Thursday, April 30, 2009

Blood n' brains!

As I mentioned yesterday, my time last week was eaten up by a rather tight deadline. How tight? About 2800 frames of animation in Flash… at 12 FPS... umm… tight.

I know what you’re thinking. WTF? 12 FPS?!? It’s just how they roll. Apparently it cuts down on file size. At least, that’s what I was told… Either way, that’s still a lot of animation to do in about four days. To top it off, this parshat happens to be one of the touchiest one’s to date, filled with sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.

Okay, well, maybe not all that, but there is a scene where Moses defeats a horde of vampires! And zombies! I mean, how could it get any better?!? Apparently, it gets better by me making a reference to a 26 year old video game that I didn’t even realize I made!

Check it out here and see if you can spot it! First one to gets a prize!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What a week!

Between a tight deadline, helping Asterisk move to it’s new space and discovering that I not only needed a new tire but a new rim as well, I barely had time to see the Handsome Family, let alone blog. Well, in spite of the heat, this week promises to be a bit easier so let’s get started!

In a previous blog, I promised to post some of the audio I collected for my senior thesis, What is Animation? This is not that post, but I promise it will follow shortly. For now, you’ll just have to make do with a nostalgic entry.

As you know by now, dear reader, I taught English in Japan which, by the way, is a great way to squander two years of your life. I was what is called an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) at Kannari Junior High (in fact, for those who can read katakana, they've actually labeled my apartment complex now on Google Maps: it's called Rainbow Heights (or haitsu reinbo) and is right next to the school soccer field). The textbook we worked from was the very popular (in Japanese English classes, that is) New Horizon books. When I left Japan, I managed to smuggle one of the books out with me.

This one’s for the san-nensei class (a.k.a - the 9th graders). Inside are loads of dialogue based lessons aimed at teaching the kids phrases like “How long have you…?” and “It’s difficult for me to…”

It also has several stories that the kids are encouraged to memorize and repeat back to me for a grade at the end of the year. Most of them are stupid…

A few are horribly depressing…

And some are both…

In fact, there was only one story that ever caught my attention as being even remotely clever. Titled The Hole, it was found in the ni-nensei book (which, sadly, means I don’t have a copy of it) and told the story of a young man who discovers a hole in his backyard. No matter how much garbage he throws in the hole, it never fills up. As a result, it becomes a new town dump and in a matter of months, the small town has become a huge, immaculately clean city. Then the twist: one morning while outside working a stone falls from the sky - the same stone the man threw in the hole months ago to see how deep it was.

Apparently, this is a ‘well-known’ story. Or at least, that’s what my JTE (Japanese Teacher of English) Mutsuko-sensei told me. I’d never heard of it before. Since then though, the tale has popped up repeatedly in the most random and wonderful of places:

That’s one of the great things about learning new stuff: it helps you appreciate brilliance even more when you come across it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Special Self-Promoting Post!

While munching on my breakfast this morning, I had an idea.

"I wonder if I can watch last night's Daily Show on"

Sure enough, there it was. I fired it up and happily laughed along while trying to stop my cat from eating my cereal.

After the second commercial break, Stewart announced the always amusing Lewis Black segment, Back in Black in which Black expounded on his thoughts about Earth Day. Then I saw THIS.

It's always a fun surprise to catch stuff that you worked on, but even better when it's on the Daily Show. I got to work on this short animation for School House Rock/Disney while freelancing at 8 Hats High a few months back. It was a fun little piece that had us singing the song for months afterward so I guess it did it's job.

Thanks Hulu!

Car + Toon Troubles

Ever have one of those days?

One of those days where you're making pretty good time on your deadlines when suddenly Flash decides it's going to play right when you scrub through the timeline, but not when you actually export the movie?

One of those days where it's pouring rain and cold and you're driving to a show to meet up with a few friends you haven't seen in almost a year only to start to suspect that there's something dreadfully wrong with your car or the road but you're pretty sure it's your car?

One of those days where it's 11 o'clock at night and you pull over to take a look at your tire only to find that it's beyond flat and has been for the last few hours you've been driving around on it figuring it was just all those damn potholes?

One of those days where somehow, after all this, you still end up calling it a good day because you were able to return a lost phone and get help from a friend of a friend that you've never met before to fix that tire in the rain at 1 o'clock in the morning?

Yesterday was one of those days.*

*I still HATE Flash, though.

Friday, April 17, 2009

It's not live action...

In the massive moving process, I came across several sealed postal boxes. Luckily, my past self was intelligent enough to label them otherwise they might have been ignored or, even worse, trashed. Inside were all of the clay characters I had built for my senior thesis at UARTs: What is Animation?

I’ll be the first to say it: What is Animation? is a flawed film. The editing is terrible and the sound is even worse. What I like about the film are the components: I’m happy with the character designs, most of the animation, the concept and the audio I collected. It’s just how all the components came together; that’s where it gets sloppy.

Fortunately, the film’s flaws didn’t stop it from being screened as part of the Philadelphia Film Festival. The flaws do, however, stop me from posting it here so, what I will post are some of the bits I do like. First off, the characters:

As you might be able to tell, the designs were heavily inspired by Aardman’s Rex the Runt and the short-lived cartoon Mission Hill with perhaps a dash of Picasso thrown in there (but maybe that’s just me being hopeful).

All the characters were made of clay. If the shot called for a bit of squash and stretch or some motion in the hair, those elements were left soft. All other parts were baked and, unless you like your characters ‘well-done’, always for about ten minutes less then the packaging instructs.

The mouths and eye blinks were done with a set of replacements for each character. Vaseline was applied to the white of the eyes to give it a ‘wet’ look as well as hold the pupils (cut from black construction paper) in place from shot to shot.

Each character was shot on a hand-made glass mount against the appropriate color for keying. All images were than dropped into Photoshop for clean up and then brought into After Effects for compositing with the video backgrounds and any further animation. Sadly, some great looking characters never made it to the final cut.

I’ve actually thought about going back someday and re-doing the whole film, adding extra characters, re-doing certain scenes and fixing the horrifying audio. In fact, I heard a great story a few weeks back from Richard about Tissa David that just about convinced me.

Next post, ‘the horrifying audio‘!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

With our special Guest Star...

Barry Sanders (not to be confused with the football player, apparently) is in town. You should hang out with him. I did.

Thanks to the time-waster known as Facebook, I heard (read, I guess) that Barry was ‘going to make a Muppet!’ Really the word ‘Muppet’ was all I needed to convince me to ditch my work load for a few hours. The word ‘make’ sure didn’t hurt either.

So I pulled on my boots, broke out my umbrella and headed to FAO Schwarz to make a Muppet. Well, to watch Barry order a pre-made Muppet, actually. (Note to the reader: if you really want to make a Muppet, visit

On the one hand,it’s basically like the loathsome Build-A-Bear shops except with cooler characters.

On the other hand, I’ll be the first to admit it: if I ever need a second job, I’d be happy to build Muppet parts all day.

So, the whole Muppet building process was short and sweet and (kinda) lame, at least from the buyer’s point of view. But, what did we care? There was still the whole rest of the store to explore!

Now, I’ll confess, I’ve only been to FAO Schwarz once when I was young, so most of my memories of the store come from that Home Alone follow-up. In fact, I was almost positive they shut down. But it seems business is, well… Okay, it may not be booming.

As Barry said, you know there's a recession on when the unicorn goes on sale.

Unicorn, schmoonicorn... What about the dragon? I guess we'll be heading for the end of times when that hits the market.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

See monsters!

Like every studious artist in college, I doodled in my notebook. Below is a selection from Computer Animation II with Stephen Jackett (I promise I was paying attention, Steve).

For reasons that are apparent, I was obsessed with deep-sea creatures around this time.

A few are semi-realistic.

But most are hybrids of my own design.

A few have even been translated into sculptures (with some obvious adjustments).

Some even made the leap into CG (compliments of MAYA and the aforementioned Stephen Jackett). Note the rigidness of the character; this was before the lesson on skeletons and splines.

And some are destined for more. I just bought a block of plastilina (my first since Japan) in the hopes of not only modeling this little fella, but also casting him in a variety of materials: solid resin and plastic for the internal organs, skeleton and fins while his translucent skin is realized in a clear softer rubber.

That is going to be one serious three (possibly four) part mold!

Monday, April 13, 2009

No good for Jewish mandables...

At first, I wasn't planning on posting today but figured I'd do a little self-promoting and offer you all a lesson on Jewish customs at the same time.

For the last month, I've been doing work for a client (who shall and must remain anonymous) courtesy of the talented and worldly Nick Fox-Gieg. Basically, the job has me producing an animation each week depicting consecutive parshats from the Torah using limited Flash animation.

For my first parshat, I got to work from a fun song about what animals are and are not kosher. Have you ever found yourself wondering if a ostrich is kosher? Find out here.

These types of projects are always loads of fun for me because, like my father, I'm a collector of knowledge. I love learning lots of stuff that I may or may not ever need to know in life so, it's kind of nice to learn stuff and make money while doing it.

Apparently, the jury is still out on whether or not a capybara is kosher.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

History Lesson... with visual aids!

You’re in luck! I was certain that when my computer died about a month ago it had taken the following pictures with it. But wonders upon wonders, I hadn’t deleted them off of my camera’s CF card and so, here is the blog post that might never have been:

My hometown of Warwick, NY isn’t far from another, even smaller town, Florida, NY.

While it lacks palm trees and beaches you may know Florida, NY as the birthplace of William H. Seward, Secretary of State under Lincoln and Johnson. He nearly shared Lincoln’s fate that infamous night, in fact.

Sadly, the town either doesn’t have the funding or the inclination to actually preserve this piece of history outside of not bulldozing the building to the ground and putting up a few plaques and ‘No Trespassing’ signs.

How many people skip over this piece of history to grab a slice?

Ignoring the well-posted 'No Trespassing' signs, I snooped as best I could in the mud and cold. Outside the barn, I found an ancient outhouse and loads of junk pouring out from the inside.

Magnetic tape and film!

Children’s books!


I couldn’t get inside to some of the larger rooms due to the fact that they were filled with so much junk the doors wouldn’t open more then a few inches.

Luckily, some of the windows had been smashed in. What did I find?

Old taxidermy (always neat).

Creepy old operating tables… I think…?

A coffin?!?

Then again, you may be familiar with Florida, NY as the hometown of Jimmy Sturr, the Polka King.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

T n' T

While searching online for pictures of yokai in regard to a recent post, I kept coming across images like this:

The film was completely unfamiliar to me, so I followed the links and found that I was, in fact, aware of the film, Pom Poko, but I had never realized what it was actually about:


Well, actually they’re tanukis. The movie just incorrectly (and rather annoyingly) refers to them in both the subtitles and dub as raccoons. Now, I understand why they’ve done this: American families, more likely than not, have no idea what a tanuki is. I do, but that’s only because I had to swerve several times while driving in Miyagi-ken to avoid hitting them.

They aren’t raccoons. They’re a separate species called raccoon-dogs and are more closely related to the canine half of their namesake.

Why am I so up in arms about the fact that the American version of Pom Poko doesn’t take the time out to explain that they’re tanukis? Because the entire movie revolves around the simple fact that tanukis are considered magical creatures in Japan (much like foxes and (older) cats). Tanukis, not raccoons. All over Japan you can find statues of these creatures with their one, rather large, distinguishing feature:

Their huge testicles. This is actually where the tanukis store most of their power. Their testicles can even grow to enormous sizes, big enough for them to play like drums or sit on. And, they are said to be extremely good luck. See, there’s a reason why a Google search for ‘yokai’ kept turning up this movie: Tanukis are considered yokai of a sort.

So, when I first saw the cover for Pom Poko, I actually assumed they were raccoons specifically because A.) they were advertised as such and B.) none of the creatures featured on the cover had visible testicles.

But within the first few minutes of the movie, BAM! There they were and believe me: tanuki testicles played a HUGE (literally at times) part in the story.

All I could think of was 'how?' How did this movie get distributed in America? And by Disney, no less? They play with their balls, they sing about their balls, they fight with their balls. They even form ships out of their balls!

For my first viewing, I watched it with the original Japanese audio. The words ‘balls’ and ‘testicles’ abounded in the English subtitles. I'm certain there's a drinking game somewhere that involves downing a shot every time either pops up. Makes me mighty curious what the Disney dubbing did about all that…

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

This is a story...

About rabbits and bears. Or at least it will be by the end of the year.

For a while now I've been trying to get myself moving on a new independent project. I have a bunch of ideas floating around in my head, a few of which are music videos to songs I like. Some of those are really just impossible dreams (Simon and Garfunkel's 'Overs'). But some, like American Astronaut's (artists-formally-known-as the Billy Nayer Show) weird little song 'Rabbits and Bears' seem more attainable.

After rattling some ideas around in my head, I tilted it to the left and let a few of them roll right on out to Dave Cowles. Dave and I just finished up a job together for They Might Be Giants and I love his design sense and crazy ideas so it seemed like a good idea. Turns out to have been a great idea thus far... without further adieu, some character designs!

And possible color models!

Stay tuned for more awesome-ness!