Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tick Tock

Were John Sayles to portray John Hubley in a film, that would mark the conflation of my two movie-making heroes.

If it were directed by John Cassevettes that would make the Trinity of great cinematic Johns.

John Sayles as the landlord in a film by Emily Hubley- fun, yes- but not the same.

"The Toe Tactic" has plenty of things like that for insiders.  The elevator operator who uses a Blackwing 602 to crib lyrics while on the job, the film's compositor in the more lucrative career as a bartender. 

When thinking about art, the number one question is "do I like it?".  There are a lot of admirable things in "The Toe Tactic", and it's likeable but its weaknesses -they're hard to get over.

The admirable.

First, the form is exciting.  The technique is in line with "Run, Lola, Run".   Emily Hubley's loose drawn animation cuts effectively against the live action.  It's an intrinsic excitement.

The animation itself is pretty nice.  The color line on white shots especially.  Emily Hubley's work is closer to her mother's films from the 80s than it is to her family's films of her childhood.  

The soundtrack, courtesy of sister Georgia's skiffle act "Yo La Tengo", is pretty good.  Suprising to me, as their work is typically less than the sum of their influences.  The music serves up the picture nicely, it's smart, witty and unobtrusive.

These things don't overcome the films basic shortcomings.  The form is solid, but the story structure is flawed.  The story itself is kind of a muck.   Key plot points are confusing or unclear.  Things come out as though they're revelations, but they're really just confusions.

While Ms. Hubley is very strong in short form storytelling, her particular skills are stretched in a film that purports to resemble a classical narrative.  

Short films allow for a lyricism that feature films do not.  Adults who've never met can hang out in a bar in a short film.

Feature films, unless a new reality is flawlessly created, need their players to behave like real humans.  In a film that tries to talk about relationships, relationships are portrayed like interactions between aliens (except the mom/daughter one which is smartly done).  Eyes Wide Shut does this, but who of us has the powers of Kubrick to will the unknowable to known on the silver screen?

Missed opportunities in films like this bother me a lot.  You're telling a story about people, observe how we behave.

A guy who just performed at an open mic is not going to run out after a girl without his guitar.   Now think of the difference between a guy running with a guitar and one running without.  With the guitar he's struggling a bit, he's making an effort, the power of every gesture he makes increases.

There's a compulsion amongst animators to make their films "bigger".   As much as I appreciate artists following their muse, I hope their future muses keep the work tight and to the point.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Crazy For You, But Not That Crazy

I showed Betty Boop's "Crazy Town" in class the week as an example of Fleischer animation from the early 1930s.

I explained a little about Grim Natwick, and the evolution of Ms. Boop and vesitigial dog boyfriend, Bimbo.

The film is full of Fleischerisms (just not the train track in the background), and I really liked Bimbo's walk in it.

I'm guessing it's by pre-Shamus Culhane.

Click to enlarge.

This is a 14 frame walk.  

It's possible that the generations of pulldowns and transfers have caused me to miss a drawing -but I doubt that I'd miss two.  Not even the same one twice.

Oh, and on ones (except where the pulldown adds a frame).

So right off the bat, we're dealing with a 14 frame walk.  

Not 16 frames.

 So maybe that's why it's compelling.

#6 is sort of a sneak, but in the rubber-hosey version of a leg, the sneak is a slide.

And with #7 the slide becomes a pop.  

His knee is in the same position, but his foot tilts north -allowing for #8: the contact drawing.



The second half of his walk is slightly different from the first.

#9 is faster than #2 (the distance between 8 & 9 is greater than the distance between 1 & 2).  So #10 is farther as well.

This time/distance is "made up" in drawing #11 which "settles" for a frame at the "passing point" -Bimbo's tallest moment.

This sneaky rubber hose shuffle reminds me of a confession by Tony Eastman.  It took him a few weeks to figure out how to make "Kids Next Door" walk because of their outsized feet.

Bimbo has similar deformities -but his bone/muscular disorder that allows his joints to bend in inconceivable manners compensates for that.

Here's the clip (the full walk scene).

And in other news (and in an effort to keep up with our visitors log -sorry to those I've missed), Maciek Albrecht stopped by yesterday on a social call.  Strangely enough, I (not pictured) was also wearing a yellow shirt. 

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Meeting Wednesday

I wish yesterday was Monday, not for the joy of complaining about it and yearning for lasagna, but so I could title this post "Meeting Monday".

Alliteration makes for EZ headlines.

First, Elliot Cowan stopped by for a morning social call.

Then another really long meeting.

Followed up by trip to Gerald Mark's studio with Michael Kantor.

above, 3D spaceship (glasses required)

If there were any justice, we'd be handed several million dollars to produce a pop-off-the-screen Boxhead and Roundhead.   Not because the world needs it (although we would like it very much), but to give some sort of ironic form to this otherwise scattered entry.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Animation Lesson (#5)

Yesterday was my first class of the new semester.

No matter how much I prepare, I'll never exceed Joey Ahlbum's lessons:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

White Countess Models

These are a few of the original paintings by Quan Handong that we used as models for our segment in Merchant/Ivory's White Countess.

Doug Compton did the animation.

Monday, January 26, 2009

What Are The Odds? part two, storyboard

Alicia Arinella, the producer, gave us an open assignment on the What Are The Odds? titles.

They liked the character designs, and liked the reel, and we talked a good talk. So Brian "jammed" up the following storyboard.

There are a few pages before this, they're just graphics.

This one of the characters. Line style, shape, model.

Click on the images to enlarge.

Here's the hobo. A snapshot of the city:

These are fairly loose boards. One can afford a level of ellipsis when working with a tight crew.

In the next post of this series (in couple days, probably), we'll show some of Ed Smith's animation drawings and discuss that process.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

I Get A Flip Out Of You

In 1981 George Griffin published a series of six "kinetic books".  Dullards like me know them as "flipbooks".

There's one by Kathy Rose, "Booklings" which has a bunch of happy people and cats morph out of a woman at a desk.

"Wipes2" (as in squared) drawn by Paul Glabicki is a white-on-black play on planear geometry.

Sara Petty's "Family of Four" is an interesting experiment.  She was one-of-a-kind when it came to pastel pencil animation.  The translation to black and white flipbook is intellectually satisifying in that light -even it's it doesn't pack the expected fun of the format.

Roger Kukes' "Flowering" starts with a blank page and finishes a bunch of 70s deco-inspired flowers.  I don't know Mr. Kukes, and only looked him up while writing this entry.  Man, are those some nice drawings.  They're in the vein of Jim Woodring or Kim Deitch, but altogether something their own.  The roots of those flowers may not be Aubrey Beardsley or Edward Burne-Jones after all.  They're very likely descended from Bosch and Bruegel.

Speaking of the Deitch family tree, the only other person I know from this collection is Tony Eastman.  His "Peepin' and a Hidin'"  is cartoon animation in a flipbook.

He shows us a really simple and great cartoon explosion.

The thing

Anticipation, I guess.  It's a flipbook so who knows?

Object pops down.

Boom! (little, replacing object -all in one drawing)

Pow! Complication of boom.  Smoke.  Action lines.  Explosion is jagged.

Here emerges as explosion "wipes" clear frame.  He's revealed by smoke.  Jagged primarily out of frame.

Just smoke and hero.

Smoke start blowing passed.  Dissipating.

Few puffs, hero's on his way.

Here's George's flipbook.  With his love of "anti-cartoons", you can forget what a nice cartoon animator he can be.

The New York animation scene likes to think of itself as a community.  I don't know how this was 30 years ago -but if these little flipbooks are any evidence, there was a community of sorts.

The difference between then and now, to me, is the notion of "experiment".  Experimental filmmaking is not a big part of the dialog today.  

Last year's ASIFA-East "experimental" winner lives in Boston -and the film can hardly be considered "experimental" or "avant garde" by 21st Century standards.  It's a lovely piece of work, but safe and fairly mainstream.

If you look at the two "Avoid Eye Contact" DVDs, there are 34 films.  Only one is obviously "experimental" -Rohitash Rao's "Coffee", handful of others are boundary pushing ("Roof Sex", "Fetch", a couple gems from George Griffin).

It's not like there are no experimental filmmakers in New York.  Somehow, traditional animation (as represented by ASIFA, the animation hegemony) has fallen out of touch with the Norman McLaren's of the world.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Nine Years Later...

Our original office space at 20 West 20th Street shared the same address as the VIP Club.

That's a strip club.

I've never been in a strip club, but one of my favorite TV ads is for Gallagher's 2000 in Long Island City.

There are a few commercial directors who can pick the jobs they produce.  Even those guys and gals work at production companies which will kick these leftovers to hungry artists willing to do anything for a paycheck.

Still, some clients -especially local ones -don't have the budgets to make ads with exceptional production values.

That's why I like this commercial.  Its absolutely ridiculous.  Imagine a couple teenagers with Mom's video camera this is what they might come up with.

Friday, January 23, 2009

D. I. Y. I. T.

Last week, in the darkest of dark hours, our Final Cut machine stopped working.

Shut it down one night.  The next morning -grey screen with an apple.  Makes you long for the days of the sad Mac.

Lots of "grrrr."

Combine that with our Maya machine that only starts up with the door open, and there's a regular Skynet revolt happening here.

I decided to go all Furlong, and take control of matters.  Turns outs these (above) are the culprits.

Bad hard drive -initially I figured it was a bad mother board -on the FCP, and a malfunctioning video card on the other machine.

(above) Bad ATI video card.  The fan is malfunctioning.  Never trust anything that resembles the atrocious Madison Square Garden.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What Are The Odds? part one

A little while back we were asked to create an opening animation for a short film.

Shot on super 16, the piece was about two mathematicians in New York for the weekend who happened to bump into one another at dozens of landmarks.

That gives three things that need to be conveyed in the titles: New York, math, and romance.

We came up with a few design styles. We liked all of them, and shared with the producers at On The Leesh.

This was drawn by Phil Marden. He was illustrating a weekly column for the New York Times Metro Section. His work as some of that New Yorker elegance combined with retro sensibility that is somehow mathematical.

We've worked with him on a bunch of projects, and thought this look was a good direction.

I did something which, surprisingly, wasn't awful.

This is brush pen. I would've colored with cel-o-tak if it was the old days or for physical presentation (little dab of the airbrush for cheeks).

"Just Bulbs" is what makes it New York. And Ricky's. This was before the Bank/Starbucks/American Apparel/Duane Reade era of Manhattan city planning.

Matt Stoddart also worked up some characters.

A rough sketch is above.

Here's a fuller sketch.
And a cleaned up ink. It's a nice drawing -good line, clear characters. May have been a little tough to animate.

Ultimately, we went with characters that Brian designed.

Here's a first rough. You can see the retro head on the side. We were drawing inspiration from M. Sasek's This is New York.

This was the first step in this process. Next, we storyboard then hand the material off Ed Smith to make it good. These will be detailed in future posts.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hail To The Couturier!

A few years ago when we were slated to go to Sundance for our work on the opening night film, I daydreamed about asking Isabel Toledo to make me a suit for my stroll down the red carpet.

We had worked together (with her husband/collaborator Ruben) on a 30 minute film about haute couture and I helped them out with some other stuff.

Even if could've afforded it before (with my imaginary friend discount), there's little chance I could scrounge up the scratch now, since she designed Michelle Obama's inauguration dress.

Here's a clip from FashioNation, this features Sonia Rykiel.  It was designed by Ruben Toledo, most of this animation is by Mary Varn.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

First Days of Extreme Island?

The Bloomberg administration plans to unveil their new zoning plan for Coney Island today.

This is already online  I'm not sure what's going to be added.  Who of us really understands how municipal policy works?

Since more and more coaster enthusiasts enter the animation world each day, I figured I'd  keep them up to date.

I hope it looks something like the artist's concept above, and less like the one below.

If you look at the site, you'll see there's a coaster that flies all through the park.  Kids might like how EXTREME it is, sure.  But imagine you're at the beach for a day, taking a nice walk through the amusement pier, checking out the Wonder Wheel, getting some cotton candy and "AAAHAAHAAAAAHAAAHH!!!! WOOOOOO!O!!!O!" whooshes 30 feet over your head.

Use your heads, architects -this isn't Disneyland, it's not Six Flags.  Coney Island has a cultural significance and the ability to play an important part in the life of our city.  The revitalization (which I'm all for -some of the reasons in this post) will ultimately fail if it attempts to whittle the boardwalk into little round pegs to fit in unwanted holes. 

Monday, January 19, 2009

Mad As Hell? Not Gonna Take It Anymore? Not So Fast!

"There's nothing good on TV!" you say?

Now that the Philadelphia Football Eagles have once again been turfed at the NFC Championship game, you may have point.

But wait!  You must have missed Ghoul-A-Go-Go.

Imagine Chief Halftown and Stella, the Maneater From Manayunk mixed in cauldron of Dick Clark.

If broadcast television were as good as this public access show, our world would be one giant leap closer to perfection.

First, you've got a ghoulish host and his Igor-like sidekick.  They also hang out with The Invisible Man, broads in bikinis and ass-kicking garage rock bands who dress up like monsters.

Oh, there's a bunch of dancing kids from Long Island, too.

Kids with the cool parents.

In studio skits are mixed with public domain films (like Department of Agriculture films from the 50s that have subtle re-cuts to make them even funnier) and original films about making monsters and gravedigging.

Did I mention the bikini babes?

The end credits include very cool skeleton stop motion by the bolexbrothers -animation too, man this show has it all!