While I wrapped up my schooling, this site took an unofficial hiatus. A year ago, I left my job at Blue Sky and returned to SVA in NYC, where I’d started on my MFA in computer animation in 2012. Overwhelmed, I switched to attending part time in my second year, before dropping out completely shortly after. That I’d gotten a job offer from Blue Sky was amazing timing for me, as it gave me an out that frankly, didn’t feel like a failure. SVA’s MFA Computer Arts program is an intensive one, teaching what normally takes four years jammed into two (or four, if you attend part time, but it’s structured and advertised as a 2-year intensive). Having only the most basic understanding of Maya prior to the program, I knew I was in trouble by week two of the program. Though when I dropped out, I only had two classes left, plus the final project, which seemed like an impossible thing for me. Even now, literally just finishing an animated short a couple weeks ago, making an animated short film still feels impossible. Even being handed my degree did not make it feel real.Continue reading
As the month of October comes to an end, I can’t help but realize how quiet I have been on this site. My last post was about SIGGRAPH was in August! While I post pretty frequently on social media, that’s of course not the same as a full on post. But with work on my thesis film taking up all of my time–to the point that I am even behind on my vlog series on YouTube that documents it–I thought I’d briefly mention some other places to find me. And maybe to remind myself that while I can’t do as many of the things I want while in my final year of my MFA, that I still occasionally get to do and see wonderful things.
I wrote a post over at Cartoon Brew! While the post is about an event that already passed, I still wanted to document it here on Animation Complex as a small milestone for me and my love of writing about animation. Something, as I already complained about, don’t get to do as much. So this opportunity was even more of a treasure to have come in such a creatively controlled year.
To write this post, I got to interview two of the women who put on the event, and it was such a fun conversation for me just as a person let alone a interviewer with a goal in mind.
One of my dear friends, Monique, runs an animation blog called Simply Robotix. We met when we both worked as PA’s in Blue Sky Studios story department, and bonded over our love of animation, writing, and wanting to DO MORE. I am so, so blessed to have her friendship, and to have someone who is so supportive of me. I think there are times when people’s overlapping interests create friction between them, but that has never been the case. I want our sites to grow big and old together.
She interviewed me earlier this month, which you can read about here.
Two other things of hers I am excited about is her recent recap of Nickelodeon’s visit to SVA (which where I am working for my MFA and where she earned her BFA). I wasn’t able to attend the event, but her post more than covers things. Second is her Diverse Toons series, which is a panel series that’s being hosted in various places in NYC. You can read a recap of a past on hosted at SVA featuring Blue Sky artists here. A new series featuring all women (and all friends of mine!) is being held November 10th, so be sure to follow her for updates!
Action Film Autopsy Podcast
One of the first things I do when I move to a new town is get a library card and check out the kinds of classes and events the community there gets up to. A few years ago I moved to a new town and saw that there was a podcasting class. Despite already knowing the basics of it, I decided to go, figuring I’d meet interesting people and be motivated to start a new project. I never did that podcast (yet) but during that class, I built this entire site, detailing my progress to the class week by week. So I’ll always be grateful for that class.
The teacher, Mike, became a friend of mine, as did his wife Kai and another classmate who is BFFs with them, Ric. Ric is a writer who’s done it all. And the next thing he wanted to do was a podcast.
The Action Film Autopsy is a podcast dedicated to dissecting and discussing action films. Most episodes are amazing interviews with people who work in the industry–stunt coordinators, fight choreographers, etc. The podcast updates every other week, but he has a recap episode every couple months that are just film reviews, and I’ve been guest-hosting those with him for a while now. The podcast recently passed the 50 episode mark, and it’s been fun watching it grow and seeing Ric enjoy himself making it. And of course, getting to argue and debate on some episodes. Take a look through the back catalog and give it a listen! It’s also now on iTunes if that helps.
Ferdinand Bonus Features!
Another small one that I wanted to document on here for the sake of a MILESTONE! Look, Mom–I’m in a DVD!
The bonus features and I go way, way back. These were a large part of my early learning about film and animation and figuring out the path that I wanted for my career. I used to want the job (not knowing if it was a job or not) of making the bonus features, because I wanted others to learn about the behind-the-scenes. You could argue that that’s what I want this site to be, now that I’m over analyzing myself.
A co-worker sent this out a little while ago–the video is unlisted so I didn’t know it was posted online! I’ve seen this feature before as it’s on the Ferdinand Blu-ray, but now you all can see it.
I’m in there for a blip, a shot of me laughing, but the day we filmed this was so surreal and funny that I want to share. It was a roller coaster ride working on Ferdinand, which I detailed in a post, and this video just serves as a fun little reminder, almost like home movies.
Lastly, I’m going to be starting an email list so that anyone who wants to keep up to date with my posts can be notified. It won’t be anything too crazy. Probably a little email once every couple weeks or once a month even as school gets crazier. So if you are interested please sign up with the form here.
Thanks for reading!
So, this site has been very quiet. There’s always stuff cooking in the back kitchen, but only about 2% of it ever seems to make it to the front where you’re all sitting.
That number was about to drop from a dismal 2% down to 0% due to some life changes–I’m going back to school. Having gone through this challenge once before, I know that my time will be extremely limited. Even with lighter coursework this time around, and the lessons I’ve learned from both the first time I attempted this and the last four years of experience at my previous job, I know that this will be a very intense time.
To be completely frank with you, the last time this happened, I had a nervous breakdown in a sound-booth at 4am one day. I phoned my friends who were living in Asia (and therefore wide awake), hysterical. My friend in a lab next door, Allie, came around to check on me. The issue I’d been struggling to fix for the last two hours she was able to solve in 30 minutes. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. She was so good at that type of thing–still is (we were lucky to have been co-workers these last 4 years!)–but I never seemed to improve, it never seemed to sink in. I think the intense two-year time line of the program was a large factor. I just needed more time for these concepts to sink in, plain and simple. I started attending part-time, and that helped immensely. Before I knew it though, I’d been offered a job I’d have been stupid to not take, and, with an admitted sigh of relief, I ended up having to drop the degree to work full-time.
But it never settled well with me that I didn’t finish. It wasn’t even about that program in particular, so much as getting that master’s degree. I like school. I have mixed feelings about it, the price mostly, but I’ve always been a fan of academia (or what it was intended for, at least). It’s not a perfect thing, but nothing is.
After leaving that program, I thought I’d never get a shot at it again. I’d made my peace, and even started considering OTHER programs, because lord knows I needed to drop another small fortune on school. But I’ve been given a rare opportunity to return to that program.
This fall, I’ll be returning to SVA, and I’ll be picking up the very first project I had pitched and worked on five years ago. I had some things done, but am mostly starting from scratch again with that same story inside me, getting a second wind.
And I had the crazy idea of documenting it all. It’s not going to be pretty. Ohhhh no, no, no. I expect tears, anxiety attacks, and teeny tiny victories here and there. I am hoping for a different experience this time, but I know that certain things are to be expected, for better or worse. Some people will and have already argued that I deserve and should build in some sort of work-life balance, and that just isn’t a thing when you’re making your thesis. It’s honestly a toxic culture, but one that yields results. I’m not saying I condone that environment, but it slowly boils down to a test of endurance. And I learned so much from that first time, I’m much more mentally prepared. I might not remember the particular skills I’ll need, but I have the knowledge and articulation now.
This first video pretty much just summarizes that all, providing the setup. Forty weeks! Can she do it? WHO KNOWS!
I am really sorry if you were interested in this site for all of the reasons I previously set this site up for. Like I said, I think I’d rather shift gears these next ten months rather than go another year without anything on here. And then I’ll shift back. Then I’ll get to do what I should have been doing all along–making videos that celebrate the history and industry of animation.
Please watch if you’d like. If you want to follow along, please feel free to subscribe to the YouTube channel, or sign up for emails whenever I post a new blog entry.
I recently went to a Women in Animation (WIA) NYC chapter meeting that was so informative and encouraging that I wanted to share that on here. While my plans for this site are more focused on the production and analysis of the animated works themselves, one cannot deny the importance of who is involved in this process, both on screen and behind the scenes. Context is important and these things don’t exist separate from one another. A rep from the Geena Davis Institute visited to our group to discuss some frustrating statistics and discuss how we improve them, and director Mark Osborne also discussed his experience working with both the GDI and WIA. And for the sake of full discloser, I recently became the social media coordinator for the WIA NYC chapter, so go follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. 😉
What is WIA?
For the uninitiated, Women in Animation is a non-profit organization that was started in 1995 in order to advocate for, support, and serve as a resource to women working in the animation and related (i.e. games, graphic novels, VFX, motion graphics, etc.) industries. In a perfect world, the need for a group like this would not exist, but as data and movements as recent as #TimesUp have shown us, that is not the case. Regardless of your stance or how important you think representation is on and off screen, you can’t deny what the numbers show us. Research from the Institute and other groups consistently prove that the content we consume has real effects on us. In animation, this is particularly important as most animated content is geared towards younger, developing minds.
There will always be those who (indignantly or otherwise) wonder why there isn’t a Men In Animation, without doing the quick research needed to confirm that statistically it has always has been a boy’s club. A surprisingly good read about this with specificity to animation comes from BuzzFeed of all places (I know, just trust me), in a piece from a few years ago called Inside the Persistent Boys Club of Animation.
And, for the record, men, women, and non-binary people are all welcome to join WIA. The events happen to focus on issues that women tend to face on a proportionately larger scale than men. The events tend to spotlight women creators because for so long it took them that much more effort to get the same recognition. This data becomes even more complicated when you look at intersectional identities, factoring in things like ethnicity, sexuality, disability, and more, both in on-screen depictions and in the production crews.
Geena Davis Institute for Gender in Media
This meeting was particularly interesting for me as it dealt with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, a non-profit organization that I’ve been following since I first learned about them in 2011 at a post-screening discussion for the documentary Miss Representation. In 2016, the Geena Davis Institute (GDI) opened a NY office, and so we were joined by the NY Council Lead and Advisor Mary Ellen Holden. Mary brought with her an arsenal of damning (but unsurprising) data about the film industry, discussed details and tools the Institute utilizes in their research, and how they use that information to help the film, television, and marketing industries.
One of those tools is called the GD-IQ, the Geena Davis Inclusion Quotient, an algorithm developed in partnership with Google and USC meant to analyze films for their representation. Like the Bechdel test (which wasn’t intended to be any gold standard), it is not a perfect system, and Mary Ellen was honest about its shortcomings. The program incorporates Google’s machine learning technology to improve its readings of films in order to recognize things like when faces are on screen, and determine the sex and race of the person, as well as hear speaking roles and determine whether the voice is male or female.
These shortcomings weren’t any fault of the GDI or the GD-IQ though; it is very hard to gather such data without putting people into boxes, and the tool can only handle so many boxes right now. Already for me, I knew that while this was absolutely a step in the right direction, I wondered about transgender people, or people of mixed race like myself. Mary Ellen was quick to acknowledge the limitations and active work being done to improve it. She also shared the challenges that come with animation in particular, as many of the characters are not human and therefore cannot have their faces analyzed in the same way. At the meeting I also wondered about how this applied to CGI characters in live-action.
One character I brought was Drax, a character that is certainly humanoid (and created with practical makeup FX rather than CG). I brought him up specifically because he is a character who many feel is coded in a way that puts him on the autism spectrum and I wondered about how the tool may one day be able to recognize cognitive and physical disabilities, or determine how they would classify him and other characters where it isn’t explicitly stated. Obviously I’m asking a very recently developed program to analyze the behavioral patterns and nuances of a character, so I can’t hold it against GD-IQ if it’s not quite there yet! You can read all about GD-IQ and some of the statistics it helped generate here. You can download that report as a PDF to have on hand. I keep one at my desk at work.
So. This tool provides automated analysis of screen and speaking time by gender, and screen time by race. Some more features they are looking to incorporate this year is the ability to identify age from audio and video (to help combat ageism), more work with background and crowd scenes (to identify the gender ratio in crowds), use their existing tools for gender, screen speaking time and race for international language content, and text. Mary Ellen was describing a “spellcheck” for gender bias in screenplays, job descriptions, briefs, and more.
In 2019 they hope to be robust enough to start analyzing animated films to determine the race, gender, age, speaking roles, and screen time. As I said, animation can be a bit trickier due to characters not always being the same species among other things. The Geena Davis Institute releases an annual report based on data from the ~50 most successful family-friendly films of that year. You can watch out for the data set for the 2017 calendar year at the end of April (the annual reports are always released the following year, in April).
Mary was forthcoming about her own journey, discussing her time working in TV and acknowledged how her unconscious biases allowed her to approve ads that were problematic, not yet realizing the impact they could have on viewers, women in particular. But now thanks to Geena Davis and others, we have studies and science to back what we’ve already been feeling for a while.
In addition to their own research, clients can commission the Institute to use the GD-IQ and other resources to troubleshoot their own projects, either evaluating past work, or advising for IP and future projects. One of those clients was Mark Osborne.
Director Mark Osborne
The second guest of the night was Mark Osborne, the award-winning filmmaker behind (among other things) the short More, and big animated features Kung Fu Panda and The Little Prince. He is currently working on new projects at Blue Sky Studios, which (full disclosure) is also where I work. Mark was welcomingly candid about his ever-growing awareness to the issues of representation in film and his journey to do better and his experience working with the Geena Davis Institute.
Mark is also a member of WIA, joining after realizing that these problems did actually affect him. He talked about Kung Fu Panda and how he felt that with characters like Tigress and Viper, he wasn’t negatively contributing, but adding. While that is true, GD-IQ revealed that their on-screen and speaking time was very low. From research from 2016:
Even though women played leading roles in action blockbusters such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Daisy Ridley), The Hunger Games Series: Mockingjay Part 2 (Jennifer Lawrence), and The Divergent Series: Insurgent (Shailene Woodley), overall, male characters appeared and spoke on screen three times more often than female characters in action films.
Another thing that was called out was the ratio of men and women in the crowds in Kung Fu Panda. Mary Ellen revealed to us that in most crowd shots, usually only 17% of the people are women. So for Kung Fu Panda, we have a pretty neutral film. It doesn’t do anything disparaging against women or minority groups–the women who are there are not as present, but when they are they’re great. Tigress’s struggle is very relatable.
It sounds like that experience coupled with having a young daughter who at the time expressed interest in filmmaking prompted him to actively do more. So when he took on The Little Prince, he was very well aware that he was dealing with a book that has 19 male characters and one woman (who is literally a rose). While he’d already been considering a story outside of the existing material to serve as bookends to the story, he knew that that was an area he could improve on. This helped inspire the little girl and her mother. Just being aware of an ongoing, systemic problem allowed actual change to happen, even with a story that’s 75 years old.
So, What Can I do?
Having an open mind is half the battle. Really, though. It’s an ongoing process. Things that were fine a decade ago can now be seen as problematic. Big change can be slow. It can be hard for people to accept that maybe they’ve had privileges where others have not when they feel like they’ve worked their asses off to get where they were.
Being a good ally and listener. Some times the best thing is to just ask someone if you don’t know about something. Simple as that. Most of my team are straight white men, and I’m more than happy to talk to them and point them to resources I think could help them. I’ve had plenty of interesting discussions about the differences between cultural appropriation vs appreciation, LGBT representations in animated film, and just general character/story talk of course. It all feeds into each other to create stories that are as nuanced and complex as our world (and beyond).
I think the other side of this advice is to also not pressure someone who is from a minority/underrepresented group. Things like tokenism still exist, and some times there’s a pressure that when you speak you speak for ALL of your ethnicity or gender. Not everyone wants that pressure and shouldn’t feel forced to always call things out. A more diverse workforce overall certainly helps with that!
Some times the best thing is to just admit things. “You know what, I’ve never experienced anything like that so I can’t say that I can relate to that. But please tell me about it.” It’s so easy to dismiss something just because you’ve never experienced it first hand. “People don’t really say things like that to Chinese people, do they?” What would you know, you’re not Chinese (unless Miko is reading this. Hi Miko).
Add it in yourself. Ideally, you are in a position where you can influence a project, adding in specificity to, say, your script can help. Specify if a speaking role for a background character is a woman, or that a crowd is half male and half female. If your dealing with a story with mostly male characters see if you can just make some women by changing the names.
Call things out constructively. If you’re not the creative lead on something, that doesn’t mean you can’t find the time and place, and proper channel to voice your concern. If you’re on a production with a story featuring a gay couple and you feel like some of the dialogue seems stereotypical, be sure to voice that. Ideally, if enough people express their concern they will feel that it’s a note that has to be addressed, but if you’re able to call it out while also offering suggestions or someone they can talk to hear about authentic experiences they may be more receptive. Change can be daunting, but if you start them off right it will be that much easier to enact.
Call things out early. These things need to nipped in the bud, before changes become impossible due to budget/production/scheduling. Calling things out early can ensure a production can do any research they may need to (i.e. consulting a behavioral therapist for a character with a cognitive disability) or can redo some crowd shots with more proportionate representation. So often we hear about controversies in ads and such and you can’t help but wonder how no one thought this was a problem and how it got so far along the chain of command only to be blasted on Twitter. That’s because no one says anything and then it becomes too late even if someone did. This also shows the value of a diverse workforce who will collectively have more varied experiences.
Don’t shame people for past mistakes. It doesn’t help. If someone is willing to hear you out and learn than that progress should be celebrated. That was something Mary Ellen was particularly proud of–that they don’t shame companies when they reach out. Because reaching out to the GDI shows a lack of awareness of the problem, and a step in the right direction. Past mistakes should be used as teachable moments, but not something to never let someone move past.
Think of rebuffs in advance. In the same way you can bring up an issue and supply a solution, you can sort of expect the kind of pushback that you’d get from people and be armed with the facts to counter them. There are some people who are instantly put off the moment you start discussing such things, complaining about “PC culture” and people being “overly sensitive” or that feminists hate men. There’s just IMMEDIATE pushback some times. That’s why it’s usually in your best interest to have your ducks in a row. Knowledge is power. The Geena Davis Institute has so many statistics you can pull up. Of course, you can’t spend your life trying to inform people who just refuse to listen. There are so many counter-examples and different ways to spin something. An example I used once was an uncomfortable discussion I had about Black Lives Matter, where someone very seriously told me that it didn’t make sense because all lives matter. You try to argue that statistically black people are disproportionately mistreated by law enforcement and show them reputable resources disputing arguments. For me, it boiled down to tigers. When someone says “Save the Tigers” they aren’t saying “But don’t save the whales!” You are focusing on the group that in that moment is more heavily affected. That’s why feminism is called feminism–it’s meant to create equality by raising up the group that’s underrepresented.
Usually people need time to accept and understand that they might have had their own subconscious biases, or recognize that some of their own privileges made them unable to relate to someone else until something specific draws attention to it. Maybe an able-bodied person learns how hard it is for wheelchair bound people to navigate their city only after they are in an accident and are in a wheel-chair.
Support women and non-binary creators. Hire them. Buy their art. Share their work. Boost their words, their work. Go see those films opening weekend. Read stories about characters with completely different experiences and ideals than your own. Diversify the media you consume. Listen to others. Check your privilege. Do better. That’s all any of us can do.
Blue Sky Studios’ latest film, Ferdinand, based on the 1936 children’s book The Story of Ferdinand came out December 15th of last year. And today, we learned that it was nominated for an Academy Award! It’s not Blue Sky Studio’s first nomination, but it’s the first in a while. Ferd is Blue Sky’s twelfth film, and the third one that I’ve worked on. This is the film at Blue Sky that I am most proud of having contributed to, mainly because it’s the one that I definitely contributed the most to, and because of who specifically on the film I was able to support. On Ferdinand, I worked in two departments as a production assistant (PA) where I helped manage those departments day-to-days. This won’t be a full post-mortem, or cover all of my feelings and thoughts, as I am 1) not allowed to discuss certain things 2) don’t feel that it’s my place to discuss certain things, but this is just my own little celebratory post.
Is there an animation fan in your life that you aren’t sure what to get this holiday season? Or maybe you’re like me and you just want everything I’ve listed below. I wanted to give you all some options, so the range is pretty wide. Please enjoy my 2017 animation gift guide!
Art books were in some ways my gateway into the animation pipeline. As a kid, I knew there were different roles in making a film, but wasn’t sure where they split beyond artist, animator, and technical people. Art books showed me, if only briefly, how certain roles varied, and even what kinds of skills would be needed to pursue one. There are sort of two types of art books–the ones that are released to accompany a specific film or ones that cover an artist or time period, such as The Art of Coco or They Drew as They Pleased Vol. 3: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Late Golden Age (The 1940s – Part Two), respectively. Once you’ve looked through one ‘Art of’ book, you generally know what to expect in terms of the type of content. But that doesn’t mean they are all created equally. I especially loved the Coco art book for the higher-than-usual amount of pages that feature storyboards. They Drew as They Pleased is a very cool series that profiles specific time periods in Disney animation. You don’t need to own volume 1 or 2 to enjoy this third volume, though they make a great set.
Many art books were released in 2017 in addition to the two above. More and more are released each year, expanding the range of topics covered. The books below aren’t technically art books so much as informative texts, but are still filled with tons of art and historical photos. These are definitely good for the art book fan wanting a little more substance/text.
Two books that recently came out profile Paul Terry and Max Fleischer, two of the early pioneers of animation. These two, Terrytoons: The Story of Paul Terry and His Classic Cartoon Factory and The Art and Inventions of Max Fleischer: American Animation Pioneer are on my wish list for sure. Another that I’m really excited to read is Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney’s Animation. I’ve heard amazing things about this book, from the heftiness (almost 400 pages) and the large, beautiful photos. This book highlights the oft-overlooked women who worked in animation, in the only department where women were typically allowed.
A few more books that came out this year worth checking out are–big shock–more Disney books. Disney history is the bread-and-butter of the niche world of animation books, and there is no shortage of ideas. The first one up to bat is a book about Oswald, Walt Disney’s first big star who he lost ownership of (prompting the creation of Mickey Mouse). The book, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit: The Search for the Lost Disney Cartoons is written by David Bossert, an 2D effects animator turned author who has written a number of books about Disney. Another famous Disney-alum, producer Don Hahn, wrote the next book, Yesterday’s Tomorrow: Disney’s Magical Mid-Century, about Walt’s interest and influence on mid-century design. This one seems to be a bit hit or miss with some reviews stating that they wished it was a bit more substantial with text, so maybe give this a flip through at the store before buying to see if it’s right for you. Lastly, we have Awaking Beauty: The Art of Eyvind Earle, an art book highlighting the Disney legend most famous for the beautifully detailed backgrounds of Sleeping Beauty (1959). This book is the compilation of pieces that were curated for an exhibition this year at The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. I was lucky to have seen an exhibition of his work at a different museum while in LA last year, and adore his paintings.
Miyazaki Club pin: Created by artist Martin Hsu, and inspired by the old Micky Mouse Club regalia, this is a super fun way to show off your love for the famed Japanese director in a slightly more subtle way, while adding to your pin collection. This pin is a nice size, and great quality; it’s soft enamel, and has two metal clutches on the back for extra security. This product’s webpage looks a little janky, but I bought this item myself and had no issues.
Official Laika, Aardman Animations, or Cartoon Saloon Merch: This year three prominent yet smaller studios opened up online stores for fans to buy swag. Laika is the stop-motion powerhouse responsible for Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, and Kubo and the Two Strings. Aardman is best known for the character Morph, Shaun the Sheep, Wallace and Gromit, Creature Comforts, the upcoming Early Man, and so much more. Cartoon Saloon created The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea, and the newly released The Breadwinner. From Laika’s site, I’d recommend the Coraline doll, which is a replica of the doll that Coraline receives from the Other Mother (I have this one!). There’s also a great Pride shirt featuring the characters from ParaNorman. From Aardman, I think the little wooden toys are so cute to have even just sitting on your desk, or their studio art book, “The Art of Aardman,” granted studio art books become outdated quickly. For Cartoon Saloon, they have some limited edition high quality prints for both Kells and Song, but if that’s too much, they have a postcard set containing stills from all three films. Those often look nice tacked up or even with some inexpensive
Mondo pins: While best known for their prints, Mondo also has a fantastic selection of enamel pins, figures, and t-shirts featuring some animated characters we know and love. Properties include Adventure Time, Labyrinth, The Iron Giant, Coraline, ParaNorman, Samurai Jack, Megaman, Over the Garden Wall (pictured right), Ninja Turtles, and plenty of comic book heroes and CG characters.
Cuphead: This new video game, which is inspired by the 2d animation of the 1930’s, features assets that were largely hand-drawn. It’s your standard platforming shoot-em-up and I am so ready to play this game. In fact, the only negative thing that I’ve heard about this game is that it’s almost too hard, which, like, challenge accepted. It’s available on XBox, Steam, and GOG (which is DRM free).
Monstress Volume 1: Awakening graphic novel: Medieval fantasy steampunk epic set in ancient China with monsters and badass women written and illustrated by badass women. Sign me the hell up. But please note that this book is definitely ages 18+. Written by Marjorie Liu and illustrated by Sana Takeda, this series focuses on a young woman named Maika, whose mysterious powers put her in the middle of a war between humans and otherworldly forces. Monstress Volume 1: Awakening is the first several single-issues collectively bound. So far three of these have been released. I’m on volume two and am loving it so far. I’d love love love to see something like this animated.
For the Collector:
A print from Gallery Nucleus: First of all, Gallery Nucleus is amazing. They are a small store in California (and now Portland too) that sells art books, animation-related goodies and prints, as well as a gallery that hosts shows and events. Recent events there, that you can get prints of (or original work, if you’ve got the dough) are a Laika 10th anniversary exhibition, a tribute showcase to Disney directors Ron Clements and Ron Musker, and tribute shows for properties like Power Rangers, Cartoon Network, and Final Fantasy. You can also purchase signed copies of art books or artists self-published sketchbooks too. And they also have a great pin collection as well. The sheer number of prints on offer can be daunting, so maybe start by seeing if there’s a collection to a property you love (i.e. Gravity Falls, Harry Potter, Overwatch, Mary Blair). Just take some time and find something. They have original prints from some pretty famous artists in the comics and animation industry, so there may be someone whose work you love on Instagram that you can find and support. I went crazy at their physical store when I visited California last year and spent like $300 on prints (some signed!) that hang framed in my apartment. And I’d also gotten a signed copy of The Art of the Little Prince. That was the one place in Cali that I knew I had to visit and splurge at–not even Disneyland and Harry Potter World were as big a deal for me merch-wise!
Aspiring Aritsts and Technicians:
Schoolism or Pluralsight online classes subscription: Depending on what you are looking to break into, a subscription to one of these only schools could be an amazing way to supplement your current schooling, or help you jump start an entirely new path. Schoolism is a bit more geared for the traditional artistic roles in animation, such as concept artists, character designers, art directors, and story artists. These classes are taught by leaders of their respective fields. Basically a lot of pre-production. Pluralsight, which used to be Digital Tutors, is a bit more on the technical side, focusing largely on different aspects of the CG pipeline, such as character or environment modeling, lighting, look development (shading/texturing, rendering) and more. Pluralsight has a crapload of courses across multiple programs too. Both of these sites offer monthly subscriptions. They are a bit pricey, with Schoolism offering full self-paced access for $30/month while Pluralsight runs for $300 per year. So they are definitely for the disciplined person, seriously looking to up their game.
Palomino Blackwing Pencils (12 Count): Blackwings are an animation staple, and just frankly a damn good pencil. They are super dark, but smooth, and the grain is perfect for toning and blending. They have a pretty fun history too, if…you want to learn about…pencils…? These pencils are items that you don’t need to spring for, but could be a nice gesture to an artist who might otherwise never consider spending the cash on themselves and their own works in progress. And while Blackwings can be bought by the box (as I’ve listed), you can also often purchase them for around $3 a pop, as well as extra erasers at art, craft, and stationary stores (I get mine at Kinokuniya in NYC). There are a few types of Blackwings, but I’d start with the proper black ones, and then maybe try the others in-person before committing, as their leads are different and not as dark.
Wacom Intuos digital art tablet: If you’re looking to up your skills, consider getting a tablet. Nowadays you can get a small one for around $100–the surface will be smaller, but these make a great starter tablet. You can of course spring for a slightly larger one at around $250, especially if you aren’t ready to commit to a $2k Cintiq. A graphics tablet is definitely a fantastic way to expand your digital art toolset if you are already working towards goals. But don’t feel like you have to buy one, or that you need a tool to be good. Do some research and find the one that suits your needs and price range. The one I listed is the one that I have for digital art and storyboarding, and it’s the perfect size. I’m not ready (artistically or financially) to spring for a Cintiq, so this serves my needs now.
Fantastic Mr. Fox (Criterion Collection) (Blu-ray + DVD): As much as I love the offerings from the Criterion Collection, I can’t help but also hate them a little as they have very little to offer in terms of animated films. It’s like they’ve been ignoring this entire section of film because of the choice of medium. Fantastic Mr. Fox is a notable new addition. It was added by default when ALL of Wes Anderson’s films were collectively added. I imagine that means we’ll eventually get a Criterion blu-ray for his upcoming Isle of Dogs too. I have this blu-ray, and the bonus features (and picture quality of course) do not disappoint. This is one that you want to see in all its glory, as Anderson really leans into the medium with such a variety of textures and materials used.
Cartoon Roots: Halloween Haunts (Blu-ray/DVD Combo): This blu-ray is a collection of newly restored old cartoons all themed around Halloween and the spooky. It’s the third compilation to be released from animation historian and restorer/archivist Tommy Jose Stathes. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing talks from him at an event at the Brooklyn Historical Society and at the Brooklyn-based film festival Animation Block Party, and each time his enthusiasm, knowledge, and reverence is clear. This is one of the best ways you can support someone who is working to preserve the work of creators like Fleischer, Terry, and Disney, all of whom I mentioned in books earlier!
Momotaro: Sacred Sailors + Spider & Tulip Movie (SUB Only) (Blu-ray/DVD Combo): This blu-ray features Japan’s first feature length animated film, and if that isn’t enough I’m not sure what is. I attended a few panels at cons discussing the early history of Japan, as I find it interesting. This is definitely not for the casual fan. Maybe the trailer can help convince you?
Animated Film in Japan Until 1919: Speaking of Japan, how about a super fun and dense book about early Japanese animation history? The blurb on Amazon sold me:
In 2017 Japan celebrates 100 years of anime. 1917 indeed saw the first Japanese animated movies being released in Tokyo cinemas, reflecting years of imports of Western animated movies and knowledge. Yet even earlier local printed animation, inspired by German models, had already been available in Japan for home projectors. This study presents, for the first time in English, a detailed and up-to-date account of foreign and local animation in Japan in the first two decades of the 20th century, also including biographical information on the three Japanese anime pioneers of 1917.
Ema figure from Shirobako: I’ve recently become a figure collector and was thrilled that one of my favorite shows released a figure. You HAVE to watch Shirobako if you’re interested in animation production–it’s available to stream on Crunchyroll. Shirobako follows five friends on their journeys into the animation industry. The girls work to become a producer, voice actress, CG artist, 2D animator, and screenwriter. This figure is Ema, the 2D animator. I bought this for $130, a splurge for me, but I can’t say that I wouldn’t want the other four girls if they ever released the set. 😛
A Sculpture from Andrea Blasich: Andrea is a sculptor who has over 20 years of experience across many of the largest animation studios in the world. I found him through his Robin Hood sculptures, which are based on Milt Khal concept art. His sculptures run from $40-$500 but the Robin Hood ones fall between $200-$350. He offers Robin, Friar Tuck, Sheriff, Lady Kluck, Little John, a rhino guard, and the rooster. I absolutely adore Robin and the Rooster, so I’m having a hard time deciding. At the very least, give his Instagram a follow:
So there you go! Hopefully these will give you some ideas!
There’s a lot of interesting writing about animation on the Internet, and not all of it is easy to find. So what is this link roundup? This first of many will contain articles, videos, and the like that I’ve stumbled across that I think animation fans would enjoy. For now, this won’t be a weekly or consistent series, but rather something I’ll post when I’ve accumulated a decent amount, or found something I just HAVE to share, like this first one:
“The Night Begins to Shine” from Teen Titans Go!
Teen Titans Go! initially felt like a slap in the face for me, as the original Cartoon Network cartoon it’s based off of is SUCH a solid show. But TTG has definitely grown on me, thanks in a large part to its nonstop DC Comics Easter eggs and aforementioned song. NPR recently published an article about how this song went from a sound library to a chart topping single. I’ve been obsessed with “The Night Begins to Shine” ever since I happened to catch the debut of the episode it’s in (“40%, 40%, 20%“) this song for a while, sharing it with people and genuinely liking the song. Below I’ve linked the song by the original artist imposed over the music video that was made to go with the Fallout Boy cover:
TIME Magazine spotlights Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Time Magazine has a new called “Firsts: Women Who Are Changing the World” where they spotlight women across various fields and walks of life who were pioneers in some way. We have firsts for athletes, politicians and…animation. The sad part about this however, as Cartoon Brew aptly puts it, is that Kung Fu Panda 2 director Jennifer Yuh Nelson was the first…and still ONLY woman to direct a major American feature animated film on her own (as in she didn’t have a co-director, like, say Brenda Chapman did on both The Prince of Egypt and technically Brave).
Cartoon Brew already did cover this, but I felt that it was worth another mention. Also the comment sections on these articles are always a little disappointing. But comments like that fuel the fire.
Story Artist Adam Cootes Shares His Career Path
Full disclosure: I work with Adam at Blue Sky Studios, where he’s Head of Story on one of our upcoming projects. I happened to be perusing Twitter when I saw an article from Animation Magazine simply called “How I Landed a Career in Animation” and clicked on it. My eyes skipped the intro and jumped straight in only to notice how familiar it sounded. Looking at the photo I realized that it was someone who sits a few desks away from me! Adam’s story is an absolutely fascinating one. It’s interesting too to read about people who didn’t go the typical film school route, or people who started a bit later than most. Actually inspiring read.
Cuphead’s Animation Process talk at GDC
I have been waiting for Cuphead for forever. This amazing platformer is styled like oldschool 1930s rubberhose cartoons. On top of that, the 2D animation is done traditionally, which, like, sincere kudos to Studio MDHR. Check out the trailer, watch this awesome 30-minute talk below, and pray that Cuphead is actually, finally coming out this month:
Female Animators Redrawing gender lines in LA MAg
The article, “These Female Animators are Redrawing an Industry’s Gender Lines” discusses the disparity between the increasing number of women attending animation schools like CalArts (which is heavily mentioned in this) to how few (comparatively) are working in the industry and/or holding higher positions. (I think some of the commenters from the Cartoon Brew Jennifer Yuh Nelson article should read this, TBH.) It’s worth a read to inform yourself about common issues that exist in the film/animation industry.
Spike & Mike Doc Campaign Revived on IndieGoGo
I posted about a crowdfunding campaign to fund a documentary about the Spike and Mike Animation Festival in a previous post, but between then and now the campaign was cancelled in leu of a new campaign structure. Rather than all-or-nothing, the creators are utilizing Flexible Funding, which will let them keep whatever they raise. A smart move for a cool project whose initial goal was maybe a little too ambitious for such a niche within a niche as an animation documentary. But I am all about this so I’m happy to see it get some help. The campaign only has 3 days left, so support it on IndieGoGo ASAP!
Paragon Sakuga Facebook Group
Not that you need any more clutter in your Facebook feed, but I’d love for you to check out the Paragon Sakuga group, especially if you are a fan of anime, 2D animation, effects animation, or animation process (blocking, clean-up, etc.). Or all of these, of course!
Here’s an example of a recent post:
Why Cartoon Characters wear Gloves
Vox is a news company that constantly impresses me with the range, depth, and production quality of their work. Every video they produce is a mini-masterclass in motion graphics and editing. I highly suggest scouring their backlog for the various pieces they’ve done about animation/film/art. This one is my favorite, obviously:
Crash Course Computer Science: 3D graphics
While this is episode 27 of an ongoing computer science series, I wanted to single this one out in particular as it gets into some background info about computer graphics. Crash Course as a whole is amazing, and I definitely recommend you also check out Crash Course Film History & Production, and Video Games (among others). I’ve also previously profiled the animation/mograph studio that works on Crash Course, Thought Cafe!
There are a number of large-scale crowdfunding efforts underway that benefit the animation community, and I couldn’t help but want to highlight them all in a post. Maybe in the future this will become a series. But for now, please consider checking out these different campaigns. Each title links to that project’s Kickstarter or IndieGoGo.
The Animation Show of Shows (ASOS) is an annual film festival that tours in theaters around North America and showcases animated short films. Curated and run by Ron Diamond, the organization recently became a non-profit and has gotten involved in helping to restore old films while hosting these screenings to help further the art. While this program is family-friendly, it aims at showing a more nuanced side of animated filmmaking than what many audiences (especially in the US) are used to. The films, which are from all over the world, range from the light-hearted to a few MA shorts (shown at the end with a disclaimer), and range from student works, independent artists, to big studio pieces from staples like Pixar.
A few days ago, the ASOS’s Kickstarted ended just short of their $100K goal, but I’m happy to see that Ron, undeterred, has launched a new one with a smaller goal that has quickly been surpassed. While the goal this time around is unrealistically small, I know that Ron is depending on all of us to help get as close to that initial $100K as possible–so don’t let the success of this smaller goal fool you. It costs an arm and a leg to do what Ron does, and we’re all better off for it. I personally have been fortunate to see the ASOS for the last six years, and I’ve even helped him out by working at the table he sets up where he sells boxed collections of the works on DVD. You can also get DVDs with a few shorts on them, as well as a few other DVDs. When I was an animation student trying to think of a short film, it was invaluable to watch through these award-winning films (my school had the box-sets in their resource library) and see how so many different creators told their stories.
What I appreciate the most about this larger and ambitious campaign is the fact that more than a quarter of the funding goes towards securing the rights from the filmmakers, as most of the films will then be distributed on DVD. While this should be the norm, I imagine it can be tough to earn money from short films. This program offers lots of people the chance to see animation that they normally wouldn’t get a chance to, and that in itself enough to get my support.
The Kickstarter for the Animation Show of Shows only has 4 more days, so back soon!
Full disclosure: I was super unfamiliar with this festival until a couple weeks before this crowdfunding campaign to make a documentary about it. I found out about this effort through an email from a co-worker who knows someone on this project, and spoke highly of the cause:
“I fell in love with this festival while I was working on Nightmare Before Christmas, when you still had to go to the theater to see cool, non-commercial animation… Spike and Mike are two very cool guys who have devoted their lives to sharing amazing animation with the world and their story deserves to be heard and preserved.”
Good enough for me.
The team plans on using classic 2D cel animation, stop motion animation and computer generated animation to set the scene for a 90 minute documentary about the impact of two very unlikely heroes of animation. Though, to be honest, having each of the three acts of this documentary told via a different art style sounds cool in theory but tough to pull off. I’d have liked to have seen some tests footage from each act, especially the CG at the end. While I appreciate and love that they want to use different animation mediums for this documentary, I hope that it doesn’t become a distraction, since, although the IndiGoGo is only for $100,000, the description budgets the entire film at $550,000 with no mention of where the rest will come from. The interviews, which will likely be the tentpoles of the doc, will ideally include all different kinds of participants of the festival since 1977, from directors to the flyer and poster artists, fans and film critics. Seems they got quite a few interviews at San Diego Comic Con last week!
Another co-worker who has attended past screenings added:
“They show weird stuff.”
Also good enough for me. One quick look at their website confirms this, of course. This fest seems perfect for fans who grew up loving the kookier, oft-forgotten underbelly of animation. For an American animation festival to have been around as long as this one (over 30 years) it has to have some interesting stories, apart from the animated ones that they showed. And it sounds like they’ve helped some big names get their earlier work out there. So I would love to learn about how this festival grew into the strange, strange event that it is remembered as.
Speaking of kooky and underbelly, we have what may be our most mainstream example: Ren & Stimpy. Despite the fact that Ren & Stimpy absolutely GROSSED ME OUT as a kid, I’ve come to appreciate that strange, strange show for what it is, what it did, and what it continues to do. For so many people, Ren & Stimpy was a gateway drug to more subversive, often independent animation. It’s also one of the first shows where I, as someone interested in the physical production of animation, heard not-so great stories, and vastly different takes depending on if you hear a story from Nickelodeon, show creator John Kricfalusi (or simply John K), or anyone on the crew or voice talent. Regardless of whose (if any) side you’re on, Ren & Stimpy and creator John K, much like Walt Disney and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit serve as a cautionary tale to creators who lose their characters to studios (for one reason or another).
I’m curious how this tail will be spun, as I’ve heard some horror stories from a co-worker who worked on the production. It’s also just common knowledge in the industry that this was an at-times tumultuous work experience. Similarly, a 2013 book on the very subject–one of those “unauthorized” matter was re-released a few days ago and I’m excited to get my hands on that to get the dirt on what sounds like roller-coaster production in every way.
I was happy to read that the documentary would focus on the artists who brought this ground-breaking and controversial show into existence, and expand on its lasting impact on TV animation in the United States. So many of the artists involved in the show will be back to be in and help out on this film, including with some of the perks, like a private lesson with Jim Smith, one of the artists largely responsible to the stylization of the show.
It’s worth noting that while John K has turned down interviews for this doc, he has okay’d several people close to him for interviews. It’s also worth noting that while Nickelodeon is not backing this film, they did grant the filmmakers permission to use the characters (available at the $150 tier).
There’s always a slight risk when going in on a short film or game where the creator doesn’t have previous experience in the area they are working in. But a very quick glimpse at this campaign removes any doubts: writer and director Matthew A. Cherry, an experienced live-action director, certainly did his homework when it came to finding a team to support him and his existing team, including bringing on a co-director, Jason Marino, who’s animated short film Tamara, caught Cherry’s eye.
Two other notable names in animation that Cherry has brought onto the project are Peter Ramsey and Frank Abney, who will serve as executive producers!! Peter Ramsey became the first African American director of a feature animated film when he made DreamWorks Animation’s Rise of the Guardians. He’s also currently co-directing Sony’s new feature-length animated Miles Morales (finally!) Spider-Man film. Frank Abney, one of Variety’s 2016 10 Animators to Watch, is an animator who has worked at Disney, DreamWorks, and Pixar.
Cherry’s efforts to seek out experienced artists–particularly artists of color–is a responsible and fantastic display of good leadership. I’ve seen enough attempts at crowdfunding animation, video games, comics and more amount to nothing, so starting off on the right foot will do wonders for Hair Love.
The Kickstarter does a great job of breaking down this project, including a summary of it:
Hair Love, is a 5 minute animated short film that centers around the relationship between an African-American father, Stephen, his daughter, Zuri and her hair. Despite having long locks, Stephen has been used to his wife doing his daughter’s hair, so when she is unavailable right before a big event, Stephen will have to figure it out on his own. This sounds simple enough, but we soon come to find that Zuri’s hair has a mind of its own.
This story was born out of seeing a lack of representation in mainstream animated projects, and also wanting to promote hair love amongst young men and women of color. It is our hope that this project will inspire.
The short initially was seeking $75k but now are shooting for $200,000 in the hopes of making a Pixar-quality short, with the budgets for most steps in the pipeline ranging from $5-15k, with the largest chunks going to administrative/auxiliary services. It also looks like they are partnering with Nimble Collective, which will hopefully remove much of the guess-work out of their pipeline. It’s always wonderful to see animated short films being used to showcase underserved stories and groups of people.
The Animation Show of Shows has been operating under this crowdfunding method for a few years now, and since the show is annual, I know that I will be seeing it soon. I’m curious when the other three projects will deliver. As long as the creators supply consistent updates to backers, I don’t mind the occasional hiccups that come with production. Best of luck to all the projects! I encourage you to lend them your support if possible. And if you can’t, I’m sure even a retweet would be appreciated by them.
For the uninitiated, Nerdfighteria is the community that has grown up around YouTubers John and Hank Green–known as the vlogbrothers–for the last decade. This past February, I had the joy of attending Nerdcon: Nerdfighteria, which was a convention intended to celebrate those 10 years, along with fellow Nerdfighters from all over the world. The basic principles of the community are acceptance and empathy, un-ironically enjoying the nerdy things in your life, being kind to others, decreasing the amount of suckiness in the world, and reminding yourself that every other person you meet is just as complex as you are. Also that we are made of awesome. The number one rule in Nerdfighteria? Don’t Forget To Be Awesome.
What does this have to do with animation? Getting there!
Of all the great things to come from the vlogbrothers’ early start in online video, one of the best was a grant they received from YouTube (back when they did that) that allowed them to create an educational show called Crash Course. And what makes Crash Course stand out among the droves of online video? It’s animation, brilliantly done by a small Canadian studio called Thought Cafe. While fantastic, accurate writing, and complex educational concepts are why we tune into Crash Course, the animation is 100% what makes it so successful; it’s what ties all of the best qualities of an educational show together and really helps the material stick in your brain.
Animation was not always something that I looked at so rigorously. It wasn’t until I got to college and began studying animation–both as an artist and as an academic–that I began to see it from a brand new point of view, and my love for it deepened and expanded in so many ways. This site is a direct response to that, so I’m so happy and proud to share the first in what I hope are many, many videos delving into the wide expanse of this artform that I love so much. Please check it out, and let me know what you think!
While there is a lot more I could say on this topic, I tried to keep this video short (though it’s still a bit longer than your average video). I thought that this would give people a good idea about the angle that I am approaching animation from, as well as (hopefully) some new ways to think about the medium. If you want to hear more about my goals with this website, you can listen to a short podcast I recorded explaining it in our very first blog post.