The Gauntlet, The Standfast, and the Intuos

I built this abomination in order to do some paint-on-glass work for Plus et Plus. This was my second time doing something for them with this medium, unfortunately it turns out they didn't need much of it.

The Gauntlet:

Canon EOS SLR (in this case a 20D) controlled via DSC plugin for Framethief 2.19 mounted to c-stand via superclamp. Panasonic HVX (or summat) on a tripod for lo-res playback. A few units from a light kit. A desk lamp. 2 pieces of plexi, 1 opaque white, 1 opaque black, cut to size at T and T plastics, 315 Church St. just up from Canal. Then lots of acrylic pumped full of retardant and stored in squirt bottles. For those of you paying attention, yes, due to the use of opaque plexi this is a top- (or front-)lit rig.

I've never really had this much trouble from a setup. Some of it was my fault, some of it was the fault of the studio in charge of the equipment, and some of it was just plain bad luck. My Mac died on day 3 and had to be replaced- The DSC plugin for FT is crummy and doesn't support newer cameras, so when we wanted to switch to an EOS 5D that held a Zeiss 80mm Macro lens, it wouldn't work. So we put the lens on the 20D- which wouldn't work. Evidently the lens and the body wouldn't be friends and upon any attempt to take a picture, a big "Err 001" sign would flash in the EOS LED, then the whole camera would lock up.... On and on like this for days, every day.

These are just a few tests I did one day, then the client cut all my paint-on-glass stuff. I was all pumped to do some moving Turner-like fog, but evidently they misunderstood what "paint-on-glass" animation is. So, again, I never got to take the stuff past simple one-off tests. It seems that just when I'm ready to get rolling with this stuff, I get cut off. Grr.

The 1080p versions are a bit more eye-candy lookin', but they're still just tests. I will say this: I'm strongly considering picking up Dragon Stop Motion for my stand alone P.o.G. rig. Framethief works for pencil testing, and I own a commercial license for it. Still, DragonSM works the same way but with a better interface and more support for various models of SLR cameras, and in some cases allows for viewfinder preview without an additional firewire video source. This cuts out a whole fileset and piece of gear so I'm considering taking the plunge. Not to mention they aren't charging an exorbitant amount for their software, something I truly appreciate these days.

The Standfast:
Now that I have my own camera stand, I could theoretically get some non-drying sculpty and do some stop motion films with no added setup. Oh, I forgot to mention. My lovely, fantastic, amazing cousins donated an old camera stand to my efforts. It's a CS-5 TestRite. No more jury-rigged tripods.

And, for my christmas present to myself, a brand-spanking new Wacom Intuos 4. Cost: Relative. Size: Medium. Impact: Huge. After years of gifted graphires and hand-me-down tablets, I had to take the plunge and get a pro model.

Next post will be about this feature film that I'm cutting on contract. It's nearing completion, I'm just waiting on some pickups. After this job, I'm not taking any more contract work until my film is complete.


Ladies and Gentlemen, the Boarding Process is Complete

No posts A lull.  Quite the opposite.  I've been meaning to finally announce it but haven't had the time:  Storyboards are finished, and the animatic along with them.  The film grew quite a bit, and when people hear the final running time they seem surprised.  Maybe even a bit wary.  I assure you, it moves very quickly and the run time doesn't feel long.  Trust me, I loathe nothing more than a short that overstays its welcome.  I sincerely appreciate, probably more than most, a short that holds itself to under or around ten minutes.  But gods, this thing got epic.  The story is almost worth blowing up into a feature.  With much effort, I've paced it out quite deliberately so that the run time doesn't feel long at all.

A quick statsheet before all-out breakdowns and budget revision begins:


  • 527 shots.
  • 29 minutes and 37 seconds give or take a few credits and thanks.
  • 5 paint-on-glass sequences interspersed with the traditional 2D.
  • Opening sequence covers social change over many centuries of history in 1:48 seconds.

Backstory: History as Truth and Symbol

  • Main character first appears at shot 22, almost 2 full minutes into the film- and isn't seen in full, in daylight until shot 58, the first few seconds of minute 4.
  • First elephant fight sequence from 7:18 to 8:40.
  • Only ONE dissolve to relocate/pass time, and it's a match move.  There are 3 more dissolve transitions in place, but they are to denote when 2d gives way to paint-on-glass in the animatic.  All other necessary transitions are done through an original visual or audio cue.
  • 10 Distinct, remarkable *NOMS*  ...For some reason, food became a motif all its own.

 NOM #3

So I'd love to say that I'm starting animation yesterday, but as it turns out there have been several welcome contract jobs of late.  So, I've been slammed with other people's projects.  My next post will be covering my second attempt at a paint-on-glass rig, a pile of gear I arranged for recent work in NYC on a MAC cosmetics corporate and online promo for their Spring 2010 line.  Unfortunately, they cut most of my paint animation- it turned into more of a photography job.  But that doesn't mean I didn't abscond with photos of the rig and the few animation tests that I'll post here soon.

Battered Diplomats

My most recent gig is finishing editor for a local SC feature by Skellenger Films, "More Than Diamonds."  At the moment I'm working through several difficulties to migrate all the footage to my edit bay- the largest of which seems to be the strange tendency of the SONY EX1 to shoot .MP4 extension files that feature the MPEG-2 video codec shell called MPGV.  It seems Apple and Quicktime don't like this new devilry.  Oh, tech.  How often I loathe thee.

Until the next.


Research : Don't #$%^ with an elephant.

As Jeff Corwin once learned, something that is 10-20 thousand times stronger than a human doesn't always know its strength.  Or always let you know when enough is enough.

Skip to 3:30 for the frightening incident, or watch the whole thing if you wish.  It's not too bad.

Bull fight:

Close call, vehicle damage:

Smart Driver:

Horrifying attack.  NSFW- DO NOT WATCH if you are afraid to watch someone and/or an elephant get killed:

When the elephant bursts through the gates, and a human actually tries to stop it- that is when you really get a sense of how powerful these animals are.  Don't do what that guy did.  He's very lucky to have only been knocked back several feet and then rolled around.  Unfortunately a human, the circus trainer, died in the initial attack.  In this case, the animal killed its trainer.  In another case, it killed someone (who got close) in front of its trainer, while being chained up.

Again. NSFW- DO NOT VIEW if you can't handle scenes of real violence.  Skip to the end.

This person most likely died in this attack.  I hope people are reminded that elephants in particular are feeling animals, and mistreating one can lead to disaster.  Or maybe we just shouldn't use them to do things like this:

Yeah.  Somehow I don't think training an elephant to do that is going to help it get along with humans later in life.


Modest Milestone IV: The 400 Blows

Passed shot 400 in the boards yesterday. I'd be further (farther?) along but I picked up a nasty bug last week, it took me down for a few days.  Either that or I've been harboring the same sinus infection since March and it finally caught up with me.  In my mind this is entirely probable.  

This film keeps getting bigger.  Paperwork now fills some of my time instead of a little. Storyboards/Animatic completion imminent.  Then breakdowns and style frames.  Perhaps a color test or two.  Then animation and onward to victory.

In many ways, my own story begins to parallel that of my protagonist. Perhaps such things are bound to occur when you dive into something so deeply.  Or perhaps I'm meant to be tested and tried at every turn.  I know, I know.  Don't tempt the gods, right?  Could always be worse...

"Announcing your plans is a good way to hear God laugh."  -  Al Swearengen

Power through.

Persistence is all.



I realize there's been some off topic posts, apologies for that. It was my goal when I started this blog to stay on target.

This is the production blog for my upcoming short film, "Mutwale." (Moot-wall-ay) It is based on the true story and folk legend of an elephant whose life is irrevocably altered by the events and circumstances surrounding the Hundred Days genocide in Rwanda.

This film will be animated by my hand, with the help of a few and the support of many. It is a fiscally sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts collective based out of NYC. Donations in behalf of this project may always be made via the offical site, or through whatever means is most convenient.

The film started as a sort of blip on my creative radar; my sister came home from a six month stay in Kigali with a brilliant story about an elephant that befriends a fisherman. From there the idea simmered for a while- years, maybe- before it finally opened up in my brain and presented itself as The Next One to tackle. My sister and I broke it down into plot points and research. She dove into the history of the story and locale, and I read up on elephant behavior and started rough thumbnails of the story in summer/fall of 2008. After an intense stint as a jack-of-all-trades freelancer at design firm Plus et Plus, and an even more intense relocation from NYC to South Carolina, I finally sat down to hammer out the story into complete storyboards. I'm still working on storyboards as we speak.

It seems like preproduction is taking forever. It's coming up on a year since I started preproduction proper. But I'd rather get it done right from the start so that there are fewer surprises when animation is underway. Nothing's worse than having to redo a scene or fix a big error during production itself. So the boards are being done digitally for the first time in my workflow- I'm literally putting together a full-length, fully-edited animatic (complete with camera moves, layers, all that) simultaneously with the boards. New territory for me. And while it's meant to be a time-saver (so far it's been a fairly successful one,) there have been plenty of necessary distractions to keep my from my film. Everything from designing tee-shirts to working as a Production Assistant on Bridezillas (Season 6 if you must know- and yes, reality TV is so produced it might as well be scripted,) have kept my hours a bit too divided.

So that's where things stand. I may put a few scenes of the animatic online for feedback and whatnot. Certainly all contributors will be getting a look at the whole thing. I look forward to animation starting- the film is my most ambitious to date, and a regular flow of pencil tests would help liven up this production blog as well.


An Open Letter to The Hadidas, Roger Avary Regarding Silent Hill 2

Gentleman. Congratulations on moving forward with a sequel to Silent Hill, a labor which produced perhaps the most faithful video game adaptation to date. I can't say that I agree with all of the creative choices made for the film, namely restricting the main character's need to kill in order to survive. But you probably don't care what I think, after all- who the hell am I? Well it doesn't matter who I am, that's argument ad hominem. We aren't talking about me, don't change the subject! We're talking about Silent Hill. Most importantly, the upcoming sequel being written by you, Roger Avary and produced by you, one or both of the Hadidas.

In 2006, immediately after seeing Silent Hill in theaters, stuck in an hallucinatory state brought on by flu, torn between what was right with the film and what was folly, I sat down and in six days produced a first draft of Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams. After a second revision it's still admittedly a bit rough around the edges. Some of the dialogue is rocky, there's far too many parentheticals and ellipses, it sometimes relies too heavily on the details of ammunition count or status... You get the picture. But it also contains some real gems- original action sequences motivated by character and location, creative use of lore to tie together films one, two, and three, and most importantly- a few really affecting scenes that are straight out of a Lynch nightmare. Of course having one of the most cinematic game stories ever told to build upon was a big help.

I contacted the CAA in 2006 to see if they would put me in touch with you. As I expected, they sent me a nice big middle finger disguised as industry lingo. I have enough experience to understand the screenwriting business, and why I'll probably never be a contributing professional on the industry's terms. That's why I'm self-employed, setting my own terms, animating my third film with my bare hands and making sure no punches are pulled. Regardless of you, your status, your skills, our industry, our economy, I am here to kick ass. I am here to produce things that push boundaries, challenge the mind, and I will no longer stand for tepid tripe stuffed with fake, forced universality.

It is evident through what you attempted with your adaptation of Konami's first Silent Hill title that you have this fire in you as well. I want the sequel to be great- hell, we all want it to be better than great, and we all want to see it smash [video game adaptation] box office records with a great opening weekend and a long, smoldering wide release that brings steady ticket sales. I don't want to hear most of the crowd booing or japing about how they want their money back as they did after the first Silent Hill at the UA Court Street Stadium 12 in downtown Brooklyn. So I want to offer some additional fuel for your fire. There is good stuff here, and it's stuff you don't have. How do I know you haven't got it? That's easily answered: because I'm currently the only person on the planet that does.

I know you don't need this per se- that's why you're here, Avary. A Hollywood staple and proven screenwriter, WGA member (presumably) and all-around industry workhorse. I don't presume to stick my foot in your door like a vacuum salesman. I certainly don't want to undermine this process or in any way replace anyone. But I do presume to know when I'm sitting on art because I'm an artist. Classically trained, time-tested, industry-approved. And, sirs! Gentlemen! There is art in this script. It's not ready for shooting. Hell, it would need another revision or two to stand on its own. I wanted to do this but in 2007 I put the spec down because there's just no way for me to get it into hands that give a shit. That is the travesty of this broken industry- collaboration is squashed, new talent is crushed, original ideas are squandered for no good reason. None of that matters for your purposes, though. I understand this.

So make your sequel! If you do it without any of the scenes or sequences in my script (US Library of Congress Copyright dated 2006,) then you are missing an opportunity to imbibe some really inspiring Silent Hill material. I daresay your film will be poorer for it, but then I don't know exactly where you're headed after the first one so don't take that as hubris.

If you are even slightly interested in these fresh ideas, I would be happy to put inexpensive exclusivity on the table. I'm not unreasonable, but I know enough about the industry to know that I shouldn't be the one offering any deals as of yet. Just know that I require hardly anything at all from you if it means making a better Silent Hill experience possible. I know something like this is outside of the industry standard but so long as it doesn't violate union rules I fail to see the harm in something unorthodox if it promises to be mutually beneficial. After all, nearly any deal can be made provided the proper documents be drawn. In any case, you've probably got paperwork or scheduling to do. I've got an original animated short to get back to. All the best.

Jeff Martell


In light of Roger Avary pleading guilty to drunken driving leading to the death of one and the severe injury of another (his wife) it looks like this will most likely suffer a delay.

I may not be in the immediate position to screw up another Silent Hill feature, but at least I'm not in jail for vehicular manslaughter.


Modest Milestone III: Not-so-modest

Today brought shot 300. This thing is quite a beast- thankfully it should still clock in at under 20 minutes, which would be nice for the workload. For now, though, it'll be as long as it needs to be. Can always trim things down after the whole story is in place. Or not.

It's excruciating to hit road blocks/ little snags in the story that I hadn't anticipated. But it's wonderful to get past them. Now to get these boards finished... Looks like October may actually bring the animation. Fingers crossed.

I'm not one for pride but this is going to be quite a film! More soon. Next post will be a recap of everything to date, and hopefully the post after that, well- it should be a good one.


Modest Milestone II & Moar Music

Greetings. The film is at over 220 shots which puts it at just over 13 minutes now. If I want to have any hopes of getting this finished in *ahem* my lifetime I need to get production in gear ASAP. Preproduction feels like purgatory sometimes. Still, it's looking good and I've got lots of support, support which seems to grow every day. So don't take these statements as any sort of complaint. I'm doing what I love and loving what I do.

There's another composition I'm considering using for some of the earlier segments, when M is just a wee bebbeh and things are somewhat wondrous in his new territory. I'll post it here but please keep in mind that it's a rough cut and may or may not be used - and if it is used, it will be polished.

This piece was played live in three layers using an Ensoniq FiZmO with a tweaked-out sinusoid preset, then recorded and edited together in Digidesign ProTools LE 7.4. It still has some kinks in the edit.


Antagonism: Quadruped Enmity

A convincing naturalistic fight scene that combines traditional cinematic conflict with the unpredictable and unbridled order of Nature. The outcome is set. I will not reveal it here.

Off to day three of week 4- the most productive week yet!


Borystoards: Modest Milestone

I am tired.

Passed shot 100 this evening, and this has put me just past the 7:00 mark.

Have I mentioned how mazing it will to be to finish boards and have a full animatic that has been completed simultaneously?

The days are just packed.


Music (aforementioned)

It's been requested that I post that music track I've recorded- I don't really know html so I'm uncertain the best way to embed an MP3 here in my blog.

In the meantime, enjoy this dancing hamster. Wait. Aha! I found something. Thanks Odeo embeddable player. There's no need for a Hamtaro gif. You're safe. FOR NOW.

Play it loud. Comments of course welcome- I'm not entirely set on the chord progression but I'm pretty happy with the voice/oscillators. (I think 2 voices @ 2 oscillators = 4 oscillators.) There's a pop or two when the higher-velocity base notes hit, I'm going to clean those up later.

In other news, my brand new Sakura Electric SE-2000 Portable Cordless Handheld Eraser arrived in the mail today! w00t. The first in a line of materials shipments. Things are happening. I am giddy.

I lied. You've been exposed to a Ham-Ham.


Storyboards Continued, Some Light Music

Research has its merits but in this instance it was a real pain. I started thumbs back in October of 2008 so there's a sequence or two that I discovered simply wouldn't work. Logistically, there would've been no elder elephant population in Akagera when my group of younglings arrived, so I had to rework some things. It's for the best because Mutwale gets more development this way- but deviating from the thumbs put me in a tight spot- momentarily. It's hard to mess with a timeline about an elephant Family's development so I ended up cutting a big chunk and replacing it. Slight detour.

In other news my synth-tastic synthesizer, an Ensoniq FiZmO and I had a session concerning this very film. I've had some ideas for music but I'd really not laid anything down. Until today! Simple chord progression with pretty advanced waveforms and some intensive EQ'ing yielded a little gem. I don't think it's fit for final but it's a good start and at the very least a solid reference.


Industry Rant: The Animation Sandbox

Here's the thing about animation.

It's fun, it's quirky, it lets the creator do just about anything. One can turn humans to liquid or a dog and cat duo into incredibly emotive lead characters.

The biggest strength of animation is also its biggest pitfall. All this freedom- essentially telling stories without the constraints of the natural physical universe- well sometimes that leaves the story out to dry and the viewer is left with a running demo reel.

Take the film "Sorry I'm Late." It's a gorgeous, fun, creative little romp. Check out the behind-the-scenes work- a whole pro crew, a slew of props and techniques, test shoots, casting, lighting. And for what? A play reel. It's quirky and creative, sure, but at the end of the day the film isn't actually about anything. It's literally a jaunt from an undisclosed point A to an undisclosed point B. No discernible reason for the trip and so there's really no reason for me to care. It's eye candy. Actually, it's more like eye fast food. An excuse to go play in a sandbox. And honestly? You might as well skip the pro budget and be these guys. It's less expensive and just as fun.

You can spot a similar trend with some of the leanings of the shorts of le Gobelins.

A quirky setup, a big chase with Rube Golberg style situational escalations and gags, then finally a payoff. Nothing too engaging and certainly no emotion or thought beyond some good solid laughs. And of course there's nothing wrong with a few laughs now and again.

I love Oktopodi. It got an Oscar nod last year.

I'll end with a counterexample. Pat Smith, a cool dude by any standard (I used to work at his studio so yeah, shameless plug) and his work is pretty wicked. A simple film like Handshake (one of my favorites of his) shows how in a few short minutes, with one location and two characters interacting, an entire story can really unfold. Boy meets girl. Girl meets boy. Sparks. Muddled existential dual identity crises. Relationship clashes, woes, humanity. Over and out. Rinse. Repeat.

It's not too innovative and the style is recognizable to the point of being familiar- but it's an original take on something timeless. And most importantly, the story is present both on the surface and between the lines.

In any case, everyone's a critic, and I'm no exception. I've been trying to put my money where my mouth is for years (which is hard with little to no resources) so-- no day like today! Until the next, I suppose.

Storyboards Continue

Pushing on ahead with the boards. Everything is going well now that my system is back up, and I discovered a nifty little OSX clone tool that happens to be free/donation-ware. (Support it if it works.) I've been doing root user backups but I've really been dying to find something incremental. I've got a redundant clone going now so hopefully everything should be kept ship-shape if the worst strikes again. *knocks wood*

I'm currently on shot 57, which puts the film at 00:03:57:12 and it's looking to roll over into minute 4 any panel now. I'm still jumping between books 1 and 2 of the thumbnails- eager to hit that stride where everything progresses in an orderly fashion. If any part of production can indeed be described so.

And now I'm off to find myself in the strange position of scanning/taking macro photos of sugarcane stalks. Textures needed.


Of Macs and Men Pt. II

So there I was. Staring straight at my monitor in disbelief, unmoving. Like a parent approaching a new but not entirely unexpected situation with a problem child: Not angry, just disappointed.

My G5 suffered catastrophic system failure last week for the 5th time. For the third time in 5 years, OSX suffered a fatal crash that permanently dismounted the system drive. While 5 years seems like a good run, let me explain something: This HD was brand new, installed in January of this year. I'm beginning to think that it was simply a dud from Seagate, but then it was also a root user restore, which means any existing permissions problems would have carried over. Of course I back up often but that's not the point. And certainly I prefer it to the previous issues with this machine: constant Kernel Panics due to a faulty Logic Board (which has been replaced twice and still doesn't want to recognize DV firewire signals from the tower ports. Yes, the firewire bus is tested and working.)

It's pretty well known that Macs have the hardware issues, PC's have the software issues, and Linux users laugh at everyone. But this Mac- my Mac- is from a batch of bad Apples (heh) from 2004. Second gen, first issue liquid cooled G5's that were rushed out the door to fill orders for the first gen machines. (I ordered a first gen machine, not in time to avoid being screwed.) These are the G5's from hell. Before they went out the door, they gave Steve Jobs cancer. They were christened with the blood of sacrificed goats, washed clean with the bile of Hedonism demons, and delivered to the doorstep of unsuspecting professionals everywhere.

In any case, yes, 5 years is a good run and most PC users would say it's about time for a new machine because, DUDE, yer hardware is like SO out of date. But the simple fact is that it's not. I built a monster 5 years ago and it's still up to the task of some of the most advanced compositing and animation tasks you can throw at it. It's just never been stable hardware, and that's entirely Apple's fault.

Sure, it's a PPC chipset that can't run most of the latest and greatest upgrades, but 1)it runs the last generation- CS2, CS3, Final Cut Studio 2- just fine and 2)the latest and greatest will likely have its own issues for a year or two, not to mention a modicum of superficial upgrades that I don't need. I'm fine running what I do, it gets the job done. When it works.

Will my next computer be a mac? Yes. Am I going to rush into a new chipset and order an early generation build before all the kinks are worked out? Absolutely not. Never. Again.

So this time, I'm running an internal scratch drive and installing only the software I need to use immediately. Regular permissions repairs with advanced third party disk utility software should keep this puppy rolling for another year or two, which is all I need.

But yeah. No posts recently because there's not been any work recently. Tech's a bitch.


Sketchbook: Style Frames I and II

I'm working with style frames instead of an overall style guide as things progress, there's no reason to spend weeks putting together a briefing packet if you're flying solo for most of the production. When I do bring in additional hands it will be colorists and background artists who can work from color guides and rough layouts. The exception, though, is the sound designer. In that case I'll be doing a full cue sheet for sound to work from, something I've neglected to do with my films outside of schooling- and I've seen how the work can suffer from this oversight. Anyways. This post isn't about sound.

A style frame every so often throughout the boards should keep the palette/styles unified. There will be multiple techniques used throughout the piece so when I sit down to a scene I need to know at a glance how it will look and how it will move. Sometimes things get jumbled up in the old noggin' and the references can be invaluable. Of course animators/filmmakers know this already, I thought I'd mention it because... I wanted to.

So here's style frames I and II- these both come from the first 30 seconds of the film. There's earlier posts covering this sequence and hopefully these frames illustrate the stylistic choices I've been discussing. There'll be some animation tests soon but until then it's back to storyboards.


Research : Soaking up History

"The power to define is the power to destroy/ It is the truth for every girl it is the truth for every Goy." -Robert Anton Wilson (paraphrased)

So, in the first two minutes of this film I'm summarizing the history of Rwanda from late pre-colonial to early post-colonial and then jumping to 1977- around the time that baby Mutwale was spared from the elephant "depopulating," "cleansing," or whatever euphemism one might use to describe a massacre. He was subsequently displaced to Akagera Park in Northeast Rwanda near the border of Tanzania. So my timeline is spread across pretty much the whole 20th century and into the 21st, but this bit at the start is really important for establishing just about everything that takes place in the post-colonial timeline.

Lots and lots of research has been done for this, and I've got to give props to my sister. (Props, Jess.) She's been in and out of libraries, gone through entire bibliographies of Rwandan history, memoirs, scientific papers, written eyewitness accounts and a story outline, been in touch with historians and researchers, and yes, even lived in Kigali for 6 months. That last bit is how all this came about, so even more props for stumbling onto this story that I've grown to inhabit. Thanks for being such a fine catalyst. Mad props.

I've been through several briefings on the sequence of events: the prevalent semi-caste system in place before colonization by Germany, the taking of the "territory" (among others) of Rwanda by Belgium after WWI (made official in the "League of Nations Mandate") and the subsequent tidal wave of influence that followed after the Belgian government and Christian missionaries decided to redefine the entire society. One of my favorite little poems by Robert Anton Wilson describes how one's ability to define something, whether or not it fits that description, is one of the most destructive forces available to humanity. I forget which of his books uses it, I believe it's Prometheus Rising. I take his use of "Goy" to be the literal Hebrew translation meaning "nation" or "people," as he was not Jewish and would not likely use its modern, informal connotation. Anyways! Here I must interject with what brought on this post: I was going over the current storyboards with a donor, one that has an interest in European history:

She mentioned that the crucifix I'd used to adorn a wall made the missionary/Belgian conglomerate colonials represented in the scene appear Catholic. She then went too far back in history as a correction, thinking that perhaps I should be looking to the Huguenots (who?) for those who would've been responsible for the colonization, thus changing the relevant symbology. This is totally forgivable as most people don't realize that the first meeting between a Mwami (Rwandan King) and colonial factor (A German Count) was actually in 1894. Germans started entering the country in bulk between 1897-99. That's yesterday in terms of Rwanda's entire history. Anyway, back to Catholicism. I hadn't thought about denomination really, but it dawned on me that the implications (that missionaries essentially caused an irrevocable schism that eventually led to a major genocide- not exactly Jesus' plan, methinks) won't go over too well. With the symbology that I've got going, getting the specifics right isn't nearly as important as not getting them wrong. I decided to follow up a bit.

After some additional fact-checking it turns out the missionaries in question are indeed Roman Catholic. Along with the Belgian government, colonial forces emphasized the distinction between Tutsi and Hutu and Twa so heavily- even to the point of having registration papers that listed the distinction- that the manifesting discrimination eventually becomes the trickle-down-hate that leads to the events of the 100 days of killing. ...Over 800,000 dead in 100 days. Most killed by machete. Christ. I keep meaning to pick up a book of photography that documented the atrocities or the account of the 100 days by the head of the UN peacekeeping mission, but I just can't right now. Some part of me is afraid that the results will alter my film's focus and the rest... is just afraid.

Of course it's all more complicated than this, but it's a pretty clear path from here. Cause. Effect. Though, this film isn't about the genocide. The history I'm squashing into two minutes is kept pretty broad. It's important to understand that the history of this nation isn't just these atrocities. Though you could also look to the Hutu's precolonial treatment of the Twa as an argument that colonials aren't such a singular source of negative influence- hell, look at Japan's treatment of the natives of the northern island of Hokkaido or the disenfranchisement (how's that for a euphemism?) of the Native Americans by... Well, I guess that's colonists too. Still though, this history- It's more. One of the things my sister mentioned time and time again is how much information there is on the Rwandan genocide and how little available information there is on Rwanda. How little tangible documentation exists that isn't seen through the lens of colonialism or the prism of genocide. Maybe some of this is due to the market for information and maybe some is due to the... spectacle. Gods know some of it is due to the lack of recorded history for the area. In my case, in the case of my work, I don't think I need to point fingers or even stick to the history too closely. Then again I don't want any glaring discrepancies either. This often feels like a tightrope walk.

I'd already known that missionaries and government pushed the caste distinction because they thought the Tutsis- being taller- were sons of Ham, literal descendants of Noah (via his son, Ham.) Yes, the 'Arc' Noah. Helluva tale. I wonder if the author knew about this particular historical interpretation.

Anyway, my first instinct (the traditional Christ-on-a-Cross adornment) is actually historically accurate, whether it lends recognizable context or not. It does, I think. Stroke of luck or brilliant coincidence, I think it's a good sign. Angles are lining up. Pieces are fitting into place.

More exciting posts soon. Take that "more" to mean both quantity and degree.


Inspiration/Influence: Иван Максимов

It's always nice to discover a body of work that consistently rocks, but one that does so with a unique style and incomparable intelligence is a rare thing. I think I stumbled upon Ivan Maximov by accident when youtubing around for Alexander Petrov clips. I'll be sure to cover Petrov in this blog when I get closer to a working paint-on-glass rig, but right now Maximov's interesting combination of simple geometry and texture is a great place to stop and visit.

Niti ("Strings") is a fantastic little piece. Simple shapes and colors make it easy to discern key players and goings-on almost immediately. The layout/blocking is particularly interesting- it feels as though the abstract landscape is a real place. The story moves through the populated world pretty seamlessly. And of course the tale itself is poignant, resonant... uplifting and bleak at the same time. The love story ends happily, all is well. That final shot, though, of those strings bereft all ownership- all these connections and relationships dead with time. Spent and useless. Littering the world. It's an abstract sort of symbology that neither slaps you in the face nor becomes so elusive you can't grasp the meaning. Such imposed ambivalence is the stuff of true contemporary storytellers, IMHO. You'll find that the films of Petrov often fall victim to a kind of sappy sentimentality that often accompanies flights from reality to the fantastic; this is a tendency Maximov has never visibly been prey to.

You can tell from this Bolero short that Maximov has a distinct grasp of consciousness as the Gödelian self-referential strange-loop. (In short the model exists within the model ∴ the model defines itself; an inescapable gap of logic that Kurt Gödel proved mathematically. This destroyed the Principia Mathematica text and changed the face of logic and philosophy forever. It, like a fugue, is a perfect analogy for consciousness.) Something about this film, too, has that odd Kafkaesque sense of horrific inescapable monotony- simultaneously fear-inducing and comedic. The psychology behind both of these stories (as different as they are) isn't your average Freud-quoting superficial skim over the top of the psyche. These films dive deeply into what it means to live as a conscious being and they do it without words, imposed context, or forced didacticism. I think he even sneaked a toilet joke into that Bolero piece. Nice. By the by, I suspect this Bolero piece is Replacement Animation (using shaped cutouts) but I'm not sure.

And who doesn't need an occasional bizarre multicolored trip through a surreal wasteland led by a dog that turns the moon into many-threaded strands of taffy creatures? Nobody in their right mind, that's who.

I LUV the sound and music in that final piece.


Thumbnails Complete, Onward to Boards

Thumbnails are complete and full-on storyboards are under way.

5 notebooks of approximately 1096 little frames and the basic story is locked in. I'll have full breakdowns only after the storyboards and animatic are complete but so far I'm happy with the outcome of the preliminaries.


Announcement: Mutwale Site Live!

If you scope its recently created website you'll see that Mutwale is quickly approaching full on production. I'd like to take this time to mention that technically the spelling of the Kinyarwanda word for "chief" is "Mutware." However, due to an R/L substitution it is pronounced "Mutwale." Having studied enough Japanese to feel strongly that Romanization is a load of crap however you cut it, I've decided to spell it closer to the phonetic pronunciation than the colonial-influenced Romanized form.

The film itself! It seems like I've stuck in prepro for ages but if one cuts corners in this phase one will to pay for it later with mistakes in everything from blocking to prop continuity. Animation isn't immune to the problems that show up in Live Action- though most animators treat the medium like a sandbox with very few constraints. This makes sense- it's one of the strengths of animation- but often the story falls back behind the craft. I will likely rant on this later.

This is not how I roll. I just hit my 5th thumbnail book and the end is in sight. The story is cohesive, engaging, endearing, and best of all, it pulls no bloody punches. Don't get me wrong- I love things by, say, Disney, but you have to admit the worldview of the Magic Kingdom's films is pretty naïve.

I've been working on thumbs for this story since Oct2008. Not every day. Not even every week (gotsta get paid, son!) but little by little it's been coming together. Usually I race through thumbs and hit quickly-drawn boards in order to get an animatic going as soon as possible. Here though, I never wrote a script and therefore thumbs have become crucially important to breaking the production down into a proper workflow. Not only this, I'm trying something new by doing all the boards digitally with Toon Boom Storyboard Pro. I don't go for vector-based software very often but this is a nice little suite that offers layer-based single frames, script importing and dialogue/script note per-frame options, realtime playback, multiple timeline schematics, sound import, simple camera move playback, etc etc on and on. My favorite thing about this software, and the only reason I switched over from tradish storyboards, is that once you're finished boarding you've practically got a finished animatic. From there you can time and pace everything out and get an accurate running time for each shot. No scanning, no composites, no renders, no extra files and folders. My one complaint is that the frame cache is limited to 25 and the performance of the software is a bit slow for running on the desktop I've got. Lots of colored-pinwheel beachball spinning between frames.

In any case, the story is nearly locked- and it's looking good. Real good. My largest concern at this point is the length of the thing. I'm aiming (hoping, praying) for under 12 minutes. Thus far I think it's... Not under 12 minutes.


Sketchbook: Warmups, More Fishermen

Often my daily warmups yield morsels that can grow into new paintings or projects. I think this is because warmups don't have the immediate restrictions of concept. I've noticed my experimental roots are really starting to split rock. In particular my obsession with the neurological sparks spread by optical illusion. It's like a visual form of garden path parsing. Often artists that use advanced optics become pigeonholed as novelties but if one looks to Italian futurism or even some cubism, the illusory confundus is a recurring techinique. I <3 it with so much <3tred.

In any case, to replace that last round of the fisherman, which I find less than inspired, this latest round from the sketchbook is getting closer in both anatomical and stylistic choices.


Sketchbook: Fisherman and Animals

These sketches are from a few weeks back. I'm finally honing in on the Fisherman character's look and got around to some brief practice with gazelles and wildebeests. BBC's Planet Earth on BluRay (not my setup) provided some fantastic reference material. Gotta luv the Beeb.

Finally set up with all my gear. Not to mention some wicked fast internet action. I think this is the fastest connection I've ever had the pleasure of using. Maybe I should boot up Q3A or some QW for old time's -- NO. No. no. .......no. I'm here to work, not to pwn.

Antelopes are like mini-yaks crossed with demons. I love the skin on their face and the shape of their heads. May have to throw one in there even if it's not true to the wildlife region.

more o so soon.


Inspiration/Influence: The Street Sweeper

Couldn't let March fly by without a single post.

My favorite short. I saw this on Liquid Television when I was in elementary school and I've never been quite as enraptured since. Why the hell has there been nothing to replace Liquid TV?

Almost back in working order after a most hellish move. Yes, it's taken over a month so far. The marathon continues. Until the next.


State of the the State of Things

There are certain realities that I've been facing for the longest time; now ranks among the more palpable of them. I've worked for many others- a dishwasher was my first job. One of my favorite things from that was playing with all the leftover wasabi from the sushi platters. From there I graduated to busboy- and aside from breaking a glass in the ice chest one night (complete service-job snafu followed by madness and chaos) I excelled. It was expected that I move on to server and that through high-school I would move on to assist the chef and possibly stay on for managerial or even chef positions. Alas, my artistic skills got in the way.

Since then I've worked many jobs. I worked retail at the extinct video game shop Multimedia 1.0, a staple of St. Marks until the lowlife owner with many fine children fled the scene of his enormous debt, selling the store to a compadre of what I can only assume has similar sinister conceit. Offer under 10% of value on something then mark it up to about 150%. Jerks. The sad fact of this job was that again, I was very good at it. I know video games and could sell the proverbial sand to the proverbial desert-dweller. I rarely did this as game taste is easily measured in just a few questions. Just the same; not to be. Not unlike the relationship I was in at the time (psycho much?)

After that was freelancing: nonlinear cutting of promos, shooting some corporate videos, interning at an animation house, nominations for some films, and freelancing at an NYC design firm of note. Sadly all this has come to an end, the economy is bunk, the United States will collapse if the Obama administration doesn't have a perfect run, and I'm staring down the barrel of the blogosphere.

I regret nothing. I know my potential and I know I've not yet scratched the surface of it. I know that there are those that believe in me. I know that they are right to, and thank them for it.

I am a few days away from packing up and about a week away from leaving NYC. Balls!

Production on this film will continue regardless of where I am so tune in anytime.


Industry Rant : "The Information Economy"

Lots of people think they know lots of things. In my experience they know half as much as they'd expect, and expect they know about twice as much as you'd guess of them during a conversation. Well, I'm not one to judge but I've had this conversation with too many people who don't know what they're talking about when it comes to media. Essentially they the argument is that the models of digital downloads will replace retail and in many cases, the need for retail and manufacturing altogether.

Here's why that's not going to happen for at least a decade, if at all.

First, people aren't taking into account quality. Anyone who knows anything about data knows that the highest file sizes in media come from two places: sound and moving image. With audio, compression can save you a good amount of space at the expense of quality, but hi-quality audio gets pretty massive. And in first place of course is video. Moving pictures, even at a compressed rate, become absolutely astronomical very quickly. Codecs (compression/decompression algorithms) aren't going to save you that much space when you're talking about delivery of quality assets- 1080p HD video with 5.1 or 7.1 surround is what people want to fucking watch, alright? Hell, they expect it. And when you talk about digital media downloads, of films and such, you're not only talking about taxing storage solutions, but you're also talking about dealing with the [unnecessary] bandwidth caps of most American ISPs.

Second, people are forgetting ownership. If you buy a film digitally, it's sitting on a hard drive. If you buy a film in stores, it's palpable. It's on your shelf. It's unique in that it is your copy of something. It's a tangible purchase. Whether or not you think this is a good thing, you can't ignore the fact that having a tangible collection will always be more reliable, accessible, and collectible than digital media. Or, in some cases, some studios are bright enough to include a lower-res copy of the film for ipods/itunes on the disc(s) as well.

Third, Look at Apple TV. This is essentially the same thing you're talking about. So far it's been a dud in the Apple lineup. This comes back to quality. Why buy a movie if it's going to be 640X480 resolution? And still push 300-600 megs a film! Storage is getting cheaper, but that doesn't make these look any better when you full-screen the thing. Sure, they'll play on an ipod but nobody crowds around the ipod to take in a good flick.

People expect some kind of information revolution to whisk away the need for stores and hard copies of things on disc, but they don't realize that what they're talking about would be another product to replace a computer or DVR that essentially does the same thing in one concentrated place. (Another box on the shelf that does stuff? Good luck, Marketing.) I just need something that plays movies, man. Console movie downloads, iTunes movie downloads and rentals, instant viewing on Netflix- these things are a step in the direction for the so-called 'information economy' taking over media distribution. But completely replaceing cold, hard hi-quality media is pretty far away for those three reasons above and more.

To be fair, the people I talk to about this don't work in, on, or with this media. They're actors, journalists, writers. They'be never had to allot hard disk space for HD renders or spend hours tweaking compression for download and then cringing at the inevitable picture/sound degradation. They also don't realize that for the last 10 years, DVD sales have been 46% or more of the revenue stream for the major studios. For a good reason. Reliable, good picture quality, disc-based, attractive replacement for VHS, simple to use.

I could be proven wrong. Someone could blow Apple's h.264 codec out of the water and combine it with a solid-state storage solution with a low-cost fixed-rate fiber optic delivery system and a sleek, fast UI that puts every movie ever at people's fingertips. But if the quality isn't top-notch it won't go anywhere and lots of investors will lose lots of money on phantomware.

I was just writing a post to those people and those who agree with them blindly, saying, basically, it's like flying cars. Don't hold your breath.

A self-indulgent post? Maybe. But media is in the half of what I think I know that I do actually know. I think.


Inspiration/Influence: Svankmajer

A brilliant piece by one of my favorite animators. Part III is really an inspiration for what I'm going for with certain characters and design for the first two minutes. Part II has the craziest Foley work I've heard and is probably my favorite of the sequences.

If you like this, check out more of his work. I own his first major collection of shorts and one of his features, Faust, but both remain hijacked by Datach'i. Man, I need to get those back.

Meanwhile, my storyboarding and thumbnailing continues. That's all for this week.


A Question of Technique

I'm trying to nail down what I want this opening to look like. The initial idea was for a simple earthy textures- a different texture for each person or layer- to be the clothing base and then have skin tones colored traditionally.

I had attempted to put up an animated GIF of the test but it's not playing.

Anyway. An idea pops up. Some Rwandan artists do this great banana-leaf cutout artwork. My sister sent me this card:
If we could include this look it would unify the symbology of the opener and give me a nice motivated simplicity. What more could an animator ask for? So I'm trying to work out a way to achieve this look without using actual cutouts. I will most likely end up seeking banana leaves (or similar,) and drying them out, scanning color blocks, and using a limited assortment of alpha channels to separate the hand-drawn character components into cloth, skin, etc. Another test will determine if this is a viable techinique.


Fiscal Sponsors

Ahoy! 2009 is off to a grand start. Artists' collective Fractured Atlas has chosen this film project worthy of their fiscal sponsorship program. This means not that they are offering money, but that through them contributors receive tax benefits for cash contributions to the film, which is now an entity of the Arts. There's also benefits for contribution of services and equipment but these get a little convoluted so I'll come back to them. It also gives us a bang-up look for government grants and for employee-matching in corporate funding opportunities. Here's to hoping this film can become a full-time gig for me because right now it's really the only thing I want to do.

By the end of the week I should have more of this fleshed out but there's no question- this is a hefty workload. Pre-Production just got real.

One last thing to be done this week before this film turns into priority one, and that's polish off this series of commissioned paintings.