Get Thee to the Library

I’m thinking of getting a driver’s license. That’s not to say I’ve never driven a car, but only a few times in questionable circumstances under the intense looming gloom of the surveillance state. I don’t know if you ever seen people driving in this country. They don’t know what they’re doing. And yet, licenses.

When I get my license, I plan to drive to Rockland County to visit Ed Smith.

Ed Smith (right) with Vincent Caffarelli, early 1990s image from http://www.michaelspornanimation.com/
Ed Smith (right) with Vincent Caffarelli, early 1990s
image from http://www.michaelspornanimation.com/

I told him this last month. He responded by telling me something that happened over half a century ago. John Hubley was moving to New York (from under the cloud of Hollywood McCarthyism). I found it hard to believe that a guy from Los Angeles hadn’t driven a car, even harder to believe that LA once had a state of the art public transit, but I’m writing the footnotes, just going with it. So Hub, he’s calls him “Hub”, rings up Ed and says “take me out driving”. So he does. I think there was a punchline here but I’ve forgotten it. To me, the point of the story is that Ed Smith is the guy you call when you something done.

I can’t yet drive a car, so a couple weeks back I took the bus to the New City Library to see some drawings of Ed’s they have on exhibit, and to visit with Ed who was there for the afternoon. He’ll be there again this Sunday April, 23rd. The man’s a brilliant treasure, seeing him is worth more than the bus ride.

Here’s a bit he wrote for the show.

“Scrambled Leggs – Or, ‘Life as I Know It,’ by Ed Smith

I created these drawings in ink directly from my mind to the paper without preplanning, research, models, or penciled-in guides. There are no erasures or white-outs.

Outside of my workaday animation, I tried to find my own style. I emulated other artists, but not to my satisfaction. As time went on, I continued my animation on other people’s projects. Much had to be done under pressure, demanding tremendous numbers of drawings and impossible deadlines. Often, I experienced long periods of unemployment. During and after these trying times, I relaxed by drawing. I found pleasure in doing so, not for a job but for myself.

Much later, when I look at them, I saw things in them which gave them more meaning and nuance than I had purposely planned. Perhaps the difficulties and forced efforts had relieved the pressure of the right side of the brain, the conscious guardian of thought, and allowed the left side, the creative side, to emerge.

Sometimes we think too much!

_________

This reminds me of my most re-told exchange with Ed. We were doing a commercial in the style of Ed Koren.

Ed Koren drawing

He sends in his animation -exquisite work. He had done every drawing, every little hair and line, in ink perfectly on model. No work left for an inbetweener or clean up artist. So I asked him, “You do all those little lines in ink without any underdrawing, what do you do when you make a mistake?”. “Well,” he replied, “I’ll let you know when that happens.”

A minute later he described the various techniques he used to salvage drawings. He threw most of them away. It’s not until now that I realize, twenty years and twenty recounts later, he understood that if one part of an animation drawing isn’t working the whole thing won’t work.

The New City Library is a quick drive, if you can drive, across the Tappan Zee Bridge or very nice Sunday trip via Rockland Coaches.

TWILLERAMA II

Nearly twenty five million (25,000,000) people have watched that “Charlie the Unicorn” cartoon on YouTube.  That’s an “I Love Lucy” headcount.    If there were a science to getting viewers, the world of Jeff Twiller and Slushing Brooks would surpass the billion mark by comparison.

TWILLERAMA II from the Molly Pitcher Rest Stop of the NJ Turnpike

A few years back MTV revived “Beavis and Butthead”.  These are brilliant characters. The show was clever, insightful and an eerily accurate account of teen life -in the late 20th Century.  Are there still thousands upon thousand of disaffected teens in AC/DC t-shirts making “boner” jokes while watching music videos on cable?   Maybe I’m out of touch, maybe babies born in the 90s have grown into replicas from a 20 year old world.  The revival failed just as a series in 1991 which starred two flower-hair kids listening to New Riders of the Purple Sage while burning their draft cards would have failed.

Jeff Twiller, Rod Holcomb, Randy J. Johnson and their retinue occupy a cobwebbed corner of cyberspace.  Movie reviews, blogs, workout videos, Facebook wars.   Within the last decade social media and “nerd culture” have dominated the contemporary discourse.  This painstakingly authored universe uses recent media developments -Youtube, Facebook, et cetera- as a poison pill means of delivery. The central player, Jeff Twiller, could easily be the guy you sat next to in school, or your cousin, your neighbor or even you.

This Saturday, June 6,  the second edition of TWILLERAMA premieres at Videology in Brooklyn.

The animated Jeff Twiller presents a hand picked selection of short films.  Joining him as co-host is his friend Rod Holcomb.  In addition to films by greats like Rose Stark, Caleb Wood, Signe Baumane and not so greats like me, the evening promises guest appearances by the animated likenesses Elliot Cowan and Joe Garden and his Ford Festiva.

This is not simply a screening of animation, this is the entry point to a brilliant and finely constructed parallel reality.  If justice prevailed in our reality, Jeff Twiller would be bigger than a rainbow covered unicorn and every cable network would be fighting to get him.

TWILLERAMA II  • Videology • 308 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11211

June 6, 2015 • 8 PM

Swinging Around the Country with Mary Lou

We did a boat load of graphics and animation for Mary Lou Williams: The Lady Who Swings the Band.

It was a tremendous pleasure to work with director Carol Bash and editor Sandra Christie on this project. Amongst the sequences we created are a few based on the paintings or notebooks of Mary Lou Williams herself. Kelsey Rose Stark did her standard brilliant job with those.

Here’s the opening sequence we created. A classier -a jazzier -take on the standard PBS cold open.

ITVS was critical in sponsoring the film. Here’s a listing of broadcasts around the country. If you don’t see your town (or missed the broadcast) contact your local PBS affiliate and tell them you want to see the film. Put the “you” in “Viewers Like You”!

pril 2—Thursday at 2pm on KCSM (San Francisco)
April 4—Saturday at 9pm on KENW (Amarillo, TX)
April 4 to April 5—various times, check local listings on KLVX-JAC (Las Vegas)
April 5—Sunday at 11pm on WNIT (South Bend, IN)
April 6—various times and stations, check local listings (Lexington, KY area)
April 10—Friday at 10pm on Alaska Public Media (Anchorage)
April 10—Friday at 11pm on WEDU (Tampa, Florida)
April 10—Friday at 11pm on WPTD (Dayton, Ohio)
April 10—Friday at 11:30pm on KCTS (Seattle, WA)
April 10—Friday at 11:30pm on KYVE (Yakima, WA)
April 10—Friday at 11pm on WPTD (Dayton, Ohio)
April 12—Sunday at 2pm on TPT (Minneapolis)
April 12—Sunday at 8pm on KUEN (Salt Lake City)
April 12—Sunday at 2pm on TPT (Minneapolis)
April 12—Sunday at 8pm on KUEN, KUED (Salt Lake City)
April 13—Monday at 3am on WNET, WLIW, WNJN (New York City area)
April 15 to April 17—various times, check local listings on WCETDT3 (Cincinnati)
April 17 to April 23—various times, check local listings on WVIZ (Cleveland)
April 17—Friday at 10pm on WVIZ (Cleveland)
April 19—Sunday at 2am on on KUEN, KUED (Salt Lake City)
April 19—Sunday at 1:30pm on WNET (New York City)
April 19—Sunday at 4pm on WGVU (Grand Rapids, Mi.)
April 26—Sunday at 8pm on SCC (Greenville, SC)
April 29—Wednesday at 6am ETV World (Columbia, SC)
April 11—Saturday at 3am on WIPB (Indianapolis, IN)

Keep up with Mary Lou Williams: The Lady Who Swings the Band on Facebook for more updates!

Another Screening, Coming Up

Tomorrow (March 25) there’s a preview screening and discussion of David Grubin’s Rx: The Quiet Revolution.

We did the opening sequence and few little bits of animation.

Screening’s at SVA theatre. Drop us a note if you want more details.

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Otherwise tune in next week -Thursday, April 2 -to your PBS station (check local listings).

Cache Cache

Our friends Cache Cache will be presenting another evening of farm to table dinner and locally grown and harvested film this Sunday. (click through the link for tickets -you won’t regret it)

We’re making the opening title film for them.

Here’s a peek at the first scene.

We still have a few more shots to go, but we should have it finished by the dinner bell on Sunday.

Texas Promise Screening Coming Up!

Vanessa Roth’s The Texas Promise makes its New York premiere this Friday, March 20th at Lincoln Center’s Bruno Walter Auditorium. 7:30 PM.

We created several minutes of animation and graphics, designed and directed by Rose Stark who oversaw a slew of talented animators.

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Everyone should attend!

http://www.thetexaspromisemovie.org/

Build America

chalkboard animation

This spot went live last week.

We did it with the good folks at Fly Communications.

Build America Mutual “Blackboard” from Ace & Son MPC, LLC on Vimeo.

We animated the chalkboard stuff IRL (in real life, if you don’t know) capturing into Dragonframe and ultimately having it composited with the kids in AfterEffects.

Kelsey Stark drew everything. We figured the timing out first and had the help of a projector to make some of the trickier scenes less trick. Just like The Sistine Chapel.

Photo Galleries

Last week we had an invitation screening of Elliot Cowan’s feature film, The Stressful Adventures of Boxhead and Roundhead on which we get a producer credit.

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We learned a few things from the show, and with a couple little tweaks here and there we’ll be shopping to sales agents and distributors.

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We had a little reception beforehand.

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And full house for the screening.

Here are some more galleries of beautiful people:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.603484696400379.1073741828.136358083113045&type=1

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.688936871173577.1073741826.209549475778988&type=1

Many thanks to Seze Devres (http://www.sdphotography.net/) for the great photos!

Behind the Curtain

We’ve had the great fortune over the past years to work on a few dozen projects.  Some small, some long, some under-financed, some grossly under-financed.  We haven’t yet been forced into taking on work out of desperation (but if someone calls up with some extra zeros on the start up check, we’ll consider it), and such it’s been a privilege to make contributions on just about everything we’ve been contracted.

Sometimes, though, working on a project -you step back and arc of the work bending towards greater places than you could have imagined.

For the past several months we’ve been working on a series of oral histories chronicling the lives of a family displaced for their homes in Eastern Poland by at the onset of the Second World War.

Kelsey Stark drew this layout.  It became superfluous in the edit and was never animated.
Kelsey Stark drew this layout. It became superfluous in the edit and was never animated.

 

Sarah Kamaras is producing and directing the films about her family.  She made this “behind the scenes” video which is pretty good despite the questionable character of its cast.

A Look Behind the Animation: “The Podkamieners” from Sarah Kamaras on Vimeo.


 

What I Liked About Mike

I would never call Michael Sporn that -“Mike”. Other people did, and he seemed to have no problem with it but to me its like calling a high school teacher by their first name after graduation.

Last month I bought a new guitar tuner. Now, I’m worse at guitar playing than I am at drawing or animation but at least I try to stay in tune. The shop only carried one brand -“The Snark”. “Like the Lewis Carroll poem,” I said, and went into a lecture on doggerel which concluded with “and there’s an absolutely fantastic film of it by Michael Sporn.”
hunting-of-the-snark1
The next week I showed the film in class at University of the Arts.

It is a magnificent film.

Michael animated it himself and produced it over the course of several years. His cannon is full of excellent work but even amongst them “The Hunting of the Snark” stands out. The artist’s lyricism pervades the film, its lighthearted and whimsical but smart and emotional. It testifies to the power of a singular vision.

From my first encounters with him, I thought he was a cold guy -and I wasn’t crazy about some of the stuff he was doing at the time. We were both working on the same specials for the great Amy Schatz at HBO and I thought our stuff (directed by Maciek Albrecht and Santiago Cohen) was much better. And then I saw some of the work he did with Tissa David -“The Red Shoes”, “The Marzipan Pig” -and discovered that he was one heck of a filmmaker. Then I began to speak with him socially -not just about Letterman and John Hubley but film and literature -and learned that his coldness was shyness and that he was an unusually open and generous person.

He read more than anyone in animation. There’s no doubt in my mind to that. A book a night he once confessed, largely due to insomnia.

He was generous with knowledge.

He gave opportunities to young artists and kept alive the work of those who came before them.

He was tasteful and opinionated and didn’t mind when someone disagreed with him.

He built a legacy of beautiful, intelligent films and encouraged us all to do the same.

His friendship made me feel like I belonged in this world, like I had something to contribute.

I hope to contribute a small fraction of the good he brought to us all.