Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Walking East 002

Friends, Family, Colleagues, Mentors, Internet-Strangers,

I'd like to let you know about a walking project that I will commence this evening (Wednesday, November 28, 2012) at 6:00 pm.

This is the second of a series of walks I plan to undertake over the next ten months. Each will start in downtown Vancouver and head eastwards, according to some rules that I've listed at the bottom of this message.

In the first walk, I was struck by the vastly different perspective I had of an area that I've lived in for so long. I was also struck by the complete distance I felt from the people in my immediate vicinity, and of my inability to share what I was experiencing in an immediate, direct and personal way. So this time around, I am inviting you to give me a phone call.

I invite you to call any time between sunrise and 9 pm, and I invite you to share the phone number, and/or this email, with anyone else who might be interested. My cellphone number is 778-319-2405. No pressure! I don't expect you to call, and if you do, the conversation doesn't have to be a long one.

Walking East - First Walk – Second Night

The walks have a variety of meanings for me: They are an excuse to get outside, a means to use my whole body and mind to learn, to come to new understandings of the landscape and the beings that surround me. I'm also seeing it as a part of my art practice, as a means to create art, as art in itself, and as a program of research for my Masters of Applied Arts degree. Above all, it is something I enjoy more than I ever would have imagined.

Here are the parameters of the walk:

- Start at Emily Carr University and walk Eastwards.

- When I don't know which route is more East, choose between them completely randomly.

-A route can be any linear trace created by human and/or non-human: road, sidewalk, deer trail, stream bank, ridgeline, gully.

- Do not knowingly trespass.

- Buy food along the way, but do notstray from the random route to buy food.

- The walk ends when I miss a meal or become exceedingly uncomfortable.  

Map of First Walk

Wish me luck!

- Jay White

Friday, November 9, 2012

After Walking East

A couple weeks ago, I did a random walk eastwards, which I called Walking East. Every time I couldn't tell which route was more East, I would randomly choose between the routes. I considered a route to be any kind of linear path, including roads, sidewalks, streambanks, deer trails and ridge lines. I decided that I would stop as soon as I missed a meal. I don't want to give too many details at the moment, except for what I'm posting below:

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ways of acting...

No image today.

My bag is packed for my Walk East (described in the previous post). I'm very excited, but there's an odd feeling as well. I don't want to overdramatize, but it's a different sensation to any kind of trip I've done before, for a couple reasons:

1) I have no idea where I'll be going. Literally five minutes into the walk I'll already be somewhere I didn't expect. The earlier variations will make the most difference as well. I keep looking at maps, guessing where I'll sleep tonight - zoomed out on google maps looking for the green oases of parks with enough trees to hide myself. Which takes me to the second reason:

2) I am aware that I will be encountering the city, suburbs, towns and rural areas in a different way. I've been reading an anthropologist named Tim Ingold lately, and paraphrased one of his ideas and added it to my desktop background:

"Ways of acting in the environment are ways of perceiving it."

I think this is a part of what got me interested in doing a random walk like this. I'll be acting differently in areas I know very well, and I expect that it will lead to a different perception of my environment. I'm already anticipating a number of realizations:

- Parks may be oases of privacy, and areas to sleep in.

- Fresh running water to bathe in may be nonexistent. It will be difficult to find a place to hole up for a while to wash and dry clothes as well. I'm fine with washing shirts in gas station sinks (as long as my shirt doesn't touch the sink - gross!), but then where do I hang out and dry it off?

- Large suburban and rural areas may be like deserts - no privacy, no gas stations for water.

- The above problems will be reduced when I get to wilderness areas, but lack of food source will then be a problem.

The last point is another part of the reason why I wanted to do this project. In the past, I think I've had a romantic notion of being able to 'rough it' in the bush for extended periods of time, but the truth is that it's almost impossible for one person to do such a thing alone. We count on technology and tools and each other to sustain ourselves.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Walking East

My art has been a little different these days. Painting, drawing and animation are still a part of it, but my art practice is blurring more with the rest of my life. There are many reasons why I've gone in this direction - some aren't conscious, and some I probably don't yet realize.

One thing I'm doing is called "Four Stories" - a part of it is shown above. Every day, at six random times, I'm doing a drawing in a random direction, at a random "zoom level". There's no intention to make a nice composition. I'm doing it for one hundred days.

Another thing I'm doing, starting this Wednesday, has no name yet. Lets call it "Walking East". At 4:00 pm, starting at Emily Carr University, I'll be walking eastward. At every intersection where I can't tell which way is more "east", I'll randomly determine which route to take. I won't just be using roads - for me, a "route" will be roads, paths, ridgelines, river edges, streambeds, deer trails... anything that is linear and easy to follow, I guess. Maybe I'll make new definitions of "routes" as I go.

During this period, I'll still be doing "Four Stories" - so a part of this project will be contained within Four Stories. I will also be shooting random video footage eleven times per day, on the hour, between sunrise and sunset. I don't know what I'll do with the footage yet - probably edit it together. I'll also be tracking my path on a topographic map. (No cellphones / GPS, but I'll have a compass just in case.) I'll also have my backpack, tent, campstove, camouflage tarp, lots of raingear, a fishing rod, and other camping necessities.

This is the first part of the project - the next parts will be reflecting on the journey, maybe writing about it, and doing something with the  footage. Who knows, it could expand into a larger project, or it could lead into thoughts on another project to undertake. All I know is that I'm very excited about doing it, and it feels more "me" than any other artwork I've done up to this point in my life.

When will I stop? This is, I think, one of the more interesting parts. I'm not going to start with any food, and will only buy food at places I walk past. Fortunately, there's a market at Granville Island, so I can stock up somewhat (but with fairly heavy food). So the project will end when I get hungry. There won't be any stores out past Chilliwack, so unless I get lucky with buying good lightweight food, or people give me food (which I would never ask for), the project will finish within a week.

If you see me on the side of the highway, toss me a cracker!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

always ending always beginning

Transition day - unpacking school bags, repacking into bush bags.

Yesterday I finished my first (of three) month-long July intensives for my Masters of Applied Arts at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design. Even if I had time to post on this blog during that period, I don't think I would have been able to keep up with the amount of learning that happened during that period. Hopefully that learning will become apparent in my work and in my posts.

Tomorrow I head North for three weeks. I'm doing a residency with Parks Canada, the US National Park Service and the Yukon Arts Centre - basically tromping through the bush for two weeks along the Chilkoot Trail and giving a few artist talks. I'll be making a sequential art series that documents the journey - a page a day, pen and ink on watercolour paper. I don't want to call it a graphic novel or a comic, because the way I'll be creating the images is going to be left to chance a little bit. I'll describe that some more next time I have time to post. I'm also getting reference for another project that I'll describe later.

I do plan on posting more steadily in September again, when I'm back from my trip, and I'll try to post when I get the chance. Maybe tomorrow, maybe in a month. I'm looking forward to sharing the work I've been doing, and writing about my thoughts. But at the moment, there's no time to write and think! I have to pack all that crap into my backpack and get ready to go.

Here's a link to something I did in late June. It's a pretty accurate document of how I was re-assessing my work at the time, and maybe an indication of how I'm starting to look for other ways of creating narrative works:

I actually think I'm going to continue Salal. There's a bit more to add to the story now, but I haven't had time to do it.

Thursday, May 31, 2012


All the action is in my head.

There's not a lot of actual art production happening right now, but lots of thinking and working nevertheless. 

I'm learning a lot of new software that will make my 3D animation process a lot more fluid. At the moment it feels like I'm back at square one, but that's the way it always is with growth and learning. If I felt totally comfortable with what I was doing, I wouldn't be learning, would I? 

Many thoughts about projects - too many thoughts, maybe. 

Two big paintings are almost finished. Those, and storyboards, and my break from reading instruction manuals and fiddling with buttons. 

On rainy days like this, the clouds come in low over the hill across the cove, shrouding the evergreens with greys and whites. 

Last night I had a swim in the rain. Water drops bouncing around me like silver beads. The soft but powerful exhale of a seal. Crows flitting through the Douglas Firs and Arbutus. A Great Blue Heron takes a nap on a dock. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

outdoor studio

There are few things in life I enjoy more than painting outside in the sun. Every minute I can spend doing that is a blessing.


Today is damp, cloudy, but warm. The ocean will be a little colder on the surface, but the weekend boat traffic will be gone. I might wait until sunset to swim, because the tide will be higher and I'd like to see some wildlife. 

Friday, May 25, 2012


The ocean is warmer every day. Only the first couple of seconds are shocking - after that, you can stay out for a long time before getting cold. Get out there, West Coast Canadians!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

sketching the movement of an imaginary lizard

Sketchin' movement. Lookin' at trees and imaginin' the creature I'm building leaping around. I'm keeping these loose because I want to reference them directly when I animate, to maintain that same unrestrained feeling in the motion. I like some of the compositions as well.


I just started school today - the Low-Residency Masters of the Applied Arts Program through the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver. It's very exciting. I have to learn some esoteric words like Ontology, but I promise not to use them on this blog.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

thinking with colours

A couple acrylic sketch-paintings from my acrylic sketch-painting sketchbook.

They're another step towards figuring out how I'm going to do backgrounds on this film. It's taking some time because I want to do it differently than I've done it before, and I have some specific thoughts on how I'd like to merge painting with 3D lighting.

This line of thought is actually something more than just backgrounds to a film... I love painting and photographing outdoor scenes, and I keep trying to things of ways I can animate them. Later this summer I'm actually doing a two-week residency at Chilkoot Trail National Park, on the borders of Alaska, Yukon, and BC, with this kind of project in mind as well: How to animate wilderness scenes in a painterly way?

Such are the earth-shattering questions that I am fated to pursue the answers for.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


 Whoa dang! Those Dogwoods are purdy!

Same with them fresh Maple leaves!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

To The Water

My route to the water - straight down from my deck.

I try to get into the ocean all year 'round. Usually there's a three-month period (Jan to March) where the weather is so lousy that I start to slack off, and usually only jump in for a quick splash a few times per month. But this time of year, - April and May - are probably the most exciting for me. Every day the water gets a little warmer, and every day I can stay out for longer. Yesterday I pushed it for a little too long and had to spend the rest of the evening wearing three layers to warm back up.


When I first moved to this place, I was a little disappointed that the nearest water was through other peoples' property. I didn't like the idea of sneaking around to get to the water - carefully picking my way along the no-man's land between the properties that lie between myself and the ocean.

As time goes on, however, I'm taking great delight in my trip to the water. Especially as the weather starts to get warm, I know that the properties (which have been mostly vacant all winter long) will soon be occupied, especially on weekends. So I can't just let my mind wander as I stroll to the ocean. I have to always be aware of the spots where I could be visible from a house, and I have to listen for people. On the parts where there's a trail, I'm always watching for people tracks (so far, only deer), and I'm very careful not to leave any tracks myself. I step carefully on rocks and roots, or walk softly by rolling my feet.

The walk has become wonderfully meditative. In stopping to listen for people, I catch the sounds of ravens, eagles and songbirds. In watching the trail for tracks, I see the passage of deer. Picking down a dry ravine under the twisting boughs of giant cedars, up onto a grassy meadow dwarfed by a huge Douglas Fir, down over a cascade of moss-covered rocks, taking shelter under an Arbutus for one final careful look at the most exposed part of my trip, where I climb down a big rock to a sheltered nook at the water.

My favorite time to swim is sunset, which is perfect because the fading light is easy to hide in and people start heading inside. I suppose that's one reason why the animals are so active at sunset as well - there's still light to see, but it's easier to hide from predators. I always see a lot more wildlife at sunset.

It will be interesting when the water is warm enough for me to swim way out in the cove. People will be able to see me swimming from their houses, so I'll have to be tricky like an otter when I come back in, so they can't tell where my beaching-spot is.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Here's the geometry (sculpt) of one of the characters in the film. I'm calling him Dragon Bug. He moves through the branches like a squirrel, jumping fearlessly from branch to branch. It's going to be interesting (impossible?) getting good movement out of him with his short legs, but that's a challenge I'm looking forward to.

Now I need to texture him, which means giving him colour and deciding how he'll actually look in the scene. Which leads to a big question - what's this film going to look like?

From my last short, "The Perfect Detonator"

My past four shorts were flat-shaded, meaning that the characters looked more like drawings or paintings. I don't want to do that this time. If I'm going to flat-shade a character, I'll animate him classically. This time around, I want to make better use of the strengths of 3D animation than I have in the past.

A huge difference between 3D computer animation and other forms of animation is that you can play with light - you can move lights around just like you would in a movie set. Characters and sets can be lit in all kinds of gorgeous and complex ways that aren't even possible in reality. And I'm finally realizing what I've heard one hundred times before - that, when it comes to visuals, light is everything. It's how information is transmitted to our eyes. If you're creating work that people will be looking at, you'd better be thinking about light!

All the paintings I've been doing for the past year have been exploring light in some way, and I want to continue to do that.

Intention 1: "Paint with light" in every shot to create mood. This includes character lighting, set, and background paintings. I would like to have some really abstract backgrounds like the one above in some shots.

I want the film to feel loose, both in the process of creation and in the final product, so I don't want to restrict myself to one level of detail. Also, I tend to get bored pretty quickly with some parts of animating. I think this is because of the traditional way films are made: Design and storyboard first. Then animate every shot. Then edit it together. 

I far prefer the painting process because I'm designing and laying out big ideas at the same time as refining and editing. My mind can jump around all these things at once. Can I do that with a film?

Intention 2: The process of making this film should be a constant discovery. I should always feel actively engaged and challenged by the work. 

This is a 30-minute acrylic painting I did a couple nights ago - just a sketch, trying to think about how the world is going to look when the background is more realistic. I don't know yet. Maybe too literal? Maybe I need to apply that painting onto 3D objects as textures (like decals), then light the object, to get nice rimlights and shadows?

I feel like this is already getting too tight. Maybe the foreground tree is okay, but I should try a far more abstract background that just gives the impression of light filtering through trees. Actually, I like that idea a lot.

I'd also like to have a bit of this jumpy randomness that you see in stop-motion films. This is going to come down to a different way of animating in 3D. I talked about this a few posts back:

Intention 3: - In the final product, we should be able to feel the spontaneity of the creative process. 

But at the same time...

A test shot I just found from about twelve years ago, for a film I never did.

Intention 4: I also want to use stylized motion. 

This is another place where animation excels. It's a delight to watch characters move a little differently than they do in real life. I haven't done this kind of animation in way too long. I always loved it when I first learned animation fifteen years ago, but got into a job where the motion had to be more realistic, and every job afterwards was the same. I followed the pattern and used the same semi-realistic animation in my past four films. Time to get back to the craziness! 

Intention 5: The film will be as much about sound and music as it will visual.

I strongly believe that sound is the most important thing about an animated short film. Music and animation is like music and dance - I think the two are very closely linked. Look at all the greatest short films since the medium was first born, and almost every one has a huge element of sound or music to it. 

This time around, I'm working with an original piano composition which is being written as the animation progresses. I listen to the rough chunks of it as I jam out wild storyboard ideas in the morning.

Intention 6: I need a fucking story!

Most important! The story is everything. If you don't have a story, there's no point in making a film. Where's the fucking story? I have one fleshed out, but I'm not sure about it yet. I think it's just going to appear as I keep making stuff, so maybe I shouldn't worry about that. I would like the look of the film to reflect the story, though - everything should serve the story. So maybe I need to step back a bit and do a little more writing.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Translucent Maggots / Put a Skirt On It

The guys on the bottom left are auditioning to be in my latest short film. They're like semi-translucent maggots, mostly with facial hair, who live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Their eyes can protrude like snail / slug eyes. They've been persistently appearing on my sketchbook pages, which means they're likely to get the part.

The lady on the bottom-right was ordering coffee and a muffin at the local cafe yesterday. She was wearing a heavy winter coat and a huge scarf, short boots, and those tight pantyhose-type pants that make you think the girl should be wearing a skirt but she's not and you can totally see every detail of her butt. I don't know why this is still a popular look. Is it really comfortable?

I don't think it's sexy, personally. For all of mankind's civilized history, there has been something covering our genital areas. It's what we're used to. I would rather leave things to the imagination.

I don't think it's aesthetically pleasing from a design sense either. Clothing has always flowed down the body, over the waist, and maybe been cut off around the thigh for a bit. But all of a sudden there's this drastic change of shape where the clothing cuts off at the belly-button, and the whole lower body is exposed. It just looks unbalanced to me. Like, if you're going to expose your whole lower half, your entire body should be exposed, so the lines of your body flow all the way up. I wonder if we're just seeing a transition to some kind of tight-body-suit fashion, Buck Rogers style:

Which means women will be even more body-conscious and blah blah blah cosmetic surgery stupid fad diets blah blah, I have to stop thinking about this because it bothers me.

If women's fashion does go this way, I wonder if men's fashion will do the same:
"Hi. I'd like to order a double espresso, please. And could I have one of those blueberry muffins?"

Bottom line - stop wearing those stupid pants, unless you just got out of a dance class! Put a skirt on it! Or get your look together and wear a futuristic body suit!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Deer, Dogwood, Diligence

Deer in the backyard. The fawns are getting big!

I think the tree blooming outside my studio window is a Dogwood! If that's the case, things are going to get real purdy around here.

The cockpit of the studio. 

The last week has been as creatively rewarding and productive as any time I can remember. I love all the work I'm doing. I feel focused and there is no feeling of stress, only contentment. 

There are a few changes I made a week ago that made all the difference, I think:

1) I got off Facebook. It makes a huge difference not to be instinctively clicking on that site, then clicking on a link, and wasting five to ten minutes at a time - not to mention killing the momentum of whatever I was working on.

2) I installed a plugin on my browser that limits my total viewing of my other 'instinctual-click websites' to twenty minutes a day. These are websites about complicated historical conflict-simulation boardgames ("wargames"), which I absolutely love playing and reading about. 

On day one, the plugin cut me off by 11:00 am. Wow! 11:00 am and I already spent twenty minutes on those sites! How much time was I spending on those websites every day? Now I don't even reach the twenty minutes by the time I go to bed. 

3) Every morning, I write out the things I'd like to accomplish in the day. Then I look through them all and visualize doing them in a focussed, relaxed, way. I visualize being completely present with the task and enjoying it, whether it's paying bills, washing dishes, painting, or animating. I also imagine doing the task without thinking about an end goal - like, I don't HAVE to finish any of the tasks, I just do them and enjoy the process / practice of it. 

Once I finished reading all the tasks, I don't look at the list for the rest of the day. I just start doing stuff.  

The funny thing is that when I look the previous day's list the next morning, I have completed almost every task I wrote down. This is absolutely crazy for me! I never get everything done like that! I think it's because I used to put all kinds of pressures and expectations on the work, so I would spend a lot of time procrastinating. Also, I would spend a lot of time running in circles being overwhelmed with everything I had to do. 

I don't expect that every week will be as fulfilling as the previous one was, but it's nice to feel like I'm still finding ways to improve my state-of-being.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

First Steps of Short Film Number Five

Here's the critter I'm building right now to animate in 3D. There's some unrelated panels in there as well.

I only have a rough idea of the story so far, but I'm moving forward with the parts that interest me and trusting that it will all come together. That's the way I've done most of my films. I start with a little seed and work on it until it grows into a bigger thing. This seed is definitely growing.

(This is a bit of an animator-specific post, so apologies if some things don't make sense to everyone. I tried to write it out by explaining everything, but it was going to turn into a very very long post.)

My plan is to animate the characters in this film with straight-ahead motion, frame-by-frame, as though I was moving and animating a stop-motion character. I like the rough and fresh look that stop motion and hand-drawn animation gives. 3D computer animation can be endlessly refined and tweaked, so you end up with very nice animation, but there's no feeling of the process in the final animation, if you know what I mean.

An analogy would be painting a photorealistic image with a tiny brush - the final image is amazing, but you don't get any of the feeling that it's a painting. There is no liveliness of the brushstroke, or of areas that are rendered differently than in other areas, or that the painting is a recording of some kind of exploration.

Stop-motion animation (like Wallace and Gromit, sand-animation from Sesame Street and stuff like that) feels like a constant miracle when you're watching it. The animator knew what was supposed to happen, but he wouldn't see the whole shot until it was completely finished. Like developing film, a lot more of the art is in the moment of creation. You press the button to take the photo, whether its a single image or one-twelfth of a second of a film, and there's no going back. When I see that creation and re-creation, twelve times a second, in a stop-motion film, it completely captivates me.

So I'm building this character with those sorts of things in mind. I'm trying to get out of my head the standard workflow for 3D computer animation, and trying to suit the process more towards my own style and way-of-thinking. Maybe he won't have a smooth surface - maybe I'll leave him polygonal and jagged-looking. I would like to play with frame-by-frame shape animation as well. Instead of relying on the underlying skeleton for all of my movements, I want to experiment with moulding the surface like clay on a frame-by-frame basis.

The biggest challenge, and a restriction that I'm looking forward to imposing on myself, is to animate straight-ahead without going back and fixing frames indefinitely. If I decide that frame 17 out of 50 doesn't look right, I'm either going to leave it or redo the whole shot, like you would in stop-motion. I think this is going to make the process very intensive, and force me to be totally present when animating each frame. (I feel like I can get lazy with 'traditional' 3D animation and just muck around until it feels right.)

I guess that means a lot of detailed storyboarding, pose-sketching, and timing sheets. So be it.

I'm scared! Which is a good sign, I think.

Monday, April 23, 2012

no news is good news

Leaves bursting outside the studio window.

Fresh warm air these days. It sure feels nice. The woodstove still eats one or two logs a day when it's cloudy, though.

That's all for today!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Geese in a cave

No image this time - only sound.

You have to wear headphones / have good speakers and listen (or fast forward) about twenty seconds to hear where it starts getting good.

I took my sound recorder down to the water this morning when I went for a swim. I timed it for when the ferry was coming by because I wanted to record it.

At first I was directly pointing the microphone at the ferry (and two Canadian Geese that happened to be there as well - I wonder if they're building a nest?) Then I turned the microphone towards a rock face and recorded the echo. Then I put the microphone into a crevasse, deeper and deeper...

I absolutely love this sound, especially towards the very end. I have a plan for how I'll use it in my next film. I have to go back another day when the tide is low enough to reach the crevasse and do a cleaner recording.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Animation: Three Lists

Spruce buds.

For the past year, starting right after I finished my last short film, I have been wondering if I should continue to animate short films. There's a number of reasons for that:

1) Short films take a long time to make. The last one probably took me 12-15 months of solid work, over a period of four years, to complete. That's an extreme example, though - all my other ones took 2-6 months each.

2) Short film animation does not pay the bills.

3) I've been wondering what the purpose is of telling a story in the first place. I think our culture is already saturated with distractions in the form of constant interpersonal communication and storytelling entertainment (video games, youtube, TV and film.) Why do I want to contribute to that?


About a month ago, I had a fairly well put-together animation idea and started working on it. I opened a new project on my computer, began plotting the movement of some birds for the first shot, and within twenty minutes I stopped, closed the program, and said to myself, "Nope. I don't want to do this any more." I wasn't ready to start on a journey that would certainly consume me and 4-8 months of my life. It didn't feel fun or interesting. So why bother?


However, since I've been back in Canada, things have been shifting again. Creative energy is building like water behind a dam. It has a lot to do with the following, I think: (I love lists!)

1) I had a hankerin' to learn about the history of animation, and picked up a book called "Animation - The Whole Story" by Howard Beckerman. I learned this stuff in animation school, years ago, but I never had an interest in the information like I do now.

As I read about early films, I look them up on Youtube and watch them. It is incredible to learn and understand the roots of the artform, to watch the evolution, see what has changed and what has stayed the same. It's amazing to see the magnificent experiments that people were doing in the 1920's, especially in Europe. I had no idea there was already such a rich diversity in the medium only a couple decades after it was invented.

It's nice to take a step back and get a bigger view of the medium of animation as a whole. It helps gives some context to my own practice.

2) I've been doing a lot of sketch-painting and storyboard sketching. They have been fueling my creative battery, and habituating me to say 'yes' to every idea, instead of 'not good enough.' (see previous blog post)

3) The powerful beauty of Canada's West Coast is surrounding me and filling me up. These huge Douglas Firs and Cedars, the dark, cold ocean, the deer, otters, the loons and ducks.. There's something about this place that has always filled me with a feeling of mystery and magic and awe that fuels my imagination.

4) I've been reading two of my favorite comic book series. Both are black-and-white Japanese comics (manga) from the 1980's: "Appleseed" by Masamune Shirow and "Akira" by Katsushiro Otomo. I've read both of these series five or six times, and every time I'm absolutely stunned by the level of detail in each panel, the magnificent cinematic compositions, the incredible design, the anatomical and cartoon-y renderings, and the great storytelling. They are huge, time-consuming works - Akira is over 2000 pages! They were obviously a labour of love. They inspire me.


So it seems that these things have broken the animation-dam. The last years' problems about storytelling, animation not being profitable and taking too long boil down to this:

1) Is storytelling useless? Am I just another guy making another thing that is glutting people's lives and minds, when they should be out going for a walk? Again, this is not an issue. It's not about other people. I love thinking of stories, I love creating worlds on the page and on the screen. It would be cruel to myself to stop doing it.

2) It doesn't matter if short-film animation doesn't make good money. If I go into any art-making thinking about it as a business, it's going to restrict and limit my work. So money is only an issue in that it's crucial that I completely get it out of my head when I'm making art. To make that easier, I've decided to teach more regularly so I have steady income, which means I no longer have to think about my art as a business.

3) It doesn't matter how long animation takes. You do a little, a day at a time, because you love it. Don't worry about the big picture of a finished film. Maybe the daily animation won't even be a film. Just animate because you love it.

I'm looking forward to sharing some of the clips I create on this blog. Along with whatever other sketches / paintings / photos happen along the way.

If anyone lives near Vancouver, my last short film, The Perfect Detonator, will be screening at Vancity theatre at 9:00 am, on Thursday April 19, as part of the Reel2Reel Film Festival. Q&A afterwards.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

pages and pages

It's nice to be home, just in time to watch the buds grow and erupt into bright green leaves.

. . .

It's interesting to look back on that last post I wrote, over a month ago, about 'practice'. That idea really stuck with me and changed the way I've been working lately:

I started using my sketchbook solely to jam out storyboards. For the past month, my sketchbook has been nothing but panels, dialogue and cinematic directions. Sometimes the boards are an idea for a story or a scene; other times they're just framed drawings from my imagination or my surroundings. The only parameter I'm sticking to is that the panels are not for any larger purpose.

I'm intentionally preventing myself from editing the panels or imagining how they could fit together into a film or comic. This is keeping me amazingly productive, because I'm not tightening up and trying to make things perfect. It's a daily brainstorm. I'm trusting that a story will emerge if and when it wants to, but I'm not forcing it.

There's already three or four ideas in there that I'm itching to refine into something, but I'm holding off. Even when (and if) I do start to refine some of these things, I hope to continue this practice.

I'm excited to see how the happenstance positioning of unrelated images has an effect on my stories as well. Will a couple unrelated frames of a robot throwing beans give me an idea that I never would have thought of otherwise?

I partly got this idea from an editing book I just read  - "In the Blink of an Eye" by Walter Murch. Mr. Murch was talking about the advantage of using old editing machines (as opposed to digital), because you'd have to scan through all the footage to find the clip you were looking for:

"Because the film is all stored in these big rolls in an almost arbitrary way, you are learning something new about the material as you search for what you think you want. You are actually doing creative work, and you may find what you really want rather than what you thought you wanted."

I like the idea of my sketchbooks being like these big reels of film. All kinds of ideas for me to scan through when I'm trying to "edit" together a storyboard.

There I go starting to think ahead about the final product again.

A similar thing I was doing (which I haven't done since I've been back from the Dominican Republic) was acrylic sketches in another sketchbook. Small and fast. Nothing precious, so I could whip off ideas and just enjoy the act of painting instead of tightening up. These two practices really get me in that loose and free frame of mind. All of art-making should have that feeling.

I gotta start doing this acrylic sketchbook again. The problem is, there are just way too many other projects and things to do...

...For example, this big oil painting of a maple I've been working on. (This is a blurry detail). I can't wait to get it done so I can move onto another big painting. I'm trying to get a bunch of paintings done for a Call for Submissions in late June.

I have a few other things on the go that are competing for painting-time, but I'll save them for future blog posts.

It's taken me a couple weeks to get my routine back in place, and to be in a place where I can apply myself to my practice with diligence. Now that I'm settled in again, I hope to post far more regularly. Stay tuned!

Friday, March 2, 2012


Painting sketches - acrylic. Approx. 12" x 8" each, 4-5 hours per painting.  

Lots of good change in my life these days. I just finished a six-month stint of working on Other Peoples' Projects, and am finally back into my own world of ideas. I brought some acrylic paints and a sketchbook full of heavy-weight paper with me on this trip, and I'm starting to fill the pages with painting-studies (see above). It's nice to be limited to the few paints I brought, and the smaller sheets of the book. Parameters stimulate creativity.

The sketches are also a joyful rediscovery of acrylic paints. I usually paint with watercolours or oils, and haven't touched acrylics in over a decade. Acrylics are really nice because they dry so fast. It's literally laying down layers of coloured plastic. They're less transparent, so you don't get deep, complex layers of colour like you do with oils unless you mix the paint with another medium (which I didn't bring.)

The paintings are quick, and are intended more for practice than for serious. I stop working on them whenever I feel like it - I don't push myself to make it perfect. This process makes me realize that none of my work should be serious. Everything is just practice, really - there is no Final Masterpiece to strive for. Maybe I shouldn't push my work as far as I usually do. Perhaps I should move on as soon as it gets tired and not worry about striving for perfection, which is impossible anyways.

I intend to apply those same ideas to my larger paintings and animations. When I think about the painters and artists who have influenced me the most, the one thing they have in common is a large volume of work that completely feels rough and exploratory. Every piece is practice, nothing more.

Colours of slowly-dying palms whose roots are being washed away by the ocean. An earthquake destroyed a large offshore reef here, a decade ago, and the beaches have been eroding dramatically since then. 

On top of the painting, I'm easing back into my own animation. I've learned a lot of great new animation tools over the past half-year, but I'm very excited to get back to pushing the boundaries of my own little area of animation-land.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


 Half-hour acrylic painting-sketch of Antillean Palm Swifts. They sometimes nest in holes burrowed out out of dead palm trunks.

 More sketches of palms and swifts, including the sketch I based the painting off of.

Yesterday I hacked a half-mature coconut from a tree that was bent over a stream. The meat was soft and I could pull it out with my fingers. Note the unprofessionally mauled coconut and associated shrapnel. I need to buy a sharpening file, but I also need practice.

I've observed three different ways to get a coconuts from the trees in the Dominican Republic:

(1) Climb the tree. This involves putting one's bare feet flat against the tree and monkey-walking up it with one's hands pulling oneself towards the tree. Even the most spry young tree-climbers get tired arms partway up the tallest trees. At that point (or maybe it's where the tree is narrow enough), they wrap their legs around the tree like you do when climbing a rope. Then they heave themselves up the tree in great hauling movements, about 12 inches at a time, slapping their body against the trunk and holding on tightly after each heave. 

I've only seen this done by young adults, children and teenagers. More often than not, they look a little freaked out when they're almost to the top but not yet able to reach the palm fronds and pull themselves to a comfortable position.

(2) Cut long poles and poke the coconuts out of the tree while standing on the ground. Sometimes this involves strapping three or four long poles together to poke into the tallest trees. It works best if you have a Y-shape cut at the end of the top pole, to catch the stem of the coco and push it upwards until it breaks.

(3) Wait until the cocos hit the ground.

I'd like to do number (1), but only on small (10'-15') trees. I love climbing but I'm afraid of heights. I started climbing a short tree a couple days ago, but chickened out and went for option (2) instead, slicing a pole out of a nearby sapling thicket. (I could see that I wasn't the only one who had done this. Lots of same-sized saplings had already been cut from the same thicket.) I got a couple nice young coconuts, filled with sweet water.

The advantage to option (3) is that when cocos fall off a tree, the meat inside is nice and solid. The problem is that I'm competing against every other Dominican to get these cocos. There's no way you're going to find a fallen coconut within 15 feet of a trail - it will have been long-picked over. Case in point - five minutes after I plucked a coco from the tree I photographed, a man came over, cut all the rest down, and took them away.

So from now on I have to put on shoes and tromp through the bush like the rest of the Dominican men, looking for those big mean brown cocos. I think the trick might be to go out the morning after a big windstorm and some have blown off the trees.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

quiero el leche

"I Want the Milk"

I bought a machete yesterday. Today I climb a small coconut tree and get the milk and the meat of the coconut.

Yo compre un machete ayer. Hoy yo subo un arbol de coco pequeno y obteno le leche y le carne de coco. 

I'm sure the process will be about as smooth as my Spanish is.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

buddhism, physics, art

yesterday's sketches

This blog is a bit of an explanation of my note on the above sketches. Apologies if this comes across as narcissistic. My intention with this blog is to speak my thoughts honestly, so occasionally I suppose it's going to get personal and maybe not interesting to a whole lot of people. If I drew / photographed anything else, I probably would have just posted that instead, to save myself all this writing:

In the past eight months I've started to read about the Buddhist philosophy, and I like it. I got lucky with the first book I picked up - it was very academic, written by a professor of linguists and Sanskrit. So it didn't have any hokey-pokey reincarnation and strange ritual stuff in it - it was an analysis of the original teachings that Siddhartha Gotama ('The Buddha') taught. His translation doesn't use extreme words like "Nirvana" and "Suffering", or judgmental words like "Good" and "Evil" that I would immediately be skeptical of.

Anyways, I'm finding that it's an exceptionally logical and worthwhile philosophy. It's all about realizing why you feel unease, and finding ways to reduce/eliminate unease. There is no spirituality to it, and there's no aspect of blind faith that is necessary. In fact, the idea is that you should be able to experience and discover all the tenets of the philosophy yourself, and that you should be skeptical and question it.

One part of the Buddhist thing that I find interesting is the idea that one source of our unease is that we tend to fabricate stories. We're constantly imagining situations that aren't necessarily true. "I'd better get my work done today or I'll fall way behind my deadline." Who knows if you'll fall behind, really? Why let it create stress? Do the work, of course, but get rid of the story. I do this constantly. I imagine what people think of me ("people will think this post is narcissistic"), I imagine negative results to taking a risk ("if I go machete some jungle with the Dominicans, they'll make fun of my poor Spanish"), etc etc. And none of it matters, when you really think about it.

That's made me think a lot about storytelling, which is what I've done as a career for the last fifteen years. What is the point of telling a fictional story? Why do I do it?

Perhaps not coincidentally, in the last few months I've become really interested in the completely nonfiction world of physics. I studied way too much Newtonian physics in University for Civil engineering, but the stuff I'm getting into is all the more recent theories - special and general relativity, quantum physics, string theory. The stuff is mind-blowing. "Truth is stranger than fiction", as they say, and I think theoretical physics epitomizes that saying.

Some of the workings of our universe are literally unimaginable.

"In 1965, Richard Feynman, one of the greatest practitioners of quantum mechanics, wrote,

'There was a time when the newspapers said that only twelve men understood the theory of relativity. I do not believe there ever was such a time. There might have been a time when only one man did because he was the only guy who caught on, before he wrote his paper. But after people read the paper a lot of people understood the theory of relativity in one way or another. On the other hand I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.'

Although Feynman expressed this view more than three decades ago, it applies equally well today."1

We have a very good idea of how the universe works on a very small scale, but the ways that it works are pretty much impossible for our minds to comprehend. Get your head around that! It sends shivers up my spine every time I think about it!

Suffice it to say that the creative and logical sides of my brain are enthralled by the concepts of physics and buddhism. I have no idea how it will affect the art-side of my existence, but I'm interested to find out.

1The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene. It's a best-seller. Easy to read, highly recommended!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Gravity, machetes, siesta

I haven't been drawing much on this trip, but yesterday I started at dawn and drew a fair bit all day long. I screwed up that tree. Every palm tree I've drawn so far is horrific, except for one I drew today. It takes me a bit to figure out how to draw different species of tree, it seems.

Siesta in the town of Las Galeras, from a French Cafe. Also, a little bit of a sketch trying to figure out how I could visually represent the Theory of General Relativity in computer animation software. Also, a shadow from the string that dangles from my camera.

Get this: gravity is actually a warping of space and time. As you get closer to anything with mass, space stretches and time gets slower. That's how we stick to the earth. So when you feel gravity as acceleration (like if you jumped off a cliff), what you're actually feeling is the distortion of space and time that the earth causes. Can you believe it?

More siesta drawings. Motoconcho drivers. 

The top of a papaya plant. They're like giant (ten-foot tall) asparagus plants. The papayas grow right off the stalk. There are only leaves at the very top of the plant.


The highlight of the day yesterday was walking home with a backpack full of groceries and being stopped by a couple of local farm-workers who were drinking beer in the back of their truck. They asked if I was looking for work, and if I wanted to work for them - get paid under the table, clearing
jungle with a machete.

I thought this was super cool for three reasons:

(1) I understand Spanish well enough to have that complex of a conversation (although it was very stilted and with a lot of gesturing).

(2) I must not look like a bewildered tourist any more. The dark skin and shaggy beard must help.

(3) I absolutely love using machetes. I worked as a surveyor for a while and the machete was the best tool for clearing a line through the bush - even West Coast Rainforest! You can hack down a 6" diameter tree with a machete in about 20 seconds. And you can use it to make poles / walking
sticks / hotdog roasting sticks real quick. Far better than a hatchet.

It seems like everyone has a machete in the Dominican Republic . Children are walking along the beaches with them. They use them to get into coconuts.

I can get a machete for 400 pesos (about 12 bucks). Coconuts are 50 pesos apiece. So if I buy a machete and use it to slaughter eight coconuts, I come out even.

Also, if I have a machete, I can go work with those dudes for a day or two, which would be an unforgettable experience. I think I'm too shy to do that though.