—you set a goal and meet it. Period. No one else's opinions matter.

Here's what DIY filmmaker MdotStrangE has to say about this topic.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

TRON (1982) v. TRON: Legacy (2010)

In a nutshell: No contest!

The only way the new version wins is, of course, with the quality of the effects. I am not one of those people who watches movie to see cool effects. I expect more than that from my filmwatching experiences. If, however, you don't demand more than cool effects (and they weren't even that great) and cool music, then TRON: Legacy is for you.

First, I saw this movie in IMAX 3D. Throughout the movie I raised my glasses to see the difference and…there WAS no difference! Even Avatar had more 3D in it and I even felt that was paltry. Honestly, I could've paid considerably less than $22 per ticket to see it in 2D and had the SAME EXACT EXPERIENCE!

Second, the story was weak. The son-searching-for-father storyline was not engrossing mainly because the son came off as a spoiled, rich brat. Also, the thread about the programs entering the real world and taking over had about zero menace to it. I felt absolutely no fear whatsoever from the bad guy and his peeps.

Third, the CGI was orgiastic. Let's say it together folks: just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. Just because you can move the camera around 360 degrees doesn't mean you should. Both the disc battle and the light cycle scenes were ruined with crazy camera work that only succeeded in confusing the audience. Also, the jet wall left behind by the light cycles was not presented as being deathly. The odd choice was made to make the jet walls shimmery and water-like thereby undermining the fact that it's a WALL! We all know what happens when you slam a motorcycle into a wall.

The only positives I can give TRON: Legacy is that it's two hour running time didn't seem interminable and the music, by French group Daft Punk, was truly cool.

I was so disappointed by this film that I watched the original 20th anniversary DVD version upon arriving home. Wow, what a difference. Yes, the effects are cruder and the dialogue is just as cheesy as the sequel, but it had a lot more at stake in the storyline which is what, ultimately, kept me interested.

This movie was the last straw for me. I have vowed to see NO movies in the theater for 2011 with maybe the exception of "The Illusionist." My only doubts about that is the realistic rendering of the characters. That stylistic choice has a tendency to put me to sleep so I originally intended to see this one on DVD. We'll see. But aside from that, I've HAD IT! 3D is a scam to get more money out of us while still telling the same crappy stories. I can't take it any more.

Just more incentive for us to create our own work and get it out there. Let's do it!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Decade Under the Influence—Part 1

I think it's important to dissect this documentary and the ideas expressed in it. The mindset of the film industry during that period produced some of the most memorable and iconic movies of the modern era. I think it's fascinating that a period of openness and experimentation evolved into today's mediocrity, fear of failure and lack of imagination.

Part 1 of the documentary is called "Influences and Independents." The studio system had died; the big studio heads—Louis B. Meyer, Darryl Zanuck, Jack Warner, Harry Cohn, et al—had either died, too, or sold their interests to non-filmmakers. These new studio heads were remarkable, in my opinion, because they knew they knew nothing about filmmaking. Instead of imposing their ignorant will onto the filmmakers—as they do today—they turned to the filmmakers and gave them free rein to do their thing. Imagine that, allowing an artist to CREATE without interference!

There was a new audience at this time, an audience experiencing Vietnam, Watergate, the Civil Rights Movement, the Women's Movement and general social confusion. People were questioning what had not been questioned before. Audiences were looking for something more meaningful and related to their own life experiences as opposed to the Rock Hudson/Doris Day glitz of the 50's. Audiences wanted something they recognized. The filmmakers expressed these feelings with their films.

The movies made during this period often thumbed their noses at the audience's values. They attempted to reflect life as it was as opposed to how the authorities wanted it to be.

I found all of this to be fascinating. As a child of the 70's and early 80's, combined with having a mother who was a film buff, I saw a lot of the social commentary movies from that period. To this day, films from that period are among my favorites. When I go to see a bad movie, like TRON: Legacy (to be reviewed in my next post), I'll often pop in a tape or DVD of "The Graduate" or "Network" to remind myself of what is a good movie.

Clint Eastwood summed things up nicely when he said that when making "Dirty Harry," they threw caution to the wind and just went for it, that they were FEARLESS.

I couldn't agree more.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Decade Under the Influence Reviews to Come

I saw the documentary "A Decade Under the Influence" (2003) several years ago and decided to watch it again. Unfortunately, I realized that the one hour tape I had recorded from tv was only one third of the entire story. Netflix to the rescue!

Now I've finally watched the entire story. And it's a GREAT story. The film is about the origins of the wonderful social commentary movies that were released between about 1969 and 1980. Since I grew up during the '70's with a film-loving mother, I saw a few of these films in the theater and many more when I became older, often due to my mother's recommendations. Movies made in this period—Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Godfather, Midnight Cowboy, Coal Miner's Daughter—just would not get made today. They're the opposite of escapism and don't involve glamourous movie stars. It wasn't about looks or money during that period, it was about expressing the cultural upheaval going on at the time (Vietnam War, Watergate, oil crisis, recession, women's rights, civil rights, etc.)

The studio system had just ended and this milestone unleashed some tremendous creativity and, more importantly, FEARLESS FILMMAKING! Which is the POLAR OPPOSITE of what we have now. FEAR OF FAILURE drives the American film industry. I'm guessing that's why actors ask for so much money up front; if the movie tanks, they want to get something out of it. But if the budgets were lower then the risk would be minimized thereby allowing more fearlessness.

Anyway, the documentary is divided into three sections. I'll talk about what I learned in each section in later posts.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Racist" Cartoons

I just watched on YouTube (thank the gods for YouTube!) three Warner Bros. cartoons that have been banned from television: "Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs", "Goldilocks and the Jivin Bears" and "Uncle Tom's Cabaña."

My primary reason for watching them—aside from them having been censored—was that I was curious about how black women were drawn and caricatured at that time. All of the above films were made in the 1940's. This was THE period of exceptional animation art. For that reason, combined with the fact that there's very little caricature of blacks today, I realized that I could learn from these films. Here are my impressions:

1. The dictionary definition of racist involves superiority, hatred and intolerance. I believe we in the United States confuse racist, prejudice and stereotype too often. For example, the "jive-talking" robots in Transformers 2 were NOT racist. They were a stereotype (no less offensive, but I think it's important to get the terminology correct.) I have the same feeling about the banned cartoons. They are not racist because they don't depict white superiority, hatred or intolerance. What they DO show are stereotypes of blacks: lazy, poorly spoken, shooting dice, zoot suits.

I wasn't offended by these depictions because this was the 1940's for Christ's sake! The one thing that confused me more than offended was the depiction of thick lips. It's not the thickness that bothered me because these are caricatures; exaggerating features is part of cartooning. Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids all had thick lips and no one complained. What I DON'T understand is why both the lips and the palms of the hands were shown with such a light color, beige maybe. The contrast of that color against the brown skin of the characters is jarring and just bizarre. Also, the inner-tube design of the lips was weird. I know that was the common way to show black people's lips but it just looks so…odd.

2. Here's what Bob Clampett said in later years regarding Coal Black, taken from Wikipedia:
Bob Clampett himself explained the evolution of "Coal Black" during his public appearances in the 70s and 80s, and during taped interviews: "In 1942, during the height of anti-Japanese sentiment during WWII, I was approached in Hollywood by the cast of an all-black musical off-broadway production called "Jump For Joy" while they were doing some special performances in Low Angeles. They asked me why there weren't any Warner's cartoons with black characters and I didn't have any good answer for that question. So we sat down together and came up with a parody of Disney's "Snow White" and "Coal Black" was the result. They did all the voices for that cartoon, even though Mel Blanc's contract with Warners gave him sole voice credit for all Warners cartoons by then. There was nothing racist or disrespectful toward blacks intended in that film at all, nor in "Tin Pan Alley Cats" which is just a parody of jazz piano great Fats Waller, who was always hamming into the camera during his musical films. Everybody, including blacks had a good time when these cartoons first came out. All the controversy about these two cartoons has developed in later years merely because of changing attitudes toward black civil rights that have happened since then. Hopefully, someday all this overreaction to these innocently-intended cartoons, which we finished in 1943, will settle down and people will be able to see them in their proper historical context."

After reading this, it suddenly occurred to me what the common failing of these films is: they're not depicting the behavior of real people, just show people. In other words, all of the music-playing, dancing around and zoot suits, that's not how the average black person looked, sounded or behaved; that's how the black ENTERTAINERS of the day looked, sounded and behaved. Clampett developed Coal Black with a group of performers. Instead of them infusing the film with genuine behavior, they fell back on the stock performance behavior of blacks during that period.

3. It was surprising that both So White (that's actually the character's name in the film, much to my surprise. Coal Black is just a reference to her hair color.) and Goldie were not caricatured in the stock way. The only reason I can think for this is that despite them being black, they were perceived first as women. And male animators ALWAYS like to draw their women pretty!

So these films were great for my research. The designs for So White and Goldie look like the usual women from that time with some slight exaggeration in the noses and mouths. They're actually quite cute! I made a lot of screenshots of both from which to borrow for my design of Honey.

One last remark about the films: I don't think these, or anything, should be banned. A disclaimer explaining their historical context would be helpful since so many people are ignorant of history. But outright banning ends up burying history. And it's important—especially in a country with so many immigrants—that NONE of America's history be buried. Everyone should know that there was a time that despite their heroic participation in WWII, black GI's were still portrayed as mushmouthed dwarfs.

Out of the three, I thought Coal Black was the weakest. This surprised me since some animation historians think it's one of Clampett's best. Of course the animation is fantastic but the story was all over the place. Maybe combining the Snow White story and GI's simply didn't work. Uncle Tom's Cabaña was better; it had some clever ideas. I could have done without Little Eva's musical number, though (her facial design, too, I intend to borrow from for Honey.) The Jivin Bears was the standout. It was a fun take on the Goldilocks story and held together the best storywise.

I read that some of these banned films will be coming out on DVD soon. I'll be sure to add that to my collection.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rough Animatic—Luthor & His Joint

I'm making significant progress with what I'm calling the "rough animatic." As I mentioned before (I think), although I was spending time making the animatic look presentable, I began to feel that the attention to detail was preventing me from envisioning the film in its entirety. I was so focused on drawing the characters and backgrounds well that the composition and flow of the story was suffering.

Now that I'm doing the animatic roughly—focusing on the cuts and timing instead of the quality of the drawings—I feel that I'm making better progress. Although I will have to spend the time to redraw the animatic so it looks better, at least I'll have the first version of the scenes complete. I'm kind of looking at this animatic as the "first draft" and the next version as the "rewrite." It works for writing, so why not for animated filmmaking?

Here's a little bit of what I've done:


And according to my current shot list (32 shots including opening and closing credits), I'm currently 40% done.

As of today, my goal is to complete the rough animatic by Jan. 1, 2011.

Here we go!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Practice Can't Make Perfect, Just BETTER!

I was so giddy while working on my rough animatic that I had to note something. With the drawing that I try to fit in on my bus commutes to and from work and during lunch time, I am truly seeing an improvement in my drawing!

I was drawing a few hands and even despite the roughness (which is why I can't show them to you…yet) I could feel and see that I was applying more knowledge to my drawing.

Let's keep practicing and learning!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Don't Fall for This!

First, I just realized that almost all of my blog post titles have exclamation points in them, as if I'm always SHOUTING AT YOU. I'll have to keep that to a minimum in the future.

Second, this was brought to my attention and I wanted to use it as an example to make a larger point. Once again, someone doesn't want to pay people for creating illustrations for them (Amid Amidi complains about this A LOT at Cartoon Brew). Why is art considered by non-artist to be "easy" and not worthy of compensation?

I apologize in advance if I've discussed this topic before but it's worth discussing again.

My advice is that NONE of us should work for free. Doctors, lawyers, police officers and elected officials don't work for free, why should we? I made the mistake of doing graphic design work for free and now feel guilty for contributing to the devaluing of the art industry. Never. Again. I do NOTHING for free and that includes "favors" for friends and family. I always ask for some form of compensation. If my request for compensation is declined, then I decline to do the work (I usually use the "I'm working on a project right now with a tight deadline, blah, blah" as the excuse.)

It's simple—everyone's time is worth something. Artistic endeavors take TIME. Therefore, they are deserving of compensation.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Congratulations to Bill Plympton!

The film "The Cow who Wanted to be a Hamburger", made by independent animation genius, Bill Plympton, was among the 33 animated shorts eligible for Academy Award consideration. Now he's cleared a second hurdle by making the cut to the top 10.

I had the pleasure of being the FIRST person to sign up for (and send a check. That's what really counted!) Bill's FIRST animation school class. And every day that I work on my film, I try to keep in mind all of the tidbits he taught in those 14 weeks.

Best of luck, Bill!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Storyboard Pro 2 Tutorial #4—Staging & Composition

Next in the series of tutorials is staging and composition. This involves planning the drawings to leave space for the characters and their actions. It also involves designing the props and background elements to aid in telling the story.

This shot may not make it into the final, but I composed it to show what Honey's doing in the bathroom while Luthor's waiting for her in bed.

One thing I know for sure: animation is PLANNING! This is the biggest difference between animation and live-action filmmaking. With live-action, there are surprises that one can potentially use in the final cut. With animation, there are NO surprises. Every single thing that one sees on the screen was planned in advance. Unless you draw something unexpected are do a strange tweak in Maya, your animation will come out exactly as you planned it. Due to the effort required to make animation, there's no time for guesswork.

That's why I'm spending soooo much time on the animatic. EVERYTHING is to be worked out in this stage so once I get to the animation, I can focus on the characters's performances and not whether or not their actions will fit the frame. That I would've already determined.

Without further ado, Sherm Cohen's tutorial about staging & composition is here.

Here's how I staged and composed a scene in my animatic:


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Animatic—Luthor Does LL Cool J Lip Lick

After studying some video screenshots of LL doing his signature lip lick and observing my mouth in a mirror, I was able to get this to work! I consider it an accomplishment because when I did this 8 months ago, it was seriously lacking. This lip lick version is only for the animatic; I can't wait to see it when it's fully animated!


Thursday, November 18, 2010

MAD Magazine Copying

I have ALWAYS LOVED the MAD Magazine style. I read MAD regularly in the 1980's, fascinated by the semi-realistic and amazingly accurate renderings of actors.

Around that time, I somehow came into the possession of a 1950's MAD paperback.


I loved how everything was drawn. The folds in the clothes, the expressions, the hands. Incredible. A lot of it was Mort Drucker, by the way.

Once I saw Will Eisner's work, I made a somewhat presumptuous decision—I wanted to draw like that!

Considering how NO ONE (I've seen, at least) draws like those guys anymore, I thought, why not me?

My first step in realizing this goal was to purchase lots of Will Eisner's work, including his how-to books.

The second step was to get the old MAD work. Luckily, I found a fantastic collection of MAD work—October 1952-December 2005—all on one DVD.

The third step…start drawing!

I've printed out a few pages of the first issue and I copy it while riding to and from work on the bus. I'm slowly learning some cartoon tricks that these dudes back then used, stuff you just don't see anymore.

I hope to make what's old new again, making my small contribution to the improvement of the animation industry.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Index Card Storyboard/Doodles

Monday I posted some of my index card storyboard doodles. They started as an exercise and turned into a productive tool. 

I'm embracing the idea that storytelling does not involve vomiting out whatever first comes up and showing that to the world. I'm understanding and appreciating that creativity is a SEARCH for the BEST SOLUTION. I should already know that since I work as a graphic designer; in that discipline, there's always an immediate, first idea. But that's often not the best one. What's best is the idea communicates most effectively. And that's exactly what I'm doing with this film, searching for the best way to communicate my story.

I had decided that I wanted my animatic to be as well-drawn as I could make it so I could show it to the world proudly. But that decision is also holding up my process. 

So last weekend I pulled out a stack of 3"x 5" index cards that I had bought to help with my screenwriting. I read that putting scenes on cards was a helpful way to organize the chronology of one's story; cards can be easily moved around and reshuffled.

I thought I'd try something similar with my storyboard/animatic. I turned the cards to the blank side and quickly doodled every scene idea I had for the opening of the film. I ended up with about 100 cards similar to the ones above. I spread them on my dining table and shuffled them around, searching for the sequence of events that was most concise and most communicative.

It worked! What had originally been a long, involved opening sequence was now short, funny and to the point. By not focusing on doing great drawings but instead on what I wanted to communicate, I came up with a variety of ideas from which I was able to choose the best. I can always improve the drawings; what's important NOW is getting the story action solidified.

These scenes could still change, but I'm confident that I've explored all of the options and have chosen the best.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

John K Curriculum, Redux

Now that I've (temporarily) abandoned the Kimon Nicolaides "Drawing the Natural Way" curriculum, I've returned to another curriculum that I feel will have more immediate benefits—the John K cartoon course.

I did the entire course—explained here—during this past summer. But I was, as usual, in a hurry. I think I gave myself from several days to maybe one week for each lesson. I wanted to get to work on my film, dammit!

Since then I have genuinely seen an improvement in my drawing. So I decided that John K really does know what he's talking about and that maybe I should put more effort into his instructions. At this time, I'm still on Lesson One: Construction—The Head. It's getting me to automatically think 3D while drawing which makes the drawings look more solid and real.

I've also noticed that it's becoming easier for me to see if I've drawn something wrong. That's definitely a sign of improvement! 

Here's a recent effort:

Monday, November 15, 2010

It's Been a Long Time, I Shouldn't Have Left You!

Sorry, folks, I didn't realize it'd been so long since my last post!

What have I been doing? See below:

I know, you're probably thinking that I've been away for two weeks drawing crummy little doodles, right?


I've been struggling with the best way to introduce the two main (human) characters in my film. I've tried all kinds of permutations. There have been times when I thought I had it! Then…it just doesn't work.

So I tried a simple method that focused on spitting out ideas quickly without the hindrance of self-criticism.

And it WORKED!!!

More about my method tomorrow. 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Storyboard Pro 2 Tutorial #3—When To Cut

Continuing the Storyboard Pro 2 tutorials created by Sherm Cohen and how I'm applying them to my animatic, the third entry is "when to cut."

Cohen provides an explanation here.
Here's how I chose to apply the cutting principles to my animatic:


Friday, October 29, 2010

Studies & Storyboard

I recently had to rethink the opening introduction to the characters. After running my original idea past someone, it became clear that Luthor's impatience was not being communicated clearly.

I decided to add signs of waiting: a tapping foot; a tapping finger; a glance at a watch.

Here are the initial drawings I did today:

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Creativity & Thinking Like a Child

Picasso: "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist after he grows up."

Researchers at North Dakota State University executed a study about adult creativity. They discovered that the more an adult acts and thinks like a child, the more imaginative he or she becomes. Read the details here.

This made me think about all of the creative outlets we had in elementary school (I still have the ash tray I sculpted for my father in the 3rd grade! It used to be decorated with pasta elbows but those fell off years ago.) and how that decreased as we got older. It's a shame our culture doesn't value art and music education more, clearly it's necessary for our functioning as adults.

Let's all stay in touch with our inner child!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Man vs. Art Podcast—Drawing Fundamentals

This podcast from Raul Aguirre, Jr. explains the importance of building a strong foundation of drawing skills and knowledge. He describes what he calls "The Five P's"—perspective, proportion, pattern, placement and planes.

If it's all right with Señor Aguirre, I'd like to add a sixth "P": Patience.

Because I know a lot about impatience and how much time it can waste!

This past summer I was thrilled to discover John K's curriculum. It involved a lot of precise copying from the original Preston Blair "Advanced Animation" book (part one is available here, part two here. I bought a later version of this book when I was a kid. Mine, however, contains significantly different—and lower quality—drawings since the original's characters were owned by MGM, not by Blair himself.)

I was very disciplined about getting through that curriculum. But that's all I did, get through it, as quickly as possible. What I didn't do is truly learn the lessons since I was in such a RUSH!

Now I'm taking the time--AGAIN--to deeply ingrain every lesson and to practice those lessons EVERY DAY. If I had done this back in the summer, I'd be seeing significant results TODAY!

I have yet to hear a single successful artist say that drawing is an inborn talent. What they ALL do agree on is the importance of consistent study and practice. You can't help but get better with consistent study and practice.

Back to work!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Stop-Motion Made Easier

The computer continues to make the creation of animation easier and more affordable. This means we can tell more stories and get them out to the audience SOONER!

The article here, from the New York Times, explains.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Storyboard Pro 2 Tutorial #2—The Pan

Hopefully you found the first Sherm Cohen tutorial helpful. He's an experienced storyboard artist who seems enthusiastic about using Storyboard Pro. I think that's a strong endorsement for this software.

And now that I've upgraded my MacBook from 2GB to 6GB of RAM, things are flying! Particularly, I can now scrub through the animatic and see how things flow without having to take the time to export to a Quicktime movie. I still like to do the export to see how things move at the proper frame rate, but it's helpful to have the option to take a quick look. Before the upgrade, I would get the pinwheel of death every time I tried to scrub. No more of that!

Cohen's tutorial for pans is here. Below is the current opening pan in my animatic.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Raul Aguirre, Jr. On Angst-y Characters

I won't even bother to summarize the opinions of creator of Raul Aguirre, Jr., the man in the Man vs. Art podcasts, since listening to this particular rant is so entertaining! While riding the bus home recently and listening to him vent, I'm sure people who saw my silly grin thought I was some kind of weirdo.

Basically, he's complaining about all of the darkness in characters and illustration, especially with live action comic book-based heroes. I found myself endlessly nodding in agreement. I don't like when comic book-based live action movies are campy and don't take themselves seriously at all (Fantastic Four I & II and Batman and Robin) but I also don't like when they're so dark that I want to turn on a light so I can actually see what's happening (The Dark Knight.) I guess it's hard to strike the right tone between camp and serious but Iron Man I got it right.

Aguirre also goes on a tirade about Tim Burton's work, which he dismisses as an "aesthetic." I agree with him completely. I can only take Burton's work in small doses. I'm fascinated that a human being has such a seemingly limited world view: that being that everything happens at night (his remake of Planet of the Apes. I kept wondering if this was a planet that didn't orbit the sun it was so damn DARK!) and every situation is sinister (I skipped Sleepy Hollow, Alice in Wonderland and Willy Wonka because I didn't want to see drab, dreary, dour versions of my childhood favorites.) I mean, this guy knows ONE THING: DARK! Even his early drawings and animations were dark. It's a viewpoint that simply doesn't apply to the real world.

So that's what I have to say about this podcast. Take a listen for yourself and enjoy!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Comic Con NYC 2010

Thanks to my wonderful (non-comic geek) girlfriend for graciously dealing with the throng of comics, animation, science fiction and gaming geeks this past weekend at the NYC Comic Con. I'm disappointed she didn't dress up like Princess Leia but, whatever, you can't have everything! :)

My comments about the con are my personal impressions based on my reasons for attending. In other words, I didn't go to see the latest from any particular studio or company. Instead, I went to see how other amateurs present their work. And I did learn a lot about what materials to have and how to present oneself.

First, the place was PACKED! I had a weekend pass but only attended on Saturday, the day it was sold out. I haven't been in a few years but I don't remember it being that crazy. Second, the layout was superior to previous years. There was a lot more space in the rows and especially near the entrances. Third, the artists alley felt less like an alley! The last time I attended, they stuck the artists up on the mezzanine in ridiculously narrow aisles. Two people couldn't walk side-by-side, it was insane! This time the artists had as much space as the professionals which made it easier to see their work and to talk to them. Fourth, I had an informative conversation regarding submissions with Kasey (sp?), programmer for Animation Block Party. He told me that submission acceptance begins in December and continues through May. And he gave me a helpful piece of advice: do NOT submit an incomplete or rushed film. It will do more harm than good. I had actually heard that once before, from a filmmaker who submitted a work in progress to Sundance, and he said never again. Words for all filmmakers to live by. He also explained the importance of keeping a short film short; it makes it easier to include more films in a program when they're less than 10 minutes and prevents a single film from dominating. Thanks for talking to me, Kasey!

So those are the aspects that I liked. Here's what I didn't like: First, I had expected to get a bag of goodies at the door, or at least a lanyard for the big, thick tag that acted as a ticket. But they ran out of both. Not cool. So I had to rely on my purse into which to stick business cards and other freebies. Second, TOO MANY PEOPLE! Third, fewer model kits and figurines. I don't know why but I really liked seeing that stuff the last time I was there and I deeply missed that aspect.

Overall, I can't honestly say I enjoyed it. My girlfriend was surprised when I told her I wanted to leave after a brief stay. We even handed our badges/tickets to some folks outside, for free. We felt we might as well help others get in and enjoy it since we were leaving.

I doubt I'll attend again unless I have a booth or table space for my own work. But I definitely want to attend the San Diego Con in the near future, just to have the experience.

If I end up showing at a con, I'll let you know!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Storyboard Pro 2 Tutorial #1—Establishing Shot

As promised, here is a tutorial by Sherm Cohen, storyboard artist extraordinaire for Ren & Stimpy, Hey Arnold and SpongeBob. If you go to his YouTube channel, you'll see how this is the first in a series of Storyboard Pro tutorials. I thought it would be fun to show how I'm using his tutorial topics in my own work, where applicable.

Here's the original establishing shot for my upcoming film. I've since changed this opening but the overall approach is similar:


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Congratulations, Bill Plympton!

I've always admired Bill Plympton. He makes independent animated shorts and features that tell purely adult stories. And when I say adult, I don't mean smutty! I mean clever and insightful, like the adult-mind. No "family entertainment" from this guy!

That's why I jumped  at the chance to learn from him last year as a member of the first class (of only two, it seems) of the Bill Plympton Animation School. It was an invaluable experience and worth every penny AND every second.

Bill had mentioned during class that he was struggling to get his latest feature, "Idiots and Angels," released in the United States. So after two years, it's now playing in NYC. PLUS, it got a RAVE review in the New York Times.

So if you're in NYC, give this film a look.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Random Scribbles

These are from June 2, 2010.

I'm still getting out the bad drawings so I can get to the good ones! It's a process, folks, a process!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Coming Soon! Storyboard Pro Tutorials!

I discovered a great video tutorial resource for Storyboard Pro users. I'll be linking to specific tutorials and then comparing the tutorial to my application of its principles.

Tutorial #1 will be "The Establishing Shot." 

Friday, September 24, 2010

DBD—Don't Be Discouraged!

My senior year in high school I was in advanced placement English. I liked it because it meant no exams and no stupid spelling tests. By the time I was seventeen, I resented having to have my spelling tested, that it was beneath me. Says a lot about how I thought (and I'm still a damn good speller)!

Anyway, the way it worked was that we would learn something about writing, then have to write an essay in class showing what we've learned. If one got a, say, B+ or higher on the essay, you could move on to the next "level."

When people didn't move on to the next level, the teacher (himself a talented illustrator) would tell us, "DBD. Don't be discouraged."

Unfortunately, I didn't heed this advice as carefully as I should have. I started—and stopped—numerous activities throughout my life because I became discouraged. Now, at age 41, I've learned not to get discouraged. I can say for the first time in my drawing life, I don't toss aside the bad drawings and not draw for long periods like I used to. Now I suffer through it until I get it right.

I can honestly say that the pain is worth it. After the suffering, I can actually see the improvement between drawings one and 100. And it's those flickers of improvement that keep me going.

So my advice to you when you hit a wall with your creation…DBD!!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Check It Out—Man vs. Art Podcast

The Man vs. Art website and podcasts are by Raul Aguirre, Jr., cartoonist and animator. I just today started listening to his podcasts and found myself chuckling. Although it's possible that he has a tendency to digress, he still makes valid points.

The podcast I heard today (from 8/21/09) was a hilarious tirade with which I totally agreed. Aguirre had the same complaint that Amid Amidi had at that the work of artists is NOT VALUED! Cheap asses on Craigslist post jobs that offer ZERO money but instead offer lame crap like "killer portfolio pieces" and "profit-sharing, once the property is sold." Yeah, right, ONCE it's sold! So an artist busts their butt to do several seconds or minutes of animation (people don't realize how long it takes to do one SECOND of good animation!) and gets in return…ZERO! And as Aguirre said, when artists accept these jobs, it devalues the work of all of us. Turning down these insulting offers will not only help the individual in the long-term (the time they spend creating a project for nothing, they could be creating their own project for something!) but will also benefit the industry as a whole, too.

I learned about devaluing of artistic work the hard way. I used to do design favors for colleagues at a company where I once worked. In return I got tickets to their shows and, as a chocolate fan, a Hershey bar. But once I stopped working for that company, I requested that I be paid for my work. The response I got from one individual involved something about how "we'd all like to get paid" and "we sacrifice to be in this profession" (in her case, theater.) I responded, "Yep, I'd like to get paid for all of the work that I do and I, for one, did NOT choose the theater life so, yeah, pay me."

Never heard from her again. Bwahahahahaha! Couldn't. Care. Less.

I no longer do ANY design work for free. The only exception I'll make is for a good friend or family member whose request is QUICK. And when I say quick, I mean 30 MINUTES. Seriously, if I can't do your design in 30 minutes, I don't do it for free. Period. I recently declined doing work for a family reunion because I knew it would take more than 30 minutes. Once we pass that mark, we're into time that I could be putting towards my own projects that could eventually EARN ME SOMETHING!

Just because creating is fun, does NOT mean it's easy and does NOT mean it's worthless. Aguirre said that Hollywood wants creators to think that their work is crap when in fact it's GOLD. They know it's gold and don't want the creator to know it's gold because then they'll have to pay the creator accordingly.  So if you believe you've got gold, go with it!

I believe the devaluing of graphic design began stock photography. Once you could easily pick up an image via the web and not hire a photographer, that was the beginning of the end of valuing photography. Then came stock illustration which decimated the illustration industry. But once I saw stock layouts, I knew I had to get out of this profession. Now companies will give their receptionist a computer, a layout program, a stock photo, illustration and layout and let her "design" a layout. Talk about devaluing!

My goal: to never again talk negatively about my work. I am supremely confident in my storytelling skills. Yes, I'm not the greatest draftsman ever, but neither is the guy who created "Family Guy." And he's doing just fine!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Luthor Studies

Since I have this nice software, I want to use it to fully realize my vision. One thing that I want to do more is camera moves. I think camera moves add to immersing one into an animated film. Live-action camera moves were used in "The Incredibles" to excellent effect.

So after my opening pan, I want the camera to travel through a window to introduce the viewer to Luthor. He'll be sitting in bed, a sheet covering him appropriately (despite the title and subject matter, this is a PG movie, folks!), puffing on a joint. But I need to get the angle right so I've done a bunch of studies of his body and mouth, on paper, before adding it to the animatic. Here are the studies:

OK, I know, these kind of look like wacky scribbles! BUT with each drawing, I was figuring out just how I want Luthor to look. The last drawing is pretty close to what the final will look like. 

I'd much rather take the time now to figure this out so I'll know if it's working story-wise or not.

This is all a process that I'm thoroughly enjoying!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Watercolor Tests

Here are some early attempts:

Materials used:
Canson Student Light Weight Watercolor Paper 80lb. Cold Press
Dr. Ph. Martin's Synchromatic Transparent Watercolor (Sepia, Black, Burnt Sienna and Coffee Brown)
Winsor & Newton Series7 #3 brush (sable)
Winso & Newton Sceptre 101 #8

I followed the example of the painter James Gurney and outlined the face in Burnt Sienna. Then I applied the method of Alex Ross and established the values (the lights and darks) with black (on the left.) I also tried it with sepia (on the right) to see if there was a difference in muddiness.

I purchased two different brands of 140lb cold press paper which I'll try in the future to see if there's a difference there, too. 

I think the key to painting is to follow more experienced painters' suggestions and apply them to one's own experiments.

More experiments coming!

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Wonderful World of Watercolors

I'm glad to see that I'm not the only animator who's neglected understanding color and painting (see here.) Like Mark Kennedy, I've always focused so much attention on drawing and its associate skills that I never thought too much about color and painting.

But now I'm taking the plunge.

Why? First, Schedule 6 in the Nicolaides book has an exercise that involves watercolor washes. Second, I keep looking at the pile of coloring art materials in my supplies bin that I'm NOT using—Dr. Ph. Martin's watercolor dye paints, miscellaneous other watercolors, acrylic paints, Cray Pas, crayons, markers and colored pencils—and longing to put them to use (assuming they're not all dried up!) Third, I read somewhere that if one can become adept with watercolors, using other paint mediums is easier. I'm sold!

So I did one of my favorite activities: I went art supplies shopping! It was wonderful except for being rushed (had to fit it into my lunch hour) and I chose a bad time—back-to-school week—so there were long lines both days at the store.

But aside from those minor issues, I happily bought some paints, a mixing palette and some paper. I had already invested in a Winsor & Newton Series 7 #3 brush (because Alex Ross uses it, of course) and combined with the other brushes and paints I already have, I'm ready to go!

And I'll be sharing the results of my paint lessons despite the quality. I mean, I can't expect to paint like James Gurney or Alex Ross my first time out, right?!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Luthor Skulls & Expressions

Since I'm learning as I make this film, I wanted to take the time to fully understand the construction of my characters.

The first step is to understand the skeleton underneath the flesh. Since I'm distorting the standard human head, it's necessary to understand how the skull works since that's what influences the flesh.

And I couldn't wait to start playing with his face so I did some expressions:

More faces to come!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Nicolaides—Schedule 5 complete

Well, this took an embarrassing ELEVEN WEEKS to complete (from Mon. June 21 to Mon. Sept. 6) but I DID finish it!

I said I was going to complete the Nicolaides curriculum to see if it has any benefit and I'm determined to do that.

On to Schedule 6!