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Friday, December 04, 2009

The power of the internet

I made this little commercial as part of my MFA project at RIT. It's now on Facebook and here. Focal Press are also going to put it on their website.

The contrast with the original venue is pretty dramatic. It was originally on a website that I was required to have for graduation purposes--which no one visited. The video may now go viral (feel free to repost or link to it) and reach an entirely new audience of readers.

It's amazing to see how rapidly the dissemination of information has changed in the past few years. I consider it a great opportunity for independent animators; distributors are a thing of the past. You have only to upload your film to a website to reach a potential audience of millions of people.

The blog hasn't been updated for a while, due to a few forseen and a few unforseen developments. Gizmo had major surgery in mid November for her teeth and is doing well. I developed a laryngeal infection about the same time. Now that won't stop me from typing (it's not as if I have to dictate this) but it will make me rest up and not spend as much time online as I usually do.

There was also a last minute of legal flurries as I received and forwarded the contract for the Disney illustrations to my publisher in England. This had to be done in hard copy; legal documents have not yet reached the digital world, though they may do so eventually.

At any rate, ANIMATED PERFORMANCE will contain thumbnail drawings by myself and Ellen Woodbury that were done for three feature films. I thank Don Hahn and Maggie Gisel, his assistant, for valuable assistance facilitating the contact with Disney Publications. The artwork should look good since the book will be a larger format than PREPARE TO BOARD.

We are on track and on schedule--I'm awaiting the layouts.

At work, we are near the end of the fall semester, which went pretty smoothly I think.
I'll try to post more regularly and put up a few more images from the book. Who knows, I might make another commercial.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Knee UP, or Down

I realize that I haven't even mentioned that the last artwork for ANIMATED PERFORMANCE, barring the cover, was completed on September 1. I literally went down to the wire on it, finishing just before school started. A serious knee injury made it difficult for me to sit for long periods in front of the computer for some time, and only when I started seeing a physical therapist (the doctor said it was just a 'sprain' but you can go to a phys therapist in Canada on your own) did I find out that I wrenched open the old accident wound from my car crash when I tried to climb the impossible stairs to the GO train on July 21. I guess the knee was giving me a ten year anniversary present. Anyway, the physical therapist has been wonderful; but my exercise program abruptly stopped in July. I wondered if the book would also have to stop, since I couldn't hit my deadlines.
Enter some wonderful friends I met on Facebook, though I'd met one of them previously, and another was familiar through his films. Elliot Cowan, who created The Stressful Adventures of Boxhead and Roundhead, kindly offered to do some drawings, and there are five of his funny sketches in the book as a result. Elliot is what we would call a mensch, and his animation is actually hand drawn and finished in After Effects--the Boxhead Roundhead series shows that you can get some great effects with simpler programs than Maya if you have imagination and talent. Other folk from Facebook either donated artwork or recommended someone whose work would suit (there are some fine surprises in the illustration.)
So I am waiting for two things: the legal paperwork from a well known studio (which is being reviewed at this time, I am informed...cross fingers...) and the layout for the cover so that I can slot my artwork into it.
And the layouts for the book of course. I am really crossing fingers, holding thumbs, and breath as well for this last one. Nuff said for now.
But anyway, the knee injury, though better, will only relapse if I cannot exercise. Winter is rapidly approaching here. I have been okayed for aquatic exercise and bicycling. These aren't easy to do in the dead of the Canadian winter.
The Oakville Club's pool is outdoor, and closed for the season; and the club itself is down a steep hill that is very dangerous for me to attempt in the dead of winter; since the sidewalks can be very icy here. (There are no problems with cars. They shovel the roads but do not take as much care with the sidewalks.)
So regretfully I have had to resign from the club and join the local Y, which is accessible by bus, which has two lovely pools and the finest workout room I've ever seen. There is also a cute little cafe and a bright, cheery design to the entire building. It's cheaper, but not THAT much cheaper than the club. The main advantage is: I can actually use the facilities. And I intend to do so. I want the knee to get better and I want to keep my health up...I will be less likely to get sick in winter if I exercise.
Or maybe this will all turn into another sick joke like my first exercise experience did. I was doing really well til that damn knee went out in the middle of Union Station.
The good news is that I have two years to come back to the Oakville Club without penalty. Lots can happen between now and then, but it's nice to know. I enjoyed being there, but really I couldn't do anything after the accident.
Knee injuries are the worst. I want to get this over with, for once and for all.
Wish me luck.


I realize that both my readers have probably decamped for Facebook fields. I've been shockingly lax in posting lately. This doesn't mean there hasn't been some news...quite the opposite.
The school year has of course begun, and I've been pretty busy with that.
I invited Don Hahn of Disney to the Sheridan campus and he graciously lectured for nearly two and a half hours, screened the rare short LORENZO, and provided the Sheridan students with a wonderful glimpse of how the legendary teacher Walt Stanchfield conducted his classes-at one time Stanchfield modeled for a 'leggy' woman to show her the pose he wanted!
In that same week (the second week of term), Mark Mayerson invited two other animators to lecture the same students. One was my former Disney colleague Joe Haidar, who had produced a short film of his own (the Animated American). The other was independent animator Paul Fierlinger, who described how he managed to work in his own style for fifty years. A regular smorgasbord of techniques, everything from major studios to one man (and woman) operations, was discussed during that time. I know this did the students a world of good and we hope to have more speakers in future.
Now we're nearly at midterm already (where did the time go?) and just past Canadian thanksgiving, which was a lot of fun. I invited Rose Keefe, writer of THE STARKER, the biography of Big Jack Zelig. This "Jewish Robin Hood" was the terror of the lower East Side of Manhattan in 1912. Rose is a near neighbour and she was great company. Gizmo the cat fell in love with her (possibly because Rose also owns ferrets--Gizmo likes people who have other pets). And we discussed famous early Twentieth Century murders at the dinner table...which I find a whole lot more interesting than football.
Other guests included a fellow professor from Sheridan (she and her family were originally from China); one Chinese graduate from Sheridan, and one Russian friend who arrived a bit later. So all of us, other than Rose, were immigrants.
Gizmo was so excited she kept inviting herself to sit at the table and had to be removed four times. She really just wants to sit and be part of the conversation (made no motion toward the food) but since I refuse to be a Crazy Cat Lady, she gets to eat on the floor out of a cat food bowl. Really.
So anyway that brings me sort of up to date except that I plan to take a little trip during our midterm break. More about that later, if anyone is still reading.
again, my apologies for the long hiatus. Check me out on Facebook...I'm there pretty often, throwing pies.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sailing, Sailing

Today was a D. O. B. --Day Off from Book--as I went sailing on the tall ship KAJAMA down at Queen's Quay in Toronto. It was a far nicer day than usual, with the lowering storm clouds parting to reveal a clearer picture of Toronto than I've ever seen; a strong breeze carried the huge ship along at a good pace after we motored out from the harbour.
The group I went with were friendly and welcoming and it was a generally nice day for me. Gizmo was eager to play with her mouse when I returned, and I'm getting ready for some meetings on Tuesday...but Monday brings more cartoon drawings for the book.

I met several contributors on Facebook, and so this is truly a twenty first century collaboration. The home stretch appears vaguely in the distance...I want to get all the illustrations done before classes start on the 8th. This can be done, but I also want to do them well...a few may be reworked before they are all mailed off to the editor in England.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Book 'Em

I would like to sincerely apologize to the occasional readers of this blog for the absence of posts. Truth is, I have been busier than a one armed paperhanger on my new book (one of my illustrations for Chapter Six is reproduced here.)
ANIMATED PERFORMANCE is now written and the last few illustrations are being cranked out just before I start teaching storyboard for the fall term at Sheridan. I will be doing the cover last, and fortunately there is time in my schedule to do this and other changes after first taking care of my classes. Having a book published is a little like being least according to my sister's account, since I have never been. The difference is that you can go back and do some genetic engineering and recombination on a book while it is in development.
I have also finally gotten onto Facebook, which turned out to be an astounding contact source for literally hundreds of animators. I'm on some of the 'professional business' sites too, but Facebook is much more immediate and effective. I admire the designer of the Facebook engine. What a brilliant idea it is to have a way to communicate with others without the need to remember individual, oft-changing changing emails! You can meet new people whom you may not know in pserons, but can still 'friend'. The graphics and linking facilities are also superb.
Several other artists, including Elliot Cowan, Simon Ward-Horner and Barbara Dale, allowed me to use some of their artwork as illustrations. I'd heard of all three, but could not speak with them as well outside of Facebook.
And I am notorious for throwing food at people there. Lily Dell, in New Zealand, got me involved in Food Fling!. I love the idea of throwing messy food without actually wasting anything.
Since animators do most of their networking socially, this site is a gold mine for us. There is even a small studio, Pink Slip, that announces all its meetings and openings on Facebook.
Of course a number of my students are also on Facebook, so I would no more consider discussing work issues there than I would here. But some students prefer Facebook to the email. Production groups also set up pages so that they can easily communicate with their classmates on project issues.
Anyway, to return to the old-style medium of the book....ANIMATED PERORMANCE is going to be a very nice looking book, and so far, we are ahead of schedule on production. I feel that a book is a very useful thing for a professor to have, especially since the environmentally-conscious province and college would like us to distribute fewer paper handouts. The book helps codify the lessons and it's a lot harder or at least more expensive to leave lying around in the classroom.
Most of ANIMATED PERFORMANCE was written during the June-August summer break. I got my contract in February and fell ill in March, and had to put the project aside entirely, since my limited energies had to be used for my day job.
It will be published in July, 2010, and I want it to be good. We'll see if others agree.
Yvette Kaplan did a yeoman (or yeowoman) job as professional reviewer; her suggestions were outstanding and made this book a lot better than it otherwise would have been. Positive criticism, even strong requests for change, are never to be taken personally, and I did not do so. I asked Yvette to do this because i knew she would not view the project through rose coloured glasses but would tell me precisely what she thought of it.
Of course the readers will probably do the same.
Anyway, I'm coming down the home stretch, and will be posting here more often, if anyone is still reading.
And yes, this essay will be mirrored on facebook...
the 21st century has its good bits, so far.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

BILL PLYMPTON Masterclass at the ROM

“I get up at 6 A.M and start drawing. I stop at 6 P.M.”
“Isn’t that hard work?” the interviewer said.
“No,” said Bill Plympton. “It’s a pleasure”.
So began the Bill Plympton Masterclass at the Royal Ontario Museum that was held as part of the Worldwide Short Film Festival. I’d actually heard that Bill was coming to Toronto at the very last minute, courtesy of that new social calendar-cum-bush telegraph known as Facebook. Bill courteously invited me to attend his masterclass and so here we were in the bowels of the ROM building, surrounded by neatly mounted animal skeletons. It seemed appropriate to have permanently grinning skulls as part of the audience. Bill’s humour is not soft and fuzzy and there is a cheerfully macabre tone to his work.

“Cartoons have power. They can change the way people think. I like sex and violence in my animation; I don’t really think about children’s topics. I think about adult ones: jealousy, ambition, sex, and love.”

“HAIR HIGH I thought would be a hit. We had David Carradine and all these famous voice actors. It did not take off like I thought it would. After that I said, F**k it, I’m making one for myself—really LOW tech, all in pencil.”
“IDIOTS AND ANGELS (his latest feature) was a huge success. I did about 25,000 drawings for it. I did the color for the (short film) GUARD DOG on paper, but IDIOTS was colored on computer. I spent a year on storyboards and character designs and one year on the animation, drawing 100 drawings a day. We spent 6 to nine months in post (the sound, color, music, and editing.) The fact that it had no dialogue made it easier. All age groups love this movie. My mother likes it! It has a mystical, religious quality, a feeling of transcendence. Maybe that explains its popularity.”
“If you do music for your film be sure to get the rights first.”
“I’m not out to get rich. I like making films I like to make, and doing good work.”
“My short films have an average production time of 2 to 3 months.”
People think that short films are only an entrée. You can make a living at it.

Here is PLYMPTON’S DOGMA, three points for successful short film productions:

· SHORT. The film should be five minutes long at the maximum. It’s harder to sell a 15 or 20 minute film.
· CHEAP. Digital production and Flash make production costs reasonable. My average is $1000.00 per minute; HOT DOG cost $5,000.00 per minute.”
· FUNNY. Audiences want a laugh. It’s easier to sell. Here’s my idea of the perfect animated film….BAMBI MEETS GODZILLA. (a film by Marv Newland.) This film took one weekend to make. It has only 12 drawings and is one and a half minutes long. To date it has earned $100,000.00. It’s the DEEP THROAT of animation.”

“Now after you’ve made a short film, what do you do with it? I do the festival circuit. Nickelodeon gets too much stuff. They go to film festivals so that they can see the good stuff with the crappy stuff screened out. I first realized that you could make it in short films at the Annecy festival. Distributors heard the audience applause for YOUR FACE (1987). I made another short film with the profits from the sales.”
“Sell your films to:
1. THEATRICAL. (Tournee of animation, the Animation Show)
2. NON THEATRICAL (Libraries, museums, airlines, corporations and schools. This is a shrinking market.)
3. THE INTERNET (Itoons, Atomfilms, Ipods.) My new film was immediately sold to Ipod…I make a lot of money on the Internet. It is a growing market and becoming more important. But I can’t sell a film to others if it is free on the Net. I take it down if someone rips me off. Possibly the exposure pays—it’s a lot of publicity.”
4. MERCHANDISE. I sell drawings, sketches, DVDS, books, and posters. There’s nothing new about this; Disney’s been doing it for 80 years.
5. COMMISSIONED WORK: Trailers, commercials, and films—but it’s another shrinking market.
6. APPEARANCES: I appear at schools and festivals.
So there are many ways to make money with short films.”

“I like getting up in the morning and making my own crazy films the way I want to make them. I do a feature every 3 years. I’m working on a new feature with a more exaggerated style of animation—taking reality just that little bit further.
Once a year I’ll do a short…I did three this year.. SANTA, THE FASCIST YEARS was done in a week (the animation was completed over the Thanksgiving long holiday weekend), HORN DOG was done in two weeks. MEXICAN STANDOFF took 3 weeks.”
“I do 3 key poses on the dog and put slobber in between them. Disney films use 20, 24 drawings per second. I don’t have the time, the money, or the patience, to do this so I cheat. I use pans, zooms, and only a few drawings, sometimes animating on 4’s. The audience doesn’t care; they only want to see the humour. I do garage-band animation.”

“The Dog is simple—a box with legs. Design a character and keep it SIMPLE! You have to draw it thousands of times.”

“I saw a dog in Madison Square Park barking at a bird…I wondered why? I went inside his brain and imagined that the dog thought he was protecting his master from harmless animals that were really vicious assassins. I did 15 ideas for this film and tested them (I believe in testing!) and narrowed it down to 8 ideas.
In France they thought the Dog was a parody of George Bush because everything he did turned out so badly. But he’s just a funny dog, looking for love…and he fails.”

“I do all the drawings. It’s faster than hiring someone. My producer scans them in and colors them. I love drawing. I use straight ahead animation and spend 5 to 10 minutes on each drawing for the final tie-downs. I get in a ‘zone’ like a writer where it just flows…it feels like I’m on autopilot. It just happens. And the more mistakes in the drawing, the better. Finger marks and erasures add texture and substance that you can’t get in digital media. I don’t throw out drawings; I fix them and make them better. Cintiqs may be okay for some people but they’re not for me. I am old-fashioned; I prefer paper.”

“I used to be a political cartoonist, but they date. Animation is timeless. I choose films about romance.”

“I’m only confident when I hear audience applause. Then I know it is a success.
You have to believe that what you’re making is the best film ever made. It rarely is, but you need the strength and courage to commit all this time and money to it. Don’t do animation to get rich and famous. Do it because it makes you happy.
The process is what is fun. DRAW all the time. That’s the way to be an artist.”

Monday, June 15, 2009

Back Agayne

Here are some shots from the sailboat race to FIFTY POINT, a former 'malarial swamp' and current nature preserve/boat marina. My hosts, Jim and Rolly, were sailing the catboat BOO KNOWS whose sail and 'wishbone' you see here. Catboats allow the skipper to sit in the rear of the boat and control the sail with ropes, rather like a marionette string but not exactly. My function was to stay out of the way and avoid falling overboard.
It's been a very exciting couple of weeks, but the upshot of the deal is that there was a visit from an old friend, a visit from another one is taking place tomorrow, and I got approved for the Canadian equivalent of a green card! And oh yes, Gizmo had her first bath. All of these events except the bath were enjoyable--even though Gizmo now smells a bit more perfumed than usual. I will try to update this site a bit more regularly now that I'm going fulltime onto the book in two weeks' thank you, gentle reader (all one of you) and enjoy the pictures!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Words and Pictures

Here's a little bit of colour from the neighbourhood
to amuse the readers since I've been a little lax in updating the blog recently. This is due to the combined duties at the college (TLA, or Teaching and Learning Academy, is required for probational faculty for two years. This is the second session and so far, so good.)
I've been working hard on writing the book, which I want to have largely finished by the end of summer. In retrospect it does seem a bit daft to be writing a new book, but I wanted to get the animation methods I learned from my teachers and my own experiences (both in industry and in teaching) down on paper while I still had the time and ability to do so. It's hard to see the forest for the trees when you are writing a textbook so professional critiques are required by the publisher. PREPARE TO BOARD! benefited from Mark Mayerson's input. The new one has Yvette Kaplan's critiques, which have hugely improved ANIMATED PERFORMANCE. (Thanks, Yvette!) I'm a little apprehensive about some of the illustrations since the copyright holders must be contacted. AVA is doing that this time around. Most of the illustrations are mine but there will be some input from Sheridan students and also from my former RIT students including Brittney Lee, whose storyboard were prominently featured in PREPARE TO BOARD! and Ignacio Barrios, who is currently rigging and animating characters at Blue Sky. Ignacio kindly allowed me to use his CGI character developed for his RIT MFA film under my supervision, and so ANIMATED PERFORMANCE will have some examples of CGI animation based on hand drawn thumbnails. I think that this may make it unique, but Ignacio is a busy man so I'm not leaning on him too hard for illustrations.
Several other artists including Nina Haley and Simon Ward-Horner have also given me permission to use their sketches. As a matter of fact, I'm currently working on Chapter Four, where Nina's will be used (Animal Acts, or animating mammalian, avian, and reptilian characters). Simon's work will appear in that chapter and the one on human/animal combinations.
Chapter Three went like greased lightning mainly because of a marvelous interview with Art Babbitt that I got in 1979 when I was still a student at Cal Arts. I was in Hollywood getting some color film developed and my friend Enrique May dared me to go up to Dick Williams' studio. I called them, and (this being a long time before the age of security checks and lockdowns) they readily agreed to let me visit. After viewing my reel, Dick pointed out that Art Babbitt was in the room and that both he and Mr. B. liked my work. My immediate reaction was to invite Art to Cal Arts as a lecturer, but the political situation at the time made this impossible. So he and Dick agreed to let me do an interview at the Williams studio a week later, which I did. And I thank my younger self for asking the right questions. Babbitt was a marvelous teacher. Nothing in the interview duplicates anything in Richard Williams' book and I think that chapter 3 is going to be hard to top.
I've had a lot of fun drawing the illustrations. Most of them are thumbnails, which I think are underutilized in some animation books. Thumbnails are necessary to clarify your thought processes and get your acting strategies straight so that you don't later have to redo hundreds of drawings when animating a scene. But I also have a fair share of illustrations that are still pictures conveying a type of character. There are even a few caricatures. I love drawing caricatures and once wanted to be a theatrical cartoonist. A book is a bully pulpit for putting your fond fancies in print, as long as your editor agrees that the illustrations are appropriate. So I have drawn two caricatures so far and will probably do more before this is over. Editor Georgia Kennedy is a pleasure to work with and the rather odd delivery system--I write in Ontario, send it to Yvette in L.A. via email for proofing and suggestions, she sends it back to me, I rewrite, then send it to Georgia with the illustrations to the FTP server in Brighton, England--is a very Twenty First Century way of working. Yvette and Georgia have never met. I have never met Georgia. Yet we are able to work together on this project through the miracle of fast Internet connections. Curiously enough I've learned that Canadian copyright law is quite different than American copyright law...I wonder whose law applies when I'm publishing a book in Europe that will have editions in other parts of the world?

Monday, May 11, 2009


The Toronto Comic Arts Festival is just six years old, but the event has proven incredibly successful. It is held every two years at
Toronto's Central Library, which I visited last November when Lynn Johnston was awarded the Doug Wright Award for cartooning.
This Sunday was Mother's Day, and one of my Sheridan students was at the comic fair with her mom (I like the idea!) and one former student was selling a book she wrote. (Yes, I bought it.)
The photograph is of Patricia Storms, independent cartoonist/illustrator and member of the Canadian Chapter of the National Cartoonists Society and, if rumour holds true, our future President. She's drawing a Pirate for "Owlkids", a group that gets kids interested in cartooning. The children came up with some excellent stories in a pitch session, too. Good on ya, Owlkids. Good on ya, Patricia.
I was particularly interested in the panels on Newspapers, Comics and the Internet and Comics and Animation. It was not difficult to attend both events though the rooms were crowded. The newspaper panel featured editors from comic syndicates, comic artists, and writers on the comic book culture. Here are the panelists as described in the event schedule:
On the panel is R. Stevens, the creator of the webcomic Diesel Sweeties. He
entered into a deal with United Features Syndicate to distribute his comic in
newspapers, and ultimately left that deal to concentrate on his web efforts.
Joining him will be: Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics and the
controversial futurist text Reinventing Comics; Stuart Immonen, an accomplished
“mainstream” comics artist on Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man, and also a
self-publisher who prints his own books and comics, and serializes work online;
Brendan Buford, Comics Editor for King Features Syndicate, and a cartoonist,
publisher, and someone who works with mainstream book publishers; and John
Martz, co-creator of and Chair of the Canadian Chapter of The National
Cartoonist Society. The panel will be moderated by Steven Murray, writer,
illustrator, self-publisher, webcomics artist, and cartoonist and journalist for
Canada’s National Post newspaper.
Brendan Buford and Scott McCloud did most of the talking, but all the panelists were of the opinion that newspapers weren't going completely away. Nor was syndication dead. What was going to disappear was the mass-market audience; the future of cartooning was more in niche markets. "It's not a train wreck. It's more like a steamroller. We are all going to be flattened for a while", said Mr. Buford. King Features was doing very well--ironically enough, through licensing for Betty Boop and Popeye.
"Local markets will be critical, it's a 'wild West' environment."
He confirmed that comics syndicates 'trolled the Web' looking for suitable comics to syndicate but that 'personality' mattered as well; some past 'young sensations' were temperamentally unsuited to the rigours of creating a daily strip.
Scott McCloud mentioned Microsoft's new Infinite Canvas which allows you to put camera moves and animation levels into comic strips. (I feel that technology will never replace good storytelling, a sentiment I and most of the panelists share with the late Will Eisner, --no relation to Michael--who said that "Content (story) drives the art form." Thank you, Mr. Eisner, for not calling it a 'business'!)
"Paper is technology too," Stuart Immonen said. "It's portable and can be infinitely formatted!"
I asked what would become of the gorgeously produced books at this comic fair (one of which was the size of a small table) if everyone read comics digitally.
No problem. It appears that a book purchased at a fair like this is 'a handshake (with the creator) that you can take home' and that the indies were making a living selling books and merchandise. Books were MORE special in the digital age since they were 'hand crafted'.
Mass-marketed comics were going to lose a guaranteed distribution channel--the daily paper--but comics would survive on a smaller scale. "Comics were never that popular."
A woman in the audience disagreed at once. "Comics are everywhere! They are more popular than ever!" I certainly agreed with her. I could only wish that 'hand crafted' animation would make a similar comeback.
The next panel wasn't about animation. Most of the strip cartoonists I've known were trying desperately to get into animation as more and more newspapers folded. But this group consisted of former or present animation people who were going into comics to get out of being what they described as a 'cog in the machine'.
The panelists for COMIC ARTISTS WHO ANIMATE were Graham Annable, Faith Erin Hicks, Brian Envinou, Paul Rivoche and one additional artist whose name I have missed. The panel was moderated by Jim Zubkavich, who works in animation and teaches animation at Seneca College. Four of the panelists were Sheridan Animation graduates. Faith Erin Hicks was the most recent alumnus (2004.) She was approached about working in comics after she'd been in animation for a while. "Comics paid almost a living wage if I gave up eating," she said.
It quickly became apparent that these artists craved more control than is commonly provided to the bulk of animation artists. "Even if I designed a nuclear reactor (for an animated film) it had to fit the script. I couldn't go crazy with it," one artist said. Animation artists were frequently likened to 'cogs in a machine'.
After the panel ended I suggested to some of the speakers that 'cog' was not necessarily an accurate description of an animation crew. "Animators are more like members of an orchestra, or ensemble musicians," I said. "It takes several animators (and in the case of a feature, sometimes a hundred or more) to create the work. Comic strip artists who do everything themselves are soloists." Like syndicated cartooning, studio work is not for anyone, and these artists enjoyed their independence.
"I have absolute control over everything! Awesome!" Ms. Hicks crowed.
The comic art/animation panel agreed that animation training was the best preparation they could have had for their new careers. An animation background provides a comic strip artist with timing, the ability to create strong poses in silhouette, good body language and staging (layout). "Going to school helped me" was the general consensus.
One artist also mentioned that working in animation for 'a boss that will kill you if you get it wrong," was also excellent training. The independent 'soloists' need only please themselves and their audience...while the ensemble players must please the conductor, director, --AND the audience.
The day ended with my purchase of a few more books and lunch out with Mark Mayerson, who will also be writing the event up on his blog.
Comics never really appealed to me as a profession, but I respect people who can do a daily story for years on end or publish their own books successfully. It really is a great and pleasant way of making a living. Maybe I'll try a small comic entry for an anthology after the new book is finished.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Continuing Education

I start something called TLA next week, which is a required training program here. One of my assignments will be drawings for a class that is held at the same time I attend a meeting of the department.

The book is coming along pretty well; about 1/3 of it is finished, complete with illustrations. It's quite amazing to think that I've never actually met my editor Georgia Kennedy. I send all the materials to her in Brighton, England via FTP after Yvette Kaplan gives the 'professional critique' on the writing in L.A. The Internet is little short of miraculous...we can literally turn around changes in a day, while working in three different regions of the planet.

Yvette and I have known each other for years, and she's a very direct and straightforward critic. That's good for me since I need another pair of eyes to tell me if this is working or not.
And I wanted someone who would tell me. The worst reviewer never tells you what can be improved as well as what works.

Luckily since I don't really have any issues about corrections to the writing, I have used all of Yvette's suggestions and the book has become much better as a result. I made a few other tweaks after her changes were implemented....then fixed an illustration or two...

Of course I have to eventually kiss it goodbye and get it into production. I was tweaking some of the paragraphs and reworked one illustration and finally had to say, Enough. Chapter's due in Brighton. Deadlines matter in publishing as well as in animation. So I'll get it as good as I can get it in the time that I have, and get it finished on time. This is the same instruction I give to my students for their assignments. Time management is a useful skill.
Artists who work for themselves can take as long as they like, but if you work for someone else, they will want the material by a certain date, and that's why we are called 'commercial' rather than 'fine' artists. Our skills may be the same, but our clients aren't.

In other developments, the Sheridan Industry Day was a week or so ago, and Mark Mayerson wrote it up on his blog and since I could not attend the whole thing I won't duplicate things here. The animation department puts on a very fine show for the visiting studios; it's very impressive to see each student's display on their own individual monitor in a huge library space, with print samples of their work and sometimes even copies of the animation reel available.

There is a comic art show in Toronto today and tomorrow. I'll head in on Sunday and write it up for the next entry, possibly with some photos. The new camera is working very well.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Mast and the Tugboat

These tugboats are in Oakville harbour putting masts on the small sailing boats that didn't get their masts last week (more on that later.)
Most of the boats got their masts from the same huge crane that put them in the water. I should have some shots of this next week (they were taken on film with the old Contarex.)
Anyway, here are some shots I got today with the Lumix. You can see why I chose to live in this neighbourhood. It's lovely being near the lake and seeing all the boats in the harbour...and sailing day isn't far off!

The Oakville Club

I am a member of the Oakville Club, which is located just near my apartment building. This wonderful building in the top photo dates from 1908 (though the largest wing was added later.) The badminton court features a remarkable roof that was originally an airplane hanger for Sopwith Camels (it dates from the First World War.) The dining room is in an 1848 building that was once a grain warehouse. The Lumix camera takes a great flash photo!

It's Good To Be The Queen

My dear friend Gizmo will be eight years old sometime this year. I usually 'celebrate' on August 1.
But then again, every day is the cat's birthday.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

What the Contarex can Do

I was asked how the Contarex did with prints.

Here are some that I posted when I went across Canada on THE CANADIAN three, no four (!) years ago. I got these processed in a good shop in Vancouver.

The pictures were taken from a moving train, shooting through a dirty window. Train speed was about 60 miles an hour.

No, I don't think the Lumix could have gotten these.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hello, Sailor

This gentleman was putting up his
sails 'while the weather was nice'.
The harbour was empty of boats this
morning, and the boats were mastless
on dry land.
What a difference a few hours can make.
I also think I am going to like the Lumix.

Lumix Again in Oakville Harbour

Here's the harbour in late afternoon, with the Lumix.
The Contarex's pictures were taken in the morning
and should be available sometime early next week.
It will be fun to compare the two.

First Pictures with the Lumix

Ain't this sweet?

Witt's Daughter: A Disney Artist makes a Live Action Movie

"I was going to remodel my kitchen, but decided to make a movie instead."--Carole Holliday

Disney animator and story woman Carole Holliday has made her first live action short film,
Witt's Daughter.

Now, while a forty minute live action short film may sound like a big jump for someone who designed Roxanne for A GOOFY MOVIE (and animated in my unit in Paris), storyboarded on DreamWorks' PRINCE OF EGYPT and did character designs for JOHN HENRY (Disney) it really isn't that different. Live action has been using storyboards ever since Alfred Hitchcock's time (Hitch drew his own boards and also worked with animator Saul Bass on the shower scene for PSYCHO). The new movie and editing software and high powered computers means that you really can edit and mix an entire film on a Mac or PC yourself and achieve professional results if you know what you are doing.

Carole wrote the screenplay, produced, directed, designed the costumes, and did the sound editing. She had a large crew working in other capacities, and Alia Margaret, a truly amazing little four year old star of the show.

Here's a blog Carole made about the process. You can see her laughing and joking with the crew in one of the clips.

WITT'S DAUGHTER is the tale of Witt Stringfield, a Korean War veteran who returns home to his family after three years overseas to find that his four year old daughter does not remember him. She also does not care to know him. She is afraid of him. Instead, little Catherine is friendly with all the other male characters who obviously have come to her home during Dad's absence... her rakish Uncle Gus and his poker playing buddies all receive the attention that Dad desperately craves.

The film's atmosphere is well researched, which is what I expect from a writer/director who is also an experienced story and development artist. You feel that you are in the period from the first frame. Even the actress playing Mama (Mandy Henderson) has a period look to her face; she's not fashionably emaciated. The camerawork has a golden look to it that tells us that this is 'a past time'. We are, and yet are not, there with the characters since manners have changed as much as the cars, clothing, and home furnishings. The past literally is another country.

The film takes place in a time when people did not talk about sex in public (my father insists that no one talked about it anywhere) but there is an undercurrent there just the same. Witt and May rush into one another's arms but not right into the bedroom. (Catherine is present; they must behave.) Every other family in the film has five or six children. May has agreed to babysit a friend's brood of five when Child Number Six falls seriously ill. Witt demands that he is more important, that the wife's place is home with him. This, too is 'period' (depressingly so.) But the urgency of the friend's need (and Witt's selfishly not informing May that he was returning home) takes precedence.

Witt not only connects with his daughter, he learns that his own wishes are not necessarily the most important.

Witt's Daughter is an enjoyable, nice film about a father reconnecting not only with his daughter, but with his family and himself. It is a positive, optimistic film. Carole plans to make more. Good on ya!

Here is some more information about the film.

Congratulations, Carole!

The Lumix

This is the Lumix. It is a very elegant litle
camera. Note the Leica lens.
I don't know how well it works yet, but it is
lovely out today and so I will try it out in the
harbour and compare it with the earlier
shots taken with the Contarex today.

The Old German Camera: Best in the World (1958 version)

This is the Contarex. It's been in our family
since 1964. I've owned it since 1985.
Nicknames: Snoopy (the case resembles
his nose)
Other nickname: Monstro the Camera
(when fully loaded, it weighs over six pounds)
It's a gorgeous work of art, not just a
photographic device. All three lenses and
all the filters are hand ground.
They literally don't make them like this
any more. They didn't make them like that THEN.
But it is, as mentioned earlier, VERY heavy.

The New Camera

Hello all,

I bought my first digital camera today. It's a Panasonic Lumix, with a touch screen. Quite futuristic really.

Ironically enough I had to use my 1958 Contarex this morning to shoot the boats being lowered into the water at the Oakville marina by a huge crane. I'd promised Larry the harbourmaster that I'd do this, and the Contarex was not only the only camera I had was the only camera there, period. The crane swung each boat out in a sling, for all the world like a giant playing in the bath with some very expensive toys. Everyone else was told that the crane crew would start at nine...I was told they started at seven, and so I was the only one there at the proper time.

I shot three rolls of film with the gorgeous (still functional, and extremely heavy) old German camera, then took them to the local camera store and bought the Lumix.

I'm about to try the new one out. It also takes movies, so let's see if I can get it to work!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

By The Rapids: First Nation Animation

Yesterday I visited Big Soul Productions, a First Nations owned live action and animation production facility located in downtown Toronto.
(First Nations is the Canadian equivalent of "Native American")

My friend Jean Pilotte is animation supervisor of an animated series called BY THE RAPIDS. The show was created and written by Joseph Tekaroniake Lazare, who also directs the show. Lazare based the town of "By the Rapids" on his hometown of Kahnawake, Quebec, and the characters on people who lived there. The main character, Cory Littlehorn, is a modern teenager whose parents are successful lawyers. The Littlehorn family return to the parents' community in By The Rapids to live, and each episode deals with...well, highly unexpected things. I won't describe the plot of the episode Jean showed us here, but the writing was really outstanding and nothing about the program's plot was predictable. The gags were funny, if sometimes highly unconventional (all right, I'll tell you about one of them: all the dogs in the town smoke cigarettes.) The show is highly original and entertaining. The animation is limited but the characters still worked.
The show is produced in English and Mohawk languages and airs on APTN , the Aboriginal People's Television Network. This network covers all of Canada but I am not sure whether it reaches the USA.
Perhaps some American network would air this interesting show.
Big Soul Productions is located in a wonderful arts building just off Spadina Street in Toronto. I amused myself by looking at the bookstore (where I didn't buy anything) and the musical 'museum' store (where I bought a small rattle that reminded me a little bit of a cartoon mouse.) Afterward, a friend took me to a well known Polish/Eastern European supermarket where I amused myself by recognizing the Frosch (frog) brand cleaners that I used to use in Germany.

So I'd call this a nice, multicultural day out!
Oh, and we had a nice Sheridan senior student with us on the tour. I thought that since Bernice's film involved Raven and the Moon (a Northwest Coast legend) she might be interested in hearing about By the Rapids. Not only was the young lady overjoyed to be there, she obviously made an impression on some of the staffers, and a copy of her film will be shown to the producers when they return from a trip to New York.

Perhaps BY THE RAPIDS will air on PBS. That would be nice.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A New Disney Documentary and some Books

I spoke with Frank Thomas' son Ted yesterday. Ted's company 'Theodore Thomas Productions' produced the delightful documentary FRANK AND OLLIE and has just completed work on a fascinating new one about the Disney studio artists' trip to South America in 1942.
Apparently new, raw footage has been found and this, along with some animation from SALUDOS AMIGOS, is used in the film.
I'll write more when I hear about the distribution and release dates.

Work continues on the book, which is dedicated to Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, and Shamus Culhane. I chose these three dedicatees because of their writing--not their animation! Frank and Ollie's book THE ILLUSION OF LIFE is the first important study of character animation, and Shamus Culhane's ANIMATION FROM SCRIPT TO SCREEN was the first important animation textbook. All three men were my friends, and I hope the new book won't be too shabby. Lynn Johnston has agreed to write the Foreword, or Backward as it will probably turn out.

Speaking of books, I've just provided a blurb for the updated TIMING FOR ANIMATION by John Halas; Tom Sito wrote some excellent additions bringing the book into the digital age. (Hey, we still time the same way; a second is a second, whatever program or technique you use to measure it!) There will also be illustrations from some CGI and Flash sources in addition to the originals, which may be difficult to view today. This update is one that everyone should get...I recommend it highly.

I've ordered the two Walt Stanchfield drawing books and will write a review when they arrive. I studied with Stanchfield and Glen Vilppu at Disney's and actually preferred Stanchfield as a teacher, though both were of course excellent.

So that's all the news that I'm allowed to print. I have more, but can't print it!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A bit of bother and a new film

I apologize for the long hiatus between posts, but a combination of family emergencies and a lengthy attack of bronchitis has slowed me down a bit.
There is some interesting news on the animation front: the Russian feature THE TALE OF THE SOLDIER FEDOT (Fedot Strelets) made by the Melnitsa Animation Studio was posted on YouTube for a few days. Note: someone took it down, which is probably what I would have done in their place. I did get to see it beforehand. I hope that it is made available on dvd; in the meantime, the website for the film is still up, and the trailer can be viewed there. I am told that the film did make a respectable amount of money by Russian standards, and it was either loved or disliked in equal measure by the audiences.
The film is beautifully art directed; the artwork resembles lacquer paintings on Russian boxes. It is done in digital cutout animation, apparently the first Russian feature to use this technique (though short films have done this for some time). Some characters' heads turn; others are flat.
The animation is stylized and never boring.
The poem it is based on probably sounds better in Russian. My friend Alexey Kobelev sent me a link to an English translation last year, and it is this translation that is used in the film's subtitles.
I was surprised and a little repulsed by one episode near the end, which contains a grotesque racist caricature. The character is described in repulsive terms in the original poem, but the visuals take the stereotyping to the limit. The episode could be edited out of the film if anyone wanted to show it in the West. (The Tsar is trying to marry his daughter off to just about anyone...and there were many more candidates in the original poem.)
Take a look. It's worth it. I wish Studio Melnitsa luck in their future productions.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Thanks, Mike

Mike Sporn called me out on the last post, so here's an amended version: Nina Paley is the first person to singlehandedly produce an animated film in FLASH. She is possibly the fourth person to ever animate an entire film by herself (Neither Bill Plympton nor Lotte Reiniger did EVERYTHING on their films themselves. Reiniger's husband was her cameraman and Plympton works with renderers and probably cameramen/women.)

But while researching the Polish feature ADAM 2 that Mike mentions (which is unavailable on YouTube) I found two films that I saw in junior high school that I have (a) had nightmares about and (b) been searching for ever since. I'm serious. I haven't forgotten the first film in forty years, though I thought it was French because its title is French....RENAISSANCE by Walerian Borowczyk is a stunning allegory of war. I remember being fascinated by the stop motion animation, which has never, in my opinion, been used to greater horrific effect than it is here.

LES JEUX DE ANGES, also by Borowczyk, is an even more harrowing depiction of life--if you can call it that-- in a death camp. Stay with it. The slowness is part of the horror. I remember that I and one other Jewish student were the only ones to understand this film in the entire class. Perhaps it was better for the other students that they did not understand it. Borowczyk ended his career making porn movies and I can't say I blame him for seeking some kind of escape, any kind of life affirmation, as the antidote to these memories.

So thanks, Mike, for inadvertently getting me on the right track to find these two films. Maybe I should have just asked Jules Engel about them at Cal Arts. It never occurred to me to do so so it's taken me a bit longer to find these films than I had hoped...but they are worth the wait.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

SITA SINGS THE BLUES can now be seen online

Animator NINA PALEY is one of a small group of people (of whom Bill Plympton is best known) who have created a full length, sound, feature animated film singlehanded. Nina did literally everything on this project except write and record the music, which is provided by Twenties singing star Annette Hanshaw.
SITA SINGS THE BLUES was held up from release by copyright issues that have now been resolved.
The entire feature can be viewed here.
Congratulations, Nina!

Friday, February 27, 2009

THIRD EDITION of Prepare to Board

I've just been informed that PREPARE TO BOARD! will have a third English edition. This is being published only six months or so after the second edition.

I'm of course delighted, but it helps to put things in perspective; the second edition was less than half the size of the first edition, and the third edition will be about the same size as the second.

The only difference between the second and third editions is that the rear cover will now state that I teach at Sheridan College rather than at RIT.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Slumdog Oscars

I think that yesterday's Oscars proved that films with good stories can win out over 'high concept' films.

Not only did SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE win in all categories in which it was nominated--beating 'sure things' like THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON--but the beautiful Japanese hand drawn film LA MAISON EN PETIT CUBES won the Best Animated Short Film award, rather than CGI entries PRESTO and OKTAPODI.

Sean Penn won a well-deserved Oscar for his portrayal of Harvey Milk in MILK. I voted for him but didn't think he'd make it. Good job.

Every now and then people remember that story is what brings us in to the theatre, not special effects and explosions. Well, some of us anyway.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Succesful Fantasy Director Speaks Out

PAN'S LABYRINTH was my favorite film of 2006. Like CORALINE and SPIRITED AWAY, it is about a young girl who rescues (or attempts to rescue) a family member from a sinister fantasy world. But the first two films have more resonance than CORALINE because they contain symbolism that works according to the laws of their particular universes. While their 'myths' are in fact original, they are easily understood by the viewer. The Miyazaki film's themes and symbols make reference to contemporary environmental consciousness and also to Japanese mythology. This gives it an interesting design flavour, particularly in the bathhouse sequences. PAN'S LABYRINTH's universe is firmly grounded in European fairy tales and symbolism. The labyrinth of the title literally affects the main characters' lives, as this wonderful interview with Del Toro proves:

“The labyrinth is a very, very powerful sign,”
explained del Toro. “It’s a primordial, almost iconic symbol. It can mean so
many things, culturally, depending on where you do it. But the main thing for me
is that, unlike a maze, a labyrinth is actually a constant transit of finding,
not getting lost. It’s about finding, not losing, your way...
...I can ascribe two concrete meanings of the labyrinth in the movie. One is
the transit of the girl towards her own center, and towards her own, inside
reality, which is real. I think that Western cultures make a difference about
inner and outer reality, with one having more weight than the other...The other transit I can say is the transit that Spain goes
through, from a princess that forgot who she was and where she came from, to a
generation that will never know the name of the fascist. And, the other one is
the Captain being dropped in his own historical labyrinth. Those are things I
put in. But then, as I said, the labyrinth is something else. Each culture will
ascribe a different weight to it.”
Guillermo del Toro on Fairy Tales and Inspiration: ...Even
when I was a kid, funny enough, I used to be able to find those fairy tales that
felt preachy and pro-establishment, and I hated them. I hated the ones that were
about, ‘Don’t go out at night.’ There are fairy tales that are created to
instill fear in children, and there are fairy tales that are created to instill
hope and magic in children. I like those. I like the anarchic ones. I like the
crazy ones. And, I think that all of them have a huge quotient of
darkness because the one thing that alchemy understands, and fairy tale lore understands, is that you need the vile matter for magic to flourish. You need lead to turn it into gold.
You need the two things for the process. So when people sanitize fairy tales and homogenize them, they become completely uninteresting for me."

Other Miyazaki films such as PRINCESS MONONOKE are grounded in what could be cultural memory or traditional fairy tale, but is in fact original 'myth' created for the film.

Both SPIRITED AWAY and PAN'S LABYRINTH are picaresque adventures unified by 'original' -mythic structure. Both of these are far better films than CORALINE. The latter film is a collection of technical marvels with no underlying mythic theme to unify them. The characters have no real resonance in either of the film's two worlds.

Monday, February 09, 2009

All Frosting, No Cake

Many years ago my sister made her first cake. My father was so happy about his daughter's first baking effort that he decided to make genuine homemade whipped cream, the kind his father put on top of the five cent banana splits sold in the family restaurant during the Depression, in my sister's cake's honor.

Dad bought a pint of whipping cream and some caster sugar and whipped it up until there was nearly four inches of the stuff...but my poor sister's poor cake was a lamentable effort, only about an inch high. Nevertheless, Dad insisted on putting ALL the whipped cream on the thing.
The frosting completely swamped and drowned the main event. "Where's the cake?" I exclaimed as I went prospecting through the gargantuan whipped cream topping.
We ate it and all got sick afterward from the superabundance of fat and cholesterol.

This deadly dessert is, to me, symbolic ofModern animated features, where technique is the whipped cream and story is the cake.

I was going to write some criticism of two animated features I saw recently, but found that someone else wrote a much better one years before feature animation was a glimmer in Lotte Reiniger's or Walt Disney's eye.

So here are some wonderful excerpts from Mark Twain's essay, FENIMORE COOPER'S LITERARY OFFENSES, written in 1895 (the official birth year of motion pictures!) It is amazing how much these arguments apply to film stories. I am editing the word "Deerslayer" and a few points out so that Twain's argument may be applied to animation in particular. Here goes:

1. The rules (of literary construction state that)...A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere. But the "_________" tale accomplishes nothing and arrives in air.

2. They require that the episodes in a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it. But as the "__________" tale is not a tale, and accomplishes nothing and arrives nowhere, the episodes have no rightful place in the work, since there was nothing for them to develop.

3. They require that the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others. But this detail has often been overlooked in the "__________" tale.

4. They require that the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there. But this detail also has been overlooked in the "___________" tale.

5. The require that when the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject at hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say. But this requirement has been ignored from the beginning of the "_________" tale to the end of it.

6. They require that when the author describes the character of a personage in the tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description. But this law gets little or no attention in the "___________" tale, as ____________'s case will amply prove.

9. They require that the personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable. But these rules are not respected in the "___________" tale.

10. They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. But the (viewer) of the "___________" tale dislikes the good people in it, is indifferent to the others, and wishes they would all get drowned together.

11. They require that the characters in a tale shall be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency. But in the "_______" tale, this rule is vacated.

I will venture to add one point to Twain's wonderful list. Characters in an animated film should have some discernable design relationship to one another and be from the same design universe unless the story calls for it. If a film (CORALINE) has grotesques for neighbours in both the 'real world' and 'other world' while she and her parents and one friend are designed and animated in a completely different style, how do you differentiate the Other World from the Real World? You are piling frosting on top of frosting until you have completely hidden the cake.
THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX is three or four cakes...I waited an hour for the story to start. Was it about a mouse, a rat, or soup? (I didn't wait long enough to find out if it was about a princess.)
CORALINE'S cake makes little sense and collapses like a fallen souffle the minute you try to puzzle out character relationships, motivation, or meaning.
But the frosting is little short of miraculous.
That may be enough for some people, but I somehow doubt that either film is going to do very well. Story remains undeveloped in these features while technique soars to magical levels. But it's all just putting more whipped cream on top of the same sad cake.
All the audience really wants is a good, understandable story, with characters that we are interested in, that is well told. Walt Disney knew that, and his heirs at Pixar know that. Give us more cake and less topping.

I'll let Mr. Twain have the last word.

A work of art? ______ has no invention; it has no order, system, sequence, or result; it has no lifelikeness, no thrill, no stir, no seeming of reality; its characters are confusedly drawn, and by their acts and words they prove that they are not the sort of people the author claims that they are...Counting these out, what is left is Art. I think we must all admit that.

Monday, February 02, 2009


It's official.

I'm writing a second book.

It's taken longer than I thought it would to get it going, but I'm very pleased to say that ANIMATED PERFORMANCE will be published in June, 2010 by AVA Publishing.

This is the same company that produced DRAWING FOR ANIMATION, by Paul Wells and Joanna Quinn. (see below.) AVA's books are beautifully produced, and they have decided to give my release the 'large format' which means that the illustrations will also be large and clear.

So why write yet another book on animation? Hasn't the topic been exhaustively covered?
Nope. Not even close.

I'm going to cover stuff that most other books leave out. I will show how to ACT in animation, not merely produce animation exercises. And no, it won't involve setting up a video can you possibly do this if your character is part fish, or is a tiny machine, or is a group of quarrelling octopi? The only other book on 'animated acting' wasn't written by an animator. I aim to correct this omission. The cover mockup gives you some idea of my subject matter: chapter headings include 'Animal Acts', 'Moving the Furniture' and so on. I will discuss how to animate groups of characters, creatures made of straw or wood, fantasy animals and monsters, and female, male, young and old human characters. Yes, there is a difference in movement, even in ways of speech. There will be a lot of information on dialogue animation that doesn't duplicate material in Dick Williams' or Eric Goldberg's books.

There will also be interviews with Ellen Woodbury (animator of PEGASUS and ZAZU for Disney), and my former SCAD student Jamaal Bradley, who was lead animator on the House in Sony's MONSTER HOUSE and is currently directing cut scenes for Valve Entertainment. We will speak about games animation as well as theatrical/television style acting.
I also will use my wonderful 1979 interview with Art Babbitt that has never been published until now. None of the material in the interview is duplicated in Richard Williams' book. I plan to scatter all interview segments throughout the book, rather than group them in the Appendixes, as I did with PREPARE TO BOARD!

So you might say that ANIMATED PERFORMANCE will fill in the chinks in the literature of animation.

Most of the drawings will be mine, but I have one very important additional contributor: my former RIT student Ignacio Barrios, who is currently a rigger at Blue Sky Studios, has agreed to use his beautifully modeled and rigged ape character from his master's thesis to illustrate some of my points. So ANIMATED PERFORMANCE will demonstrate the same exercises modeled by hand drawn and CGI characters, which can be useful to the reader, since about 90 per cent of current animation is done in CGI.

Sheridan College, unlike RIT, is extremely supportive of faculty who publish, and is even having a special 'author's day' today for its faculty members who have had books published recently. I will make the first (non Internet) official announcement of ANIMATED PERFORMANCE at this show. I plan to ask some of my current Sheridan students for permission to use a few of their drawings, and Professor Mark Thurman has given me permission to use his hilarious caricature of the 'flour sack' as well.
But you heard it here first!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Patrick McGoohan

Patrick McGoohan died in Los Angeles on January 13, aged 80.
I had the pleasure of working with Mr. McGoohan on TREASURE PLANET. He was the voice of Billy Bones, the dying, pathetic alien character I'd been assigned.
As was usual with Disney recording sessions, the supervising animator was invited to hear the actor record the lines.
I'd last seen Mr. McGoohan as King Edward Longshanks in BRAVEHEART, but also recalled his scary television show THE PRISONER whose simple, yet terrifying, balloonlike Rovers frightened and fascinated me as a child.
I was apprehensive about meeting Mr. McGoohan since I'd heard he could be 'difficult' to work with. Actors are sometimes temperamental, or so I was told.
It turned out that Mr. McGoohan and I were the first people to arrive at the studio. I could think of nothing else to do but show him some of the sketches of Billy Bones-- a twisted, tortoiselike creature in high cocked hat and cloak with glowing eyes that I carefully designed to 'read' even in black and white sketches.
No, it wasn't a caricature of Mr. McGoohan, nor did I use any pictures of him as reference for the design. But it occurred to me that he might think that I had. He definitely had aged quite a bit since his PRISONER days. Would he be insulted by the drawings?
I needn't have worried.
"But these are excellent!" Mr. McGoohan said. "And", he added, scrutinizing me carefully, "I've seen you before."
I explained that other than a few documentaries on Disney DVDs, it was unlikely that Mr. McGoohan could have seen me on film since I was usually behind the camera; there was a slight possibility that he could have seen me visiting my friend who lived in Pacific Palisades, where his home was. He continued to insist that he'd seen me. I didn't contest the point. In Hollywood, actors go everywhere, possibly even where animators go.

We then had a very friendly conversation that I have to paraphrase, though I have never forgotten the main points Mr. McGoohan made.
"I am a journalist," he said. "I wrote for Irish papers...acting was not my main interest. The best thing acting ever did for me was to introduce me to my wife."
"I got tired of the 5 a.m. shoots and decided to concentrate on producing rather than acting." (His performance as Longshanks in BRAVEHEART was done as a favor to filmmaker Mel Gibson.)
"I was also offered the part of James Bond, I was the first actor they asked. I turned it down. It would have destroyed me."

He had no regrets for doing this. How many people would have done the same thing?

We met again for pickup sessions on Bones in early 2000, which was after my auto accident. While Mr. McGoohan had been on a cane for the first session, I was using one for the second, and he was horrified.

I would like to offer my small tribute to this kindhearted and highly intelligent actor.
He was quite the looker as a young man but there was a brain behind the good looks. Apparently Mr. McGoohan wrote and produced many COLUMBO shows for his friend Peter Falk, and he also created THE PRISONER and wrote some of the more disturbing episodes of that series.

Patrick McGoohan was also one of the few successful actors who remained faithful to their first wives for their entire working lives!

Farewell, Mr. McGoohan, and thank you for your kindness and your wonderful acting.