My Top 3 Animation Moments (okay, 5 (or 6))

So on the RubberOnion Podcast this week, the audience question asked Stephen and Rob to list their top three moments in animation. They gave their answers, and then encouraged their listeners to submit their own. Turns out, I had a lot to say about it…

Here’s my top 3 animation moments (and 2 honorary mentions):

1) Transformers was my cartoon growing up. I loved how quickly they would transform (and I loved the sound!), and was always frustrated that I couldn’t transform my toys at the same speed. I also remember a sage piece of advice Optimus Prime gave Ironhide: “There is a thin line between being a hero and being a memory.”

2) Princess Mononoke – The scene where she wipes the blood from her mouth was a major feminist moment for me – she’s such a badass. (1:15-1:22) Also, the design of the Forest Spirit is just so exquisite.

3) A tie between a piece of character animation in The Incredibles, and a moment so perfectly captured in Ratatouille. In the Incredibles, Syndrome does this crazy little shimmy dance when he’s saying “Oh man! I’m still geekin’ out about it.” I must have watched that 500 times on YouTube to catch all the motion, and how it added up to such a great moment of character acting.

In Ratatouille, I will never forget when Anton Ego ate a bite of Remy’s ratatouille for the first time. The scene is freaking perfect. I love the lighting, the pacing, the extremely subtle use of sound, the super-zoom into his mind and then his childhood, and feeling the comforts of home in that bite of food, watching him come back to the table, dropping the pen… basically watching this guy who’s been such a fantastically hilarious prick the whole movie melt into his humanity because of an experience. It’s just the perfect climax for a movie, the whole thesis of the film is perfectly captured in this moment. And the “Defense of the New” monologue that follows is something I cling to as I try to make my own way in the artistic world.

Two other films/moments that made an impression on me:

1) Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and specifically, Jessica Rabbit’s song, “Why Don’t You Do Right”. I mean, it’s just hot (creepy old dude vibe aside). I was also obsessed at how perfectly all the live action pieces meshed with the animation. I really love live action/animation blends, and I think my love for it started with this movie.

2) Prickles and Goo was my introduction to all of the animations that Matt Stone and Trey Parker have created to the talks of Alan Watts. It was so cool to see the super simplistic style of South Park work with such philosophically profound content.

KaBloom! #rubberonionbattle

So I’ve been listening to the Rubber Onion podcast recently, which I highly recommend. Every month, they have an animation battle: Anyone can enter, as long as the content is 15 seconds or less, and is based on the month’s topic. The prompt this month is Angry Flowers. Here’s my submission:

 

Per current battle rules, I submitted it here on Instagram. It’s the first time I’ve done this, and I’m really enjoying it. It makes me kick out content quickly – and lets me see how quickly I can kick out content. If I have the focus, I can work fast. This is really good for me to know, and to internalize, considering some of the longer form projects I have in the planning stages right now. (More on that later).

It’s also great to be in contact with a community of animators! Under the #rubberonionbattle hashtag on Instagram , everyone comments on everyone else’s posts, whether they are works in progress or finished submissions. It’s a very positive, encouraging space. I’m enjoying meeting everyone, and seeing the creative and diverse spectrum of styles. I think animators are a unique breed in how we see the world, and this is a neat way to be in contact with part of the tribe.

Really looking forward to seeing how these battles inform my progress.

The Scorsese Storyboard

Last summer, I took a Design and Composition class for animation. We were discussing the art of planning out a story, and our professor told us that Martin Scorsese drew his own storyboards. And artistically, he said they were horrible. (I’m pretty sure he used the word “horrible”.)

“Have you seen the boards he drew for ‘Raging Bull’?” he asked us. “Horrible! But if you line them up in an animatic and play them alongside the final film, you’ll see that they’re completely accurate. Every punch is how Scorsese saw it in his mind.”

This fascinated me. I went home and Googled “Scorsese Raging Bull storyboard”, and I found this:

I don’t know what I was expecting – miserable stick figures, perhaps – but I have to say, I didn’t think these were horrible. But I could see what my professor was getting at. Also, he’s been in the animation industry for 30+ years, and he’s used to seeing stuff like this:

I spend a lot of time (read: way too much time) worrying about the things I draw, if they’re good enough, what it means about me as an artist, as a filmmaker, should I even be doing this, etc., blah blah blah. If I draw a mediocre thing, or a downright bad thing, a thing that doesn’t turn out as I’d hoped, it becomes this concretized edifice of How Bad I Suck, and then I must spend even more time and energy trying to chip away at it so I can try again. So when I heard about Scorsese’s storyboarding process, this grabbed me, and opened a window into my little self-imposed Bad Artist prison. Here is one of the most successful and innovative filmmakers of all time, drawing “Horrible” Storyboards:

Hey, I can draw Horrible Storyboards, too! In fact, I’m really good at it! It’s something that can help me move past the paralyzing perfection paradigm and really dig into the work; what a wonderful release!

[Side note: I particularly love the direction in the bottom boxes: “Zoom out – truck in simultaneously” and “HE PULLS BACK – can’t believe it”. I looked up this effect (I always wondered what it was), and apparently it’s called a  “dolly zoom” which gives a telescoping feel to the camera shot and visually amplifies a sense of unreality.]

At this stage in the process, I suspect Scorsese’s biggest goal is to get the film out of his head and onto the paper, so he can see it and work with it. I also suspect that he couldn’t care less whether his storyboards have any artistic merit in the eyes of others. In this interview, he says: “Storyboards express what I want to communicate … they show how I would imagine a scene and how it should move to the next. My storyboards are absolutely essential for my team meetings.”

I love how it is a means to an end, the beginning of a process that gets closer and closer to the finished product. From the same interview: “These drawings continue to serve as both a basis of my meetings with cameramen as well as any preparatory designs we need. These storyboards are not the only means of communication for what I imagine, but they are the point where I begin.”

Here is the finished zoom-in and truck-out scene from Raging Bull. The shot starts at 1:49.

Is the finished shot an exact replication of the storyboard? Who cares? Scorsese knew what he wanted, and used the board as a way to get to that awesome shot. The board was not the final product, but “horrible” art and all, it was a crucial part of the process.

The Scorsese Storyboard concept helps me give myself permission to draw whatever it is I need to draw in order to get where I want to go. And attaching the name Scorsese to it helps me feel like a little bit of a badass. Not bad for an artistic Dumbo’s feather.

There’s also something magical about drawing the stuff in your head, no matter how it turns out. It gives me hope that if I start with this,

“Lake Shore Drive” – Navy Pier – rough

it might eventually end up looking like this:

Lake Shore Drive” – Navy Pier – layout

[Side note 2: The professor who introduced me to the Scorsese Storyboard is Donald Poynter, and he teaches Design and Composition for Animation at the Continuing Education department of the School of Visual Arts. He is a fantastic instructor. He taught our class with a voracious enthusiasm for the technique of art, and I came away with a much improved appreciation for it. If you want to learn about what makes art awesome without the pretensiousness or the stuffiness, Don’s the guy for you.]

Not Buying Into My Crappy Mood

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There are times when it is overwhelming and inescapable. I look at something I’ve been working on, something that I’m proud of and that I love, and suddenly, it looks like utter crap. And I want to take my drawing pad or my hard drive and throw it out the window, then go outside and find it and light it on fire.

I know I’m not in the frame of mind to accurately see my work. (In fact, when I am anywhere between being manically pleased with myself and on a raging hate-binge, I am not in a frame of mind to accurately see my work.) But this doesn’t stop me from looking at it, and while I have yet to actually destroy anything from within the clutches of a foul mood, there’s always a first time.

Sometimes I can look at my foul mood and call shenanigans. Simply observe how it is gripping me, and know it is a passing storm that does not define me. I cherish those times. The other, overwhelming majority of times, I need coping skills. I am far from getting a handle on such renegade emotional states, but so far, I’ve learned to employ the following, with moderate success:

  • Provide context. Realize that my reaction to my work is not from its perceived inherent suckiness, but perhaps the crappy night’s sleep I got the night before, or some unrelated stress, or even a reactionary pendulum swing from something new and fun I’m trying, like starting a blog.
  • Go out and get some reference art. If I can get out of my head and turn my attention to the outside world, it’ll remove the burning sting of CrapMood, even just a little. I can take pictures of anything that catches my attention, like the trees in Bryant Park, buildings reflected in a windshield or a puddle, an interesting bug I’ve never seen before. I can grab a shot like this:
    I have no idea when I’m going to use it for reference art, but it’s so quintessential New York… how could I not snap a picture?
  • Use the crappy mood to create art. Today’s most recent tangle with CrapMood has spawned an idea for a quick animated short. It’s been healing to explore the storyboard for it, and nice to take a break from the other epically long project I’m working on.
  • When all else fails, there is always this:
    image

How do you move past a wretched mood while working on your craft? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Blog Hop!

Greetings, and welcome to my blog!

The whole reason I have a blog is due to Mary Williams, and if you do not know Mary Williams, you need to click on her hyperlinked name right now and treat yourself to some profound and groovy contemplation of the highest order. Long story short, she posted an enticing entry about a “Blog Hop” on Facebook, and I figured it would be poor form to participate without a blog. So, here we are.

The quick version, which I’ll flesh out later in an “About Me” page: I am an amateur animator. I am an incorrigible storyteller. Someday, I want to have my own animation studio, where I can creatively collaborate with other storytelling artists. Today, it’s time to Blog Hop.

Blog Hop Rules:

Answer the four questions below, link back to the person who invited you, and link to the person or people you invite to continue this hop.

Link back: Mary Williams, and one hop over: Julie Erwin, who linked to Mary.

Link forward: Hop on! Be the first!

The Questions:

1. What am I working on?
Currently, I have one project in production, “Lake Shore Drive”, and two more in pre-production.

“Lake Shore Drive” uses the same-titled song by Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah as its soundtrack. My fiancee introduced me to the song about eight years ago, and I was so charmed by it; it features perhaps the happiest little piano part I’ve ever heard. I also enjoyed my first trip to Chicago around the same time, and I’ve wanted to capture the magic I felt of visiting a new city like that. My animation features the children’s characters I’ve created running around the Windy City and taking in the sights. I started it about 10 months ago, and I’m about halfway done with it.

The other two projects are still in pre-production, so I’ll decline to discuss them in detail until I’ve got them planned out. The first one focuses on meditation, the second one deals with the perils and treasures of shadow work.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Ha! This is a trick question. For short form animations, every work I’ve seen is so unique and different that it’s hard to pin down any kind of genre, in my opinion. So I’ll cheat and list what I hope shines through in my work: Strong storytelling, well developed and empathetic characters, and convincing artwork. (Distinct from “good” artwork. I know where my strengths are.)

3. Why do I write what I write? (Or, why do I create what I create?)
Because I have things to say! And doing so in artistic story form is sort of like breathing for me. I wish I had a better answer for this question without getting all sappy and esoteric about it. But the way I see it, the images and story lines that come to any of us are a gift and a responsibility. Even if it’s a story that’s been told before, there’s only one way this particular manifestation of the story is getting out into the world. I believe this about everything from Shakespeare to South Park, and it’s the creed that drives my work as well.

4. How does my writing process work?
Well, hm. I get an idea, or I hear a song or text, and images and characters start stitching themselves together in my head. Sometimes fully formed scenes drop into my my mind. Sometimes it’s just a single idea or scant image, and I have to wait patiently (or otherwise) for the rest of the story to download. I go out and take lots of pictures and/or video of similar settings I’d want to use for my story. Then I start doing a lot of really bad drawing. Then I do more bad drawing. Then something comes out of my pen that doesn’t suck so much. I also do a “Scorsese Storyboard”, a storyboard that is intentionally crappy, just to get camera cuts and timing flow onto the paper. (More later on why it’s called a Scorsese Storyboard.) When I need a break from the visual, I switch to audio and start putting together my sound, whether it be music or sound effects or voiceover. I continue on like this for a long time, until one day I turn around and see a half-formed project behind me. Self-motivation is not my strong suit, so seeing what I’ve done helps me to continue. And so it goes until I’ve finished it. Then it’s time for the next one.