Zip! Bow! Wow!

I’ve been meaning to post a review of Batman even though I haven’t seen it yet, but I haven’t gotten around to making up anything good.

Hopefully next week, I might even see it by that time. I’m really looking forward to some nice “POW!” “BANG!” “POP!” graphics for the fight scenes.

So I haven’t seen Batman, unlike the rest of America. Partially, because I don’t really care about men in tights all that much. When I see a superhero picture I like to moazy on in after a grueling day of making schedules and budgets for jobs that never happen. If a movie is sold out days in advance, it’s unlikely that I’ll be a ticket holder.

The other reason is that we’re pretty busy.

Above is a logo animation we made for On The Leesh, an independent production company run by awesome people. A couple years back we did the titles to their short “What Are The Odds?” (below)

If you get past the crappy, crappy YouTube compression, you’ll see some pretty nice animation by Ed Smith. Ed has an encyclopedia of great talents as an animator. Under the letter “D” is “dog”. I’ve never seen anybody animate dogs -all shapes, sizes and varieties -with such personality and skill.

The “On The Leesh” logo was animated by Christina Riley. She does a good with dogs too (even though its hard to compete with Ed Smith). The dog’s playfulness with the film is “realistic” and he’s got a fluid energy.

One thing that’s tough about this type of design -and Flash animation in general -is the difficulty of tracebacks. In frames 40 through 50 of this animation, the dog’s body is on hold while his tail wags. Given the energy of the character (and the furriness of the pup) you’d like a little bit of something going on with character. In a silhouette character, that redefines the shape and alters not only the mood of the character but can cause a jitter on feet and hands that makes the character slide.

Art Show

(above) On the Edge of the Woods, Saul Chernick

A few months back R. Sikoryak recommended art journalist/curator Jill Conner get in touch with us for a show she was curating.

She was putting together a show called Loaded at The Phatory on E. 9th Street featuring work by Saul Chernick and Ernest Concepcion. Both artists have strong figurative images and an almost aggressive form that is particularly fresh in today’s gallery scene.

Anyhow, she wanted to put together a few nights of animation to bring folks into the show and put the paintings in a new context.

I don’t claim that our work is “art” by any stretch of the imagination. We do commercial work and work for hire, I’m proud of the stuff we make but it is expressly not “art”.

I was a great honor to be featured in the same show as guys like Saul Chernick and Ernest Concepcion as well as video pieces by Jim Torok, Brian Dewan and Brent Green.

Here’s a shot of the show.

That’s Jill’s reflection in the window.

Award Season

I haven’t won an award since taking back-to-back “Best Actor” in the Philadelphia Fire Prevention Play competitions of the early 1980s.

“Award-winning” is just too embarrassing an adjective. It’s what people use when their work has obvious flaws -“but, hey, it got an ACE award”.

By and large, we do commercial work. The award for these gigs is the paycheck and a job well done. They are created for a specific purpose -whether it’s to illustrate a song, teach a kid how to use the potty, or sell toothpaste. Beyond executing that purpose, there’s no call for further acclaim.

With that preface, our work for WNET/Thirteen’s mini-series “Curious” has just been nominated for an Emmy in “Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Craft: Graphic Design and Art Direction”.

I’m glad they liked the work enough to nominate it. It’s a really interesting show and has a lot personal resonance for me.

Here’s the link
to their press release.

This is one of our favorite clips from the show:

In an upcoming post I’ll explain how it was done.

Social Scene

The closer to depressed I get, the more I go out.

The more I go out, the closer to depressed I get.

This wicked spiral must be twirling beyond control to go out with animation folks. But the short notice visit of the lovely and charming Heather Kenyon from California was enough to get me out. To Bleecker Street, no less.

When I actually socialize with animation folks, its pretty fun despite the stigma.

Maybe it was just a good crew on Friday.

(above) from left Justin Simonich, Xeth Feinberg, David Levy (too fast for the lens), Heather Kenyon, Will Krause.

Summer Reels

Not to brag, but if there was a Nobel Prize for sample reel our DVD would be on the short list.

The content, I think, is pretty good but the form is what makes it great.

For the past year, we’ve been making seasonal reels. Since the high days of summer are upon us, I thought I’d share the centerpiece of our DVD.

A sample reel has to do several things. First, it has to display your work. If it doesn’t do that one thing its useless. As a production company, that makes building a reel easier, because our work is the whole process. The process is encapsulated in the end product, so we can just show finished pieces.

In addition to showing your work, the sample reel has to tell people who you are. It needs to show your voice as a craftsman and individual.

For example, our DVD is very musical. We have several menus with different soundtracks. These selections offer an insight into our company’s personality.

The design of our disk is uniform. Every part is coordinated with every other -the cover, the insert, the label, the menus. These all match the website, too.

The content of the disk is presented in a clever but not a difficult or obscure way. This encapsulates how our studio works when its functioning well. Personally, I don’t mind being difficult or obscure. Brian tempers my urge (part laziness, part optimism) to keep things complicated, and our artists contribute points of view and ideas that help bridge the barrier between complexity and simplicity.

If anybody would like a copy of the full DVD, send me a note and we’ll drop one in the mail.


I can’t draw.

Too bad, because I think I could be a decent animator if I could.

Just as a my inability to draw hasn’t stopped me from trying to animate (let’s face it, 80% of animation is just tracing anyway) it doesn’t stop me from keeping sketchbooks either.

Last week I found an old notebook in a drawer. The book is about 3 inches by 5 inches, I could use that as an excuse for the crudeness of the drawing…

I can tell it’s around ten years old because there are notes for the Hockey Monkey shoot and an address for Ivan Abel in Malacky, Slovakia.

There are lists and notes on meetings and ideas and poems and most importantly pages upon pages like these:

(above) Before Meerkat Manor there were lemurs. I probably saw a National Geographic story while Kris Kross was on the radio.

(above) One of probably hundreds of pages of cats. This is from before I lived with Murray the Cat. Now all the cats wear boxing gloves.

(above) Upon close inspection you’ll see that the pig is wearing what appears to be a badge. What’s he saying to the fox? Is that taxi? Does it have lasers for headlights? I wish I knew what I was thinking.

(above) “Law” has some sort of –thing –on his head.

Up On The Roof

Sunday To Do List:

Finish rough storyboard for music video: check
Contact sheet and schedule for Comedy Central: check
Prepare reel for Monday meeting: check

Go up to the roof and take pictures:

(above) This one’s for the tourists. Notice the Chrysler Building in the back, whispering “I’m the real star of the skyline”. The water towers bellow “Not so fast, it’s us”.

(also note, I’m not such a bad photographer. The sky isn’t overexposed -it was really this gray and overcast).

(above) Soon all the great structures of New York -like the Con Ed building on 23rd Street -will be obscured by high-rise condominiums. Sixth Avenue has been transformed in the past five years by these Soviet-style architectural monsters. The disease is spreading down 28th Street.

(above) Will the capitol of our new neighbor be adorned with white-glazed terra cotta?

(above) Water tower village.

The Drifter’s song “Under the Boardwalk” was bigger hit than “Up on the Roof” even though they can be easily confused musically.

“Under the Boardwalk”, lyrically, is complete fantasy. Maybe this wasn’t the case in 1964, but by the time I was born the subterranean side of the boardwalk was populated with addicts and lunatics. You picture someone dragging a drunken girl down there to strangle, not to lovingly caress.

Its significant of an urban/suburban cultural divide. We use music, in part, as an escape. The suburban bourgeoisies (how ironic) that populate much of America are drawn to the fantasy created in “Under The Boardwalk” and ignore the frightening reality of the lyrics.

If you’ve lived in New York, however, “Up On The Roof” captures an emotional reality. The roof is a forbidden place. It’s a magical escape. It’s dangerous. It’s beautiful. It puts you in the heart of the neighborhood, yet completely removed from it.

Call THAT macaroni

A day late for the anniversary of our independence from the Great Britain, my pal the very great Brian Dewan sings the oldest known version of “Yankee Doodle Dandy”.

Brian, if you don’t know, is an artist and musician. He plays tiny things like autoharp and big things like Crostwaite Musical Stones.

He’s also responsible for the cover to They Might Be Giants’ Lincoln and scads of other awesomeness -including the creation of homemade electronic instruments with his cousin Leon.

Enjoy your independence, Americans. Everyone else -take up arms in the name of Liberty!

Pro parva pro bono melior est

Imagine asking an electrician to fix the wiring in your house for free. Or calling the plumber to fix your backed up toilet out of the kindness of his heart. Or going to the supermarket and seeing what you can get for the grand fee of nothing.

These are things that people actually need to live in modern society. Nobody needs animation, we do it in large part to pay our electricity bills and pay for groceries. Ignoring the obvious and fundamental fact that even the simplest animation (at least when we do it) takes a lot of time, resources, and skills of highly trained individuals and just look at the plain economics of it. If you can’t afford to buy a new 60 inch HDTV, don’t buy it.

During the course of a seven day calendar week we get asked maybe three or four times to do something for nothing.

But your idea is going to be seen by hundreds of thousands of people, you say? Have each one them give you a dollar then we’ll talk. It’ll look great on our sample reel, you say? Have you seen our sample reel? Look in the Encyclopedia Brittanica under “awesome” it has it’s own chapter.

Sometimes, for whatever reasons, we’ll do some of this pro bono work. Whenever we’ve done it with someone who we don’t know it’s never worked out. Maybe it’s because we don’t care as much. Maybe its because we’re used to dealing with professionals and professionals know that this is an expensive field and our time has value.

On that point, professionals will usually pony up some cash. It might not be a lot of money, but the simple gesture of paying makes a huge difference (and, hey, money changing hands makes it a legal transaction even without a contract).

Here’s some art we did for an incredibly nice guy who wanted to add some animation to a short was doing for a gay activist organization.

He didn’t have a lot of money to make the film, and needed to sell the idea to his sponsors. Like a pro, he figured out what he could afford and set aside a small piece of money for some designs to pitch to his client.

These are some (along with the one at the top) that we came up with.

Ultimately, they decided to keep animation out of the film. But they came to the decision based on actual designs that were created by professional artists and worked up in a professional way. Even though the animation didn’t happen (and if it did the money would have barely covered production costs), it was a positive experience because the guy we were working with realized that our time and labor has value and budgeted his film accordingly.