Day 190: Good Visual Storytelling Part 1 of 2

Craig at work in the graphics room at LFL in the 1980s. "I don't remember the occasion," he said, "but this was way before the Pixar Image Computer existed as hardware. The room is ... where, among other things, the Genesis Effect, 'The Adventures of André & Wally B.' and the stained glass knight from 'Young Sherlock Holmes' were produced." © Pixar Animation Studios. All rights reserved.

I've come to the realization that storyboard/visual storytelling is a skill set I have yet to tap into so far in my studies. It helps when you have a 30+ Pixar veteran named Mr. Craig Good there to push you towards, pushing yourself. However, there are a few things that I would like to share with my peers about preparation for such a course. 

1. You must know how to draw.

2. You must know how to draw, what you see in your head.

3. You must know film grammar.

4. You must know cinema. 

These four fundamentals will only count as prerequisites, though. The lessons I gleaned from Craig's course expanded further into the details of cinematography and the viewers POV. With this being my first foray into the world of the story department, I found myself relying mostly on what my fellow students were pushing in their work. Which turned out to be the biggest mistake I could have made. In animation, we are taught that you should develop your voice and rely on your peers for honest feedback on where things aren't working. However, with me being a few years older I quickly learned that their sensibilities don't quite equate to mine, which causes me to have to pitch the reference of the pitch, at almost every suggestion of an idea.

There seems to be a lack of understanding the object of doing animation is to create a film, and in my opinion, you must know movies. It shocked me, as well as Craig, to learn that so many of my classmates had never seen 2001, Blade Runner, Misery, etc. And nor did they deem it worth their time watching such films, mainly because of the goal of finishing the project to move on to the next project. Don't get me wrong a lot of them did know films and shots yet it consisted more of a "Frankenstein" version of another person "Frankensteined" work.

In the mid-80s through early 90s, I had the privilege of learning about cinema at a young age through two good friends who ran the local video rental store at the end of my street, when I was a boy living in Connecticut. I also had two of the best critics to tell me if my $5.00 was worth spending through a show called At the Movies. It just seemed like you had to understand what you're seeing and its impact on the history of cinema. In the year 2015 with the unlimited access to views and opinions of the film as a whole, I'm willing to bet they're only one or two students in my class that even know who Pauline Kael is.

Which brings me back to my original frustration with having to pitch the reference of the pitch, before making the pitch. If I could suggest anything of improvement in my program, it would bring at the least a mandatory "Film 101" course into the animation department. Because what I'm learning about my peers is, most won't go the extra mile towards enrichig their cinematic knowledge unless it's for a grade.

Luckily for me Craig will be teaching again this Spring semester and I'll have the opportunity to participate. I'll keep everyone posted.

Day 188: Reflections of 2016: The Art of Pixar Short Films (Travel Edition)

Ran across another story that I should have posted during the GLAS Festival back in early March of 2016.

This past weekend during the GLAS Animation Festival, I had the pleasure of attending the CalArts Alumni E X Party, held at the David Brower Center in Berkeley CA. It was a very long night since I had been working the screening of Coraline with a Q&A featuring Henry Selick, followed by overseeing the Shorts Competition #6; before I was able to make my way over to the party at 23:00.

There I had the opportunity to meet Cartoon Brew's Publisher/Editor-in-Chief Amid Amidi. Like so many times at events and lectures of such, I tend to bring my copy of The Art of Pixar Short Films, in which he wrote in 2009. I was lucky enough to share with him my story of moving From Chapel Hill NC to Oakland in pursuit of a career in animation as a storyman and historian; before pulling out my book for him to view and sign. To my surprise Amid was blown away at the number of signatures I have accumulated over the past seven years, starting with Teddy Newton at SIGGRAPH in 2010 to most recently story artist Nate Stanton. What I learned that night from Amid was that he had read a few of my comments on Cartoon Brew, and knew of my name.

Amid went on to tell me that even though he had written the book, his copy lacked such a collection of signatures (I'm sure he has that elusive John Lasseter signature). As the night continued, he took photo's of it for his collection while we exchanged general conversation about the industry. It was nice that he encouraged me to continue building my skills as an animation historian; for the avenues to do great work are abundant, if I continue to align myself to be open to unplanned encounters.

Day 181: Book Review of The Art of Sanjay's Super Team

Here's a post I did one year to the date. I began utilizing this book on my film back in April and it has helped get over a bunch of hurdles. Every aspiring animation student should own a copy of this first of its kind art of book on one of Pixar's best shorts to date. Over the Winter break I plan on posting more resources here to help instruct my students. As a side note I've donated copy of the book in Meyers Library on the Oakland campus for checkout.

December 07, 2015

With finals being right around the corner, I don't have time to give this book a proper review. Especially with it being one of my first. So, here's what I think of the book in three words, "A Must Own!" Rarely has an animated short garnered a book on the scale of a traditional feature "Art of book". This breakdown of the pipeline for the film includes essays; illustrations and is a 130-page spread of insight and inspiration. 

The film is currently playing before The Good Dinosaur and looks like it will finish with an Oscar win, however Pixar shorts haven't been getting the love that they use to.

In the meantime feel free to read this review of the film from WIRED Magazines K.M. MCFARLAND

Day 167: Reflections of 2016: When Henry Meet Mister Kennedy

Recently I've been going through my archives looking for cool stuff to post about and ran across photo's from the GLAS Animation Festival this past March in Berkely. What a fantastic time I had meeting the founders of the founders Jeanette and Einar, in an Air BNB over beer.  

This past March, I had the opportunity to see Coraline in 3D along with the directors of the GLAS Animation Festival, as we as with Henry Selick. Truly a life altering moment in my life as a fan and as a student. For years, I've admired the talents of Mr. Selick for the way in which he has been able to create worlds of narrative engagement, both visually and narratively. It seemed like only yesterday, actually six-years-ago to the date when Variety's Peter Debruge reported Henry Selick returns to Disney.

Selick started out working at the Disney Animation Studios back in the 70's so this return home for him is bringing his career full circle, reuniting him not only with a brilliant team of animators and filmmakers but with friends. James and the Giant Peach took 2D and stop-motion out of the equation for a while, but the resurgence of the medium last year and the success of both Coraline and The Fantastic Mr. Fox have breathed life into this style of a film. With Selick at the helm, the results will surely be spectacular. 

So what happened to the film everyone I know had been anticipating since the cat disappears behind the Pink Place Apartment sign post, at the end of Coraline? Well, a lot.

Selick was scheduled to craft four features for Disney/Pixar, consisting of original and literary properties. However, in the six years since Disney has removed itself from the project, reporting to have spent $50 million dollars, and being uncertain over concerns over future costs and benefits.

Selick spoke briefly on the situation, yet it seems that he has put it behind himself. I still wonder what could have been if the folks at Disney/Pixar had allowed Selick to continue without fiddling with his creative process.

There's much more that I wish I could share from the lectures, and the personal conversation that I had with Selick, yet I'm working on putting things together in a more professional repository. A side note, the photos of Selick and I was during a " make me laugh first contest". As you can see I won.

Day 147: I See Dead People...

While I was in Texas visiting my wife and children over the Halloween weekend, this gift arrived. Sweet Christmas!

ABOUT THE BOOK

Some of our most vivid childhood memories are of being huddled around a campfire, the hair on the back of our necks standing upright as we listened to tales of terror…or of staying up late, hiding beneath the covers with a flashlight in hand, reading a ghost story we swiped from our older brother. We all loved these stories that both ignited the imagination and stirred up feelings of dread that kept us up until morning’s light broke.

However, we’ve been frustrated in our search to find collections of ghost stories that strike the classic tone of the books from our youth. Stories that are as surprising as they are terrifying. Stories that stick with us. Stories that we can tell the next time we find ourselves around a campfire.

GHOST is a collection of 13 original poems and tales written by Blaise Hemingway and Jesse Reffsin and illustrated by Chris Sasaki and Jeff Turley. The book is hard bound, full color book- filled with more than 100 pages of bone chilling stories and illustrations. With GHOST, we wanted to create new ghost tales for a new generation both written and illustrated in a classic, timeless style.

Wish I could have made it to the costume party Jeff an Kit...

Day 146: Ask Not What CCA Can Do For You, Ask What Can You Do For CCA!

The Sunken Forest Production is seeking Character Animators, Environment Artists, Sound Designers and VFX Artists for next semester. We are searching for a team of 10 to 18 students to finish our project. The class will meet on Friday's from 10 AM till 4 PM. This Group Project course will include opportunities for students to focus on polishing their interests within the animation industry, as well as get feedback from the talented faculty within CCA’s Animation Department. 

The Sunken Forest is a film-festival-worthy project that explores culture, history and the supernatural; making this a perfect opportunity to gain team experience in the actual production and completion of an animated short film.

REQUIREMENTS:

Character Animators: Must have a strong understanding of the 12 Principles of Animation and willingness to learn TVPaint.

Environment Artists: Must have refined fine art skills to fabricate backgrounds and set pieces such as buildings, but specifically the designing and color of organic nature, such as trees, plants, rocks, etc.

Sound Designers: Should have a working knowledge of Adobe Audition and will focus on crafting the ambient sounds as well as folly elements for the animated short.

VFX Artists: An understanding of TVPaint or interest in creating storm elements, lighting effects, and camera filters.

For more information, please visit: https://www.thekennedycompounds.com/the-sunken-forest-group-project/ OR contact Mister Kennedy at jkennedyjr@cca.edu

Please Note: To enroll in class, students must speak to Mister Kennedy.

This course can be applied towards Junior Projects or Tutorial requirements. For any additional information concerning credit for the course, please contact Rick Vertolli at rvertolli@cca.edu

Day 110: Stanley Kubrick- Filmic Narration

17 years since his death in 1999, Stanley Kubrick is still a relevant subject for debate and scholarship of all manner, from the most erudite to the seriously down the rabbit hole. Kubrick is no longer just a filmmaker, and I would wager $5 (maybe more) that this is partly because, in our media-saturated confessional culture, where everyone is expected to smile and explain themselves and also feel super grateful for the chance to do so, Kubrick was kind of a tease.

A "recluse" in life (and if he was a recluse, then I'm some sort of desert hermit with Wi-Fi), Kubrick refused to let the public into either his life, or his films. He understood, as few celebrities do, that there is something to be said for being mysterious. Which is easy, when all you have to do is not go clubbing with Judd Nelson. (The 80s were the height of Kubrick is a weirdo rumors, and that's the most 80s thing I could think to write.) And, also, you know, he was a ridiculously talented cinematic visionary whose work continues to confound and amaze. So, I'm saying that even if he'd been on the television machine explaining exactly what The Shining's "deal" was/is, we'd still be amazed by it.

And that film in particular, as a proxy for his whole body of work, is the perfect example of the degree to which his films transcend film (yes, I've been away at pretension camp) and become a category of almost gnostic mysticism (see?), in that people study them with the fervor of religious texts, even though he remarked to his wife, close to the end of his life, "I'm still fooling them!"

"Enough of words. Actions speak louder than. Action now. Observe all." — The Minister from A Clockwork Orange

I'll let the documentaries speak for themselves, but I will say that one of Kubrick's most trenchant insights and legacies is directly related to the inherently mysterious nature of the medium in which he worked. Movies are weird and psychological (they can't help it!) and are, in the main, closer to dreams than any fidelity to reality or factual representation thereof (even when they protest that they are realer than real deal Holyfield), and this is because they operate on a pre-verbal level; this is also why, coincidentally, the millions of words written about his films amount to describing a dream, and everyone knows there's nothing more fascinating than listening to someone tell you about their half-remembered dream. (I am kidding. Almost everything is more fascinating.)

 

Kubrick intuited that cinema consists of not only filming the dream, but maintaining its essence, that elusive, uncanny quality that defies words. He frequently made words the least important part of his films, using them to comment on the uselessness of words, or for deep subtext, but almost never to tell you what was happening on screen in the expository manner of most of today's "talkies."

Justin Morrow of No Film School

What I'm attempting here in this post is to expose the team to the Master of Cinema. No matter who you deem to be the best at their craft, in some form or fashion they have been influenced by Stanley. His ability to... well just watch the video and you'll understand what I'm getting at.

Also, for those who might not be able to make it to the FREE exhibition of Stanley's work at the Jewish Contemporary Museum; I've included some photo highlights below that I find interesting.

I'll be following this post up with an in class lecture on Kubrick, Carpenter, and Speilberg "Empires of Dreams" on Friday. Part of Week 2's research assignment for the Sunken Forest Group Project. Also stay tuned for an entry on the blog as well.

Day 106: The dust has begun to blow...

First day of actually teaching my theories on cinematic animation. So excited to have a platform to address concerns I feel the college can improve upon, within the animation department. I'm ECSTATIC to have an fantastic team of ten students willing to put their faith, artistry, and trust into my vision.

Here's a recap on the student guide "syllabus" I've crafted for the course and what it means. I wrote the student guide over the summer well before I received the actual syllabus on Friday from GE. Surprisingly the curriculum I've laid out matches that of the animation workshop description, that I presented to the class on Friday. The first three weeks of the guide are to lay out what I find inspiring, through my research over the summer. I've discovered that you can’t be invested in a project that you can’t relate to.

Last week was about understanding your roles within the project, a way to help you figure out what is expected within the production of a short film. Which is why I screened the films I did, starting with the overlaying theme of creating a movie that reaches every viewer. I related this theory by screening The Essence of Humanity.

As well as planned on showing The Making of The Incredibles. 

This coming week is the subject matter of the short, most of the students don’t understand the elements of a horror/thriller/ action drama. I’m working on a blog post today that will feature methods of translating my story into visuals that match what I am looking to achieve. This will allow for students to begin some exploration work based on the blurb of the story posted the group blog back in June entitled Plotted.

The following week upon your approval is geared towards understanding the environment in which the story takes place, hence the field trip to Angel Island, to sketch and visit places that I drew from on the island. An idea I took from the document that I saw on the making of UP: Adventure Is Out There.

Personally, I feel it would be unfair to ask the class to begin working on my film if they don’t understand my references, or what my taste is. Hence creating a outline of week by week engagement on the research, that  I’ve done in support of this course and how I would like it to apply to the film. This guide is only for the month of September which I’ve deemed a necessity for research, while still allowing for ten weeks (60 hours x 10 students= 600 student hours) of working time to flesh out and assemble the short. I would also like to focus on the art of social networking in professional settings such as LinkedIn. I also have begun reaching out to local animation groups to participate in guest lectures, that will help to enrich not only our team but the departments as a whole.

Also, in preparation to better understand the subject matter in which we will be interpreting into the workshop film, I suggest everyone visit the resourceful website PBS has created in support of Ken Burns' The Dust Bowl

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Day 89: A113 Series: Mark Andrews

This past Friday I spent the morning over at Pixar's campus, taking part in an end of program information tour and luncheon. I was so stoked to visit "Brooklyn ", which is considered the development building for new films. What I remembered most from my last visit that added to this visit was, one gets the sense that ideas are afoot everywhere. One stand out moment of the tour was my encounter with story legend Mark Andrews. Let me set the stage:

We had just entered into Brooklyn and the first thing I noticed was Dice Tsutsumi's large color script panel of the final shot in Toy Story 3, where Woody and Buzz are watching Andy drive off towards college, had been replaced with a concept drawing of Merida by Steve Pilcher

As as we are walking with Tia Kratter I lookup and what do I see a huge posted note head of Mark Andrews.

I laughed and turned to Tia asking "is that Mark?" She responded "yes, that's his story room." As I brought my glance back down and to my left, I saw a figure approaching and everything went into slow motion. The figure that was approach was indeed Mark, looking as if he had heard me asking about him on cue. I gestured the universal motion of acknowledgment towards him, the "man nod" and he reciprocated; before exiting stage left before the group I was with noticed him. I slowly walked towards the hall he had turned down, in order to ask him a question. At that moment as I peered down the hall the penny whistle and string melody from the ending of  The Usual Suspects began to play in my mind, and just like that he was gone!

To me Mark is hands down the most inspiring story artist, living today. His methods of storyboarding and directing are unparalleled, compared to his contemporaries. I first discovered Mark while watching the behind the scenes feature's on the DVD version of The Incredibles. 

Below are two interviews on Mark. The first is from Wired magazine conducted during the rollout of Brave. The second is a phone interview from ScreenwritingU.  Also, here's a great interview with Mark Andrews and Ted Mathot from the Spline Cast Archives.Enjoy!

JIM MACQUARRIE 06.18.12 10:43 AM

JIM MACQUARRIE 06.18.12 10:43 AM

MARK ANDREWS HAS worked in animation and live-action as a storyboard artist, story supervisor, writer, and even as a voice actor, including The Incredibles, John Carter, The Iron Giant, Spider-Man, Samurai Jack and Star Wars: Clone Wars. With Brave, he makes his debut as a feature film director.

Andrews didn’t set out to become an artist or animator. “I kind of fell into animation. I’ve been drawing all my life just because I like drawing,” he explained. In high school, he planned on enlisting in the Marine Corps, but his friends all told him he should do something with his drawing talent, even though he had never taken an art class. He enrolled in some drawing classes at the city college, where he found out about CalArts, the art school founded by Walt Disney. “I said, I can actually have a career where I’m just drawing all the time? Done. Check, and that’s about as far as my ambition went. Everything else, doors just opened for me and I just jumped through.”

One of the doors that he “just jumped through” was working with Brad Bird, the director of The Incredibles and Iron Giant, as well as Mission Impossible 4. Andrews has been labeled as “Brad Bird’s right hand,” and they have worked on many projects together. “When Pixar approached Brad Bird to come up here and make a film with Pixar, there were about 12 of us that he brought up from his Iron Giant days. He calls us his dirty dozen, because we make movies guerrilla style. We do whatever it takes to get it done and we’re down and dirty and, you know, coming in to this hallowed halls of Pixar, you know, we were like garbage.” But the attitudes soon changed, Andrews says. “So we kind of came in and kind of infected Pixar in a good way.”

Becoming a director was not something he ever planned for, and in fact, working for Pixar was something of a surprise; he claims that he was blacklisted at Disney after serving an internship at the studio.” I went to the Disney internship after Cal Arts, after four years of Cal Arts. I got my BFA. I was one of five who got the Disney internship. After that, three months of the internship they would never hire me again. Just being myself, being a rebel,” he says jokingly, concluding that “now I’ve shown them.” Andrews goes on to explain that he is not alone in this area; both John Lasseter and Brad Bird were also fired from Disney under similar circumstances. “Brad has a term for it. He says, ‘strong coffee;’ a lot of people don’t like strong coffee, but, sometimes strong coffee’s exactly what you need to wake up in the morning and get going.” According to Andrews, the problem is that the studio’s attitude is “We don’t want your ideas, we just want you to do it.”

There has been some controversy surrounding Brave, due to the fact that Brenda Chapman was replaced as director, despite writing the film and originating the concept. Andrews explained that this was part of the way Pixar does things; the story is the most important thing, and sometimes a new perspective is needed. There have been director changes on Pixar films in the past, most recently with Ratatouille. “Every project gets bogged down with story, every single one,” Andrews says, “Ratatouille also took forever and it got bogged down with storyboard and it just got stuck…this is just, you know, the thing that needed to happen to free it up, to break it.”

 

Pixar's relentless success at the box office with truly original tales has convinced screenwriters the world over that the animation studio holds the secret to amazing storytelling. In all honesty, hyperbole aside, Pixar does hold the secret to amazing storytelling, but they are more than willing to share it with the rest of us. Pixar's Brave writer/director Mark Andrews took a moment to describe the studio's story process in a phone interview podcast with ScreenwritingU's Jenna Milly.

What Andrews reveals during the interview about Pixar's story process may surprise you because it's not all that revolutionary:

I call the story process alchemy because we’re trying to turn lead into gold, and when we do, we don’t know exactly how we did it because it’s going to be different every time....

At the end of the day, it’s just trial and error. We go into it intellectually, but we come out of it using our guts, to feel that it’s right, to feel that we’re moved, to laugh and cry as if we were an audience. And that’s pretty much the trick, just a lot of trying it over and over and over again until it feels right.

I know what you're thinking: "Great. What am I supposed to do with that?" First, take a breath, and just calm down, and let's look at this rationally, like two adults.

Pixar's story process isn't the same each time they tackle a new project. As aspiring screenwriters, we may have tried several tools and techniques to help us craft our stories, and even found specific methods that work for us repeatedly, but every story is different, so the process naturally has to change to tell each unique story. Like Pixar, we may not even know exactly how we crafted our latest story, which is why we struggle every time we write a new story.

More importantly (to me at least, maybe not to you, I can't read your mind) is the second point: it's just trial and error to find a way to move an audience. That is such a simple phrase with two key concepts. As writers, we have to be willing to explore so many choices for our characters every step of the way to go beyond the obvious path, to stay ahead of the audience. At the same time, we have to move the audience emotionally as well as move them along with the story as it unravels.

Check out Jenna Milly's complete interview with Mark Andrews at ScreenwritingU. A quick note: the interview was conducted over the phone, so bear with the audio when it begins (pun intended). Your ear will adjust, and are you really going to complain when you get to listen to a Pixar storyteller?

 

Day 88: It doesn't feel real until you have a poster!

Well the first promotional poster is complete! I was watching the making of Disney's Featured Short Film Feast and Patrick Osbourne said "the pressure of your timeline doesn't seem real, until your have a poster for the show up on the wall." I truly see what he meant in his statement. The fact that I've been working on writing, storyboarding, laying out animation, production management, and recruiting talent has indeed been rewarding; yet there's something magical about seeing a poster announcing what's on the horizon. Doing all of this preparation work in order to give my team an enriching experience has and continues to give me clarity. Especially on how best to see my vision for the film can be expanded upon by the extremely talented group that has signed on to aide in playing out ideas beyond the scope of my initial train of  thought. 

Things are in full swing now, and with the winds of Autumn slowly creeping in with fog; it's a great feeling! I just finished up 200+ hours of story training with Pixar's "New Voices in Animation" Intensive, through my college CCA. Spent this past Friday morning over at the studio and it was a bit of a surreal experience when I saw story legend Mark Andrews walking towards me. Feeling very confident that my short will extend an invite next summer from the story team at either Pixar, Laika, or Disney.

Thanks again to the management at Patagonia San Francisco for allowing me time away from the shop, to focus on this tale of topsoil in American history. A special Lloyd Lindsay Young "Hellooooo" to Paul Briggs for listening and answering my story questions over the past year.

Color key used to evoke the emotion impact in the design of the poster. The Old Well on UNC's campus, boy do I miss home...

To everyone in Chapel Hill NC, the Tzedakah, my friends Great Outdoor Provision Company and Weaver Street Market for believing in me!