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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.