Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Corpse Bride... yum!

I just got back from seeing the Corpse Bride. I admit, I'm a huge sucker for stop-mo animation. Ever since I was a wee nip of a lad I've been captivated by the wonder of bringing a very real object to life. Drawings are ethereal, they capture an idea. CG is a mathematical construct inside a world of silicon. But stop-motion is the one animation medium that actually uses real things. Things you can pick up, hold, turn around, move, look at- play with. There's something magical about that and I hope the art form never becomes so specialized that we lose out on seeing wonderful stop-motion animation on the big screen.

Overall as a film the Corpse Bride was good fun. It took a bit to get rolling and at times in the beginning it felt like it was trying a bit too hard to be the second coming of The Nightmare Before Christmas. Once they settled down and got that out of their system, though, the film really started to take off. The second act is where many animated films shipwreck themselves. *cough* Robots*cough*. But the CB had one of the best second acts in an animated film that I've seen in a long while. It just keeps drawing you in, and you wonder how in the world this thing is going to resolve itself. By the time we hit the relatively brief third act you're in for good. There were some truly wonderfully animated performances. The old skeleton elder's performances were just flat out amazing. Not in terms of technical or flaboyant showmanship, but in terms of bringing such warmth and life out of such a simplistic design. With a kind of restrained simple elegance the animators managed to capture such fantastic gestures, movements and expressions with that character. Good grief they managed to get clear, precise and subtle expressions out of a puppet whose only moveable part in the face was his jaw!!!!

Check out this image of the puppet (from a G4 TV interview with the co-director).

The simplest puppet in the film had some of the most exquisite acting. I was just blown away with how much they could get a unique character across with such a limited puppet. On twos. With no undo button. Huge kudos to the crew that worked on that character. You are my new heros, I am not worthy.... Much of the hype has been on the technology in the faces of the hero puppets Victor and such (and that stuff is groovy cool, no doubt) but I was enthralled with the performances from the simplest puppets. There we see the power of what great animation can accomplish, the power to give life to something so seemingly incapable of it. Makes me want to go and simplify everything I'm working on just to boil it all down to that core element of great performance.

So yeah, definitely go see the Corpse Bride. It's not a perfect film, but it's a fun ride and certainly well worth the time. And if you're able you simply owe it to yourself to see in in DLP. Mmmm. DLP.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Mmmmmm.... DLP

3 miles from my house is a fairly new multiplex cinema with 24 screens. In and of itself this is not an amazing fact. But what's cool is that the Texas Instruments facility responsible for the DLP digital projection technology that is taking the world by storm is only a few more miles down the road. So this handy little cinema is the primary DLP "beta-site". While the rest of the nation has only a handful of DLP screens available for watching films in super clear and bright digital projection, this cinema down the road has two of them. Two! And one of them is a brand new true HD 2K DLP. All the rest of the DLP projectors in service in the world are HD720 resolution. (1280x720). But right around the corner I have this wonderful 1920x1080 pixel DLP screen. They installed it for the opening of The Incredibles last winter. I've since seen The Incredibles, Robots, Madagascar and Star Wars on that DLP screen. Tomorrow night I'll be going to see Corpse Bride on it. In a few months I'm sure Chicken Little will make it's appearance there as well. The image quality is just flat out amazing. Imagine watching a digitally animated film on a super bright and crisp computer monitor that's 45 feet wide. It's that good. The details are all right there, you see so much more of the amazing work that goes into making a feature film. Most theaters that project film in the U.S. are nowhere even close to this good looking. Many exhibitors run their projectors at reduced wattage to save on bulb life (lower wattage = dimmer, muddier projection with less saturation, crushed blacks, etc.) Add to that the inherent loss of integrity of taking a digital movie to a film out and in your typical film theater you're not getting even 2/3rds the original quality of the movie as the makers designed it. Once you've seen DLP projection, all else seems crappy and cheap.
I'm really looking forward to watching Corpse Bride on that screen tomorrow night. (CB was shot with high end still photography digital cameras, so there's no mud or loss of integrity involved).
So while all my animator friends in LA try to arouse my jealousy with tales of ASIFA & Academy screenings and all, I just smile and mumble four little words.... "2-k DLP. Mmmmmmmm".

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

More New Tutorial Translations!

Yay! I'm even more international now. Whee!

Thanks to Stefan Klaus, now our German friends can read my Pose to Pose tutorial in the native tongue of the fatherland. Huzzah!
And our friends in China can now read the Pose to Pose tutorial thanks to Harry Zhang.
Victor Luo has also done a nice job of translating Life After Pose to Pose and The Zen of Lead & Follow into Chinese.

See these and many other happy animation tutorials (in a myriad of languages, too!) over on my Tutorials page.

Good stuff! Thanks to these guys for their great work, and thanks to everybody who's been so cool to read these humble mutterings of mine. You all have shown me such great support over the years. You guys rock and I am very thankful. Give yourself a hug, everyone.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The things I've done for cash

As promised, here is a list of all the various jobs I've done in my adult life. Looking at it I'm pretty astounded by the wide variety of experiences I've had. I see now that each of these prepared me to do what I do now. I seem to have some kind of a story to tell about each job and the wide variety of people and personalities that I've dealt with. My own life experience is a limitless fountain of new ideas for characters and performances. I actually feel sorry for young folks who come right out of school into animation. It's almost like they have to play catch up to get such a wide array of life experiences under their belt.
I break the list into two parts: stuff I did before I got into the creative professions and stuff I've done since I've been in the creative professions.

  • Pre-Artistic Work:
    • dishwasher
    • deli counter worker
    • postal employee
    • shoe sales
    • house painter
    • door to door security systems sales
    • dept store clerk
    • car sales
    • injection mold palstics manufacturing
    • fresnel lense manufacutirng
    • shipping & receiving manager
    • part
    • lumber yard hand
    • forklift operator
    • security guard
    • snow plow operator
    • UPS truck unloader
    • janitor
    • landscaping
    • pizza delivery
    • asbestos removal
    • retail stock clerk
    • ad writer
    • freelance sports columnist
    • travelling computer installations
    • minister
  • More Artistic Type Work:
    • illustrator
    • multimedia creator (remember those days? heh)
    • videography
    • modeler
    • graphic designer
    • newspaper ad paste up
    • texture artist
    • lighting artist
    • animator
    • animation supervisor
    • animation director
    • Shot TD
    • CG Supervisor
    • Dir. of 3d Operations
    • assistant director
    • director
    • children's book author/illustrator
    • screen writer
    • voice work
    • storyboard artist
    • rigger
    • editor
    • compositor
Dang. I feel old now. Heh.

Monday, September 12, 2005

I love my job

The events of recent weeks have caused me to sit and count my blessings. One of the tops on the list is that I get to do this cool animation stuff for a living. Folks who know me know I've done a LOT of different jobs in my life. (someday I'll post them all here as a list). To be able to animate for a living? It's like being Peter Pan, except without the tights and the nagging gender questions.

This past week at work was a really good week. I have two scenes that are just a total blast to work on. I managed to get them both keyed out and get the blocking approved, something like 28 feet of work (18.5 seconds for those who are keeping track). I was in a bit of a groove, too. I knew what I wanted, I planned really tight, I could see the performances in my mind's eye before I ever started. I could envision every move, every breakdown, every facial expression. It was fun to bring it all out on screen. After getting the buyoff on the performances I was sitting at my desk thinking, man, I love my job. I'm so thankful for the blessing to be able to do this for a living.

Of course now I have to clean it all up and make sure I don't ruin these scenes and lose the energy. It'll be a real challenge to polish these things to the gills. Should be fun!

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The sun begins to shine...

Here's a great story to read. I'm seeing stories like this happen here in my own town, north of Dallas. I'll share the story of one family of five. The Lacey's are good solid working folks who love their kids (great kids) and were doing a decent job a making go of it in N.O. She worked in the accounts department at Charity hospital, he worked as a warehouse forklift driver and a sauce cook for a catering group. They lost everything but their minivan and their lives in the storm & flood. How they managed to escape the unfortunate events at both the Superdome and the Convention Center (they ended up at both places at one time or another) is an amazing story of guiding providence. After getting out of New Orleans on a back road, they spent almost a week in a Baton Rouge shelter, unable to find an apartment or a job. The reasons were simple, really. The nightly news were looping endless images of rampant looting and chaos in New Orleans. So when these folks tried to get jobs or a place to stay, they failed mainly because of two things: 1) they were black and 2) they were from New Orleans. Suddenly jobs were "filled" and apartments were "rented". At the end of their rope, they came here to North Texas on a suggestion of a shelter volunteer. They came to the shelter here at our church and were just amazed at the totally different attitude compared to Baton Rouge. Kim and I were really taken with these folks, so we invited them to stay in our home for a few days rather than hang out in the shelter. Two families of 10 people living under one roof was fun! The houses here tend to be a bit too big anyhow, so this filled things up nicely. :o) We came to know and love these folks. Soon they got down to the hard, but rewarding business of calling McKinney their new home and rebuilding their lives. When they moved into their apartment on Wednesday you should have seen the smiles. They even had furniture already, thanks to the generosity of folks. A job was right after that. The kids are already enrolled in school and have settled in. It's amazing to see people respond to hardship with such inspiring levels of gratitude and determination. These folks will face some tough times for sure, but I think they're gonna be just fine. In the process my family has made some lifelong friends. This is but one story out of hundreds, thousands.

Good will come of this whole hurricane mess. For many families, long stuck on a generational hamster wheel of poverty and public assistance, this Katrina event will be the catalyst to breaking that cycle and forever changing their family tree. Their kids will attend good schools, they'll live in quiet neighborhoods. They have hope for a better life for their kids than they ever dreamed possible back in the poorest parts of New Orleans. These are their words, not mine. It'll take a lot of hard work and it will test their will, but many are determined to take every advantage of this opportunity.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

"Who is my neighbor?"

I normally don't wax too personal on this blog. I realize many folks don't agree with my world view, and I'm not interested in forcing anything on anyone. I try to keep this site focused on animation, but this stuff just breaks my heart and I feel like I should speak.

Today I spent most of the day with my wife as we worked helping to set up a shelter at our church here in the suburban Dallas area for the refugees from the New Orleans Superdome Hellpit. My wife Kim, God bless her, she's been working like a woman possessed since Thursday to get things ready, organized, etc. After a hectic scramble to get things set up very early this morning the buses came to our church in McKinney, Texas. The buses were carrying about 140 survivors of Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath in New Orleans. You can't even begin to imagine the kind of things these people have been through. The babies, man, I swear it's a miracle they survived. The stories crush your heart. A woman had lost contact with her 4 children and 1 grandchild as they got seperated on their way to the Superdome after the storm. She's a zombie now, wracked with shock & fear. She doesn't know what has become of her children. She's a poor woman. All she's lived for is to raise her children and she doesn't know if they're even alive. One boy, age 13, lost his mother. He was here, hundreds of miles away from "home" with no family, no mom, no dad. Nobody. Another little boy came in who had lost both parents to Katrina. He's just 9 years old. Nearly everybody has lost track of a loved one or lost a loved one dead to the storm. Most of the families are split across shelters in Texas, many without knowing where the others were, or even if they got out alive. Many saw people die. Some saw people killed. All saw (and smelled) dead bodies for days. So many waded through a nasty soup of chemicals, dirty water and raw sewage. Some folks were developing a skin infection from being stuck in those same filthy clothes for so long. Many were subjected to abuse from thugs. The tales of just how bad the Superdome experience was makes your mind spin. Whatever harm nature caused was compounded and trumped by the evil of mankind at its worst.

You read the news reports, you read this post, and it doesn't seem real. Words on a screen. You talk with these folks, see it in their eyes- it's as real and as horrifying as ever. You can't be left unmoved.

Yet they are all grateful to be alive, to be away from Lake New Orleans, to be out of there. They're beginning to feel safe. After they arrived most of them took a shower and then just fell asleep, exhausted. When they woke they seemed relieved. Still troubled, still worried, but the desperate, sharp, ragged edged fear of death had dulled. You can tell that for the first time in a week these people feel human again. There's something powerful about that. It's amazing what some fresh clothes, cold water, a hot meal, a shower and some caring words of conversation can do for a person. Dignity resurrected. I was warmed to see a dozen of these little kids who escaped hell on earth playing with my own kids, smiling, laughing. Kids are amazing, they are so resilient. My daughter made friends with some refugee children. She sat and talked with them, learned about their lives, learned about their ordeal. They are so different than her. They come from a totally different background, race, social status. Yet there they were, hitting it off like old chums. If I ever wondered if I was doing a decent job raising my children to be decent people I was re-assured and thanked God above today when I saw that. The outpouring of help and love from the folks here toward these unfortunate people has been very humbling. The call went out to the church family that we needed donations of food, bedding, clothes, toiletries, medicine,- everything. In just 4 hours the store rooms were filled to overflowing and we started turning people away with their donations. We'd just run out of room, and this is not a small facility. A businessman showed up and handed over $6000.00 in cash to the shelter director and said "Buy the food you need. And when that runs out let me know." This same person got every refugee's size of clothing and went out to buy a fresh change of clothes for them. Shoes, socks, underwear, everything. Everybody had brand new clothes that fit, not just some closet purging toss aways. What a change from wearing the same sewage covered rags for 5 days. I was recruited to shop for food and medical supplies and to pray with these folks. We went from an empty gymnasium with not a single shred of the needed supplies to being a fully functioning shelter with a medical clinic and enough food and aid for weeks all within 24 hrs. I was so thankful to be a part of this in some small way.

You know a lot of folks in the world bag on the church. They decry its hypocrisy, its self righteousness, its bigotry, its politics. And (sadly) with good reason. I'm a man of deep faith. I believe in the mission of the church on this earth to carry forward the message of hope, forgiveness & salvation, to show the love and be the hands of healing that Jesus practiced thousands of years ago. Jesus set this thing up and said "Be my hands & heart to the world." Even so I find myself agreeing with those who take issue with the "American Church", that petty, political, materialistic, self-righteous class of people you read about in the news, hear on TV. When people like Pat Robertson call for the assassination of foreign leaders or when I hear right wing "christian" politicos all geared up for dropping bombs on innocent people across the globe I get so friggin' mad it makes me sick to my stomach. The sad thing is, the church likes to pretend it's a collection of those who've got it all figured out. The reality is we're a collection of screw ups, losers and sinners and we've got so much dirt on us that we're laughable when we pretend that we're oh so clean. At best we're beggars who have found bread. We ought to be telling other beggars where we found it. Instead we are too busy condemning them for their poverty while we pretend that we baked this bread ourselves. May God have mercy on us.

But today, today I saw the church for what it really can be. Caring, selfless, touching, healing, praying. Today was a great day to be alive, even for all the sadness and pain I saw. I only hope we were paying attention. Maybe we can learn something about ourselves. This life isn't about the new widescreen TV, the next movie, the next vacation, the new car, the big house, the petty little junior high school clique-ish games we play in life. It's not about pretending to be so high and holy, so "with it" that we feel comfortable looking down our noses at others and tsk-tsk-ing our way through society. It's about going broke for somebody, selling out to help others, losing so that others can win. Yeah, I guess I'd be pleased if history remembered me as a great animator someday. But that's not the least bit important. I'd much rather have a small group of the poorest people on earth remember me for being a kind man who gave his time, his effort, his love, his tears and his means the day their world fell apart. That's what Jesus would do and that's why I'm glad to be called one of his followers. And tomorrow I look forward to doing it all over again, as heartbreaking as it will be to do so.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled animation blog. But before I go, if you feel compelled to help then a great way you can do something for these folks is to give to a reputable and worthy charity. Two great organizations that you can give to without any fear of corruption are the Red Cross and Worldvision. They are experienced and they will make your money count.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

"It's not animated yet...."

OK, I've got a little pet peeve I want to take out for a walk. Don't worry, I'll scoop up after him. :)

When I was supervising I'd always get a bit tweaked when CG animators would show me their blocking and say "It's not animated yet, this is just blocking."

Just blocking? You mean like "This wound is not serious, it's just a great white shark bite."?
Blocking is worth way more than being labeled with some throw away moniker like "just blocking".

I'd often reply- "Blocking is animation! Blocking has more to do with good animation than anything else you'll do. So yes, it is animated. It's just not done yet." Even now when I'm not supevising I still cringe everytime I hear an animator say "Oh, it's not animated yet, it's just blocking."

Excuse me while I slap my forehead.

To me the art of animation comes down100% to having great ideas with sincere acting. However I think that the craft of animation comes down 85% to pose, breakdown and timing. You know, that "blocking stuff". The other 15% is nice and it can often elevate good fundamentals to a great bit of animation, but that other 15% cannot rescue poorly posed, poorly patterned and poorly timed work. So in my mind planning and blocking ARE animation, and I'd propose that blocking and timing have far more to do with real animation than clean up and polish.

If you ask an old timer traditional animator what he's doing when he's drawing his keys and breakdowns and working his timing charts he'd answer "Why, I'm animating. What does it look like I'm doing?" You'd get nowhere trying to convince such a fellow that he's not really "animating yet", he's "just blocking". He'd look at you like you were an idiot. So why do so many of us in CG treat this foundational element of our work with such disregard? Because the motion isn't all spliney yet? So who's the animator? Milt Kahl who draws the keys and breakdowns and works out the timing charts? Or is it his assistant who inbetweens the work? Or is it the clean up artist who preps the drawings for inking? The way some of us talk in CG we'd give more value to the clean up artist or the assistant than the animator. No wonder so much of our work is bland and lifeless, stuck in a rut of sameness. We don't think we're really animating until we're cleaning up, but by then it's too late to fix anything. We are an army of clean up artists masquerading as animators. And I'd dare say the work shows it sometimes. We can't see the forest for the leaves, never mind seeing the trees.

I think those of us who have been animating in CG from the start need to get beyond this idea that noodling curves and doing endless previews and tweaks is "animation" while planning, thinking through and constructing solid poses and figuring out great timing is "just blocking". When we understand this I think the quality of our work will grow by leaps and bounds.