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!

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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.

Yomo Toro Sounds

One of my favorite projects from the Asterisk days is this short film we did for Nickelodeon.

The film is the largely the work of Matthew Stoddart who conceived it, storyboarded and designed it.

He also made the single most important decision leading to the film’s success.

“Origami” from Ace & Son MPC, LLC on Vimeo.

He called Yomo Toro and asked him to create the music track.

If this is a good little film -and I’ll contend that it is a very good one -it’s because of Yomo’s beautiful and haunting soundtrack.

He passed away over the weekend. Here’s the New York Times obituary.

The recording session was a little tricky. We consented to record at his friend’s place in Jersey City. They had a nice home set up, but it wasn’t really state of the art. Fortunately, JZ Barrell, who did the mix and the sound edit, came along. He’s pretty familiar with old school recording techniques and was able to ensure we got what we needed from technical standard.

The track was an original composition by Yomo and each instrument was laid down in separate takes to the same 1/4 inch tape master.

The session started in the evening and went late into the night. The later it got, the better the guys played. Looser, more playful.

He was a terrific musician and that was a fun recording session.

The animation on this film was done by Ed Smith. Winnie Tom did the 3D animation of the origami

Caroline

For several years The Ink Tank had good gig with CBS Entertainment doing animation for the NBC broadcast “Caroline in the City”.

The first season had regular opens of full animation.

The title card (created for the pilot) was animated by Ed Smith after designs by Bonnie Timmons.  The remaining full opens were animated by Kris van Alphen.  He had been recommended by Paul Dreissen.  For most of the run he animated from his home in Belgium.

We’d get the scripts from Los Angeles, send the boards to Europe and receive animation drawings via DHL back in New York.

After the first season, it became clear that a new opening in full drawn animation wasn’t the most cost effective production policy.

The producers cut back to animated establishing shots.  These were usually building exteriors with bits of animation, walks mostly or passing cars.  That animation was largely done by Igor Mitrovic.   This went on for maybe 4 or 5 more years under the direct supervision of Nina Crews, then Shawn Atkins. 

Simple Gifts – No Room At The Inn

For years this was the artwork on the ASIFA-East membership form.

While I understand the urge to update after 30 years, I do feel the organization lost a little something going with a more generic “contemporary” design.

Again, the drawing is classic Ed Smith. Great expression.  But look at the posing.  It’s not a stage-y silhouette.  The action is clear but the gesture isn’t telegraphing it.  That happens in the animation.

Also, look at the line.  Similar illustrators will concentrate on the “squiggly” line.  The Blechman line isn’t really squiggly.  It’s broken.  It has no contour.  It’s even a little misshapen.  The line starts and stops because every stroke is belabored.

These are qualities Ed captures without parallel.

In most films he’ll animate every drawing himself -no inbetweener.  He’ll generally draw directly in ink.  Almost always, actually.

I once asked him what he does when he’s in the middle of drawing and makes a mistake.  His response, “I’ll let you know when it happens.”

Here’s the piece in it’s entirety.  It’s a capture from an ancient VHS, so the quality is questionable.

It should also be noted with strong underscoring, that the music was composed by Arnold Black. He was a terrific guy who’s delicate ear matched Ed Smith’s touch on Blechman illustrations.

Simple Gifts – No Room At The Inn, Animals

“No Room At The Inn” may be the crowning segment of “Simple Gifts” -no mean feat considering the strength of the others.

At the very least it represents the apex of the simple line Blechman style.  After this, his long form work took a tilt towards the fantastic with “The Soldier’s Tale” and a curve towards a fuller style with the stillborn films like “Bird”, “The Golden Ass” and “Candide”.

Before posting the full segment and further thoughts tomorrow, I wanted to highlight my favorite scene.

This film is very stage-y.  It all happens along the same flat plain with some variation on shot length, but almost always playing as through a proscenium.

Ed Smith animated most of this film.  Those are Ed Smith animals right there.   They have an unmistakable humor to them.  They’re cute without being cloying.  Expressive but not telegraphic.  Really just great animation.

Also take note of the wind blowing.  Phenomenal really.

When the schedule started to draw to a close, Ed needed some help finishing up.   Tissa David took care of several scenes towards the end.  I may be mistaken, but I believe this was her first time animating in the Blechman style.  I can only imagine how nervous Bob must have been, he had long been unhappy with the way animators approached his art and finally found the perfect guy in Ed.  Of course, any trepidation would prove groundless.

Still, the differences in their line is visible.

Above, an Ed Smith donkey.

Tissa David donkey (and sheep).

Also amazing is Ed’s draughtmanship of horses.  Here’s an 11 drawing cycle.

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I Can’t See No Reason To Put Up A Fight

We posted Ed Smith’s animation from The Buddha’s “Fire Sermon” a little while back.

I wanted to look at the simple way he achieved a fairly rich elemental animation with just a few drawings.

Three cel levels of 8 drawings a piece.  That’s probably why I like this cycle so much.  I love things to  happen in 8 drawings.

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If you look at  Joseph Gilland’s book -and you should it’s easily one of the best technical animation books written -you’ll see how he says many animators gravitate towards “effects” animation like fire or water where others excel in  character.  Often the greatest at one, struggles with the other.

I won’t claim this is great effects animation on the level of what Joe does, but for an economic, small screen presentation, this fire is nearly perfect.

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The animation here works with the design which featured textured fields of color in an graphic depiction of flame.
That’s really the key to great animation -appropriate approach to the style illustration or character.  How something moves is dictated by what it looks like and what it sounds like.
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Above is the top layer.  Click the link at the top of this post to see it in motion.

Fire Sermon

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while.

The “Fire Sermon” sequence we produced for David Grubin’s film “The Buddha”.

Ed Smith animated it.

His work was seemingly piecemeal, but just following the exposure sheets it all came together. Christina and Liesje did some assistant work to fill in the blanks, and make some creative revisions.

Ed has a way with this loose kind of animation, especially the morphing transitions.

Look That Up In…

This is pretty ancient.

Like 1970s ancient.

Apart from the live action guy and the cruddy video quality -I think it holds up pretty well and have always liked it.

It was produced at The Ink Tank. From the looks of it, Ed Smith was the animator, but it’s really a marvel of art production.

Links/Credits

We’ve been fortunate to have some terrific artists in the studio recently -most working on the Buddha.

As that project wraps up we would like to share some of their websites.

Doug Compton has done a lot of the animation.  While he hasn’t been “in the studio” per se, he has done a few thousand drawings.

Larry Ruppel also animated a sequence.

As did Fran Krause.

And Elliot Cowan.

Ed Smith doesn’t have a website, but he did a terrific job on one segment.

Carolyn Green has worked with us on and off for the past few years.  She’s done a lot of assistant work on this.

Liesje Kraai has been helping on this and several other projects.  For the Buddha she’s done mostly compositing and art production with some assistant animation.

I liked Kelly Gallagher films a lot.  I was surprised to find out she did them all the old-fashioned way.  She’s been helping with with art production.

And few without websites: Kristen Collins and Jessica Ng both worked in the studio for the past two summers, Kristen has stayed on part time through the school year.  Jonny A has done art production three days a week for the past few months.

Marina Dominis has been responsible for the lion’s share of the design. 

“Most Valuable Player” award goes to Christina Riley who did a little (well, a lot really) of just about everything.  Animation, assistant work, compositing, art production and good deal of figuring out.  Without her, there’s no way a complex and diverse project like this could get done.

And the biggest credit of all goes to David Grubin who concocted the crazy notion of using animated segments to personalize the story of the Buddha. 

Fire

Here are some color models for The Buddha.

This is for a sequence based on Buddha’s “Fire Sermon”. It’s sort of like the Christian “Sermon on the Mount”, but instead of a litany of “blessed are’s” we’re given a list of thing which are ablaze.

Everything, it turns out, is in flames.

Even the oceans. Everything you see, hear, smell, touch or think is on fire.

This sequence is mostly animated by Ed Smith. It’s a far cry from “Moonbird”.

Then again, not too far, I hope.