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Sunday, March 27, 2005


You know how some people are about cars? How they'll talk about the new models, stop and stare when one of them happens along, and generally talk about them with like, or unlike, minded people longer than you'd consider strictly necessary?

I'm that way about bicycles.

I love them. I consider them one of the finest inventions of the nineteenth century. Bicycles are staggeringly useful machines. It's comical to note that, in the USA, they're considered kids' toys.
It's a revelation living in other countries where they are considered serious modes of transportation.
I rode a bicycle to work in all weather in Germany, except for when it was too icy to trust the roads. I never had a cold or flu and was in better physical condition than I've been since.
Berlin had great bicycle paths and it was easy to ride all over the city without much danger from cars. On my last stay there I took weekend trips with my friend Kuni, all through East and West Berlin and well into Potsdam. It was possible to put the machines on a train to get out of the city, and ride for miles in the parks.

Bicycles can carry a lot of weight in relation to their size. I remember going to a Cirque de Soleil performance and seeing twelve acrobats balancing in a pyramid on top of one bicycle. No horse would survive this. I am by no means sure that a car would, either.

I can routinely carry sixty pounds of groceries on the bicycle in addition to myself. There are two large canvas saddlebags and a removable basket on the handlebar.
I really can't say enough good things about these machines. The bicycle not only provides transportation with no fuel costs (other than a dime's worth of sewing machine oil once a year) it also helps you lose weight, stay healthy, and improve your physical condition.

There are not too many downsides. While they do make snow tires for bicycles, I felt they were a little too risky to use here. So I've had my bicycle out for the first time in about two months, now that the snow has melted.
I'm told that there is a bike trail along the Erie Canal that I should look into. Perhaps I'll do that when someone shows me the proper way to get there. In the meantime, it's possible to go to many places by judicious use of side streets.
I've still got my original Motobecane bicycle that I picked up in Berlin in 1988; the machine has great sentimental value for me, since I've ridden it in five countries and it was instrumental in restoring the use of my right knee after a major car crash. But it's old, there are problems getting parts, and it's heavy, with very few gears.

The new one pictured here was purchased last July and is doing fine. The "Cypress" is a 27 speed wonder that is made of aluminum and hence is very light. It has shock absorbers in the saddle and another set of shocks in the fork. The handlebars are adjustable as well--there have been many design improvements over the older machine. I could wish that it had a generator but I'm told that aluminum bikes can't use them. One must have a 'ground' to make them work. So this bike has a battery powered light. You can't have everything, I guess.

The older bike will probably be hooked up to a small electrical generator once I move this summer. I like the idea of being able to generate power to watch videos or run this computer off the will also be possible to exercise indoors during the winter.

Best exercise machine, ever Posted by Hello

Thursday, March 24, 2005


I am a subscriber to the ANIMATION NEWS NETWORK and also sometimes peruse the trade magazines.

It's occurred to me that most of the news in the animation newsletters that arrive in my inbox with asymmetrical frequency is not actually about animation or animators. They are business journals.

There are endless announcements on how Joe or Jane Businessperson has been named head of this or that department at Megapixel Conglomerates, or that MonsterHugeEntertainment Corporation has decided to market toys/tv series/direct to DVD versions of THE MAGICAL MUSICAL MARSHMALLOW.

(hmmm...that actually doesn't sound too bad; I'd watch it....once)

What I'm saying is that the artists who actually create animation aren't mentioned unless they have actually come up with the concept for MAGICAL MUSICAL MARSHMALLOW, which means they probably own it and therefore have some business chops as well as animation skills... Sometimes a director for a film or series is named. But the newsletters generally only describe the doings of the management.

The same thing's true of national news; business news is mentioned without a murmur. What about news of the arts?

What's that you say? Art is a luxury that doesn't have an impact on the economy?

Guess again. Art and artists bring fortunes into their communities.
Someone in New York once figured out that for every dollar the city spent on supporting the arts, ten more were spent in the city.

The arts are great for business and the economy. The arts revive entire neighborhoods. They change lives for the better. They create something out of nothing and then sell it (Frank Zappa's definition of 'art' is still the best).
So why don't we have nightly news bulletins on the progress of art installations? Or stop-the-pixels e-messages on how Annie Mator and Di Rector have moved to Megapixel Studios to work in storyboard and design?

Animation is one of the most successful motion picture genres of all time. Perhaps it is THE most successful genre. So why don't animation magazines feature news of the careers of the people who actually create it?

Sure, there's been a growth industry in biographies of older artists, most of whom are gone now....but that is assuming that cartoon animation is dead, fit only for museums...
The most successful television series of all time is a cartoon. Cartoon DVDS are the best sellers of the year for years running, far outperforming the liveaction releases.
(this sort of news is reported since it is about business and money, not artists. But I'm making the point: that it is a good idea to help artists get the recognition they deserve for creating this stuff in the first place.)

Animation artists train for decades. Someone told me that it takes as much time to be a good animator as to be a doctor.
I think that dedication deserves a little respect. The creators certainly deserves a little coverage in venues that purport to cover news of the 'art form'.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Unwelcome Attentions

Ever since this blog's been mentioned on Cartoon Brew, it's brought some more attention to it...which is a mixed blessing. On the one hand it's great to greet some old friends who are enjoying a little innocent fun online.

But it's also brought an anonymous poster or two who act as if they have a right to order me around on my own site.

When I read idiotic remarks about why I should be
'taking responsibility' for the blog, that's when I do just that. Some people do not take hints. There have been repeated requests to leave politics out of this blog. They were ignored.
So the commentary button's been removed from the site.

I will continue to post material as the fancy takes me and explaining things if I feel like it, not when someone orders me to. And the only comments that will appear on the site will be mine.
I am not interested in putting up with the comments of bullies and crying babies who don't even have the guts to post under their own names.

Monday, March 21, 2005

It is now thought that the misspelled 'Almo Aardvaark' led to the sudden removal of all release prints of this movie and that none were actually screened. This left Mack Sennett with out of pocket expenses of nearly $100,000.00 due to the cost of the drawing-on-the-negative process; his gambler backers called in their loans and the nascent animation studio closed down immediately. Posted by Hello

Sunday, March 20, 2005


I've been sick as a parrot for a week. Don't know why parrots are sick, but I sure have been squawking away like one when I'm talking at all.
It's difficult to work on a computer in any fashion when your head feels as if it is being insulated with Fiberglas, and when you've got a committee of devils installing a commemorative fountain in your sinuses.

Speaking of commemorative fountains, I managed to write a brief 'historical' blurb on the guest page of one of my favorite gag cartoon sites, the SNAPPYTOON AMUSEMENT COMPANY. the home of the famous Elmo Aardvaark!

Never heard of him? Visit, and be enlightened. And the music's great too.

Will "Terwilliger" Ryan's historical research into America's (and Ruritania's) favorite aardvaark star originally appeared in the long defunct WILD CARTOON KINGDOM magazine back in the days when we still made cartoons with pencils. Some of us were invited to search our collections of antique cartoon art to find historic materials about Elmo Aardvaark, the oldest, snappiest cartoon star beneath the sun and moon!

I am proud to say that I located a rare still from a 1922 Mack Sennett short, SATAN'S HOUSECAT, featuring showgirl Olga "Noodles" Romanoff and Elmo Aardvaark performing AARDVAARK ON THE KEYS.

The combination of liveaction with animation was accomplished by drawing Elmo on each frame of the original negative, since the Max Fleischer Out of the Inkwell studio had patent on the Rotoscope process which enabled his studio to trace live action and combine it with animation. The resulting 'drawing on film' wobbliness in the Elmo cartoon anticipates Len Lye's experimental films by four years and Norman McLaren by twenty. Unfortunately the film is lost and Sennett lost so much money on the deal that he never worked in animation again; but there are the reviews surviving that are curiously missing from the INTERNET MOVIE DATA BASE.
MOTION PICTURE WORLD called SATAN'S HOUSECAT 'unusually lively' in motion but criticized it for including 'sing along' lyrics to an obvious ripoff of Kitten on the Keys.
Audiences had a hard time singing along to the doubletime lyrics, and this, together with the flickering and 'morphing' drawings of Elmo, caused SATAN'S HOUSECAT to perform poorly in theatres that weren't also close by the local speakeasies.

I heartily recommend the entire Snappytoon site, and I'll post more when I'm feeling more like a 'person' again.

Maybe I'll even find that still.

Saturday, March 12, 2005


I'm learning Maya. I say this with the same enthusiasm I would say "I am repeatedly dropping something heavy on my foot or other appendage even though I made sure I had hold of it this time."

Maya is the Coming Thing, you see. Animation on paper is out of style. The computer is king. Best to know your enemy, and all that. Now I love computer graphics. Don't get me wrong. I find a good art and graphics program like Painter to be one of the most spectacular inventions of recent time (spectacular if you are an artist, that is.) But there is one difference between that program and Maya (besides the obvious one of dimensionality); Painter was designed by artists. Maya was built by technicians.

Technicians find talking about vertices and percentages and controls and tables and graphs fascinating. I find these subjects so brain numbing that I lapse into a semi coma whenever they are brought up. Technicians probably don't get out to too many parties. Some of them don't even speak English very well. I am trying to model a human head and follow the directions of someone who writes English with a Germanic accent...and he can't draw very well either. The lines and shapes that he insists will eventually conspire to form a human head don't seem to be consistent between his front and side views, and my poor Xerox copy blends the important lines with his obsessive cross hatching on the test drawing.

Maya likes to play little jokes. I have redone some of these vertices six or seven times since even though they are snapping to the other vertices, and the points slide around to prove that they have snapped as the instructions tell me to...but when I go off to model another vertice, the finished ones get bored and go wandering off in search of friends. They must then be deleted and done over. And over. And over.

Some people take to this program like a duck to water. I take to it like a duck to a command performance of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto Number Two. Maya and I seem to have been designed for two different things.

The model was largely completed in the college's computer lab...and then Maya pulled another of its little jokes. I have a slightly older version of this program on my personal machine. I can't download anything done with the slightly newer version of the program that the college installed in the lab over the spring break. When I try to open the project on my home machine, which was specifically bult to RUN Maya, I get a prim little grey message informing me that 'there is an error that may result in a loss of data."

The data in question is my entire project that I worked on for several hours. The little Maya stage set appears, grey and forbidding, minus the half-finished wireframe head. So I do the whole thing over. The vertices go wandering off again in search of friends. Maybe they get tired of working with the technicians and need to party. Now they have developed the cute habit of attaching to the wrong side of the wire frame even though I am working in all four windows and making sure that I am clicking to the correct vertice.

Am I boring you yet? This is how the textbooks have it:

"Notice that you don't have to detach the longer outlines for every single patch along the profile, as long as you will be using them as rails Maya will only generate the patches for the portion in between the profiles."

When did he ever say anything about patches and rails? There's no explanation of how one gets from a wireframe head to a shaded, patchy looking head.

"The patches for the portion are in between the profiles" sounds like a Danny Kaye routine. Except that I'm not laughing.

I save the new scene, taking care to dub it onto my helpful little thumb drive. The new scene MAY open in the newer version of Maya at the college. but just in case, I have the original version of the head saved as well.

Remember when all it took to make animation was talent, and a pencil and paper?

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Buster Keaton in THE NAVIGATOR Posted by Hello

Pot Heads

It's been one of those weeks where I've been running around trying to do several things at once and so I have neglected this blog. I must make amends with a tale of domestic woe since I am unable, by the rules of courtesy and copyright to speak of anything that I saw at a couple of well known studios in the past week. The Northern California trip was for business, which I can't talk about either, since I signed a Non Disclosure Agreement with the nice people who sponsored it and asked me to 'sell' their products to the school. How I am supposed to do this when I am unable to tell my boss or colleagues what, exactly, I saw out there is a mystery to me. But it was a very educational meeting. And their products are very good. I definitely recommend buying them.

I spent the balance of Spring Break in Southern California, staying with friends. They work at rival studios and I am not supposed to know what they are working on. So since I can't talk about anything else in California I will talk about the weather.

They actually had some. Burbank was better looking than I'd ever seen it, due to the excessive rains that washed the brown tint out of the air. No one could recognize where they were anymore and so they kept complaining but I liked it. When one is leaving the subzero temperatures and sheet ice of Rochester in February, anything short of an earthquake is an improvement. Fortunately we didn't have one of those.

I came back and got ready for the new term and made plans for what I laughingly refer to as my personal life.

Now, I'm very fond of good cooking gear. Cooking is sort of a hobby of mine; I've always maintained that one can say what they want about my animation, but if you don't like my Garlic Chicken or New York Style Corn Bread or Vegetarian Cheesecake, you are dead tofu on a stick.

Most people like my cooking just fine, or at least they admit to liking it while I can still hear them.

I noticed the Pot and Pan sale at a well known New York department store at the same time that I noticed a nice check from a well known Government tax office in the mailbox.
I go on modest splurges when I know that there's something coming in as well as going out. I am a practical spendthrift.

These were such pretty pots and pans, too--all shiny and businesslike, used by The Best Chefs. They had good references on the consumer websites.
More practically, they were easy to clean and took less energy to cook something than a cheaper pot. I thought I could probably save on the gas and washing-up at the same time.

I justified the expense by figuring that it was pretty likely that I'll stay where I am and I need something to cook in since my old Pots and Pans are not in storage, but in someone else's kitchen. In other words, I gave them away. And it's not as if they go out of style and need to be replaced every year. Even if you move as often as I do.

I've moved house more often in the last ten years than most people do in their entire lives. Most people don't know where to find me. Even I don't know where I am any more. For years I stayed in one spot, then suddenly...I developed itchy feet, or Gypsy ancestry asserted itself. Sometimes I moved for the job, sometimes just because the home living situation wasn't what I wanted. It's getting to be a habit. It's so bad I've asked people to stop giving me housewarming presents. They are getting to be embarrassing. I've moved so often that I think I'll come back in the next life as a Bekins van, or a hermit crab.

Since the Pot and Pan sale was not indefinite, I ordered a set of carefully chosen elements from a line of steelclad, aluminum cored, hollow handled, Chef-preferred, top-rated, American-made, shiny triple ply cookware. I chose them for their usefulness; I have little need for a frying pan, but use a lot of steamers and saucepans. So I got them from Open Stock and got most of them on sale, which added a special thrill, let me tell you.
The Pots and Pans were on the doorstep when I got home this evening. At first I thought that the landlady had added an addition to the house.

They certainly were well made, but I'd completely forgotten the scale of the things. It's been a while since I thought in quarts.

The Kitchen Utensils, a spoon, spatula, and fork, are perfect for cracking the packed ice on the driveway or impaling marauding barbarians. I ordered a steamer, but didn't realize that this one's first name was Stanley. All it needed was the wheels and handle and a smallish person could easily use it for a scooter.

I had a vision of Buster Keaton in THE NAVIGATOR, trying to boil an egg in a cauldron meant for 500 servings. While things aren't quite that bad, the Steamer/Cook Pot was a distinctly businesslike Pot that would be best for large parties. Or large anything.

Another package contained a shirt that could only be described as Violent color. I will be able to hire myself out for a beacon. Normally I wear browns and blacks but I wanted a little color for the spring. I got it.

Maybe I can put one of the Pots on my head, wear the Violent colored pants, and go out as Tweedle Dee or Dum for Halloween.