Sunday, July 29, 2007

Animation Block Party, Part I

The last couple days have been pretty crazy for me. My sleep patterns are all screwed up because of the last two nights.

Currently, I am in the middle of the Animation Block Party, which lasts four nights this year (last year, it was only three). My film, Ivan's Act, made it into the first night’s screening, which is pretty exciting for me. It marks the first time my film has been accepted by someone else into a screening. An even bigger surprise was that Friday night’s program booklet used a picture from Ivan’s Act for its cover.

Friday night’s screening took place outdoors (it was originally supposed to take place on a rooftop, as part of Rooftop Films). Most of the work was alright, not a lot of memorable work. Bill Plympton’s Shut-Eye Hotel was by far the most professional film of the night, although I don’t think its one of his best. Ivan’s Act played to what I felt was a daft response, possibly because its not as crass as most of the other work. Casey Safron, one of the head curators of the ABP, assured me that Ivan had a good reaction, so I shouldn’t be too dissuaded. It doesn’t bother me too much, as I have learned a great deal more since making it.

The Saturday night screening took place at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater in Lower Manhattan. With a shorter program, I found some of the work to be much more interesting than the previous night’s. There were at least four films that I found very accessible, one in particular was a Zoo comedy, which had a remarkable design reminiscent of 1950’s design (which I am currently fascinated with). I will write up another entry on the last two nights. The last night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music usually has the best work.

In the meantime, I have done some pastel art for my thesis. I am planning out the coloring of the film, while at the same time trying to design some new characters. Designing characters is rather frustrating for me, especially since I don’t have the whole story figured out (I have the plot figured out, but not the total story). It takes a while before I figure out how to make character movable (one of my Achilles heels).

I will be spending the rest of the summer doing pre-production artwork, while trying my best to figure out the story. Andy London has been very helpful with me in that area.

Stay tuned for Animation Block Party, part II.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Excuse me, is my autism showing?

Anyone who knows me knows there is something up with my head. The answer? I have Asperger’s Syndrome, albeit a mild form. I was first diagnosed with it at age 9.

Recently, I have been commenting quite a bit on animator Eddie Fitzgerald’s blog. Though mostly a blog about theories applied to animation, he recently had a couple of entries that mentioned Aspergers. He identified Aspergers and autism as chronic nerdness. I couldn’t help but comment on the entries. Since then, I have been thinking about how my autism works its way into my art and animation.

Aspergers come in different forms. My form is rather mild, meaning that while my social skills are still quite shaky, I am aware of them and can occasionally bring myself to communicate with others. Wanting to be a filmmaker, I feel very lucky, as communication is a big part of the directing process. I have always drawn as far back as I can remember, and I could write, so I already had a couple of outlets. Animation feels like a great outlet for me.

Only recently, I have started to think about how my autism affects my ideas in animation. I know that all animators have their own way of thinking (some call that their style, or trademark). However in my case, autism has given me a different way of perceiving the world in general. And that perception works its way into my animation.

I have always thought of the world as being rather cynical. Henceforth, I have always thought of characters that have a very cynical nature.

My learning process in animation is also quite slow, as I can’t always commit new lessons to memory. I tend to think of new ideas very simply, and don’t put a lot of emphasis upon them until I am confident with how much knowledge I have.

My perception of animation itself is different, but that maybe personal taste. Some animators (mainly those who comment of John Kricfalusi’s blog) have immediate knowledge of what good animation is and how it should be done. I have always trusted my immediate natural reaction to animation. If I really like something naturally, then I don’t immediately see if there is something wrong with it. I felt that when I was watching an old Friz Freleng Bugs Bunny cartoon with a couple of friends. I thought it was very funny, but my friends didn’t, and had very lucid answers to why it wasn’t funny.

I have always trusted my natural reaction. And if I am distracted by poor art direction or something, then my immediate reaction is quite sour.

I hope to talk more about this later on.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Twoben Update

I’m keeping myself as busy as possible.

I am finally getting my website up on the internet. Lee Rubenstein has been helping me out with the process, which is pretty tricky. Lee is great at this stuff; he is the master of self-promotion. There isn’t a whole lot up yet except a link to this blog, but the site is active and up on the net.

Check out, if you are interested in checking out the progress of the site.

It will feature all my animation, a personal bio, and hopefully soon, an image section. I’ve signed on to Flickr, which puts together image slideshows. I intend to make one that follows the run of my thesis. I should have that up by September.

In the meantime, John Kricfalusi had an amazing entry on his blog regarding the blandness of today’s animation. For the most part, I agreed heavily with much of what he said. Much of today’s commercial animation is very indistinct, and too money-oriented. However, I was suprised that he made no mention of the world of independent animation. Having met many independent animators here in New York, I can safely say that they are anything but bland. These artists are not bogged down by commercial executives, and have total control over their artistic visions. The only drawback to independent animation is that it is extra work to get your stuff seen. But there is an audience for it, as I am part of it.

Also, I don’t count Pixar as being bland. And that is further evidenced by the brilliance of Ratatouille.

Also on a side-note, my short film, Ivan’s Act, made it into the Animation Block Party. These are three animation shows being held in Brooklyn over three nights, starting July 27.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Animator images (literally).

I’m getting busier each day. For me, that’s a good thing. My summer has been filled with struggle and productivity. I am working a job at Pratt Institute, and I am watching over my Grandparents’ house for the next five weeks. I am still trying to get the story for my thesis down. Although it is not fully fleshed out, I am feeling very confident with the direction it is taking. For the rest of the summer, I intend to do a lot of artwork in preparation for this project, which I often refer to as the “8-month pregnancy.”

In the meantime, I am finding some motivation in a new webpage. Animator David Nethery created a web page with nothing but images of animators at work at their animation desks. So far, it is a marvelous mixture of commercial and contemporary animators. And I’m told that the site is still being updated, which is even better. Here are four of the images they have so far.

Ken Harris.
Warner Brothers animator. Also worked with Richard Willams.

Eric Goldberg.
Disney animator. “Genie” in Aladdin, and “Rhapsody In Blue” from Fantasia 2000.

Richard Williams.
Animation director for Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Mark Kausler.
An animator whose travelled from Ralph Bakshi to Spumco to Disney.

Just watching the process of animation being done is inspiring. Even though I am more focused on being an director, the dedication and focus these artists have is still inspiring.

In the meantime, I am practicing my own cartoon drawing by copying other cartoons. Apparently, this has been recommended by several people, and I am only now starting to understand why I should do this. I did this last night, just looking at my laptop. I looked at images of John Kricfalusi, Katie Rice, and Mark Kausler.

Copying these keep me learning about how cartoons can be designed. Of course, I have to stay focused on what I can do by myself.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Animation Motivation

I need to motivate myself. I have been in the process of doing so. I have something planned.

After my anxious post on animation blogs, I went ahead and made a comment on Eddie Fitzgerald’s blog. He had a posting of images to draw from, which is something I am quite interested in. Anything that helps me better understand animation character design is of interest to me, especially if its visual.

I am currently in the process of getting my thesis going. Actually, I’ve been working on it since May, but the fact is, my central idea finally came together last week after much painful thought. I can’t mention it here, because I want to flesh it out more before I’m confident enough with the story.

My idea is going to be something of a black comedy. I have started drawing some inspiration from Jeff Smith’s Bone comics.

I only became interested in Bone very recently. Unfortunately, the comic has been over for three years. Regardless, I like the characters and the their relation to the Tolkein-esque setting.

Here are some idea sketches I have so far. Don’t guess what the character is, because I know you’ll have a hard time guessing.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Insecurtiy ~ Animation Blogs

The other day, after I finished posting my personal review of Ratatouille, I started looking up other reviews of the movie. Not film critic reviews, but reviews from other animation blogs. Particularly those of Eddie Fitzgerald, Michael Sporn, and Mark Kausler. Though the reviews of Ratatouille have been generally positive, there were things common amongst the reviews that I didn’t pick up on when viewing the movie. I loved the movie the way it was, and yet things that I thought were unique and original in it, were considerable burdens to other animators.

Because I don’t consider myself a well versed animator, I have never commented on any of these blogs. The only blogs I have commented on thus far are Jerry Beck’s Cartoon Brew, and those of animators I know personally. For the most part, I am afraid to comment on animator blogs, because they speak a language that I don’t fully understand. I would like to understand it, because most of the animators I know personally understand it, and I am quite fond of their work. But other blogs (John Kricfalusi’s blog for example) I am too afraid to comment on, because I don’t always understand the point they are trying to make, and yet their commentors pick up on them right away,

For those who know me, its no surprise that I tend to be self-effacing at times, particularly when it comes to my own artwork. Although I love to draw, I have never fully grasped most drawing principles. As hard as I try, I have never been the best at life drawing. And since great animation requires dedicated drawing, I still feel like I am at stage one of the learning process. This is probably a little much, because I am 21, and have only been learning animation for the last two years.

For those who are reading this (I don’t expect too many to be reading this), this is NOT a cry for help or anything. I just felt a sense of insecurity the other day, and I need to let it out. I am going to keep learning animation. I intend to talk more about this later on.

Sunday, July 8, 2007


Pixar’s latest crowning achievement is animated splendor.

There are so many great things to say about Ratatouille. Unfortunately, most of those great things have already been said by the top film critics in America. In my opinion, Pixar has proven itself over and over by always trying its hand at something new. With Ratatouille, they succeeded in telling their most eccentric and unusual story yet with amazing charm, appeal, and computer animation that deserves only the best compliments. For me, its hard to explain why I love something as much as a movie about a rat that wishes to be a gourmet chef in Paris. I can give a few details, but my natural reaction is something I prefer not to dig too much into.

I can never say enough about the genius and talent of director Brad Bird. Even though he came on board a few years into the process, his influence is still felt in the movie.

The character designs are some of the best I have seen in any animated film. In Pixar’s previous films, I sometimes had a hard time judging the character designs, because it seemed like they were designed specifically with computer rigging in mind. And because of that, I couldn’t see where any artistic influence could make its way in the design process (of course I learned my lesson after seeing the fantastic Pixar exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art two years ago).

When I saw The Incredibles (also directed by Brad Bird), it was the first time I watched computer animation and could actually see the design elements of the characters. I could imagine their faces, poses, and expressions drawn out on paper. That film is what truly turned my head with computer animation.

The expressions of the various characters is handled beautifully. There is a whole new level of acting here. The rats are all designed in ways that they can stretch and emote physically, yet still maintain their rodent-like traits. The sequence when Remy first falls into Gusteau’s kitchen and is scurrying about, trying not to get caught, is priceless character acting.

The main human character, Linguini, is a new step in Pixar’s acting. Linguini is a huge step-forward in physical comedy. Let it be known that the physical comedy inspired by Charles Chaplin and Harpo Marx has not gone out of fashion.

The story is so rich and textured. The characters are all handled with incredible focus. And there wasn’t too much dialog. I am thrilled, because one of the biggest problems with most animated features today is that they use way too much dialog. They are trying to give big-name actors as much chit-chat as possible, so they will have their money’s worth. In Ratatouille, the voice acting is some of the most impressive Pixar has ever had, and yet there isn’t too much dialog, which I love. Animation is all about the expression for me, and all about the essence of the emotion that comes out.

In one scene later on in the movie, there is a monologue from of the characters. Anton Ego (played by Peter O’Toole), a dark, acerbic food critic, has an epiphany and writes a generally positive review. In the review, he opens up on how critics generally thrive on negative criticism, mostly because it is fun to write. In writing this review, I have to agree. This review was hard for me to write, because there was so much about this movie that I loved. It has the potential to go on to become a timeless classic.

If there is anything I question, it is the criticisms I have read thus far. I have read lack of memorable characters (disagree), lack of memorable dialog (not a problem), dialog being too normal (What the hell is wrong with that?), or the writing being too emotional. My answer, animation can tell any story, in any style, in any genre, any way that makes the story work, and any way that the artists can be original.

I do have a few criticisms of my own. Just a couple of character positions I disagreed with. And of course, I disliked the poster. Somehow, I find Remy’s expression on the poster to be kind of perverted.

Then again, there’s no such thing as a perfect film. But that shouldn’t stop one from seeing this fantastic film.