July 29, 2005

Cats Don't Dance in CG

Speaking of Cats Don't Dance, take a look at this:


Apparently some Japanese studio named Mirror Ink Animation, took a scene from "Cats Don't Dance," and tried to reproduce it in 3D. It has an interesting look to it and is a valet effort, but I still like the origanal a lot more. You can download the mpg here (warning, it takes a long time to download).


July 28, 2005

Mark Dindal's new film: Chicken Little

Check out the new trailers for Chicken Little. As usual, I like the Japanese trailer the best:


I think these new trailers look great. They make me really excited about the pictures.

I've always been a big fan of Mark Dindal. He's directed "Cat's Don't Dance," "The Emperor's New Groove," and now "Chicken Little" I love the other two films and I expect this film to be as good, if not better. I feel for Mark Dindal, every film Mark has worked on there's always been some trouble with the production. In Cat's they wanted to change the cats to ducks halfway through pre-viz. Emperor's New Groove was handed to him as a re-write and in Chicken Little, the main character started off as a girl. But he's always pull them though. I can't wait to see how this one turns out. I also love the snap of his animation. All three films have really snappy timing that's energetic and fun to watch.

I'd like to make a prediction, I think that this film will effect the Disney-Pixar negotiations a lot. I'm not sure how exactly, but I think this film will be very successful and that Disney will feel like they don't need Pixar. Personally, I'd like to see Pixar become it's own distributor. It would be the hard road for Pixar, especially because that would mean that they'd go up against Disney and Dreamworks. Both of those studios have proven that they like to play dirty, but I think they could pull it off. And in the long run they'd be a bigger better studio because of it. But really, what do I know, I'm just pulling all of that out of my ass:)

Really, I hope this turns out to be a winner. It looks great already!

July 22, 2005

Shut-Up and Animate

I started a reply to this blog entry at: The Business of Animation. And I felt like my reply got a bit too long. So I thought I'd post it here instead. You should probably read his post first, but to sum it up, in his post, Staloren talks about the kind of CG animators who used to do traditional animation and now belly ache about the fact that they're not drawing their animation anymore. This is a familiar story to me. I've talked with a lot former traditional animators, not all of them hate working on the computer, some even learned to like it, some have even preferred it. But some tend to put on airs about how it's not a "true artistic way to animate." To those people I just want to tell them to drop the mouse and go back to the stick. But there's another side to all of this. I think I have a fairly unique perspective, I feel like I can agree with both animators. Rather then come off as a hypocrite I should explain.

When I was in High School I knew I wanted to be an animator but didn't know how to go about doing it. My mother was eager to encourage my interests. At the time we were living in New Jersey, and there wasn't a lot of animation schools or studios around. She looked in all the community collages that were in driving distance from our house and found a public school named: Mercer County Community Collage that offered a class in Computer Graphics and Animation. This was in 1989, so computer animated logos had just started to annoy people who watched television. My mother signed me up for that class and a class in Life Drawing.

At the time I didn't know anything about animation, I had never heard of the 9 old men, or "The Illusion of Life." I had never heard of Squash and Stretch or any of the principles of animation. So the class didn't teach me any of that, it basically showed you how to use the computer and how to create graphics that moved.

The computer graphics class was in an odd political battle at the school. The computer science lab wanted to do away with the program. They saw computer graphics as a waist of processing power. They wanted the classes to be canceled and all the computers given to them. The Art department hated them as well. They saw computes as a threat, and computer graphics as not a "real artform." (sound familiar?) I took a lot of flack in my life drawing class for taking computer graphics classes.

In the long run it was one one of the smartest things I did. CalArts had just received a donation of computers, and my combination of life drawing and computer graphics was just what they wanted to see. They really wanted someone who was going to work with their new donation of computers, little did they know that my experience at Mercer had turned me off of computer animation and I had no intention of ever touching a computer again. But it helped me get into CalArts, and that's where really learned about animation.

Now the argument of art vs computer didn't stop at Mercer, it got bigger at CalArts. I didn't want to do computer animation but because I had become friends with the people in the Mercer CG lab, I felt inclined to defend computer animation. This didn't win me any friends at CalArts.*

(Now days the argument at CalArts are different. I hear that the teachers have to drag the students into Life Drawing classes. They all want to become computer animators not traditional animators. Oh the irony...)

A few months ago, a good friend of mine put together a demo tape. She cut together a bunch of traditional animation. Stuff that was animated by the old masters, shots from Disney and Warner Brothers along with computer animation from Pixar, Dremworks and Blue Sky. She did something really clever. She tried to find shots that were similar. You couldn't find shots that were exactly the same, but you could find two shots where the characters were doing the same kind of action. For example, two characters arguing, or reacting in fear, running, walking, a big dumb character and a fast smart-aleck, you name it. She then cut them together in order to compare apples to apples as best as she could. The results were eye opening. The traditional animation has so much life to it, next to it, computer animation was down right robotic. Even the best Pixar work was nothing compared to the masterful work of people like Milt Kahl. That's not to say the computer animation was bad or no good, it was really good, amazing in fact. But the animator could only work with the controls that were given to him, and that was nothing compared to the true mastery of form, volume and line control that the traditional animators had.

Computer animation is slowly getting better. And it's not really a fair comparison, traditional animation had around over 100 years of experience by the time my friend dug up the clips and cut them together. Cut together with CG animation which has, what, like 30-40 years on it? But as I said, Computer animation is getting better and one day it might become better then the traditional animation of the great masters, maybe not. But that tape proved to me that we have a long way to go and a lot of work to do! The one thing that traditional animation has over computer animation is that you can naturally come up with the poses you need. The flow is better. Computers are still way to clunky to be that natural. Maybe I'm just too old. I was trained classically, I didn't touch a computer for most of my CalArts education, my 11 month old daughter won't have the same kind of apprehension that I had towards the computer when she's my age. So maybe that clunkyness will go away with my generation.

But let's get to the real hart of the agreement for traditional over computer. I do agree with the traditional animators on one fact. I do feel that the education of the animators are being cast aside. Without someone with deep pockets to support traditional animation, the techniques of the masters that were passed down from Frank and Ollie to Glenn and Andreas are going to go away. Some of the techniques these guys taught can be traslated directly to CG animation, but not all of them. And for me, that's a sad thing. Unless we can find someone to fund traditional animation the way Disney funded it in the 90s, this skill will go away and will have to be re-invented.**

At the same time If traditional animators are true to their craft, they shouldn't let it die off. I'm much more impressed with James Baxter for setting up his own studio then I am with the people who use a computer "because they have to." No one is going to hand you a traditional project to work on, so get off your ass and create one. John Lassiter fought tremendous odds to get Toy Story on the screen. He stuck with what he new, story and Character, he saw that new tools could be created for the computer.

I was classically trained but I decided to go into computer animation mostly because I wasn't that good at drawing. CalArts was good at teaching me how to be a good draftsman, but they couldn't teach me how to draw. That's not to say I can't draw at all, I can draw and I have a lot of fun drawing. I draw as often as I can. But I can't draw as well as I needed to in order to work on feature films. In the end I discovered that I liked to animate more then I liked to draw, so for me, computers saved my ass.

I've run into a lot of people all the time who want to work on feature films (live action and animated). My first question I always ask is: "What do you want to do?" If they say: "Anything" I tell them to go find another line of work. Film and television in itself is not inherently fun to work on. If you like to draw or paint, then find a job drawing or painting. That could mean a job in pre-production, mat painting but it could also mean something outside of film/tv. Basically if you like to draw, draw. If you like to act, act. If you like to build things, build things. Basically, first and foremost you have to like doing what you do, not just like the idea that you work on films. That only leads to misery and there are easer jobs that pay much better.

So for me that's what it boils down to, if you like to draw, find a job drawing. If you like to work on the computer, find a job working on the computer. Just shut up and animate already.

*ironically, a lot of students from my class are now working at Pixar. I feel that Pixar brought art to the computer, so I don't think these people lost their arguments, but it did shut them up.

**Not that re-invention is all that bad mind you.

Please allow me to toot my own horn:

Look who's in The American Chronicle, that's right it's me!
They interviewed me for my work on Shrek 2. Check it out:


July 20, 2005

Inspiration Wednesday

Here's two Trailers you should see. They both inspired me this morning. It's great to see such great work out there.

There's a sneak peek look at Henry Selick's new project "Moongirl" it was produced at Will Vinton Studios (anyone know if that studio has a new name yet?). It's looking really nice, it definitely has Selick's look to it. I don't like it as much as his stop motion work, but it has a nice look it it all the same. (I've always had a soft spot in my hart for stop motion, so that's part of the problem). I'm looking forward to seeing how the film turns out:


The other thing you should see is the trailer for the animated film Giacomo's. I don't know much about this film, but the animation is looking great! It looks like it's being produced by Sergio Pablos. I hope it gets translated and put out in America. Check it out:


July 12, 2005

Heading to the Con

I'm heading to the San Diego Comic Con tomorrow. I find it funny that some people at work know when and where Siggraph is but they don't know anything about the San Diego Comic Con is. And while other people know all about the Con but don' t know anything about Siggraph. If I had to chose to only go to one, I'd choose the Con. I used to volunteer at Siggraph when I was in High School. Back then it was awesome. I got to see the Electronic theater, all the floor show, I could go to any lecture I wanted, the art show. I found it to be a lot of fun. But these days I just can't afford to go, it's just to expensive to get in for me to consider going. I could get Sony to sponsor me for a ticket that just gets you in the door, but I wouldn't find that ticket to be worth while. The Comic Con on the other hand lets me get the pro-badge for free. Again I can do anything I want, go to the exhibit hall, go to any lecture and visit the art show all for free.

I don't mean to come off as such a freeloader, the hotel rooms in San Diego are steep enough.

Anyhoo, I'll be bringing my camera and I'll post lots of pictures here.

July 5, 2005

PJ's King Kong Trailer

Wow, I mean wow. To be honest, I wasn't to excited about this movie before. I mean, so a giant ape gets loose in NYC. What new thing can they do with that old idea? Now I know:


July 1, 2005


On Stward St, there's a great article about a letter that Kevin Koch
wrote. It was published in last months issue of the Pegboard. I'm not
a union member so this is the first time I've read it. It's really
worth checking out. I'm republishing it here, I hope that Seward St and
The Pegboard don't mind.

Mostly what I like about it is the optimism and the reminder to still be
an artist and to not get too caught up in studio life (hardships,
gossip, etc). This couldn't have come at a better time for me. Lately
I've had to section my life off quite a bit. I have the work bit and
the home bit. We've been teaching our daughter to put herself to bed
and to sleep on her own. It hasn't been easy, she's a stubborn girl,
who's recently learned to hit us in the face. But I still want to come
to work and put energy into my shots and do the best that I can.
That's why this article brings it all home for me.


Last month at the Marc Davis Academy lecture honoring Frédéric Back, Ihad the honor of meeting the creator of The Man Who Planted Trees,Crac, and other equally brilliant films. He's eighty-one, and as articulate and passionate about art, animation, and the environment as ever. He now does illustration and is still quite busy. I was writing a letter on Mr. Back's behalf when I heard that Joe Grant had passed. Mr.Grant died at his drawing table, at the young age of ninety-six. It struck me that these two men are of a piece in many ways, and both are men I wish I were more like.

Mr. Back is that rare person who is so immediately open and accepting that deep conversation happens moments after meeting him. I came away with the sense that he is one of those too-rare people who have genuinely good souls. I never met Mr. Grant, but know many who knew him well, and I gather he was much the same - easygoing, intelligent, unaffected by tremendous personal accomplishments, and most of all genuine.

I had similar thoughts at our recent Golden Awards. We honored over seventy people who had loooong, productive careers in animation, and they seemed to have fond memories of it all. They worked on good shows and terrible ones, for good bosses and jerks, stayed in the rank and file or started their own studios, the whole spectrum. It was a little overwhelming for me as I contemplated my meager not-quite-one decade in animation.

I think of these two, and others like the late Ed Friedman, and I feel sheepish at how caught up I get in the trivial day-to-day nonsense at work. Mr. Back worked independently, almost single-handedly, and created masterpieces. Mr. Grant spent his animation career within the Disney machine, and made crucial contributions to some of the greatest features ever made. Mr. Friedman had a long productive career and a record-breaking term as a Guild officer. Each faced tall odds against successfully expressing themselves, yet all three did, beautifully, time and again.

What does it take to have these kinds of careers? How does one navigate around the minefields of animation without becoming negative, jaded, and burned out? We all know plenty of people who have succeeded in animation and, in the process, stopped being the open, humble people they started
as. We know people who made it exactly because they were only too willing to climb over their peers and back stab their way to the top. And, or course, we've all had to work with plenty of production and management types who, let's say, don't get the difference between supporting an artistic process and running a cannery. So how do people like Frédéric Back, Ed Friedman and Joe Grant leave huge legacies, and not end up bitter and regretful?

I suppose the column is as much about me as it is about the giants of the field who have come before. I think I've gotten a little bit burned out lately, and I find some of the day-to-day nonsense of the biz less tolerable than before. I'm irritated (or worse!) too much of the time.
Not that I still don't enjoy animation, or still get a charge out of working around dozens of people far more talented than I am. We all know that feeling we get when we see a bit of art or animation that's so right it makes our hearts sing. Being on the inside of the process, and
knowing how hard and special that is, makes it all the more enjoyable. That's what keeps me going - when I see something that just makes megrin, or especially when it's something I've done that makes someone else smile.

My guess is that people who have been both genuine and productive were able to pour enough of themselves into their work to lift it from craft to art, and yet have not over-invested their passion into their jobs. That, I think, is the key: balance. We're generally too prone to making
our work lives the end-all and be-all of our existence. It's easy, when you're working on cool movies and TV shows, and the people you work with are talented and fun to be around. How many of us have stayed later at work than we were paid for, simply because we wanted to? How many of us
have taken it personally when a producer or director changed their mind about something, even though we'd done exactly what they'd asked for? How often have we been asked to give a hundred and twenty percent, andyet we never seem to quite get that in return?

This is a great industry, but it is an industry after all. Keep your life balanced, and don't let the small-minded people get you down.