Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A White Sand Christmas

It seems like the whole world is getting snowed on this Christmas season. A few days ago, Aspen welcomed winter with 13 inches of fresh snow on the slopes and more to come. This short sand animation is the first work made entirely in my new studio. With all the recent snow bogging down holiday travel plans and turning the skiers into powderhounds, it seemed appropriate to use sand to create an animated snowstorm and bring a little sunshine to the Christmas weekend. I hope wherever you are, you are spending the holidays with warmth in your heart if not in your hands!

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 20, 2010

To Women (and Men) of Vision

Joy and Peace to all those special people in our lives! I send you this recent project as an animated Christmas greeting and as that you pass it along to the women and men who inspire you!

This was a delightful project. Women of Vision is a volunteer ministry of World Vision, a Christian relief and development organization, which equips women to serve impoverished and oppressed women and children worldwide. WoV seeks to educate and inspire women to action in an effort to alleviate the injustice and inequities that exist for women and their families.

My inspiration was the Women of Vison logo.
The design seemed to dance, even before it was animated. We wanted to convey the feelings of Joy, Laughter and Unity as women around the globe join together to bring peace and relieve to the oppressed.

The music was composed specifically for the piece by Salvador Santana. You may recognize that last name, but this young musician is making his own way in the world. Listen to more of his work and find out where he and his band are playing next on his website.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Room of One's Own

A few days after moving to Basalt, CO I happened to walk past a sign in the window of a small business complex just off the town center. It said "Office space for rent - one or two rooms, call Mike..." Mike, turns out, is a cabinet designer who's lived in Basalt for 35 years and happened to be downsizing just a bit. The perks of sub-letting from a cabinet guy is the room is full of gorgeous wood - floor runners, a huge wall-mounted desk, beautiful shutters, and the thing that sold me on the place, the door. That and the 5 minute walk along the river that is now my daily commute.

Within a week, I was moving in and I have to say, I have never had so much space exclusively my own! 170 sq ft is not even that much as far as studio space goes, but just sitting in a corner of the room and looking at all the empty space even after all my equipment was set up felt like my mind was about to expand out of my head and attempt to fill at the little corners of creativity. Virginia Woolf had an insight which I am beginning to understand on a new level.

I've worked from home for years, wherever home might happen to be (Tahoe, Spain, New Zealand - there have been a lot). The comfort of staying in my pajamas until 3pm and the convenience of taking a break to hang up the laundry shouldn't be discounted, BUT getting up, getting dressed and locking the front door behind me has a whole new set of benefits.

  • Since I'm paying for the space, I'm motivated to be efficient and make good use of it. It is also an investment in myself and my work. I believe I can make work worthy of the money I spend to create it. And I believe that there are clients and investors out there that will recognize the value of that work and help me (eventually) turn a profit.

  • I'm surrounded by other people working. Well, only two other people, but having a working 'energy' present instead of fighting with the home 'energy' of cooking, cleaning, relaxing, sleeping shows up in my productivity.

  • Home is now home and ideally when I'm there, I can drop that ever-present nagging in the back of my mind that I should always being doing one more thing. It's something many of us self-employed people struggle with. I expect it will be an adjustment to not think of something I need to do after dinner and jumping up and doing it. But I am looking forward to spending more time with my wonderful husband, reading books, watching movies, sharing our home with friends, knowing that my studio awaits me in the morning.
So, expect great things from the new creative bubble!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Basalt Blizzard

A very merry Yuletide from the Roaring Fork Community! This weekend was the annual YuleFest, an art and food fair benefitting Basalt High School, here in our new home. To join in the fun, I set up an Animation Station – a booth where anyone could stop by and spend a few minutes creating stopmotion. It was a great hit. Over the course of the day, about 50 people contributed to one continuous film and we ended up with over 2 minutes of animation! It was a fantastic way to pull people out of shopping mode and allow them to contribute to a project bigger than any one person. Now that’s true Yuletide spirit!

Our wintery theme was the Basalt Blizzard. The process was simple: visitors could either create their own snowflake to add to the blizzard or use one of the ones I had made.


Most of the adults were a little intimidated by the crafts and opted to use the provided materials, but the kids loved cutting and decorating their own snowflakes!  




yulefest09Once the snowflakes were ready, we moved them over to the animation station and made them dance! I captured the frames on my computer so everyone could see their handiwork immediately. A few people were a little skeptical about their ability, but once they started moving the snowflakes around under the camera and saw how easy animation can be, I had no trouble convincing them to continue. In fact I think some of the adults were having more fun animating than the kids! Though the snowflakes were the stars of the show, I had a few other holiday props to add to the animation: m&m’s candy canes, Hershey’s kisses, ribbons and bows. yulefest10Of course, by the end of the day all the kisses and m&m’s had mysteriously disappeared! I certainly saw some creative flashes of brilliance in the process. I hope to find some venues to host some animation workshops in the near future. There certainly were some promising students in the crowd.


All the donations from the project went directly to the Basalt H.S. Leadership fund which sponsors clubs and activities at the school. Thanks to everyone who stopped by and I hope to see you again!


Friday, December 3, 2010

Yule Fest 2010 -The Animation Station

There's a blizzard brewing in Basalt!

Come to the Yule Fest on Saturday, Dec. 4 between 9am-5pm at Basalt High School and help us make an animated film. I'll be hosting the Animation Station where you can try your hand at stopmotion and be a part of a community holiday greeting. Participation is free but donations towards the leadership fund are gratefully accepted! Here's a taste of the fun we'll be having:

There will be tons of art, food, music and other fun at the YuleFest and proceeds go to support the school's clubs and activities!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sunset Animation

Last week, on our fun little trip around the South Island of New Zealand, we found a peaceful campground with access to a beautiful sunset. We ate our pasta on the porch of the Lake Kaniere yacht club and Thom started taking timelapse of the sunset. Then I had to jump in and ruin it all!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

10/10/10 Animating away the climate crisis

In a few days, people in 187 countries will gather at 6,391 individual events to make the world a better place. 10/10/10 has been designated a Global Work Party towards climate solutions. The event is spearheaded by the growing movement. Read this to find out why 350 is the most important number on the planet.

Thom and I got a head start on our own little project – some plein air (i.e. out in the fresh air) animation right in our backyard. Here is the result of a pleasant afternoon on the banks of the mighty Clutha River, which flows from Lake Wanaka and holds the largest catchment in New Zealand. We decided to bring the sea to the mountains, by using shells we collected on our trip to Port Chalmers and combining them with natural elements we found on the river bank at spring flood. As the sea rises to the river, so the river will bring our material back to the sea. It took 3 hours to create the 450 photographs which make the animation!

A challenge to all musicians and sound artists out there: Join the party on 10/10/10 by recording a soundtrack for this little film! Send us your 54 second sound clip and we’ll match it to the video and repost. More details here...

Monday, September 27, 2010

New work in the reel world!

It's been a while since I updated my commercial reel and I've had several fun projects this year. See if you can count how many types of animation there are! Post your count in the comments below or tweet it to me @corriefrancis and I'll choose one of the correct answers for an extra special prize!

Monday, September 13, 2010


A beach full of shells is an inspiring place, even on a gray and rainy afternoon. Nothing like a bit of plein air animation to spice up a romantic walk. Mr. Parks double as tripod and remote trigger for me. The whole thing took about 7 minutes to film. If it was a brilliant, warm sunny day, this piece might have been a bit longer.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Upcoming Photography Lecture!

If you are in Wanaka, take note! I’ll be presenting some of my work to the Wanaka Photography Club this Monday, August 9 at 7:30pm.   C_Barn012  My background as an animator has a huge influence on my photography. I strive to create images that keep your mind in motion. I’ll be explaining some of the in-camera and post-processing techniques I use to create these images. Browse through some of my recent work on my website. If your curiosity is piqued, come by St. John’s rooms on Link Way at 7:30 pm this Monday!

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Promoting Good Animation: Accumulonimbus

Accumulonimbus from andy kennedy on Vimeo.

It's great when you see an animated film that could not have been done in any other medium than the one chosen. This is pretty awesome use of clay, bringing together the sculpting craft of an Aardman or Vinton with rhythm and repetition of the masters of abstraction. Watch it big if you can and revel in the details! Thanks to Tiny Inventions for tweeting this so I could find it!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Promoting Good Animation! New work from BLU

Hard to go wrong with BLU. This time he's gone more 3 dimensional, swallowing anything lying around on the streets into the animation. My favorite part is the trash can hermit crab.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Notes from the Animation Workshop at NZMFF

Animation is creating movement frame by frame. The thing that makes animation easy these days is you can take any sequence of frames (drawings, photographs etc) recorded with a digital camera or frame capture program and import it into just about any editing program (iMovie, Windows MovieMaker, Adobe Premier, Final Cut) and cut it into your live action footage.

To shoot your own animation, you'll need a basic animation set-up. This can be as simple as a digital camera on a tripod pointed at a flat surface with two lights on either side. You can get fancier from there by building your own camera stand, using special lighting techniques, frame capture programs and more. You will want to make sure your camera doesn't wiggle when you take frames so be sure to use a remote or cable.

So now that you're set-up, let's make some animation!

If you are artistically inclined, you can animate up a storm on paper. I won't start on the principles of hand-drawn animation here. There are dozens of sites on the web and books in the bookstore that will teach you the principles of character animation. Good drawing skills don't make up for poor character and story development. You can move an audience to tears with a stick figure, but a fancy, moving drawing that doesn't have heart and life behind it will only get you brief admiration.

Once you have your stack of drawings, all you need to do is put each one under the camera and click, click, click. Then either download the frames from your camera or animation program and import it into your editing program and you are good to go. Here's a great example of hand drawn animation in the introduction to The Fine Line.

Paper Shredders from Rocky Mountain Sherpas on Vimeo.

But not everyone is the next Glen Keane. Never fear, for the drawing impaired there are other forms of animation. Stopmotion is taking an inanimate object and giving it life through animation. You can use anything from paper cut outs, household objects, lollies, or anything you can get your hands on including people!

Now comes the part where you want to be at the workshop. I will demonstrate some animation basics of stopmotion, including how to control the speed and fluidity of your animation, using replacement animation, cycles and morphing.

The best way to learn about animation (apart from doing it yourself) is to watch other animation and figure out how it's done. Watch some of this great stopmotion animation by Pes and see if you can pick out some of the techniques we talked about in the workshop.

Between drawing and stopmotion, you pretty much have all forms of animation covered. These principles extend into all techniques, claymation, puppet animation, even 3-d animation. It just takes a little experimenting to find the technique that's right for your production!

Where to from here?

Want to learn more about animation?
Here's a list of books to get you started.
Animation Arena has a lot of articles about creating good animation.
Animation Tips and Tricks is a blog for aspiring animators.

Curious about more styles of animation? Here are some of my favorites on Youtube.

Thanks for coming and making the workshop a success! Happy animating!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Animation Secrets revealed at NZMFF

I am the world's biggest fan of creative use of animation and thrilled to see it permeating every film, documentary, music video and commercial that rolls out into the mainstream theses days. Thank you digital media for making it easy (well, easier) to animate!

This Sunday, I'll be hosting a workshop at the New Zealand Mountain Film Festival in Wanaka. If you happen to be in town, come to the Lake Wanaka Centre at 10am on Sunday morning. If not, or if you come and don't want to take notes, check back on the blog. I'll be posting an outline and some links after the workshop. Don't think you can skip the workshop though. I'll do some live demonstrations and show some handy tricks that I can't post in the blog!

By way of introduction, check out the festival's 2007 winner of the Best Film on Mountain Culture and Environment, "Conversing with Aotearoa/New Zealand". What does animation bring to a film production anyway? Why should we even bother with it?

Watch more free documentaries

From there we'll talk about how to animate drawings, paper cut outs, inanimate objects, or anything you can get your hands on including people! Just for fun, here's an awesome music video by Oren Lavie and Yurval and Merav Nathan.

Looking forward to seeing you at the festival!

Monday, June 21, 2010

A response to the Producers' Dilemma

Today's blog post from Animondays got me thinking. David Levy points out that times are a-changin' not only for animators, but for the people at the top - the producers. There are flocks of unemployed producers out there, having been let go from the networks and big studios during economic earthquakes. Now they have to redefine their role in a changing industry.

When I graduated from college in 2001, every animator wanted to be directed by someone else's vision (i.e. Disney, ILM all the big names) Now every college grad (whether in the arts or business) wants to be self-directed. These days, there are independent studios popping up like mushrooms after a rainstorm. Most of them are doing excellent creative work thanks to cheap technology and fast, global communications, but very few realizing their fullest potential through lack of resources. I fall right into that category.

I would LOVE to have a producer for my upcoming short film, or even an agent for the one-of-a-kind freelance animation I produce. But as Levy points out, being a one-woman business with the lowest overhead possible, I can't afford to put one on salary. But then, isn't it part of a producer's job to find the money to fund their own salary? I'm sure a producer can't animate as well as I can, but I bet she would be more efficient at all the other film logistics that I've hacked away at over the years simply because I've had to. I wonder how many more films I could have made if I could have all that time back. I can, and do, determine budgets, contracts, work schedules, festival submissions, deliveries etc. But I don't do all those things as well as I animate and I probably spend at least 50% of my working time taking care of business tasks! If I could double the number of jobs I take and (theoretically) double my income, then it all comes out in the wash as even. Except I would have more work and experience on my demo reel and a producer would have a job. But to actually jump-start that sort of relationship takes an initial investment on the part of both me and the producer.

I hear a lot of talk about introducing business and marketing classes into art curriculum to make our art students more well-rounded. Where I am now in my professional life, I wish I had had some of that training. But I also wonder if trying to make our creative people into business people as well defeats the purpose. There seem to be plenty of creative ideas out there in the cloud, many of them being made regardless of budget and audience limitations. We don't need more animator-producers, with half-baked ideas that never get beyond a few thousand views on Youtube. We need a way for the people with the producing skills to effectively team up with the creative executors so that neither party starves in the process and the world is edified by good art.

Once this economy upturns, will all these free-floating producers get reabsorbed into the big studio system, or has the structure of commercial animation fragmented for good into a self-directed, industry on both counts? If it has, (and I hope it has), then hopefully there will be a natural selection where the visionary, brilliant artists and the savvy, entrepreneurial producers will find themselves the last ones standing in a symbiotic relationship.

Friday, June 11, 2010

World of Color Opens Today!

This is a great promo video that give you all you need to know about the show in a nutshell. About a minute into the video you'll see me demonstrating the sand animation, which appears at the beginning of the Aladdin sequence. My 17 seconds of fame! Another cool artist who contributed to the project is a paper sculptor, Megan Brain. Read more about my role in the show below.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A World of Color, with a bit of sand animation too!

June 11th, a new evening spectacular will premier at Disney's California Adventure Park. World of Color is a light, water and music extravaganza, staged on a pool the size of a football feild. If you have ever seen the Belaggio Fountains of Las Vegas, extrapolate that out 300 times and you might come close to what Disney is aiming for here. The fountains are choreographed to music recorded by the London Philharmonic and animation being projected onto the largest mist screen in the world. That's where I come in. I collaborated with the imagineers to create some sand animation during the Aladdin segment of the 25 minute show. It's a very short segment, so don't blink, but I think the idea of projecting sand animation on a water screen is just sorta neat.

Sand animation is usually done on a light table and comes out black and white, but obviously for the World of Color, brilliant colors were a priority. After a lot of experimentation, I've come up with some new ways to use sand and color. You'll have to go see the show to see the work I did for Disney, but the film which inspired Steve Davidson to give me a call was my sand animation film Tracks. Working on the show was an awesome experience. I had free reign to pour my creativity into taking the timeless orchestral score from "A Whole New World" and create unique images based on one of my favorite Disney films of all time. To find out more about sand animation and see some more examples, read my recent blog entry on Sand Art vs Sand Animation.

Thom and I were lucky enough to get a behind-the-scenes tour a few weeks ago. 30 days before opening night, the crew of engineers, sound gurus, fire and water experts and laser players were working from dusk til dawn. They weren't projecting animation the night we were there, so we didn't get to see the full glory of the world's largest water projection screen (50 x 380ft!), but they ran through the entire fountain show twice with music at full blast. Thom and I are hard to impress, but there were several moments during the show when we both pulled a Keanu Reeves matrix-esque "Woah." LED lights under each fountain bring a full spectrum of choreographed color to the pool. Lasers interacting with the mist create some amazing patterns. Not to mention flame throwers. Only 6 of the 24 were going that night and it was still a hot blast in your face. Talk about a multi-sensory experience!

A few interesting facts we learned:

The best (standing) seat in the house is on the top of the first set of curves steps on the pavillion. You will feel the heat of the flamethrowers and the cool kiss of the mist, but not get drenched by it. And you will be able to see over most of the people standing in front of you.

The platforms, which hold the 1,200 fountains, are designed to float so they can be on the surface for maintenance. They take in water to submerged for the show. the control room is a submerged, water-tight container which is activated remotely from the tech room across the studio backlot.

There's a hot tub in the backlot. This was installed for the scuba engineers who would spend hours submerged in 50 degree water while installing the equipment. They would stay under until their core temp dropped too low and then take a turn in the hot tub before getting back to work.

Since this is a laser show, there were and will be airplane spotters whenever the show is playing. If an airplane looks like it is going to cross over the extended sky space of the show, the technicians knock out a few lasers until it has past. Don't worry, there will be so much else going on, you probably won't notice a few missing ones.

One of the coolest laser effects, during the "Little Mermaid" sequence, actually started out as an accident. The water guys were testing on one side of the pool and the laser guys were doing their thing on the other side and someone happened to look up and notice the eerie wave-like bands of color rolling through the mist. It was so astonishing, they gave it a prime spot in the show.

The fountains can blast up to 200ft. On a windy night that means the water gets blow all the way to the bridge. Raincoats, anyone?

To read a very thorough description of what the show is like, check out the Disneyland Examiner. The best pictures of the development of the show are on the Facebook Fan site for World of Color.

A Whale Tale

Last season at Cardrona, I made a fun little kid's video based on the books by Amy Sheehan. Check it out!

You can read the story books online and find out more about the fantastic kids programs at Cardrona on their website.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Promoting Good Animation!

I must admit, I'm not caught up on this year's hot tv series. While my husband and in-laws are watching the final episode of "24", I am catching up on the latest online coolness in animation. Here are some highlights from my evening of streaming:

The most interesting use of rotoscope technique I've seen in a while. A really beautiful and innovative piece with many layers (figuratively and literally).

Another unusual piece by Hettie Griffiths is Cardif Viral

SCINTILLATION from Xavier Chassaing. This one, I can't quite figure out: But it is pretty cool to watch!

"Nude" a music video by Dancing Diablo. Some unusual paint-on-glass techniques combined with stopmotion. Note how smooth and slow the magnifying glasses move. That's not easy to do!

Want to see even more? You can see my whole list of favorites from the evening on Twitter!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

"Conversing" is up on

Watch more free documentaries
Now you can watch "Conversing with Aotearoa/New Zealand" on snagfilms. There are several other short films from USC as well, so have fun browsing!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The rumors are true! On May 1, 2010 at 11:42am I officially became Mrs. Corrie Francis Parks! Thom and I have been yelping our honeymoon down the coast of California and we've found some great places (and a few stinkers). Check out our reviews and have yourself your own romantic getaway. See you when we get back!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

I just received a note from some people I worked with while I was in Africa in 2002. Their son Jon was 6 at the time and I taught him how to make animated flipbooks. Apparently, the animation bug bit him hard. I personally think the timing and creative use of the frame in this piece (done a few years ago when he was 12) makes this an exciting and stimulating few minutes of animation. Alas, I can't take much credit for his brilliance, but at least I started him down the road!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

At long last, "Conversing with Aotearoa/New Zealand" is officially out on dvd. And not only do you get a copy of this great documentary on the kiwi wilderness experience, you get 12 other films from around the world as well!

Click here to buy your copy today!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Three Things

This morning, I read these three poems by Czeslaw Milosz. Pondering on an age old theme.
Faith is in you whenever you look
At a dewdrop or a floating leaf
And know that they are because they have to be.
Even if you close your eyes and dream up things
The world will remain as it has always been
And the leaf will be carried by the waters of the river.

You have faith also when you hurt your foot
Against a sharp rock and you know
That rocks are here to hurt our feet.
See the long shadow that is cast by the tree?
We and the flowers throw shadows on the earth.
What has no shadow has no strength to live.

Hope is with you when you believe
The earth is not a dream but living flesh,
That sight, touch, and hearing do not lie,
That all things you have ever seen here
Are like a garden looked at from a gate.

You cannot enter. But you're sure it's there.
Could we but look more clearly and wisely
We might discover somewhere in the garden
A strange new flower and an unnamed star.

Some people say we should not trust our eyes,
That there is nothing, just a seeming,
These are the ones who have no hope.
They think that the moment we turn away,
The world, behind our backs, ceases to exist,
As if snatched up by the hands of thieves.

Love means to learn to look at yourself
The way one looks at distant things
For you are only one thing among many.
And whoever sees that way heals his heart,
Without knowing it, from various ills-
A bird and a tree say to him: Friend.

Then he wants to use himself and things
So that they stand in the glow of ripeness.
It doesn't matter whether he knows what he serves:
Who serves best doesn't always understand.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

FAST Conference Talk: Animation in the Media

This past weekend I presented a short talk titled Using Animation to Address Difficult and Complex Subject Matter at the Fulbright Academy of Science and Technology's annual conference. The theme this year was sustainability and the particular panel I was on dealt with using media as a collaborative tool for promoting and communicating the science, technology and business sides of sustainability. Below is a slightly expanded version of the talk with links to the films I highlighted. Many of the films below grapple with social justice issues very effectively. And the same principles translate very well into environmental issues as well.

Anyone who has sat down in front of the TV, movie theater or internet recently cannot fail to notice the prevalence of animation. Animation is coming into its own; there is hardly a TV commercial that doesn’t incorporate some sort of animation. Digital technology had made animation easier and inexpensive to create – anyone with a digital camera and a basic move making program on their computer cans move things around and take some pictures (or frames as we call them) and string them together into animation.

Because of this, filmmakers and especially documentary filmmakers are realizing just how important it is to include the visual feast that is animation into their productions, or create entire productions with animation. This goes beyond the typical scientific and informational visualization (animated graphs, medical and chemical illustrations, textbook images that move) with which we are all familiar and are very straightforward in their presentation of information. Below are several animated films that use the technique to drive home a theme or message that would be very difficult to do with live action.

Creating an emotional atmosphere

His Mother’s Voice
by Dennis Tupicoff

This film uses a radio interview of a mother recounting the loss of her son and animates two very haunting takes. The first is high contrast, bold, colorful images and a reenactment as the mother tells the story. The second take, set to the same soundtrack, does not reenact the story but simple moves throughout the house, the yard – wholly in the present. The animation is rendered with light pencil lines very little color. The sense of drama in the first take juxtaposed with the quiet grief of the second fully encompasses the many facets of this death.

Illustrating an emotional or mental state
by Chris Landreth

An interview with Ryan Larkin, a promising young animator who destroyed his career through alcohol and drug abuse To visualize the effect of heroin eating away at a creative mind, Landreth creates a character whose face is disintegrating as he speaks, and yet there are sparks of brilliance still hanging by a thread. If you were to look at Ryan in live action, he would seem a sloppy, drug addict who can barely put together a sentence. But in visualizing him this way, the dignity of who is was in the past comes through the shell of the man he is now.

Using Humor to capture an audiece
The Meatrix

Leo, Chickity and Moopheous discover the true reality behind what we eat. Free range studios and Grace Studios ride the wave of the popular Matrix films to convey the unethical and unhealthy aspect f the commercial meat industry. A clever spoof, a well written script and a highly accessible web distribution plan created a buzz around this film reaching an audience far more extensive than the typical festival goers.

Animating the past
by Marjane Satrapi

An autobiographical coming-of-age story of a precocious and outspoken young Iranian girl that begins during the Islamic Revolution. The memory of the past is brought to life with character and humor and the comic book graphics not only provide a visual feast, but are able to put us in the experience of the child as she becomes a woman.

Dealing with graphic subject matter

Waltz with Bashir
by Ari Folman

After a conversation with an old friend, Ari Folman realizes that he can’t remember his experiences on an Israeli Army mission in the first Lebanon War of the early eighties. As Ari delves deeper and deeper into the mystery, his memory begins to creep up in surreal images …

Again, dealing with memory, but trying to present the graphic horror of war without turning the audience away. Graphic images are more palatable (and more emotional) when they are drawn rather than live action. At the end of the film there is about 3 minutes of newsreel footage that shows the carnage of the Lebanon massacre and honestly it turns your stomach. It brings the audience into reality right at the end for an overwhelming impact.

Dealing with shy subjects and overcoming audience stereotypes
by Sheila Sofian

With powerfully understated empathy, Sofian combines voice-over interviews with battered women, and a counselor who works with "recovering" male batterers, with elegant animation to explore the experience of domestic violence from all sides.

Many of the women in this film did not want to be videotaped because they feared for their safety. However, they were willing to have their voice recorded. Unless you are a trained actor, it is impossible to ignore a camera in you face, but a microphone and a conversation can bypass that shyness and subjects are more likely to open up quickly. Additionally, having only the voice as information about a person allows the audience to put themselves in the subject’s place. When we are looking at video of another person, immediately we are judging them on their appearance. With no image to feed our stereotypes, we are forces to listen to the word spoken.

These are just a few examples of animation used in documentary and memoir. Animation is quickly developing into a distinct visual dialect and filmmakers will do well to verse themselves gain some level of fluency in this powerful medium.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Promoting Good Animation: Bored to Death Intro

A particularly creative intro for a tv series directed by Tom Barham of Curious Pictures. I highly recommend watching it in HD (click here), as the type and expressions of the characters don't show up very well on smaller YouTube. Here's a link to a short interview with Tom Barham.

What makes a good title sequence? In addition to presenting the relevant information (i.e. above the line credits) it should visually tell the story of the film/show it is introducing (without giving too much away, of course!) I haven't seen Bored to Death, but from what I've read of the series and the way Barham approached this intro, it seems he was spot on!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Patricia Zohn on Walt Disney Animators Culture:

The women behind the magic. This is a great article on the ink and paint girls at the fledgling Walt Disney studios. $16 a week, sometimes working weekends and overtime to finish the job. At an average of 8 to 10 cels an hour, 100 girls could only, in theory, turn out less than one minute of screen time by the end of the day. Where would Snow White be without them?

Patricia Zohn on Walt Disney Animators Culture:


a poem I read this morning by DENISE LEVERTOV. This is from the anthology A Book of Luminous Things by Czeslaw Milosz

Sometimes the mountain
is hidden from me in veils
of cloud, sometimes
I am hidden from the mountain
in veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue,
when I forget or refuse to go
down to the shore or a few yards
up the road, on a clear day,
to reconfirm
that witnessing presence.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Context Matters

Being a resident of a small mountain town, I end up cramming my trips to the city full of art museums and city culture. My recent trip to Washington DC was no different. In a day and a half, I managed to get a glimpse into Julia Child's kitchen, donated to the Smithsonian Museum of American History in 2004 by the delightful 6'2" giant of gourmet accessibility herself along with a new taste for ancient Korean pottery at the Freer, not to mention the overview of Josef Albers' lifetime of color studies on display at the Hirshhorn and the collections of Chester Dale Impressionist to Modernist and contemporary treasures from Robert and Jane Meyerhoff at the National Gallery of Art.

But most remarkable and provoking to me was a corner of the NGA's East Wing (I love the East Wing!) called the Tower. A spiral stair leading up to this single, square room with high skylights diffusing natural light throughout the space is one of my favorite places to find treasures. Currently, hanging on the walls are 9 large paintings by Mark Rothko, commissioned in 1964 for a non-denominational chapel in Houston, TX, a place of contemplation. The paintings are black, and shades of black - a color Rothko felt affinity towards at this late stage of his life for reasons still debated. Being surrounded by ther 6-foot black canvases covered with Rothko's shadowy, enigmatic brushwork in this small space brought on a variety of feelings. The paintings were paired with a recording of music by Morton Feldman a friend of Rothko's who composed Rothko Chapel specifically for the chapel after the artist's death in 1970. The exhibit incited a somber air of contemplation, a momento mori, which, even as it was created, was swallowed by the museum around me; an older couple reading aloud bits of the interpretations, a group of school kids filtering down the stairs, a security guard pacing the perimeter of the room. I felt drawn to sit and let the blackness swallow me from all angles as Feldman's music struggled submerged beneath the museum ambiance like a small child in a pool who has lost his grip on his inflatable raft and flounders after it with his face barely above the surface. I sat there for probably about 3 minutes, wanting to let the tones of blackness come out of the paintings and swallow me into a shadowy world, wanting to put my hands out in that cloud of darkness, take hesitant steps like a blind woman hoping for my hands to come into contact with something solid, wanting a light to pierce the darkness as the choral notes swelled briefly and in that moment catch a glimpse of the dazzling back of God retreating into the cloud. For 3 minutes, these things passed through my mind, along with the steady steps of the security guard, the voices of new visitors ascending the stairs, the train I had to catch to the airport, before I felt and obeyed the urge to move. As I descended the tower, I wondered how much longer I would have stayed had I been in that chapel in Texas, contemplating the things of the Spirit with these dark mysteries surrounding me and the echoes of thousands of other contemplations from all the chapel's past visitors resonating with the suspended notes of Feldman's composition.

More about the exhibit here

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ebert's 10 best Animated Films of 2009

10 years ago who would have thought that there would even be 10 animated feature produced in 1 year. Roger Ebert's list of the year's 10-best animated films, give you a taste of how the industry had changed. Several of these films showcase animation by independent filmmakers - notably Nina Paley's Sita Sings the Blues and Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir - defying the public conception of animation as Disney or Pixar - though both studios have made the list!

Alas, I have only seen 3 of the 10 thus far. Movie night, anyone?

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sand Art or Sand Animation?

Sand animation has almost become a household word ever since Kseniya Simonova's winning performance hit the million view mark on Youtube. It is a riveting performance, set to epic music, telling a culturally charged story through the progressive live transformation of sand on a light table. I think a great part of the appeal is watching this beautiful, stoic young woman passionately throwing sand on the surface by the handful and making grand sweeping gestures that transform abstract shapes into something remarkably recognizable. We are watching an artist at work, and get a glimpse into the mystery of something we could never conceive of doing ourselves.

But is it sand animation? I suppose if we take the root definition of animation as "breathing life into something" we could argue that Simonova is bringing the sand to some semi-lifelike state of being through her careful movements. There is, certainly some spark of life in a Vermeer painting or a Michelangelo sculpture, so why not a sand painting? But epic music and sweeping gestures aside, when I look at those drawings my first thought is, "Wow, that would be really cool if it started moving!" Animation is the frame-by-frame infusion of life into anything (drawings, clay, objects and, yes, even sand) resulting in something seemingly independent of its creator. Simonova's creations are never detached from her. They are dependent on her presence for their transformative life, whereas a true sand animation can life and act effectively without the audience having any awareness of the animator. So, as an animator, and specifically one who has worked in sand, I take issue with the term animation being applied to Simonova's (and other less famous sand artists') admirable but static performance art.

So, to set the record straight, I offer up a few sand animations which effectively use the medium of sand to create vibrant, memorable films.

Of all sand animators, Caroline Leaf is probably the most well-known. Her 1974 adaptation of the Inuit legend "The Owl Who Married a Goose" might be the definitive black and white sand animation. Leaf's seamless switching between of positive and negative space and fluid transformations emphasize the strengths of sand as an animation medium.

Another classic that you will be hard pressed to find is Bitzbutz by Gil Alkabetz of Israel. Actually, I think he may have used salt instead of sand, but it's the same concept. Good luck trying to get a copy of this one. Thank goodness for youtube, which lets us all enjoy these films!

And finally, and most humbly, I offer up Tracks, a sand animation by yours truly. While most sand animation is black and white, I introduced color into the background by using collages made from theater gels which kept the brightness of the pure light behind the silhoueteted sand while adding the vibrancy of color.

Postmodern At Bedtime | The New Republic

A post-internet generation of children books are emerging with David Wiesner's The Three Pigs at the forefront. Here children construct their own mental narratives, reading with non-linear participating in co-creation. It creates a surprising mental journey, but has something essential been lost in the process?

Postmodern At Bedtime | The New Republic

What do you think?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Sandy Evening

More from the sandbox. When I made "Tracks" I was shooting everything on 16mm and there wasn't much room for play. Now I am trying find some new ways to work with sand using modern technology. I want to keep the look of sand animation, but make the process faster and push the potential further with color and compositing.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


Possibly the most influential mentor I've had, at least in my formative years as an animator, was David Ehrlich. David is an independent animator, and artist and a creative collaborator who cross-pollinates with scientists, sociologists, mathematicians and pretty much anyone he comes in contact with at Dartmouth College and beyond. I met him my freshman year and he directed me into independent and experimental work over the next four years. This last fall was his final quarter at Dartmouth before he retires into a new era of teaching and creating in China!

I am not the only one who has been influenced, as is evidenced by the overwhelming response of Dartmouth alumni to collaborate on the David Ehrlich Project. Some of David's past students have gone on to work in the film and animation industry. others haven't pick up a drawing pencil since they last pulled an all-nighter to pass his class. Nevertheless, 18 of us put together an exquisite corpse of animation in honor of David. I started off the film with the volcano and the little orange umbrella. The full list of credits can be found here.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Sand Tree

A new year and a new technique. I've dug out my buckets of sand (straight from my old haunts in Playa del Rey) and are pushing them around on the light table with brushes, feather and fingers. Here are the results of an afternoon in the sandbox.