Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Step One, Two, Three...

Here's the final of from Gail Levin's Cab Calloway documentary we're working on.

The film may not make it Stateside for a little while, the primary client is in France. The US title is "Cab Calloway: Sketches".

Christina Capozzi Riley did the animation here. Ben Shapiro shot the footage, Pascal Akesson edited it at our facility. Then we recut it slightly for animation, matched the dancer's moves with original Cab footage and animated off that reference.

The dancer is Matthew Rushing from the Alvin Ailey company.

Edit: I forgot to mention the illustration is by Steve Brodner. Throughout the film he draws a life-sized Cab. Prior to the start of this bit, he finishes the drawing and steps out of frame. This sequence is continuous from that.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Animator Art

This may be the last of the Fred Mogubgub paintings to post (until another kindly stranger sends more along or unearths another batch -still looking for more from the Spirit series...).

It's from 1985 and has a lot in common with the earlier "Olga Picasso". 

The title, "At the Ritz" is written on the lower right hand corner (click the image for larger view).

The collector who brought this painting to me mentioned another in the same lot, a portrait of Farrah Fawcett which was "defaced" in a similar manner. 

Monday, March 29, 2010

What to Charge

Pricing a job can be as tricky as figuring out how to do it.

Friends frequently ask for advice on what to charge for a particular job, most often these are illustrators making their first foray into animation.

Traditionally, in a commercial job, the illustrator (or designer) is budgeted at 10% of below the line costs before peripherals (payroll, pension, welfare and benefits) and mark up.  The more expensive the project, the higher the illustration fee.

All pricing has variables and illustration is no exception.

Foremost, an artist has to ask: "How much of my time will this project take?"  From there you need to put a price tag on your time.  If a job will take a week and you need $1000 per week, that's your starting point.  The more creative and managerial responsibility you bring, the higher you can negotiate your fee.

In the olden days, animators would get paid by the foot -16 frames of film.  This method allowed producers to control costs and encourage simpler, speedier work.  As recently as the 1990s these fees could range from $25/foot to $200/foot depending on complexity of animation, project budget and animator's experience (or desperateness).  We'll still utilize this gauge on drawn films.

Assistant work, art production, compositing, digital animation is generally paid on an hourly or day rate basis.  Again rates for this vary on project complexity, experience, production budget and length of job.  Entry level rates can begin around $10/hour, high end commercials can pay $50 or more.  In the last few years, we've seen very few jobs which can afford the latter salaries.

A staff or long term position will typically pay lower than a short term position.  This makes sense for both the employer and the employee.  Built into your fee for a short term contract is the "down time" between gigs.

In animation production, artists are generally employees -although it is commonplace for studios to pay them as independent contractors.  A recent New York Times article discusses this, and the government's crackdown on the practice.  In cases where the artist is a legitimate independent contractor, a flat fee is negotiated  -an example would be the illustrator cited above.

The ultimate question everyone asks -that includes the company doing the hiring -is, "How much can I charge without scaring them off?"  If you want to do the project, make sure you're open with you fee.  State your hoped for number but allow for "room".

Companies have to do this dance on just about every project they land.  The "ballpark" quote can be a scary moment when you grossly over (or under) estimate what the potential client is willing to pay.  We'll generally say "this is our number, but we can always adjust higher or lower if you need it to change."

Even before getting to the ballpark, always ask "How much are you planning to spend on this?"  Always be upfront with costs. 

If you're just a cog in the production, don't worry about the overall costs of the project or what your colleagues are making.  If at any point these are your concern, the producers will make you privy to that information.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Building A Film (Quickly) - 1

There are all sorts of reasons to take on a project. The money is usually a big reason, especially when you've got a staff to provide for and overhead to keep up. Sometimes other factors weigh in when the budgets are tough -creative or intellectual content, high profile, or some other production challenge.

A few weeks ago we were approached to produce a corporate video (an "industrial" in old school parlance) on a very limited budget in a very limited time frame. We had essentially three weeks to make a four minute film. The animation would be limited -"Terrance and Phillip" style from "South Park" -even so that's not a lot of time for a lot of work.

The client, Building Blok, is a small business and the people there were all good guys, so we decided to give it a shot. The challenge of making a film in this short period of time is also compelling.

First step was to record a scratch track to make sure the script timed.

Then, Brian knocked out a storyboard. This provides the most information on the film and is the most important step (besides the animation itself) in getting something done efficiently.

This was done in the matter of about a week, with a day's worth of simple revisions.

By keeping the action of the storyboard simple but explicit, it removes questions in the animation process. The fewer questions, the faster it goes.

In other situations, a tight storyboard can free an animator to "act". If you don't have to worry about camera angles and cuts, you can focus on performance.

The language of the film starts to become defined in the storyboard -how the characters move, what they're expressions are, what the camera does.

These limitations and expressions will give the piece its form. Each phase of production is a refinement on what is first established in the storyboard.

The models for this piece are simple. Like paper cut outs with unattached joints.

One of the tricks of boarding this was to keep the limitations of the character.

So this board is pretty long (being a 4:00 film), we'll post the remainder in the future as well as more information on the production methodology.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

On The Street

Had to walk over to WNET/Thirteen to drop off some titling for a film we're working on. This has become a somewhat regular path.

Ben Franklin for "Little Man Parking"

The Albert Merrill School sign still dominates the Western view down 29th Street.

The school itself is no longer around, but we still have their great advertisements thanks to YouTube.

The corner diner across from B&H Photo was quickly demolished last fall.

Also gone is the painted billboard for the ice skating rink.  It's been replaced by the building's address -you can see the "4" here.  I cropped the rest out of anger.  No free advertising here.

In the WNET/Thirteen lobby

The station's control room greets you as you enter.  Blurred here to protect identities (and because I snapped it in a hurry).

The edit room is big enough for four people, if two are standing and you don't need to open the door.  In many ways that's good -less chance of a drive by committee.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Animator for the Week (April 7 #75)

Here's the Screen Cartoonist's Local 852 Newsletter from the week of April 7, 1945

The first page reprints language in the proposed contract regarding service men.

The second has a few war-tinged announcements: Mazie Debney, "Disney's torch-singer", entertaining at hospitals.

A show of British and American war cartoons to be shown in the upcoming week.

And the ever present Red Cross drive.

Sam Cobean -home on furlough. Cobean would go on to be a great New Yorker cartoonist, he had been hired by Disney a few years prior as an inbetweener on Snow White. He was one of the artists shunned by the studio after the strike.

Cobean worked for the Signal Corp during the war on training films. There he met Charles Addams who became a lifelong friend.

Also noted is Norm McCabe suffering a sprained ankle.

The third and fourth pages are principally occupied with "The Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals".

These sorts of loyalty oaths were common during the Red Scare of the 1920s and would surface again during the McCarthy Era.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Unearthed Doodles

I can't place who drew these. Most likely a staff artist from Summer 2008: Nina Torr, Jessica Ng or Noella Borie although it doesn't immediately like any other their work.

We were scrounging through our scrap paper to cut peg strips when these were uncovered.

There must have been reason, some potential project or cast aside idea -but it's all coming up blank.

Maybe there is no reason other than frogs, doodles.

Maybe that's all any of this counts for: frogs, doodles.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Buddha at The Asia Society

"The Buddha" had its New York premiere last night at The Asia Society in conjunction with the Pilgrimage and Buddhist Art exhibit and anticipation of April 7th's national broadcast.

David Grubin spoke a little afterward and had some interesting things to say about the idea behind the animation.

Documentary is about here "reality", he noted, animation is pure fantasy -it's whatever you can imagine.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Real Bumps

Was greeted this morning by a leak which collapsed some ceiling. Fortunately, there's no serious damage. It was primarily between two workstations. A Mogubgub cel from the 1960s was water damaged but not too badly, ultimately it'll be a little discoloration in the corner.

These are the sorts of things -leaking roofs, unresponsive supers, broken doors hinges, malfunctioning
printers that wind up devouring loads of time.

This is a time we otherwise would have allotted to working on the updated sample reel.

We'd be making some new bumpers if not being bombarded with maintenance.

These are three current graphics.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Kentridge Mania Running Wild

Years ago, at The Ink Tank, we produced two segments for a USA Networks pilot called Kid Show.  That pilot didn't get picked up but eventually it transformed in MTV2's Wonder Showzen (which we had nothing to do with).  In the pilot, a sock puppet went around terrorizing doormen and people on the street -this was shot just before Robert Smigel's "Triumph the Insult Dog" hit big.

For all the foul language and viscous haranguing the puppet produced, no one would ever address the person operating it people always talked to the puppet.

At some point viewers forget that Bugs Bunny is a bunch of drawings, we even forget that he's a rabbit.  We're looking at an actor, a man on the run, someone we know.

arts [greater than] World Financial Center: they said themselves

In keeping with New York City's unofficial "Year of William Kentridge" several of his works play with live accompaniment at The World Financial Center.  One performance last night, one tonight.

Quickly the audience forgets that we're looking at animation (the high-fallutin' kin to cartoons), we are looking at art just the same as a  Chelsea gallery or Fifth Avenue museum.

Tribeca crowd, decent turnout despite the horrible service at Starbucks

The film setting puts Kentridge's work in a different light.  In a gallery, they run on loops.  The visitor enters in the middle, sits with the piece for a while then moves on.  Even if one sits with a piece for a full cycle,  the understanding and the relationship to the work is held in this context.

From a Felix and Soho film, an image beautiful and profound

The Felix and Soho films, in particular, take on new appeal.  In addition, the music (composed by Phillip Miller, performed by Ensemble Pi) is terrific -especially the three or four vocal pieces.

All the greats have a little Steinberg in them

The screening runs about 70 minutes and starts at 8 PM tonight.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Keep Holy

At the farthest reach of New York City, barely a block from the edge of Queens in Far Rockaway is one of the city's great treasures.

The First Presbyterian was designed by Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson.

That firm built the space The Ink Tank occupied from mid-70s through 2003. Bertram Goodhue worked out of the 2 West 47th Street penthouse until his death in 1924. Prior to R. O. Blechman moving his studio in, it had been vacant for some time the most recent tenant having been a photographer.

While Goodhue worked from the top floor, Elsie de Wolfe took up one of the lower floors. 47th was an architectural trade street, a far cry from today's Diamond District.

The first beautiful Saturday of the Spring offered the opportunity for a long put off trip.

We showed up unannounced. The reception was mixed, but generally friendly.

We spoke to a few parishioners who loved the church and appreciated its craft even if they weren't familiar with its austere lineage.

This structure is a clear combination of Cram and Goodhue's ideas. Cram was a high Gothicist. New Yorkers are familiar with his masterpiece -St. John the Divine. Ralph Adams Cram was the second architect on the project and the man chiefly responsible for the design as we know it today.

Goodhue studied under James Renwick, another great Gothicist. Renwick's signature structure is the Grace Church on Broadway and 11th. His best known is the seat of Archodiocese of New York, St. Patrick's Cathedral. He's also the architect of the lighthouse on Roosevelt Island and that island's famous asylum the Octagon.

The Ink Tank had these same lead windows (and fixtures).

Goodhue's St. Bartholomew's Church on Park Avenue also shares them which makes me think this hardware may be his touch.

One of Goodhue's innovations was to incorporate modern materials into High Gothic.

Thus, the red brick structure and the poured concrete in lieu of masonry. It looks like stone but isn't.

The downside is durability. Concrete cracks and leaks whereas stone is more durable.

Goodhue would continue to work in the Gothic idiom but not exclusively. St. Bart's is a great example of his particular genius.

By the time R. O. Blechman moved into the 47th Street Penthouse, all the fixtures had been stripped.

The door handle shown above is what the originals probably looked like.

The deacon was kind enough to allow a few photographs of the interior. The door was locked, these are through a window to the connecting rectory.

The space is beautifully kept with an air you only get from great works of art.

The stained glass is by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

The Ink Tank didn't have Tiffany windows, that may be the one architectural letdowns.

It did have Guastovino Tiles, most likely left over from a project. Too bad they didn't make a few extra stained glassed windows.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

For Art's Sake

My friend Candace Mills sent me this.

Winsor McCay is quoted as saying "In the future people will go to museums, look at the paintings and say 'Why isn't it moving?'"

William Kentridge is most obvious success of this generation, mixing high art and animation. In many ways he's descended from a long line of gallery shown greats -Brakhage, VanderBeek, Harry Smith, J. A. Sistiaga, Mary Ellen Bute, Robert Breer, Larry Jordan, Tony Conrad and on and on.

This is a clip of work by Nathalie Djurberg who won much acclaim at the most recent Venice Biennial.

Sure the animation may be no great shakes -she's no Barry Purves for sure -the context (and to a lesser extent the content) are of interest. Here is an artist using the process of animation winning high praise at the world's most prestigious art event.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Too Much Animation Makes You Cranky

Animation screenings are generally exhausting and often discouraging.

This week were the final nights of screenings for the ASIFA East judging.

from "Why Does The Sun Really Shine?"

The rules for judging, if you don't know, are opaque and borderline nonsensical. One category screens per night, although stragglers and miscues will screen on other nights. People come in late, leave early. Given these variables, it would be good to know exactly how the winners are calculated. Are they averaged? Highest score wins? Either way, both are highly flawed given the loose nature of balloting.

Then there are the craft awards within each category. Voters circle which craft they find a film excellent in. Or they don't. Or they circle them all. How this is tallied is never revealed, although the manner of filling in the form gets explained several times throughout the evening.

a humorless corporate film from Flickerlab which refused to take its own advice about innovation.

On top of that, a significant number of attendees are SVA students. That's like letting the Presidential Election hinge on the Florida electorate. To be fair, even with this apparent majority the SVA bloc typically hasn't held significant sway in the final tally.

My number one personal peeve (the above are all practical problems) with the ASIFA East voting system was largely absent this year: the hooting cheers when certain names are announced to be screened. While I find any cheering at such screening impolitic and improper, applause before a picture even screens establishes a bias of celebrity which is completely unfair to "outsider" films. Superior films which don't get the inside track routinely miss out on the big ASIFA East show. This is probably typical for any festival/awards show but it doesn't mean it should be happily accepted.

Tuesday night featured Independent films (and one commercial work less than 2:00).

Tops for the evening was Stephen Neary's "Let's Make Out". Last year, I felt his "Chicken Cowboy" was the best student film. I didn't even make the connection until it was pointed out later.

Julie Zammarchi's film "The Passenger" is also good. That screened in Ottawa last year. She's worked very closely with Suzan Pitt over the years. It's evident in the design and certain animation tropes but the narrative style and subject matter are wholly her own.

I also appreciated two films from "The Paper Theater": "Annie's Circus" and "Puppy's Super Delicious Valentines Day Biscuits". They had a charm. Though unpolished, they were convinced of their idiom.

Another annoyance with the festival: a few entries were clearly in the wrong category. They were commissions. Either ASIFA needs to explicate what defines "Independent" or they should be serious about segregating the categories. Miscatagorized pieces are unfair to all the films.

Looking over the list now, there were more "OK" films than I remembered: John Dilworth's "Rinky Dink" (which is best once we get passed the surface Dilworthisms to core ideas that make up his films), Aaron Hughes & Lisa LaBracio's "Backwards", Edmond Hawkins "Spare Time", Elliot Cowan's "The Thing in the Distance" and others -all solid. Not enough "great" to make the evening stand out.

Wednesday was sponsored films over two minutes. This one, this was tough.

Mo Willems' "Don't Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus".  One film that didn't make you feel run over.

Not much in the way of filmmaking. Two Weston Woods pieces based on Mo Willems books were good -Mo's a brilliant guy, but the directors/animators of each are both talented: Pete List and Karen Villareal.

Buzzco's "It's Still Me!" was nice. At 15:00 it pushed patience's limits, but that's the nature of a commission -you've got requirements to meet. Beyond that, the film (about asphasia) falls back on the most severe forms as an example. It's not until deep within the piece is it clear there are many forms the disorder can take. It's a nice film, though.

"Hey, animation screening, what are you going to do to my patience?"

There were a bunch of They Might Be Giants films and pretty much every entry was devoid of filmic narrative opting for either music video-ness or single panel gags cut after cut.

Liesje Kraai and David Cowles "Why Does The Sun Really Shine?" was my favorite of the TMBG videos. Probably a little biased on that, as she works with us sometimes.

Oh, and the first film of the night was -I kid you not -a 14:00 minute film (Flash, ugly) convincing kids to eat broccoli.