Aught Nine

Through the thick and the thin of this year- and after all the crap I've been through in the last 3 weeks, I'd like to quote everyone's favorite pocket-picking, booze-hound robot:

"I'm back, bebbeh!"

See y'all on the flipside. May your toasts be heard by all.


Sketchbook: Frames and Fisherman

A few frame studies of things that are working themselves out in thumbnails. It feels good to flesh out some stuff beyond contour-heavy thumbs.

Yeah, I still have a little ways to go with elephant anatomy. There's also this fisherman character I'm starting to get an idea of. He's the only human that holds any significance to the story in any individual sense so I need him to be emotive and charismatic without that over-the-top caricature that so often pops up in animation.

These could be cleaner but I have no access to a tablet right now.

A whole bloody new sequence has been added from some research my sister has come across. It'll be interesting to fit this into the timeline and see how it effects the pacing. Like all the good ones, this thing keeps getting bigger.


A History of Violence

Almost finished with thumbs for the opening segment of Project M, which crams about 200 years of history into less than a minute. Basically the challenge is to explain the circumstances leading up to the Rwandan genocide simply and without post-colonial skew. I think I've got this wrapped up so that I can move on to locking down the meat of the film and getting some style frames done. The latter has been set back by this system drive malfunction, but I eagerly await the replacement. Did you know you can get an internal Seagate Barracuda 7200 RPM 1TB drive for just over a hundred bucks? Freakin' A data is cheap these days.

Meantime I've received a commission from an old friend to do a series of 9 small paintings and this will be a welcome return to traditional media, which never crashes or needs repair.


Industry Rant: "The Land of Catch 22"

My system drive is kaput and in the process of being replaced.

In the meantime I'd like to discuss screenwriting- a quirky but vital scrum on the field of entertainment. Yeah, that's a rugby metaphor. Anyways, most people don't understand the craft because they don't need it. Particularly animators and advertisers that just sort of fly straight to boards and play in their films like a big sandbox. Meeting Chen-Yi Chang, lead character artist at Disney for years, I learned Tarzan didn't even have a script. They threw out the latest draft and went straight to boards. In any case, I've had the pleasure of studying basic and advanced Dramatic and Visual Writing under both pros and struggling amateurs. All forms of this training served to give me a great idea of what to expect out of the industry: Nothing. Nobody's going to help you. Nobody wants to read your scripts. Nobody cares. You have to pry your way in with a godsdamn crowbar. [TL;DR see POINT below]

Here's the thing. You can't sell a script without representation. You can't get representation without selling a script. This isn't made up. This is the way the industry works. I've discussed it with agencies, with fellow writers, with speakers at the WGA headquarters and with WGA reps visiting Tisch. It's broken. It's archaic. It's inbuilt exclusivity that has nothing to do with good writing and everything to do with networking. It's literally a catch-22 and the only thing that the system as it stands serves to do is to make it incredibly hard for new talent to enter the industry and to ensure (via "membership") that hacks and frauds with little regard for art become entrenched among other respectable writers.

The WGA does nothing about this because exclusivity ensures a tightly-knit circle of pros and it keeps demand manageable, measurable even. Sadly, I've seen a brainwashed member defending this system. I've seen the face of old whitey* shouting "We all have to go through this! We all pay our dues!" Easy for you to say, old man. You're a fucking member of the WGA.

So, what can one do? One of the most helpful things to keep in mind is the 10% rule. Which is to say, avoid making this specific list of errors and you're already in the upper 10% of screenwriters. Not a bad bump for the first step. Then find agencies that accept unsolicited works for reading and start pinning rejection letters to your wall. After that, for now, your only option is to schmooze your eyes out, make your own films, or to be born into a Hollywood family. Oh, finally, it helps to be good at writing and storytelling. Sort of bass-ackwards but that's the industry for you.

Finally, and this is a personal complaint- for an industry that demands impeccable grammar and tosses out a script with a typo before page 10... Who says they know a damn thing about grammar? What did they major in English before moving to LA to become a skeez? I diagram sentences in my sleep, bitches, and I don't trust these agencies to know the difference between an appositive and a comma splice.

POINT: The Studio System as it pertains to screenwriting is an archaic monopoly perpetuated by obsolete unionized lapdogs and a system of nepotist and/or prejudiced agencies that maintain exclusivity based on a set of arbitrary self-referential requirements that have nothing to do with screenwriting.

I have an idea about this but putting it into action has taken a back seat to my next film or two. More next week.


Of Macs and Men

So I animated a walk cycle, planning to use it as a base for a few style frames and test shots, and suddenly my workhorse computer Escher decided to eat my system drive and stop booting up completely. Again. Thankfully I performed a root user backup a couple of weeks ago so applications, email, all that's safe. However, I am most likely going to lose some important layers on a particularly large piece of concept art. Bollocks.

I love macs to death but these prevailing hardware issues are killing me. From what I understand second-gen G5's -the first of the "liquid cooled" generation of 04- are just quirky machines. Evidently Escher's quirks are occasionally dropping firewire bus recognition and transforming into an expensive paperweight once every 2 years.

Thankfully I have ole reliable here, a graphite G4 known lovingly as Bertha.


Anthro-projection & A Few Sketches

Thor towers over Saibulu, whirls, cracks his ears with abrupt motion and sharp sound you can get by snapping a wet towel, walks sideways towards Saibulu, and that is enough. The gesture strips Saibulu of his status: Saibulu turns, lowers his head, and moves quickly away alone, leaving no urine trail. Thor follows to complete the encounter.

-Katy Payne, Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants

There's a tendency in media to project human emotions and feelings onto animals. I'm sure you've noticed it; avoiding all the celebrity-voiced anthropomorphic squirrels, donkeys, and hippos bouncing their jovial, flatulent 3-D asses is all but impossible. Replace these animal stories with people and you've got the same drivel as every other disposable comedy- it's just easier to sell because suddenly it's a kids movie and families have no choice but to eat it up because it's there. That leads me to a digression that I'll come back to in many a later post: The broken studio system and the catch-22's that keep it exclusive and dumbed-down.

"But!" Say the fans and the Blue-Sky/Dreamworks/comparable shite-churning studio employees, "this approach allows for new approaches to storytelling!" I agree. Y'know what? I want to see the inside of a beehive! I want to see bees going about their chores with boredom, longing to leave the hive for something better. It's a great idea. What do I get? Bee Movie. Trite, worthless crap with a vomit-inducing candy-coated color palette and lawsuit jokes.

Watership Down
and Animal Farm both use anthropomorphicized creatures to brilliant [literary] effect, but the unambiguous truth is that 99.9% of this type of projection gets tossed about as a gimmick.*

I bring this up because I'm making a film about an elephant. It is a true story so for now I'll call him M. M and his fellow relocated denizens still exist today. I ran into trouble with my limitations. Will this be any fun to watch if I keep it fairly true to life? Thankfully, this research into elephant behavior has proven astoundingly illuminating. I don't need to worry about projecting emotion into the lives of these creatures because they have a surprising amount of emotional range and complexity on their own. It's amazing what field research reveals about these huge beasts. They communicate with a language of grunts and body language as well as infrasound calls generated from their nasal cavities that have a range of 4 kilometers. Males and females lead distinct lives but the Family group (a community led by a steadfast matriarch) serves as a roving social unit with as many clicks as you'd find in a human neighborhood. At one point it was documented that members of a Family ripped branches from a tree in order to cover the body of a recently deceased lion.

The deeper I delved the more I realized that the question was not the degree of emoting but the externalization, the method. Practical mannerisms and actions. These animals do indeed feel and love and remember and they do it all without talking.

*Pixar is founded and staffed by inhumanly talented storytellers and thusly unincluded.


Research and Pachyderms

The closest social unit is the "family," a group of a dozen or so related females and their offspring. Certain families have a strong preference for each other's company. The families so affiliated are a "bond group." Families and bond groups are often expanded by the visits of adult males, but on the whole males live rather separately from the families, in bachelor herds and independently.

Katy Payne, Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants.

One of the greatest lessons I took from my storyboarding class with John Canemaker: Research, Research, Research. Going into a scene, know as much as possible about set and setting as you can and the visual details will fall into place. Many filmmakers write/create from what they know. I would imagine the Kevin Smiths of the world often don't often dive into a subject with much depth because they live it. They write stories that come from the shit they talk with their mates and the porn they watch every night. Or afternoon as the case may be. And bravo, that stuff's amusing.

I've never been this type of filmmaker, though. I work from a palette of whatever I can imagine and this dictates the types of stories I want to tell. And while some would scoff at it, I've been suffering from a veritable onslaught of too many viable ideas and no way to do anything with them. 3 Shorts, 5 feature loglines, and an amazing series written by Patrick Udomsak that deserves a bigger fanbase. The latter of which has grown into a fortress of data and development rivaling the mythos of the LOTR. Well, our planet is younger than Middle-Earth but let's not get into it.

In any case, I'm moving forward as of today. Should end up between 7-12 minutes but I'm aiming for less to keep production time down. Still, the priority will be quality and if it wants to be longer, I'll let it breathe. For the first time, I'm not even writing a script. Straight to simple thumbs and boards, and into pencil and media as quickly as I can get there. I'll deal with sound and post when those ships sail. For now, though, filling out this outline that my sister and I worked through, and lots of research on African elephants.

The more I learn, the more I love these animals.



Some nefarious blackhat has been attempting to infiltrate one of my sites! My web host was kind enough to warn me. Who would do such a thing? An acquaintance scorned? A stalker? A porn monger looking for free hosting? Whatever the case, if the attempts continue these cocksuckers will soon find themselves staring down the barrel of "We just fucked with exactly the wrong sort of person."

That out of the way, welcome to my production blog. I will update it regularly with goings-on in my work as well as my experiences in the entertainment industry, which aside from a few friendly acquaintances in indie film and the arts, has proven to be a broken-down rancid pit of absolute grade-A American bullshit. Enjoy your stay and hey! Come on back anytime now.

My next film is gearing up. Its conception and birth will be chronicled here. I will be spending considerably more effort on the animation this go round.