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.

031214-072

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.

031214-066

We had a little reception beforehand.

031214-128

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.

Christmas Storyboards

I’ve this great notebook for several years. I picked it up in London and have only used it off and on. It’s called the “Bushey” from Charles Roberson & Co. I can’t find a US reseller. While I done crazier thing than order a stack of sketchbooks to be shipped from across the ocean, I’m not sure if I have that store of crazy in me at the moment.

Anyway, I found these rough boards for “Sympathy for the Fish” when I was flipping through recently for blank pages.

It’s interesting for me to see how closely they resemble the end product.

01

Kelsey Stark is largely responsible for the animation on this. She always brings a high measure of artistry to my crappy ideas.

02

In making this film, we basically went from these drawings to slightly tighter boards cut against my voice track.

03

I’m pretty sure I scribbled these boards on the subway -not that that’s any excuse for the lousy drawing.

04

It’s a writing/script based film -though I think the images play an important role in working against the narration and adding information that’s not said -so the boards, by and large, stem from the script.

05

Because of this, I had figured out the picture for the most part while writing.

06

We only wound up cutting one antic with the doctor -in the board he picks up a few items before the wire cutter, ultimately it’s just the one.

model

These are some of my rough design concepts which Kelsey turned into something very nice.

We’ll have a new holiday themed film ready in a couple weeks.

Bugs & Mickey Walk Into A Bar

A few years back I did a project with comedy writer Rob Long. Last week I found this book he wrote (long before I met him) about the years between his first job as writer/producer on “Cheers” and the cancellation of his first original series by a fledgling broadcaster a few years later.

It’s a fun glimpse into -what turned out to be -the waning days of the sitcom hegemony.

conversations-with-my-agent_l

Here’s an excerpt that is a great bit on character that discusses animation icons.

Comedy writers have a long-running debate, one that lasts through bottles of wine and into the early-morning hours. It is known as the Mickey Mouse Question, and it goes like this: Mickey Mouse is not a funny character. He neither tells jokes nor does anything funny, and his girlfriend is an uptight bore. Bugs Bunny, on the other hand, is a brilliantly inventive comic genius, sharp-witted, physically agile, a fearless wise guy who thinks nothing of donning a dress, producing an anvil out of thin air, kissing his enemy on the lips, and in the face of death and torture calling out a cheery “What’s Up Doc?” Bugs is much funnier than Mickey, no contest. Why, then, is Mickey the billionaire movie star? People don’t seem to be able to get their fill of that little rat, him with his squeaky voice and gee-whiz attitude. Mickey is completely inoffensive, involved in a long-term, caring relationship, optimistic. Bugs is the opposite: he’s a wild man with a raging carrot-dependency, big with the exploding props and the verbal abuse, and one of these days he’s going to go over the edge. Mickey never will. He and his girlfriend will spend their days in inoffensive, unfunny bliss. But it is Bugs who makes us laugh, and isn’t that, after all, enough?

Creating a television sitcom means choosing between Mickey and Bugs, between a universe of likeable, not-terribly funny people and a universe of vaguely disturbing, very funny people. Networks tend, on the whole, not to like funny characters very much. If they had their choice, every sitcom would be a family or group of Mickeys, with maybe a Bugs living next door. Writers, unfortunately, on the whole prefer a big group of Bugses with a Mickey around to say things like “What’s going on here? Are you all out of your minds?”

2013 Ottawa International Animation Festival – Day Four

This year the Festival was a little compressed. I think having the awards on Saturday is a good idea, but that means the programming gets crammed into -essentially- two days. Saturday feels like a lost day, and Sunday we’ll be taking off. It’s a good format and I’m sure the scheduling will be cleaner if they continue with it.

It should also be noted that the projection at this festival is universally good. Having been through a hundred or so screenings over the years, there have only been a few instances of bad projection (all at the same venue). That’s an accomplishment. Each year well over 200 films screen at least twice each, these are spread over a half dozen venues. A filmmaker can be assured that their work will be given great treatment by the technical team.

I sat in on a “Meet the Filmmakers” today. The program we represented was universally good. Members of the audience, as always, wasted time on repeated questions and uninteresting nonsense but all the directors had revealing things to say about their work. Except me, I just blathered and hid my ignorance with big words.

Eric Goldberg gave a talk at St. Brigid’s Church -a new location this year. He was followed by the creator of Cartoon Network’s popular “Regular Show”. Both of these talks filled the pews.

I had Tom Sito sign his new book: “Moving Innovation: The History of Computer Animation”. I like “Drawing The Line” a great deal and look forward to reading this one.

IMGP7859

The stations of the cross seem appropriate decor for an awards ceremony. This year’s may not have been as bad as falling for the third time, but it was no Veronica wiping your face, either.

Many of the award selections for short form films fell somewhere between poor and laughably atrocious, but the audience award for “But Milk Is Important” was well chosen. Filmmakers Eirik Grønmo Bjørndrn & Anna Mantazaris made a nice piece and should be encouraged to make more. It may be a difficult road for them, but let’s hope they continue on it.

The non-jury “Best Canadian Animation” went to “Two Weeks – Two Minutes” by Judith Poirier. This is cameraless film using printmaking techniques. I liked it a great deal. There a world of graphic designer films that this fits in to. I may start thinking more about these types of films. They don’t consider themselves “animation” -and they might not be, but I think they go back to Saul Bass and to Len Lye and probably even earlier.

The show wrapped with what started as a funny bit -one of the students from Japan singing to his work.

IMGP7871

As it went on (far too long), it began to feel more and more like a minstrel show -a young man doing an Oriental Step-n-Fetchit routine. Maybe next year’s theme for student projects can explore the line between self-effacing and self-debasing.

2013 Ottawa International Animation Festival -Day Three

Competition 3 from Thursday was an anomaly.

Today featured competitions 4 and 5. Number 4 was solid all of the way through, and 5 had some valleys but equivalent peaks. Both very good selections.

Our film, “The Honor Code”, screened at the 10 am competition 4. It’s a nice little piece, Kelsey Stark did her typically phenomenal job with the design and layout. It feels so long ago since we did it that I don’t even see the mistakes and short cuts that bothered me at completion.

My favorite film of the festival was in the same screening, “Strange Wonderful” by Stephanie Swart from RISD.

StrangeWonderful

An initially off-putting character design works into a pretty, beautiful little film. Remarkable, the spacial dynamic within frame by use of contrasting scale between scenic elements. I hope to see it again.

Also surprising is Alexis Beaumont & Rémy Godin’s music video for Stuck in the Sound “Let’s Go”. More of a narrative film than music video it takes four or five surprising (but not unbelievable) turns in three and a half minutes.

The evening screening kicked off with Theo Ushev’s “Gloria Victoria”. It’s in line with Drux Flux and Tower Bawher, similar graphic approach. Great Shostakovich. Maybe a minute or two too long, but a beautiful piece.

There was also a new film by Rosto. This was as comically sophomoric as his other films, even adding a non-sequitur Christ on Cross allusion for the full high school rebel appeal. It’s Ayn Rand-level pomposity but, unlike the jumbled scrawlings of that mid-century sociopath, a film that’s hilarious and completely enjoyable in it’s high-budget indulgence. May the filmmaker never grow up.

I also caught some of the feature, “The Boy and The World”. It’s a non-verbal film in a simple design style. It makes for difficult viewing in a festival situation where personal endurance is as much a factor as the film’s quality. It demands a repeat viewing and I hope it gets distribution.

The picnic happened today too.

Ottawa International Animation Festival – Day Two

Chris Robinson conducted a “Meet the Filmmakers” for the first shorts screening first thing in the morning.

IMGP7770

The session was snappy and well conducted (until the dreadful audience questions), Chris has seen the films numerous times and clearly put a lot of thought into them. As an interviewer his interest in them is apparent and made for an exceptional session.

Competition screening #2 contained a few highly anticipated films -Chris Landreth’s “Subconscious Password” which the National Film Board is heavily promoting, new work from Koji Yamamura and a new film from Jérémy Clapin whose previous film “Skhizein” was mini-masterpiece. Yamamura’s piece appears to be work-for-hire segments for Japanese television. As always, the drawing is exquisite. Clapin’s “Palmipédarium” is so far the biggest disappointment of the festival. Good work creates unfair expectations.

Screening highlights include Yoriko Mizushiri “Futon”. Sensuous and sinewy:

futon

Also a nice music video by Lucas Borras for Quantic & Alice Russell’s “Magdalena” which relied principally on clever use of photographs within the frame and drawn animation within them. That’s a poor description:

QUANTIC & ALICE RUSSELL – MAGDALENA from Lucas Borrás on Vimeo.

There were a handful of other nice shorts worth seeking out from a well balanced program.

Amongst the events later was a signing of “Animation Sketchbooks” by several of the artists involved. Hokey idea, but a very nice book. I’ll be sure to have additional artists add their John Hancock when they pass through the studio.

A work schedule pulled me from attending a few promising events: interview with Chris Sullivan, some interesting looking panels at TAC (on YouTube and the always informative “Pitch This!” session).

The Competition Shorts #3 is possibly the worst program I’ve seen at any Ottawa Festival. The few appealing were marred by proximity. Worst of all, the selection was anchored by a TV comedy that may be funny in the continuum of the series but had all the appeal of a sexed-up Clutch Cargo in the context of the rest of the Festival. Looking back at the program I see several films of merit on the list -films I’ve seen elsewhere and gotten something from, the overall feeling from the show was an hour and of “please end”.

Tomorrow, “The Honor Code” runs in Competition 4. I expect bloggers to trash it with fervor.

2013 Ottawa International Animation Festival – Day One

An overriding excuse -I’ve been busy lately.  In bed at 3 am, out a 7 am (or later and earlier) kind of busy.  This, of course, is my own fault.  Trying to accommodate the world.

Multi-week sleep deprivation is a similar sensation to attending a film festival.  A soft cloud develops around your head, sunlight grows a sharpened edge, a long red light seems like a good time for a little nap.  Rollercoaster programming of a good festival, though, will make you angry and elated and raise you out of the even-keeled funk of the working world.

The festival in Ottawa unfurls so that it’s possible to be slowly drawn into the movie-haze unaware, in my current state I hit it in full fog.  The Television Animation Conference precedes the film programming by a day.  This is mostly dull stuff about animation as a product.  Movie making as money making, producing art as though it were manufacturing widgets.  But still, there is always something interesting.  Yesterday that was a panel that included Titmouse impresario Chris Prynowski.  His work as an animator is impressive and his studio produces work that exceeds the quality of any other making series for American television.  As a speaker he’s engaging and articulate.  He’s honest about the process and clearly know what he’s talking about.  A lot of people hide behind abstractions and broad figures when discussing work -it hints at a mere surface understanding of what it takes to make something.  Prynowski’s self-effacing discussion of the top to bottom details of his operation is possibly the most engaging thing I’ve seen at any TAC.

canadian-museum-of-nature

This year the event is being held at the Museum of Nature.  It’s a nice venue.  Cocktail parties surrounded by dinosaurs.

Two screenings in the evening: the French/Belgian feature “Approved for Adoption” and the competition shorts #1.

Approved for Adoption

It might be a new “thing” in European animation, and it’s not a good thing, to “toon shade” CGI models so they look like something from Xtranormal.com.  There was a short in competition that did the same thing.  It’s made even worse by the drawn sequences in the film that are generally pretty attractive (same is true for the short).

For me, the highlight film of the short program was Edmunds Jansons’ “Choir Tour.”  The story is no great shakes but the design and animation are both terrific.

choir-tour-003

 

The look utilizes contemporary drawing tools -likely Illustrator or Photoshop or some such thing in a pleasing and expressive fashion.  The animation is idiosyncratic and exploits the design.

Julia Pott’s “The Event” also ran.  There’s a lot to like about this film, and I’ve seen it several times.  It holds up (and in some ways improves) with repeat viewings.  I wish I could pinpoint why it leaves me a little cold.  It’s a good piece, though.  Strange to say, it felt a little out-of-place in the program.  Usually an apocalypse like this would be one of many in a competition selection- last night it felt like the only one.

Joanna Priestley’s “Split Ends” is attractive.  It feels like some of the graphics within it could form the basis of an interesting film.  She’s working in shape and abstraction to the point where they near representation.  Maybe this experiment will get pushed further in a future work.