Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Emotional Draining from both sides

I have been unable to write anything since last time. I have been working as part of the crew on an independent film. I don't feel like its my place to discuss any details of the film, and its bad enough I'm not getting immediate payment for it. But I can definitely say the experience is emotionally draining, and if there's anything I'm getting out of it, its possible inspiration for something of my own.

Recently, I got chewed out (to a lesser extent) for putting down the Academy Awards in the comments section of Michael Sporn's blog. Sporn had listed all the animated shorts submitted for consideration, and they of course included all the major studios as well as independents. I've only given attention to the Academy the last few years, but I got the feeling that the Academy was going to nominate Disney, Pixar and Blue Sky, no matter what, because they were the bigger names on the list. I said it, and opened up a can of worms from Sporn and a couple other readers. I immediately apologized when I saw it, but I think I made myself look bad. I didn't mean to cause any grief, but I still believe there is a certain bias in the Academy's selection. Of course, many independent films have won Best Animated Short, which I am fully aware of. But being nominated gains you just as much credibility as winning. And not every Disney short is an outstanding piece. But since I am still relatively new in this industry, I don't have an seasoned experience like some others.

WALL-E, which I think is one of Pixar's most unique works, won the LA Film Critics Circle's Best Picture award. I understand this is the first time an animated feature has won best picture for the LA Film Critics Circle. That's a big achievement, as far as I am concerned.

I currently have a couple of jobs coming up, both unpaid. Though I am very interested in their possibilities, I still yearn for some paying work. Unfortunately, the economy hasn't been on mine or anyone Else's side lately.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A week in review.

Last week, I saw things you couldn't believe. Actually, they are plenty easy to believe, I just felt like saying that.

This is late, but I had a lot in the way. Last week, Don Hertzfeldt, one of my indie idols, came to New York and visited both Pratt Institute and the IFC theater (the latter as part of his current tour). At Pratt, Andy London conducted a Q&A with Mr. Hertzfeldt, who is currently promoting his newest creation, I Am So Proud of You, a sequel to his last masterpiece, Everything Will Be OK. The Q&A was pretty basic, with information I already knew from previous interviews. Of all things, one part of the interview that excited me was when Mr. Hertzfeldt said he had recently seen Morrissey in concert. Andy later turned questions onto the audience, and I got a turn: I asked Don "Can you name your least favorite movies?", and I think he got caught off guard. It seemed like a fair question at the time, but I think he felt a little too cautious to answer it. Instead he turned the question into something I can't remember now (again, sorry for being late. Crazy schedule). I felt really bad, but everyone assured me it was all fine.

The next night, Mr. Hertzfeldt made it to the IFC theater, where the place was totally packed. It was a mix of animation locals and hard-core indie/Hertzfeldt fans. Watching Hertzfeldt's films on actual film was a real treat. Real Unorthodox-Old School. And I Am So Proud of You is a beautiful piece of work, possibly Hertzfeldt's darkest film to date.

The next night was ASIFA-East's annual animation art auction. Due to my financial instability at the moment, I couldn't afford to buy anything over $25. And of course, as the night went on, all this (I guess) amazing stuff went as high as $400. And all the while, I am thinking how can people afford to buy some of this stuff given the shape the economy is in? President Dave Levy stunned me with his excessive spending of the night. I sat between animators and friends Tony Lamberty and Katie Cropper, and gawked at the their spending the whole time, though they were not as excessive as some.

An ink drawing by Christy Karacas, based on his own brilliant, inhumane creation, Superjail.

I really liked this drawing from Maxwell Atoms of his characters from Billy and Mandy.

There were five animation cels/drawings from Mark Kausler's brilliantly animated short, Its the Cat. Katie got one of the sets, and gave me the cel as a birthday present. Thank you again, Katie.

I'm usually very cautious about stuff at auctions, because if I want to buy something considered so rare and once in a lifetime, it has to be something I can be inspired by in years to come.

On the other hand, MC Tom Warburton (creator of Codename: Kids Next Door) was very entertaining and really let loose.

Finally, the 22nd came. My Birthday
I had a nice gathering at an English chip shop, and then we all congregated off to a local bar (with a chalkroom in the back, yay). Although I am feeling weird around birthday time now, its still a good reminder of all the things to take care off in my lifetime.

My sister Clio and I looking deep in thought, yet fully engaged, as always.

And finally. Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Madagascar 2: A few steps forward for Dreamworks

Dreamworks animation is a touchy and often unpleasant subject for me. The studio revolves around money, and as far as commercial animation goes, Dreamworks is the worst of the lot. The last few years, it has seemed like the movies with the worst reviews make the most money. Now that is tragic (at least for me). For all I know, it is nothing new. But some of these films may never be revisited again, and I wonder if they are going to inspire artists in the future.
I recently caught Dreamworks' Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa. It picks up right where Madagascar left off, with the animals and guests making their way off Madagascar and hopefully back to New York.

As usual, the movie goes overboard with celebrity voices behind the characters. I am not the biggest fan of Ben Stiller (I'm not sure if I have met one yet), hence I don't enjoy seeing a character (Alex the Lion) who acts and sounds just like him. Its more or less the same with Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, and David Schwimmer (although Chris Rock has some nice control vocally on the microphone).

The top performance of the film belongs to Sacha Baron Cohen as King Julien of the lemurs. This is no surprise as Cohen is a brilliant comedian, as well as chameleon. Cohen does what any great voice-over actor should do: he masks himself behind the visual, and breaths life into another character. In fact, I don't think Cohen has allowed himself to be photographed or taped performing his recording sessions for the movie, which is kind of admirable, as it maintains some mystique. This is the kind of celebrity that works best in animation.
The late Bernie Mac, who has a nice silent tribute at the end of the movie, does a pretty decent job as Alex's father. But the rest of the actors in the movie seem to be underused, and merely there to give some star credibility.
And of course, there is the issue of dialogue. Though its not all bad, some of it could have been better and less predictable. The parts of the story which are considered the emotional center, the dialogue felt predictable and used before.

However, there are some perks. A hallmark that has made me dread Dreamworks features is the overuse of pop-culture references. I don't mind a few, but I take artistic issue when the entire script is based all around them. The first Madagascar was no exception. But a couple of Dreamworks' last movies have cut back on the excess references, and here they continue to cut back. Because of this, I found the story to be less cluttered and easier to sit through.

And visually, as well as the first movie, it stands out from other Dreamworks pictures with a more unique design and color scheme. All the characters have simpler yet interesting shapes, and show a better focus on design than an obsession with realism. I love the way the lemur characters are designed. Although they are based on various species of lemur, their designs are all unique and have some features that distinguish them. And it is much more colorful, with an emphasis on coloring associated with African art.

All in all, not a great movie, but a pretty good movie.

There are vast improvements here that give a good impression. I can only hope the artists at Dreamworks continue these improvements, and their movies may actually reach a level of timelessness. And hopefully, Dreamworks can make some innovations of their own, instead of copying the innovations of Pixar. One innovation which I don't mind being copied is the idea of the credits being presented in original 2D graphics and animation.
Maybe one day, independent animated features will really take off, and Dreamworks will copy those.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

My first ASIFA-East article

I've contributed my first article to ASIFA-East, covering the Animation Show of Shows screening in New York this past Monday. You can read it over at the ASIFA-East blog (
The above image is from one this year's mind-bending short films, Skhizen by Jeremy Clapin (France).

Thursday, October 16, 2008

It's been a month...

...since I last posted. I have nothing to talk about, except I'm still desperatally trying to find work, and trying not to get too pretentious and idealistic with what comes my way.

If anybody out there is reading this and hiring, don't hestitate to contact me.

I don't know how some bloggers do it. Maybe I just don't read as much. I'm trying, I really am.

Steady now, steady now.

I'm not depressed. I'm just trying to build up my creativity. I'm trying to build up what Twyla Tharp calls the "White Room."

I'm listening to the Cocteau Twins now, as well as a Cocteau Twins Pandora station obsessivelly. And I'm working on my own website layouts, as I hope my website (which had been put off, because of my thesis and other things) will be up within a couple of months.

Ramble, ramble, ramble. My, how grey the sky is, ramble, ramble, ramble.

What else have I been doing, except growing my hair hideously out. Well, one thing I'm please to say is that I have kept my sketch blog going successfully, and have been able to keep my drawing needs going.

And I've got some nice characters going.

And here's to Paul Newman, the most famous graduate of Shaker Heights High School.

I've rambled on enough. But this is to let everyone know I haven't given up on this blog. If anyone out there has any suggestions for me to discuss, lets hear it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Storm Thorgerson

In case you haven't noticed, I changed the blog description above. I've realized that my blog doesn't really work as an animation blog alone, as I don't always have anything new to discuss, and my mind tends to focus on multiple mediums. I've decided to include other things that work their way into whatever ventures I'm on.

I want to share a newfound appreciation (and realized influence) of graphic designer Storm Thorgerson.

Being the rock enthusiast that I am and also being an artist, it should be no suprise that I have a great appreciation for album artwork. I have to admit, however, that I've never really taken the time to appreciate them as works of art. Its probably because in recent years, we've had the great popularity of MP3, iTunes, and the iPod. Its kind of sad when you think about it. Its a strange feeling when something like music is suddenly replaced by computer codes. But even before that, as I was growing up, I could help but listen to an album, and associate much of it with the artwork of the album cover. I grew up listening to old rock music, as I had a hard time in my teens accepting newer music.

But back to album art: I was quick to notice album designs by Hipgnosis (the British art design group) and especially those of Storm Thorgerson. I didn't realize until recently just how much those designs are embedded in my subconcious. Thorgerson's images are very similar to Salvador Dali's world; in fact they are almost parallel. But there is something that separated Thorgerson's work from Dali's. Of course the fact that they are two different artists has something to do with it, but because there is music to be associated with the covers, there is more to back up the proposed narratives of the works.

I don't know enough about Thorgerson to explore him as an artist. In fact, this interest is very recent. But the images are on my mind, and I want to swim around them for now.

I have to admit, a few of these albums here, I have never listened to them. I just put them up for the artwork, but if anyone reading wants to post an opinion of the albums, they are more than welcome.

I'm not going to make any secret about this. The reason I started thinking about Thorgerson's work again was due in part to the recent passing of Pink Floyd's keyboard player, Richard Wright. As an avid listener of Pink Floyd, the news of Mr. Wright's passing is sad, and truly marks the end of something special. His contribution to Pink Floyd's music is immeasurable. My heart goes out to his family. Shine on, Richard Wright.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Half-Assed Update

I have been concerned lately, because I can't seem to come up with any decent ideas for a new film. And it doesn't help to continually read about the destruction of commercial animation.

I have just read John K's latest blog entry, which happens to be part of something larger. Mr K is currently writing up a very informative history of Canadian Commercial animation. Although distinctions are pointed out from American animation, I feel like some of the noteworthy criticisms Mr. K has to offer are mirrored in the history of American commercial animation. The parts that really shattered me was where he detailed the devastatingly unoriginal ideas behind the characters and stories in some of these shows and movies.

Not coming up with any good ideas lately is frustrating. And when I see things that have half-assed ideas, a part of me should feel determined not to follow that route. But then another part of me fears that I may follow that route without knowing it. After all I must admit: I did not know what made lousy animated shows/movies until after I turned 18. I grew up on certain things, and recently I watched them again. The feeling just isn't the same.

I don't know why I am saying all of this. I guess I just need to blow off some steam (and this seems like a harmless way to do so). I enjoy Mr. K's amazing insight into the art of good animation and filmmaking. But even though I am no longer an enrolled student, I still feel like I don't even know half the game. I completed Parasite's Delight having learned a great deal about structuring a short film. But the feeling is fleeting; I was wondering how much work it will be to do it again. I don't learn as quickly as some of my peers.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Twoben's sketchbook

My friend Jennifer Lee and I have made something of a pact to post up at least one drawing or piece of art on our blogs every single day from this point forward. We were both inspired by Dan Pinto's blog, in which he has, for nearly two years now, managed to post a drawing every single day. The idea will be that we both improve something in our own drawing, as well as our thought/idea processes. I figure, because I find myself trying to think up more written entries for this blog and I have been killing time with drawings, that I have a separate sketch blog. The link is

This is the first image posted on the blog

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Animation Show 2008, part II

It took long enough, but here's the rest of my review of the films of this year's Animation Show. Actually, these four films are more or less the show's centerpieces, but I swear I am not being prejudicial with the last post. I didn't realize it until earlier this week. But if anyone thinks I have been biased with these films, I swear to you I am anything but.


Georges Schwizgebel from Switzerland is a marvel of an animator. His paint-on-glass technique is daunting and staggering, but is at the same time beautiful. It is also hypnotizing as the images move, and blend into each other seamlessly. I have nothing but the utmost praise for Mr. Schwizgebel, which is why I can't say more. Its easier to show you his work, than to pick it to death with words.


Hot Dog is the third film to feature Bill Plympton's well-meaning, dwarfish bulldog (referred to as "Bill Plympton's Mickey Mouse"). The last few months, I have felt like one of the few who actually like this film. Several friends of mine and colleagues of Plympton have criticized it for a lack of originality and over-worked humor. Hot Dog (as well as Guide and Guard) stands out to me as being among Plympton's better work in recent years. The last three years, he has gone through a bit of a Woody Allen phase, in which he has his good days and bad days. That might be a little harsh in judging only a few years of Plympton's 25- year animation career, but its easier to judge him this way, because he puts out more work a year than any other indie animator I know of.


PES is another marvel of independent animation. This film, animated with Javan Ivey, is another treat in PES's stop-motion technique pleasing the audience. A quip, it doesn't seem as complex or mesmerizing as PES's previous films. What was nice? I liked the bubble-wrap boiling water; the velvet tomato sauce, and the post-it note butter. PES still has a gift of balancing simplicity (use of found objects and short time spans) with complexity (excellent timing for stop-motion).


Smith and Foulkes, from the United Kingdom. I don't know these guys too well, but for a CG short, they nailed down a pretty good film. A black comedy that keeps its leaning towards the humorous side. A rather charming story of two brothers trying to deliver the body of their deceased mother to the local grave site, and are met with a series of bizarre mishaps. What's also nice is throughout these obstacles, the two brothers' different personalities add an emotional center to the piece. Each gains his own sympathy in every bizarre incident that happens to them.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Something quotes Lydon

Lately, doodling has become rather frustrating. This is probably the most satisfying thing I've come up with in a week. The creature is quoting a lyric from a song by Public Image Ltd. Lately, I've been into John Lydon lyrics.