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!