Friday, July 31, 2009

To quote the Ninth Doctor...

I didn't even know about Wes Anderson's new feature till about a month ago when I stumbled across an article about it while 'Googling' something that was quite unrelated I'm sure. So, once again, I'm late to the party. But really, who wants to be on time or worse, early?

Normally, I wouldn't even bother mentioning it seeing as how, by now, everyone must be sick of hearing about it already. But after watching the trailer, gazing longingly at production photos and reading a barge of negative comments on various sites I felt I had to deposit my two cents.

First, it looks, for lack of a better word, fantastic. The visuals are fresh and lush texture-wise. As someone in the middle of assembling puppets out of household objects, I loved the use of cotton especially. I run hot and cold with Wes Anderson's films (as does most of the public) so I really won't comment on his interpretation of the story till I see it. As a child, though, and still even now I have a love and respect for Dahl as a writer of surprisingly 'mature' children's books.

I guess that's why it surprised me to find so many negative comments towards the film's trailer. Yes, yes, yes... the voice-acting is decidedly stiff. But have you ever seen a Wes Anderson film? Life Aquatic is filled with dead-pan deliveries and what might be considered stiff performances, particularly when comparied to the latest Speilberg schtick (all that screaming must get pretty tiring).

I guess that's what really irks me - the idea that there are people out there that think this would have been better in the hands of Dreamworks or Pixar, with a keyboard and mouse in place of an exacto or tie-down.

And I'll be honest, I didn't like Coraline. There. I said it. Trust me, I wanted to like Coraline. I even chose to see it over My Bloody Valentine in 3D. If given another chance, guess which one I would have gone to see now?

I know that Henry Selick was attached to Fantastic Mr. Fox before Mark Gustafson took over for him. I also think Selick operates one of the best stop-motion houses and delivers some of the finest puppet animation this side of the Atlantic (and I would be extremely honored and star-struck to work for him). But we should all know thanks to the likes of Jan Svankmejer, Fred Mogubgub, Oskar Fischinger and even those pesky Hubleys that not all animation needs to be the smooth realism we get from 'Beauty & the Beast' (a film I really don't like).

I guess that's why comments like this-

"I was really hoping this would be another stop-motion triumph. Unfortunately, it looks more like Robot Chicken than Coraline."

- kinda upset me. It's sad to think that a film can be deamed as 'good' or 'bad' based solely on whether or not it was shot on ones. Sure, my jaw dropped MANY times at the slick movements Selick's team was able to glean from those puppets. I love smooth, fluent animation as much as the next graduate holding a BFA in Animation.

But sometimes that slickness can sacrifice character and, more importantly, charm. And to me, Fantastic Mr. Fox looks to be brimming with both. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'm right. In the end, it's all about taking a risk. Some of the greatest films stir up controversy while some of the weakest are adored by millions.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Power Tools

After a short hiatus, our They Might be Giants' video is back! It's undergone a few changes while laying dormant for the past month, so I could say it's back and better than ever!

What kind of changes? Well, for starters, it's not for kids anymore so we get to 'dirty it up' a bit. Rougher character designs and some more 'adult' themes... well, not those kinds of 'adult' themes.

The best part of the changes is the fact that yesterday I got to take a trip to Home Depot to buy this.

And last night I got to start sketching out these patterns.

I guess I shouldn't go too much further into detail. As construction actually begins, I'll try to post some obscure pictures that don't give too much away. (NOTE: Those who actually care about me might want to keep a running count of body parts. I almost melted my fingers together as a child with an iron and nearly sawed my foot off in college with a power saw.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Counting the cars on the NJ Turnpike...

This past weekend brought with it the longest drive I've ever endured. Sure, my family and I drove to Florida when I was little, but all I had to worry about then was what cassette to pop in my Fisher Price tape player next. Needless to say, I'm still exhausted and the top of my right foot is surprisingly sore.

That being said, it was an absolutely wonderful weekend, with some of the most enjoyable parts actually taking place while driving. Sunny skies, torrential down pours, fields of wind turbines, rainbows, sunrises, sunsets and giant electrical storms contained in clouds that looked like a whale coming to swallow the road up (kinda like this)...

Looking back at the pictures now, the one thing that stands out is how colorful the trip was.

Pinks and reds.

Reds and whites.

Whites and greens.

Oranges and yellows.

Yellows and purples.

And to top it all off, just as we were leaving Guelph, homeward bound, we came across these.

There are few things I enjoy more than dilapidated life-size dinosaur statues... one being the strawberry-rhubarb-crisp pancakes I had for brunch Saturday. Another, this picture Jenny took of me at the wedding...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Best blog ever...

Somewhere in my Facebook Past I 'became a fan of' USA's TV series Psych. This was mostly due to the fact that J.J. of Sedelmaier Productions and John Grimaldi of 8 Hats High had already 'become fans of' it and I felt a bit obligated. Why?

Because for about six months, we all put together some 18 to 20 thirty-second animations for the show called 'The Big Adventures of Lil' Shawn & Gus'.

Produced, designed and storyboarded in-house at Sedelmaier's, the work was then outsourced to us at 8 Hats High in Middletown, NY (kinda like India but with more college kids). There we did most of the animation and all of the inking.

Animation was handled by John Grimaldi, Paris Hall and myself (I think Phil jumped in there at the end... can any of you Hats High folk confirm this?). The inking was all up to Sonha Bowen and your's truely. My hand still hurts from the thin-thick line we used.

Story-wise, they were cute, throw-away gags mostly. Visually, though, I'd say we did a damn good job... especially for a thirty-second spot on USA.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Foreign Foreign Food

So where do you go to get decent 'foreign' food in Kurihara-shi?

Le Bonte!

Located in the 'happening' town of Tsukidate (compared to my town, Tsukidate might as well have been Manhattan) served up an interesting take on French-Italian cuisine including what maybe some of the best pizza Nippon has to offer.

The decor is strikingly non-Japanese; it looks like some strange take on the American log-cabin complete with drying wild flowers and herbs.

There were the stranger items, such as the 'salad pizza'. I'm sure I'll never see the like but, boy was it good!

And, an absolute treat! Decent French pastries, 'NY-Style' cheesecake and... oh, my! Is that creme brulee?!?

Of course, the desserts can't escape the occasional oddity. Modeled here by one Eric Robinson is a cup of coffee jell-o. To complete the coffee drinking experience, it comes with a small pitcher of cream to pour over it.

I once watched a fellow ALT eat six of these in one sitting. I've never been the same since.

Monday, July 20, 2009

One of us!

Seems like all I've been posting these days are excuses for why I don't have better posts or pictures. Today will be no different.

This past Saturday, I got to see Cirque de Soleil for FREE. How? My cousin Fritz is part of the show. No, he can't spit fire or sit on his head. But he can play at least ten different instruments and had to in order to ace the auditions.

Unfortunately, circus folk don't like cameras so I had to rely on my camera phone (which makes the whole 'No Camera' policy seem somewhat silly), hence the bad exposure and graininess.

On top of the free tickets, we got to stick around afterward and get a backstage tour. Not as glamorous as it sounds considering it's just the Prudential Center in Newark, but still neat to see some of the performers hanging out and exercising in the back to Russian rap music.

And then there's all the masks.

And costumes.

And washing machines.

Fritz is touring with the Alegria show, which is all about birds, apparently.

Between that and the planes landing nearby, we couldn't help but strike a few ridiculous poses before saying good-bye.

There isn't too much of a resemblance. Maybe it's just the pure awesomeness we Kraai's radiate.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The colors, Duke!

One thing I've noticed recently is how drab the city is. Or rather, one thing I haven't noticed since it didn't occur to me till I happened by this church on my way home yesterday.

Reds! Pinks! Greens! I've actually passed by it before. What caught my eye that day was Mary's original paint job.

(artist's recreation)

It's since been toned down, sadly. I liked it better before, actually.

It matched the fountain behind the church.

I don't know why I find this scene so attractive. The bright red bench with matching awning? The tacky blue concrete pool? The exposed lighting? The huge crucifix?

I think it's all in the saturation. Green, red and bright blue. The juxtaposition of tacky and sacred is wonderful as well, like those little religious figurines made out of seashells you find at boardwalks. Hopefully no one will find this one "offensive" enough to demand a new coat of paint.

And as more proof of my obsession with color, this great sign a block past the church. The awesome font helps, too...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Thanks for the memories...

I’m sure you’ve heard the theory that smell is associated with memory, like how the scent of McDonald's reminds you of the three cat boxes you have to clean when you get home. My sense of smell is terrible so I guess my ears had to make up for my nose’s incompetence.

Beatles bring to mind my gym-side locker in Middle School and cafeteria lunches but mostly our family road trip to the Florida Keys. I remember my brother drawing ridiculous pictures of Ringo, my dad falling in a mud bank on the side of the road trying to climb a tree and a giant sculpture of a manatee holding a mailbox. All this just by starting up Sgt. Pepper’s.

Simon and Garfunkel are pure Arizona. 'El Condor Pasa' recreates driving through the Painted Desert while 'The Boxer' brings images of the train’s lounge car, ice caves, fire ants, and Winslow, Arizona.

Ani Difranco is synonymous with one name: Pam Sprecher. My best friend throughout my first few years of college, Difranco sets off memories of her dancing around the dorm at 3AM and the fact that she’s the only roommate I’ll probably ever have that stored pounds of pig intestines in the refrigerator for most of our Sophomore year.

College is also the first time I was introduced to They Might Be Giants so, naturally, hearing 'Birdhouse in Your Soul' conjures up images of the animation room, the Stop-Motion closet (er, I mean, room) and the frigid computer lab.

Equipment Room employee turned freelance animator (finally) Seann Corrigan introduced me to his sister’s band, the World Inferno Friendship Society just before our class headed up to the Ottawa Animation Festival in 2002. Now images of the capital building and hostel are mixed in with shouts of “Hey, Peter Lorre!”

Japan brought a wave of new music (well, new to me) so it’s interesting to see which artist invokes what recollection of my home away from home.

Josh Ritter? I get a vivid image of driving across the red bridge leading out of my town along with rows and rows of rice fields stretching from Kannari to Semine.

System of a Down? Brilliant for driving at 12:00 at night when you’re half asleep and it’s freezing in the car despite the fact that you have to heat turned all the way up.

Whenever I hear Leonard Nimoy’s rendition of ‘The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins’ I always think of Angela’s enormous house (it use to be a Post Office) in Hanayama and more specifically, of Jeff doing his strange wavy-arm dance.

I guess a lot of these memories are also associated with driving, since long trips give me time to listen to an album from start to finish.

Neko Case has been the most recent addition to this collection, carrying images of weekends in Brooklyn and fall in the Hamptons mixed with the back roads of Middletown.

An important point in closing: I wouldn't even call half of the music listed above my favorites by any means. But, I'll still throw on 'Fixing a Hole' when I want to think of warmer climates. Hey, it's better than Jimmy Buffet.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Come hungry...

Warning: Today's blog will feel somewhat unsatisfactory (at least more so than it usually does). Why? For starters, I had to work from 7Am to 7PM today. Also, I forgot to bring my camera to Queens this weekend so no pictures from that excellent venture.

Instead, I'm pulling one (or two) from the vaults. Today, some things I miss about Japan (both concerning food, oddly enough).

Kaiten Sushi. Cheap, tasty sushi, free green tea and the best kappa-maki rolls ever. Plus, it was one of the few places I could hang out at where I was able use what little Japanese I knew. Luckily, I'm told these actually exist here in NYC (I have yet to actually go to one).

Japanese vending machines. Sure, we have vending machines here, but not Japanese ones. They carry cold and hot beverages (coffee, hot chocolate, tea) as well as beer, liters of soda and cartons of milk. You have no idea how many times this comes in handy at 2AM when you're in the middle of baking cookies and find you're out of milk.

I have yet to find a suitable substitute for these State-side.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I think it was the Fourth of July...

Got lost again this weekend, this time in the graveyard. In fact even more lost, if that's possible, but a nicer kind of lost. For one, it wasn't raining. Two, the graveyard's not as scary as Central Park no matter what time of day it is.

Actually, wondering around the headstones and mausoleums reminded me of my trip to Athens - probably all the surrounding decay and rock.

Athens may not be a lush as Brooklyn, but then again Brooklyn didn't make the mistake of plants endless forests of olive trees thousands of years ago.

While Athens didn't house any (obvious) Mason gravesites -

It too had a lot of local cats trying to find some shade.

Athens wasn't as well irrigated and where it was it boosted tadpole in place of water lilies.

Both are home to plenty of friezes -

Lots of stone critters and creatures -

For some reason, this spot in particular was very reminiscent -

One of the highlights of my week in Athens was this -

One of the oldest and most intact gravestones in the world belonging to a little girl. The relief is in such good condition you can still make out her little dog jumping at her feet.

Not one to be out-done, Brooklyn has it's own mascot, Laddie.