Thursday, December 24, 2009

Got Wood?

LIESJE: "You know what would be REALLY cool, Dave? What if we did this whole video with puppets? Actual puppets! No animation."

DAVE: "Great idea! Maybe socks? Like they're really amateur, handmade sock puppets?"

LIESJE: "Perfect! And maybe a few of 'em could even be made out of wood."

DAVE: "Great."

Okay, so maybe that wasn't our actual conversation, word for word, but you get the idea.

A while back, Dave Cowles and I embarked on a new music video for They Might Be Giants. A decision was made to not only build all the characters as hand-puppets, but also to construct several of them out of carved wood.

Neat? Hopefully. Time-consuming? Definitely.

Here they are, after a month and half of filling my apartment's living room with copious amounts of saw-dust and probably permanently damaging my lungs. From left to right, we've got Mole, Fox, Porcupine and, of course, Cat.

And here, following the same line, Rat, Raccoon, Bear and (O)Possum. Each will get his very own sock shirt with accompanying fabric/spring/felt arms, as well as button eyes and assorted other goodies.

The Bear is the tough one. He needs to have a month we can (roughly) operate.

Hopefully my plans of rigging his jaw up with fishing line and dowel rods will do the trick.

And yes, I know. The Raccoon needs a tail. And the Cat.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


One of the greatest assets I had working as an ALT in Japan was dozens and dozens of handmade karuta cards.

Popular in most Japanese schoolyards, karuta cards can be used for any number of various games, the most popular (at least amongst ALTs) being the 'Recognition' type games (you teach them the alphabet, spread out the cards, each with a letter, and then watch as the kids fight over the 'B' when you call it out).

I had all sorts - animals, shapes, fruits, etc. - but I never had any as awesome as these! Found at a suburban Tokyo flea market by a fellow gaijen (though I'll confess we've never met), these cards seem to have been made for me. Japan + Animation + Yokai!

Mickey seen here getting along quite well with one of the hundreds of various Japanese spirits.

And here again, in quite different company. Apparently "ano ne no ossan" translates into something like "Mr. You Know Who." I won't make any assumptions, but the mustache is certainly suspicious.

Mickey is joined by a few other recognizable characters (Japan, well outside Disney's jurisdiction, tends to 'borrow' from them a lot).

Donald Duck, with neighboring "American Soldier".

Pop-Eye and Tarzan make a rather unexpected appearance, though I'm sure these were in circulation well before "Stitchu" won the hearts of all pre-teen schoolgirls.

And there's been no end to the appropriation of characters as you can see from this 1980's menko card featuring E.T. alongside 2001's Discovery.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Baby, It's Cold Outside

In spite of the weather this weekend I manage to drag myself to opposite ends of the island this weekend for two - TWO - concerts.

Friday brought the first (and more interesting of the two). A film screening followed by a short concert hosted by friends (of friends) Ian and Jade Marshal. I haven't seen them since I first met them in Toronto this past August (and it was a wonderful relief that they recognized me!).

The film? Clips of a documentary Ian is putting together about Peter Ivers. I entered knowing next to nothing about the man or the movement (honestly, it was the cast of characters on the guest list that intrigued me) and left probably knowing just as much.

After the film, Jeff Jensen, Doug Pressman and Co. played a few Peter Ivers originals, welcoming one or two guest singers on stage as well. I was told Doug had spent the last few days stressing about what he was going to wear. He finally borrowed a pair stretch-pants from Shari.

I can't remember her name but hot voice and great hair (though I've never been one for cowboy boots).

Jeff upstaged himself by pulling this kid up from the audience. I believe Jeff is saying something along the lines of "Well, now your shirt is off." This was followed by an interest in having him double-check that they were both still male.

As for the other concert... You really don't want to know. It was so much worse.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Where Cartoons Go to Die

Over a year ago, I took a job at a company out in Parsippany, NJ. Pay was good, it was traditional, hand-drawn animation and lasted a good three months or so. In fact, it would have been longer save for the fact that the ($1,000,000) project was canned about halfway through production.

Last night, while stiffing through my old hard drives, I came across A LOT of work in what can only be described as a Cartoon Cemetary, graves marked by folders and file names.

Here, some character designs that were nixed.

Here, some turnarounds of the final designs.

And a true gem, a pencil test of what may be my first and only musical number to date. All the voices were cast from folks around the office, including the hilariously crazy Greek Witch who enjoyed making voodoo dolls of the client.

Monday, November 30, 2009


Thanks to my Uncle Pete for taking care of Titus in his last few hours.

Thanks to Behemoth for showing me how many other rad cats are out there.

Thanks to Hiroko for an awesome and always educational day at the Natural History Museum.

And thanks to this mysterious woman here for finally filling up that empty wall space in my room. Of course, I still need to figure out what to do with the other half of the wall...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

300 YEN!!!

Speaking of Japanese advertising methods, here's a few from the streets of Sendai -

I'm not sure why this store thought a suspiciously tanned body builder in a Darth Vader mask would entice passers-by. Maybe it's the fact that he appears to be selling for only 300 YEN.

Here a familiar face turns sinister as it gropes the air with lifeless hands.

I'm not really sure what he's selling but that little girl sure seems interested.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

To the Dogs...

Every so often you experience something that can only be described as a triumph.

About two years ago I heard the song 'To the Dogs or Whoever' by Josh Ritter for the first time. The instruments, vocals, lyrics, all make you want to throw your fist in the air, celebrating the pure triumphant joy the music shares.

Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox is no different.

The stop-motion is refreshing and charming. The characters, well-designed, directed and cast, are easy to love and identify with even after only a few quick scenes. The shots and framing are pure genius, artful and emotional.

And as with every Wes Anderson film, the music is a treat. I'm pretty sure I'm the only person in the theater who got the tender reference to another animated film starring two enamored foxes. If it hadn't of won me over by then, the strains of Bruns and Huddleston's Academy Award nominated "Love" certainly would have had me pumping my fist in the air in triumphant joy.

Simply put, see it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Hemingway Would Be Proud

For those who don't know I adopted a fantastic feline last Thursday.

His name is Behemoth ('B' for short). He's a black Maine Coon mix, has approximately seven toes on each foot and is prone to sticking his tongue out. He also sounds a bit like a Cylon when he purrs.

When I rescued him from an apartment housing at least 14 cats, 4 dogs and 3 children he looked a bit like this.

Now, thanks to the wonderful girls at Petco, he looks more like this.

Hopefully, in a month or so, he'll look more like this.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Windows 7 Whopper

I'm sure we've all seen the commercials for the new Windows 7, almost as grating as those arrogant Mac commercials. Maybe if I still ate meat, Japan's approach to advertising would have won me over.

Documented here by my friend Eric Robinson, a resident of Tokyo (where he has a plush job designing video games for a major studio - he can see Mt Fuji from his office!) this re-envisioned Burger King Whopper holds 7 -

Yes, 7, 'all-beef' patties. Now, while I can't ignore the very neat and organized tray (try getting that at your local Burger King) I must point out that Japan's population has been slowly tipping the scales in the past ten years, though certainly nowhere near America's waistline.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Boils n' Ghouls

Last year I spent Halloween at home handing out candy to the two kids that stumbled upon my parent's house in Warwick. This year I got to take it all in from a spectator's point-of-view while waiting for Murray the Cat to get a clean bill of health.

Not Murray the Cat, but close to how he was feeling all day.

The best part about this home's decor...

...was their next-door neighbor's lack-there-of. Something tells me once Christmas comes a-calling, they'll deck the halls.

Or else...

Based on this kid's reaction I'd say this was the fifth or sixth time he spilled his candy.

Cutest Costume goes to the dog-topus (and French to boot!)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Lisez Ceci Avant de Commencer a Utiliser Votre Outil Dremel

I bought a dremel well over a month ago and finally found a few hours this past Sunday to break out and see what that guy at Home Depot was talking about.

Unfortunately, all I had for eye protection were these.

Needless to say I wasn't able to get much done (apart from spend an hour or two pouring over the manual). Luckily, my landlord lent me a pair of safety glasses the following evening.

Rat's done, moving on to the Possum. I'm sure that'll make more sense in the future.

And yes, I'm wearing a robe I stole from a ryokan in Japan. Between that and the bandana, I look like some lame reject from a Tarantino flick.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Took a Trip to Another Land

Last week marked my fourth Ottawa Animation Festival and I have exactly 0 pictures to show for it. You'll just have to take me at my word that it just keeps getting better.

Last year was decidedly lackluster in the short film section but, thankfully Nina Paley's Sita Sings the Blues made up for the depressing showcase of talent. This year, the shorts stood out while the features took a back seat.

My personal favorites?

Git Gob

I had actually seen this already but catching it on the big screen made it even better. What's more, the filmmaker Philip Eddolls seemed to be the only interesting character at the Meet the Filmmakers the following morning. His process for coloring the film was refreshingly creative.

The Bellow's March

The best part about this film is knowing how Eric Dyer made it. Several folks were thinking stop-motion, others 3D. I geeked out when I heard the word 'cinetrope' mentioned followed by 'what's that?' and realized I knew exactly how he dunnit.

The Black Dog's Progress

Wonderfully thoughtout film using nice stark black and white imagery and a flipbook-like set-up that boggled a few audience members enough to ask the 'how-did-you' question the following morning. Great sound work too.

Dog In a Burning Building

Made by the very talented Krause brothers, this film oozes fun from the music to the torn textured paper to the 3D to the hand-puppets. And what better way to end it than with a omage to the Muppets? The great thing about this film is that it's obvious Fran and Will had a blast making it and it's nice (especially when working the 9-5 grind) to remember why we all decided to do this for a living.

Please Say Something

When the film first started up I was immediately concerned. I had seen a film once before staring a cat and mouse rendered simply in 3D and trust me, it didn't end well. After a few seconds it was obvious this was one of the strongest, emotionally driven films in competition and the crude-looking digital characters were only driving the message home more. In fact, for all the folks out there that think animators could take a tip or two from live-action films, here's one a few live-action should look to.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sock it to me, baby!

Hey, remember this?

For the last month or so, in between churning out web-ads and trying to get some semblance of sleep, I've been stitching up puppets. So far I've finished a grand total of one.

In my defense, I really made two. The first was kind of a 'test run'. In other words, I botched him up. I blame my supervisor...

His nose was too short, the quality of the sock was terrible and the stitch was shoddy at best. I was about halfway through sewing his ear up when I realized I hated the colors and needed to just go back to square-one.

After several long nights involving many movies and some musicals (much to my roommate's chagrin I'm sure), he finally started to take shape.

Like my Middle School art teacher, Mrs. Swanson, always told me, "If you have to do it over again, don't worry. It always comes out better the second time around."

I'd say she was right. His other forest friends will follow soon (I hope).