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Preview: Mayerson on Animation

Mayerson on Animation



Reflections on the art and business of animation.



Updated: 2017-12-10T22:14:17.606-05:00

 



19th Annual Animation Show of Shows in Toronto

2017-11-21T21:28:15.450-05:00

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Starts December 1 at the Carleton Cinema and includes Glen Keane's Dear Basketball as well as films by Niki Lindroth von Bahr and David OReilly.  Pete Docter's 1990 Cal Arts film Next Door is also featured.



Canadian Animation Studios Should Apply Pressure to End the Ontario College Strike

2017-11-07T17:27:17.991-05:00

There is currently a province-wide college strike in Ontario.  The issues are larger than those affecting the animation programs at the various colleges, but those programs are being affected.

As the Canadian animation industry depends so heavily on graduates from colleges such as Sheridan, Seneca and Algonquin, it is in the industry's interests to apply pressure on college presidents and on the Ontario government to end the strike.

There is a strong possibility that the current semester may be lost.  That may impact graduating animation students and animation students who are available for internships or summer jobs.  It will potentially delay graduates moving into the workforce and may affect the quality of graduates for the next four years.

If you are a studio owner or manager, can you afford a delay in the pool of applicants or interns in 2018?  I urge you to contact the presidents of the colleges you regularly hire from as well as your MPP and Premier Kathleen Wynn.



Jack Kirby, Charlie Chaplin and Louis Armstrong

2017-08-25T19:48:27.074-04:00

August 28 is the 100th birthday of comics great Jack Kirby, born Jacob Kurtzberg, whose work remains in print 23 years after his death and whose creations are more widely known than ever due to their adaptations in movies and TV. In the days before World War II, the United States experienced an explosion of pop culture due to the invention of the movies, the phonograph and cheap colour printing.  These media, with no pedigree, were developed by hardscrabble entrepreneurs who used them to appeal to the same lower classes that they came from themselves.  Being disreputable, these media were open to anyone; talent and productivity were all that mattered.  Kirby found a home in comic books, Chaplin in films and Armstrong in music.The three had childhoods of poverty in common.  Kirby grew up on Manhattan's lower east side, perhaps the most densely populated place on Earth at the time.  Violence was a daily occurrence, as rival gangs of kids fought to protect what little they had.  Kirby's parents were uneducated immigrants and Kirby's father worked in factories for the garment trade doing piece work.  Chaplin was the son of two music hall entertainers in London.  His parents divorced, his father died of alcoholism and his mother suffered from mental illness.  Chaplin spent time living on the street and in a workhouse for the indigent.  Armstrong's parents did not cohabit and he was born in the black ghetto of New Orleans during the worst days of institutionalized white supremacy.  He spent some time in a reform school for black children.Kirby benefited from a stable family, even if his father was not the best provider.  However, while Chaplin and Armstrong had role models, Kirby was sui generis.  Chaplin's parents and an aunt were all performers.  Armstrong lived in a city where marching bands  performed almost daily, publicising events and accompanying funerals.  Even his reform school had a band.  There were no artists in Kirby's family and the lower east side was not a place where art was valued.  Kirby found a science fiction pulp magazine in the street.  He was fascinated by the art and stories in it, but hid it, knowing his interest would mark him as different and make him a target.Each of the three was professionally supported by mentors.  Chaplin's half-brother Sydney helped negotiate his contracts, making Chaplin rich and owner of his films by 1918.  Armstrong was mentored by King Oliver, one of the leading jazz cornet players.  Armstrong later worked for decades under the management of Joe Glaser, a tough man who kept Armstrong in the good graces of the gangsters who ran the venues that Armstrong played and made sure that Armstrong was fairly compensated.  Kirby partnered with Joe Simon, another comics creator a few years older and with a better head for business than Kirby had.  These mentors allowed the three to focus on their art.  Each of the them changed their fields through the power of their work.  Before Chaplin, film comedy was either the polite society comedy of Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew or the raucous, high-speed slapstick of Mack Sennett.  Chaplin kept the slapstick but slowed it down to focus more on character.  Throughout his career, he introduced elements of pathos and social commentary that added further dimension to his character of the little tramp.Jazz before Armstrong was an ensemble art.  With his recordings in the 1920s, Armstrong made jazz the art of the soloist.  His vocals added both humour and emotion to pop singing and influenced all the singers who came after him.Kirby's initial innovation was his dynamic posing of characters, bringing a much greater sense of motion to the static comics medium.  However, his innovations went beyond drawing.  His working class roots powered series like The Newsboy Legion and the comics he did after the war, showing characters struggling against p[...]



Animation's Lack of Consequences

2017-08-22T08:38:13.909-04:00

I recently read Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You: The Shadow Cinema of the American '70s by Charles Taylor.  The following quote from the introduction struck me for how it relates to animated features, though Taylor ignores animation entirely.
"The best genre movies, no matter how rooted in the conventions of Westerns, detective stories, adventure stories or noir, have always involved adult emotions: temptation, guilt, sexual desire, the pull of responsibility.  The violence in those films is wrought and suffered on a scale far more direct than the explosions and anonymous mass killings of today's big-budget action spectaculars.  In the best genre films, we're immersed in a world where decisions have to be made and consequences have to be endured."
Family films are also a genre.  And they're defined, in large part, by the lack of consequences that have to be endured.  It is this lack of consequences that ultimately make family films so lightweight.  No matter what danger the characters are exposed to, in the end there are no consequences.  Since the majority of animated features are family films, they are caught in this trap.

This isn't true of every animated feature.  Bambi, Princess Mononoke, Pom Poko, The Wind Rises, Princess Kaguya (sense a pattern here?) don't conform.  Some Pixar films develop consequences early (Finding Nemo's death of the family, Up's death of Ellie) but they occur so early in the film, they're more inciting incidents that consequences that must be endured.  By the time the films end, the survivors have triumphed and all's right with the world.

Audiences are happy with the genre as it is.  It's light entertainment, safe for the kids.  Executives are happy with the status quo as the films are lucrative.  So animation artists are stuck honing their craft rather than expanding their content.  While people change intellectually and emotionally as they age, animation artists have to put their evolving perspectives on life on the shelf.  They have to deny their own experience and manufacture fictions where truth may seep into the cracks but can't be central to the stories they tell.

It's hard for me to stay an animation fan as I age.  I want entertainment that speaks to my experience of life, not the experiences of a child.  For me, craft is not enough.  Yes, I can admire the design, the direction, and the animation.  I can admire the construction of a story (though not often enough these days), but the story itself fails to connect to me.

Not every genre is for everyone, but the family film starts out excluding adult concerns.  Charles Taylor thinks that the modern tentpole blockbuster has done the same, so maybe the family film is just being pulled along with the general drift.  While cable and streaming TV have created drama series that have captured large audiences and critical acclaim, TV animation hasn't even dipped a toe into that water. 

Young animation artists are happy to create work similar to the work they loved growing up.  But as they age, there's nowhere for them to grow in their medium.  I don't see that changing, though I wish it would.



Studio Ghibli's Toshio Suzuki

2017-08-06T09:47:26.357-04:00


NHK World has posted a video interview with Studio Ghibli's producer Toshio Suzuki.  The interview is only available until August 15, so don't dally.

I was deeply impressed with Suzuki after seeing the documentary The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, which I reviewed here.  The NHK piece has more on Suzuki's background in publishing and how he and Miyazaki established their relationship.



Oskar Fischinger's 117th Birthday

2017-06-22T19:55:29.199-04:00

While there's nothing particularly special about the number 117 when celebrating events, Google has taken the opportunity of abstract animator Oskar Fischinger's 117th birthday to honour him with an interactive Google doodle.  By clicking and dragging your mouse, you can quickly create a faux-Fischinger animation.  It's nowhere near as good as Fischinger's own work, but it's fun.

If you are interested in some of the real article, here's an excerpt from Studie Number 8, set to the music of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice."  As Fischinger spent a short time at the Disney studio and contributed to Fantasia, perhaps this is his answer to Disney's lack of comfort with abstraction.
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My Life as a Courgette

2017-04-09T19:40:59.084-04:00

For me, the most interesting animated features being made today are not from North America.  Europe has come on strong, both in terms of subject matter and technique.  Drawn animation is still alive there and now there is an excellent stop motion film called My Life as a Courgette (the French word for zucchini).

This film has racked up awards, including an Oscar nomination, and fully deserves whatever praise it's received.  The story is about a group of children who are victims of neglect or tragedy living in a state-run institution.  While the subject matter sounds depressing, the film avoids being dreary or maudlin.  This is not a story by Charles Dickens.  The institution is a haven from their former lives, and while the children are marked by their experiences, they don't dwell on them.  They go on being children who laugh, play, learn, fight, question and who are eager to experience new things.

The script, based on a novel by Gilles Paris with the screenplay by Celine Sciammo, Germano Zullo, Claude Barras and Morgan Navarro, and the direction by Barras are perfect, maintaining a balance between the emotions of the children's pasts and their present.  The stop motion puppets are not as flexible as those made by Mackinnon and Saunders for films like The Corpse Bride, but the animators evoke a wide range of emotions with them, helped enormously by the tasteful script and direction.  The film successfully develops the characters and their relationships.  The events grow out of the dynamics of the group and are never less than believable.

There are no big set pieces as there typically are in North American films.  It is not anywhere near as elaborate as Laika's work, but I found it to be far more satisfying.  The characters simply try to live their lives and it is surprisingly interesting to watch.

I caught the film at the TIFF Kids International Film Festival.  So far, the film has not received a release in Canada, though it opened in the U.S. in February.  I don't know where Canadians will next have an opportunity to see this film, but don't miss it when it becomes available. 
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Toronto Screening of The Animation Show of Shows

2017-03-23T20:31:13.798-04:00

allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="231" mozallowfullscreen="" src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/182118126?title=0&byline=0&portrait=0" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="410">The 18th Annual Animation Show of Shows Trailer - Coming Soon from Acme Filmworks on Vimeo.The 18th annual Animation Show of Shows will be screening at the Carlton Cinema, 20 Carlton Street, from March 31 to April 6.  The films are:Stems - Ainslie Hendersen (Scotland)Shift - Cecilia Puglesi & Yijun Liu (U.S.)Pearl - Patrick Osborne (U.S.)Crin-crin - Iris Alexandre (Belgium)Mirror - Chris Ware, John Kuramoto, Ira Glass (U.S.)Last summer in the garden - bekky O¹Neil (Canada)Waiting for the New Year - Vladimir Leschiov (Latvia)Piper - Alan Barillaro (U.S.)Bøygen - Kristian Pedersen (Norway)Afternoon Class - Seoro Oh (Korea)About a Mother - Dina Velikovskaya (Russia)Exploozy - Joshua Gunn, Trevor Piecham, & John McGowan (U.S.)Inner Workings - Leo Matsuda (U.S.)CORPUS - Marc Héricher (France)BLUE - Daniela Sherer (Israel)MANOMAN - Simon Cartwright (England)ALL THEIR SHADES - Chloé Alliez (Belgium)[...]



Toronto Screenings of My Life as a Courgette

2017-03-09T21:53:57.851-05:00

My Life as a Courgette (aka My Life as a Zucchini) is a Swiss-French stop motion feature that was nominated for an Oscar and has won prizes at festivals all over the world.

While it is playing in theatres in the U.S. and Canada, it has no release date for a run in Toronto.  However, it will screen twice at the TIFF Kids International Film Festival, once on April 9 at 10:45 a.m. and once on April 17 at 3:45 p.m.

Information about the film can be found here and information about the festival is here.



Laika Speculation

2017-03-03T07:14:42.923-05:00

I am thousands of miles from Laika's studio and have no inside information.  However, I've been interested in following the company's fortunes as it is one of the few companies making stop motion features.

Travis Knight, CEO, animator and director, is going to direct a Transformers spinoff for Paramount.

This is unexpected and raises many questions about the future of Laika.  It's clear from the budgets and grosses of Laika's films that the company is not self-supporting.  I've always thought that it has survived because Travis Knight wanted it to, and because his father, Phil Knight of Nike, was willing to financially support the company on his son's behalf.

What does Travis Knight's latest move mean?  Is he just looking for a change of pace with the intention of returning to Laika?  Was there an understanding between father and son that Laika had to become profitable after some amount of time or number of films, and if it didn't the subsidy would end?

Travis Knight is the reason that Laika exists.  Without him, there is no reason for Phil Knight to finance a money-losing company.  Perhaps this is nothing more than an opportunity that popped up and was hard to resist, but Travis Knight's plans and the box office success of the Transformer's spinoff could have a major impact on the continued existence of Laika.



Trailer for Sheridan College's Upcoming Industry Day

2017-02-23T07:15:18.118-05:00

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Floyd Norman: An Animated Life Screening in Toronto

2017-02-15T06:59:26.784-05:00

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Floyd Norman, animator and story artist, was one of the first African-Americans to work at Disney and in the animation industry.  A documentary on his life is showing at the Hot Docs cinema on Bloor Street on Sunday, February 19 at 11 a.m.  It's a one-time screening.

Floyd will be present via Skype after the film.

For more information, go here.



John Canemaker's New Blog

2017-02-09T07:01:08.528-05:00

(image)
John Canemaker (left) with Jules Feiffer

Animation historian and Academy Award winning filmmaker John Canemaker has started a blog.  His first entry features an event last November with the multi-talented cartoonist, playwright, screenwriter and author Jules Feiffer.  Anyone familiar with Canemaker's work knows that anything he writes is worth reading.  Included is a letter Feiffer wrote to his daughters, providing political perspective on today's world.



Michael Dudok de Wit and The Red Turtle

2017-01-27T11:33:19.056-05:00

Michael Dudok de Wit's film The Red Turtle is playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto as of January 27.  Some Sheridan animation students and I had the pleasure of spending an hour with Michael Dudok de Wit when he was in Toronto to publicize the film last September as part of the Toronto International Film Festival.After the success of his Oscar winning short Father and Daughter, Dudok de Wit was approached by Studio Ghibli and asked if he had a feature idea that they could produce for him.  He told us that when he was a student, just getting laughs was enough but as he's gotten older, he wants his films to be built on more substantial emotions.Creating the story reel was a case of  two steps forward and one step backwards.  His feeling is that without a good storyboard, it's impossible to make a good film.  He sought out feedback from the Ghibli producers and praised Toshio Suzuki and Isao Takahata for their input.  Their goal was to be as ego-free as possible and just look for the best idea.In creating the story reel, he felt he benefited from working with an editor.  He said that rhythms and flow are far more important in a feature than in a short and the editor, who regularly cuts live action, was able to help.For the production, done entirely in Europe with TV Paint software, live action reference was shot.  There was no rotoscoping, but as Dudok de Wit was interested in realistic motion, various gestures from the live action were used. Dudok de Wit's preference for long shots has to do with his interest in the environment the characters live in.  He also prefers to communicate using a character's whole body.  He talked about how subtle human expressions are and how difficult it is to duplicate that subtlety in animation, especially when you're trying to communicate to a crew.  Therefore, long shots work best.He worked 80-100 hour weeks because he wanted the film to be as good as possible.  He's too close to the film to know if he wants to make another feature or if he will return to shorts.(There are spoilers below.) I have mixed feelings about the film.  In some ways, it reminds me of Pete Docter's work at Pixar in that Dudok de Wit is excellent at evoking emotions, particularly those that come from familial relationships, but like Docter he seems to have problems with story logic. Fantasies are delicate things.  The audience must understand what is possible and what's isn't in a story in order to believe the film's events.  The opening of The Red Turtle is brutally realistic.  A man is lost at sea, being battered by stormy waves with nothing to hold onto.  Once he reaches an island, the film maintains the realism.  The flora and fauna are real and the man's struggle to leave the island is completely believable.  He tries several times and each time his raft is destroyed by a red turtle.  There is no hint at the turtle's motivation for this.  As the film shows baby turtles hatching on the beach, it makes more sense that the turtle would be glad to get the man off the island as his presence might threaten the turtle's spawn.  When the turtle comes to the beach to lay eggs, the man is justifiably angry at the creature who has foiled his escape. He flips the turtle onto its back and it appears to die.Earlier in the film, the man dreamed or hallucinated the presence of a string quartet on the island.  It's clear to the audience that this is not real.  The man himself realizes it.  So when the dead turtle turns into a woman, the audience has not been prepared for the possibility that the transformation could be real.[...]



Happy Holidays from Sheridan Animation's Class of 2017

2016-12-15T15:44:36.244-05:00

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Long Way North is a Great Film

2016-10-23T20:03:37.017-04:00

Long Way North is a dramatic adventure film, devoid of the comic relief and musical numbers all too common in North American animated features.  While artists and fans are constantly calling for animation to expand its horizons, Long Way North has done it, but its botched release in Canada will keep it hidden from the people who would champion it.With Canada's recent hunt for Sir John Franklin's two ships, the Erebus and the Terror lost during the search for the Northwest Passage, there was a natural Canadian marketing hook for this film.  Set in Czarist Russia, an explorer sets out to find the Northeast Passage across the pole.  When the ship doesn't return, everyone assumes that it sank.  A search turns up nothing.  But Sasha, the granddaughter of the explorer, finds some notes in her grandfather's study indicating he took a different route than expected.  She argues for another search mission, but is not only refused, she damages her family's position with the royal court.Vilified by her father, Sasha takes off on her own to prove her theory correct.  Connecting with the crew of a ship thanks to the reward offered by the Czar as well as an obligation a crew member owes her, they take off following her suggested route.What follows is a rigorous adventure, where she and the crew undergo storms, ice avalanches, bitter cold, hunger and injury.  It is an uncompromising look at a difficult journey and the film pulls no punches.The script, direction and art direction are all excellent.  The story has echoes of Captains Courageous and what might be an homage to a moment in Chaplin's The Gold Rush.  The characterizations are realistic.The film, a French-Danish co-production, has an insane number of partners.  Pulling together the financing for this must have been hell.  And for all the film's excellence, the budget is the weak link.  Act 1 is full of animation done on threes, fours and maybe sixes.  The resolution of various story threads is done with stills during the end credits instead of being animated.  However, director Remé Chayé has put the money where it counted.  The search is doesn't skimp on animation or effects.I can't think of another animated feature I can compare this to directly.  It is like The Iron Giant in that the release has shortchanged it and people who eventually find this film will like it.  It's like Castle in the Sky as it is a straight up adventure without the cuteness that plagues so many animated features. In its second week in Toronto, it's showing just once a day on a single screen at Canada Square.  The Sunday screening I attended had maybe 8 people in the audience.  It was preceded by trailers for Trolls, Sing and Moana.  The three reeked of formula, which made Long Way North that much more impressive.  I'm afraid the film will be gone by October 28.If you get a chance to see this in a theatre, don't pass it up.  Eventually it will turn up on other screens.  When it does, watch it.  I wish that GKids was distributing this, as they are great at marketing independent animated features.  I've seen The Red Turtle and will see Miss Hokusai shortly.  I'm betting that either those films or Long Way North will get a Best Animated Feature nomination as the art film this year.  Should Long Way North get it, know that it deserves it.[...]



Long Way North Playing in Toronto

2016-10-14T19:13:22.436-04:00

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Long Way North, a French-Danish animated feature, has arrived in Toronto playing on a single screen.  Three of the five papers in town have not reviewed it.  None of this bodes well for its box office prospects or for people in the animation industry being aware of it.

If you want to see this film, head to Canada Square at Yonge and Eglinton.  Who knows if it will last more than a week.




Copyright Craziness

2016-09-07T08:18:30.182-04:00


Warner Bros. is accusing itself of pirating its own copyrights.  If this doesn't prove that modern copyright enforcement is hopelessly broken, I don't know what does.

Warner Bros hired Vobile to search the web for sites that violate Warner copyrights and to send notices to Google to prevent the sites from being listed in searches.  The only problem is that Vobile listed the following sites as pirates:

http://www.warnerbros.com/dark-knight
http://www.warnerbros.com/matrix
http://www.warnerbros.com/lucky-one

I hope that Vobile will become even more aggressive, listing every Warner site so that eventually Warner Bros. is completely invisible to search engines.  At that point, maybe somebody will realize that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and its take down notices are not workable and that some sort of reasonable balance between copyright owners and the public has to be established.



Jam Filled Purchases Arc

2016-08-23T06:47:07.739-04:00


According to C21 Media, Jam Filled has completed the purchase of Arc's assets.  There are about 200 employees returning to a facility in Toronto.  While the article specifies that the company will "take over production of current Arc projects," it does not specify what they are.  No word on whether Blazing Samurai, a feature that was in production, is still in-house or, if rumours are true, has moved to another company.



Jam Filled Entertainment Negotiates to Buy Arc

2016-08-11T08:59:56.665-04:00

The Globe and Mail has another article behind a pay wall, providing some details.  Deloitte, the receiver, ran an auction to purchase the rights to Arc's continuing projects.  Jam Filled Entertainment, an Ottawa studio bought just weeks ago by Boat Rocker Media, won the auction.  However, the deal has to be approved by the court and Jam Filled will be doing additional due diligence before the deal is concluded.

One part of the deal is that enough of Arc's former employees are willing to return to the projects they were working on.  The hope is that the deal can be finalized within the next two weeks.

As of now, there are many questions.  I assume that the work will stay in Toronto.  If they're looking to rehire Arc employees, it's going to be easier to do this without asking them to move to Ottawa.

While the deal obviously includes contracts for the work and the files created so far, does it include the hardware that the files are sitting on?  Will they occupy Arc's former space or move to another location?  Software licenses are not always transferrable.  Will Jam Filled get rights to the licenses as part of the deal or will they have to purchase new ones?  Which clients will be willing to continue their projects with Jam Filled and which will prefer to move them elsewhere?

Will there be pay cuts for returning employees?  How much?  Will they be across the board, meaning that everyone rehired gets the same percentage of their former salary, or will salaries be negotiated from scratch?

Who will be managing all this?  As Jam Filled is located in Ottawa, will they be sending a management team to Toronto?  Will they be hiring local management talent?  As management was the source of Arc's problems, hiring the right team will be critical to the success of the salvage operation.

Will Jam Filled continue the facility, assuming it is in Toronto, once the existing contracts are completed?  That may not be decided until projects are delivered and the balance sheet is scrutinized.

While Jam Filled's acquisition, assuming it goes through, is certainly good news, much more will have to be answered before this can be called a success or failure.  Good luck to everyone.




More on the Arc Situation

2016-08-05T11:11:32.557-04:00


The Globe and Mail has an article behind their paywall about the Thursday court proceedings relating to Arc.  I can't quote from it extensively due to copyright, but I can summarize it.

While I was quick to say that without knowing specifics, it was not fair to blame Arc's management for the shutdown, it's now clear that the management was aware of the situation for at least five months and did not do enough, if anything, to fix it.

In December of last year, Arc made an agreement with Grosvenor Park Media Fund LP giving Arc access to up to $45.3 million.  $17.5 million of that went to repay Callidus Capital Corp, a previous lender.

On Feb. 8, 2016, Arc defaulted on payments to Grosvenor.  Grosvenor twice signed waiver agreements allowing Arc to pay later and extended another $4.6 million in credit.  At this point, Arc convinced the producers of Blazing Samurai to make their $1.05 million payment due to Arc to Grosvenor instead.

Arc again defaulted on payments to Grosvenor in May and July.  In the first six months of 2016, Arc ran a $9.2 million dollar loss.  It was also behind $250,000 in rent, $2 million for office renovations and $1 million in payroll.

On July 26, Guy Collins of GFM Films, international rights holders to Blazing Samurai, sent an email to Grosvenor saying he was concerned that Arc had stopped production on the feature.  Arc was trying to get an early payment for moneys due in August from GFM.  GFM indicated that they would not be paying any more money.  With no promise of revenue for Arc, Grosvenor called their loan and forced Arc into receivership.

This does not make Arc's management look good.  Defaulting on loan payments while continuing to hire and increasing expenses is not the route to success.  While I only know what was in the article, the logical thing to do would have been to cut expenses to the bone, eliminating anything not directly related to completing paying projects.  Had they been seen to do that, Grosvenor might have been even more forgiving than they were.  Arc's management had 5 months to fix things and didn't.  What's worse, it doesn't appear that they tried all that hard.



ARC and the Hazards of Animation

2016-08-02T22:04:06.413-04:00

The news that ARC, one of Toronto’s largest animation studios, has gone into receivership spread in record time thanks to social media.  I’ve been dismayed at many of the comments I’ve read in various places online.  Many are ignorant; some are accusatory.  I have no inside information, but anyone with experience in the animation business knows that a bankruptcy is always a possibility, especially for studios doing service work. Everyone in animation has probably worked on a project that’s gone bad.  It could be due to demanding or ignorant clients.  It could be due to unforeseen technical challenges.  It could be due to an inadequate schedule.  If a job goes over budget, the costs have to be covered from the next job.  With luck, the profits from that job are enough to cover the loss, which leaves the studio in a break-even position.  But if the profits are not enough, or the next job goes bad as well, the debt begins to pile up.  This puts a studio in the position of using income from current jobs to pay off old jobs, and it becomes necessary to keep new jobs coming in so as to service old debts.Every budget and schedule (really two sides of the same coin) contains unknowns.  Studios try to build contingencies into budgets to cover the unknowns, but in the competitive market that service studios face, budgets are lean and sometimes intentionally lower than the job requires.There are valid reasons for under-budgeting.   The studio wants to work with a client that commissions a lot of work and the studio has to land a project in order to establish a relationship.  Or the studio has a crew that will finish a project shortly and needs something to keep the crew on the payroll.  Finally, there’s the need to keep money coming in to meet overhead and maybe service debt.  Every day that the studio stays alive is another chance for the studio to find the profitable job that will solve its problems.There is also the issue of cash flow.  A studio can be profitable on paper, but if the money isn’t flowing in at a rate fast enough to meet the studio’s expenses, the studio is forced to borrow to bridge the gap.  That borrowing has costs attached to it: legal fees and interest to name just two.  If the cash flow can’t be straightened out, the interest piles up and the studio may be forced to seek other bridge financing.  The end result once again is debt that is paid by diverting money from current jobs.  This just pushes the debt forward.Either of the above cases can drive a studio into receivership.  It’s important to understand that studios are forced into receivership by creditors.  It’s not something they would choose to do.  So when a studio shuts suddenly, it’s because the creditors have forced it to happen, not because management was trying to screw over artists.  Undoubtedly, management was negotiating with the creditors, hoping to reschedule debt payments or restructure the debt.  If the creditors decide that they’ve had enough, meaning they have no confidence that the studio can meet its obligations, they force receivership, capping their losses and hoping to recoup something from the bankruptcy.No one – the creditors or the management – wants that to happen.  The creditors would prefer to be paid in full, something that rarely happens in a bankruptcy and won’t happen when a studio’s only a[...]



More Thoughts on VR

2016-07-04T11:46:50.633-04:00

I attended a one day conference on VR & Film, sponsored by SIRT and ETV Film Inc in mid-June.  There were hardware and software demonstrations, but I was particularly interested in the talks, where people involved in creating virtual reality explained the storytelling issues they encountered.Having worked in cgi in the early years, I'm confident that the technical problems of VR will be solved over time.  My personal interest runs more towards how VR is going to communicate with audiences as a narrative medium.Pretty much everyone agrees that VR has a resemblance to theatre in that the audience is free to look where they wish.  The stage has various techniques for directing the audience's attention, lighting being a major one.  If only one part of the stage is lit, the audience will naturally look there.  Jeff Preyra of 360 Storylabs pointed out that with a 360 degree camera, it was impossible to place lights, as they would always be visible.  For this reason, he felt that the future of VR storytelling would be motion capture avatars in cgi environments.  The virtual lights in cgi are invisible to the camera, so in a cgi environment, directors could still control lighting.Preya felt that establishing shots would have to be longer as the audience would naturally want to look around an environment and take stock of who is present before watching whatever dramatic action is going to unfold.  This makes sense, though when returning to established locations it shouldn't be necessary and if you want to surprise the characters and the audience, you could start the action of a scene immediately to prevent the audience from knowing everything that was present. Preyra also felt that musical scoring didn't work in VR.  As the viewer was in the scene, any music needed to have a visible source.  I'm not sure about this.  In the early years of talkies, there was music under the opening and closing titles, but none during the film unless there was a onscreen source such as a radio, phonograph or visible musicians.  However, by 1933, just a few years after talkies became the dominant form of movies, King Kong had dramatic scoring by Max Steiner throughout the film.  By the late 1930s, composers like Steiner, Newman, Korngold, Waxman, Hageman and Tiomkin were hard at work scoring films throughout their run times.Ian Tuason of CFC Media Lab said that cameras could only move in straight lines, as any change in the camera's direction might clash with head movements of someone wearing a VR headset.  This makes sense on the face of it, but again a look at film history leads me to believe that it can be done.  Films in the 1930s and '40s routinely shot in ways where the camera's position operated separately from the camera's view.  In other words, the camera's location would physically move while the camera itself would change what it was pointing at.  What was standard, however, was someone moving on screen that gave the audience a focus.  So if a camera was tracking through a restaurant before stopping at a table where the main action was to take place, the camera would follow a waiter while it was moving.  In a VR situation, if there is an obvious center of interest on screen, like a character, the camera could move, changing it's spatial and angular relationship so long as the audience has a reason to stay focused on that character.I feel the same way a[...]



Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t

2016-06-22T09:08:57.661-04:00

Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art, has a new book called Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t.  It's a quick read and a master course in story construction.  Until June 30, 2016, it's free in a variety of digital formats, including .pdf.  You're not required to leave any personal information in order to get a copy.

Here are two quotes that jumped out at me that will give you the flavour of the book.
"Nobody wants to read your shit.

"What's the answer?

"1) Streamline your message.  Focus it and pare it down to its simplest, clearest, easiest-to-understand form.

"2) Make its expression fun.  Or sexy or interesting or scary or informative.  Make it so compelling that a person would have to be crazy NOT to read it.

"3) Apply that to all forms of writing or art or commerce.

"When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, your mind becomes powerfully concentrated.  You begin to understand that writing/reading is, above all, a transaction.  The reader donates his time and attention, which are supremely valuable commodities.  In return, you the writer must give him something worthy of his gift to you.

"When you understand that nobody wants to read our shit, you develop empathy.

"You acquire the skill that is indispensable to all artists and entrepreneurs -- the ability to switch back and forth in your imagination from your own point of view as writer/painter/seller to the point of view of your reader/gallery-goer/customer.  You learn to ask yourself with every sentence and every phrase: Is this interesting?  Is it fun or challenging or inventive?  Am I giving the reader enough?  Is she bored?  Is she following where I want to lead her?"
And this:
"A real writer (or artist or entrepreneur) has something to give.  She has lived enough and suffered enough and thought deeply enough about her experience to  be able to process it into something that is of value to others, even if only as entertainment.

"A fake writer (or artist or entrepreneur) is just trying to draw attention to himself.  The word "fake" may be too unkind.  Let's say "young" or "evolving."
...
"To get over it, the candidate must grow up."



Muhammad Ali and Darwyn Cooke

2016-06-04T15:11:54.447-04:00

No doubt you're wondering what these two have in common and why I am writing about them in an animation blog.  I'll get to that.2016 has been a tough year for celebrity deaths.  Two that have hit me hard are the recent deaths of boxer Muhammad Ali and comic book creator Darwyn Cooke.  Both of these men widened the frame of reference for their respective fields through their work and their words.I have no idea when Ali became politically aware, though he may have been from birth.  In any case, after defeating Sonny Liston and winning the heavyweight championship, he changed his name from Cassius Clay, telling reporters, “I don’t have to be what you want me to be,  I’m free to be who I want.”  Later, he resisted induction into the U.S. military, refusing to fight in the Viet Nam war. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="231" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/vd9aIamXjQI?rel=0" width="410">While there were certainly great African-American athletes before Ali -- Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson come to mind -- the times forced them to tolerate the racism they experienced and they confined themselves in word and action to their respective sports where they avoided controversy.  Ali refused to just be a boxer and with his religion, politics, and taking his bouts to other continents, was an example of how a person could define himself regardless of how a dominant society attempted to keep him in his place.  Ali was an outstanding athlete, but his impact owes as much to his life outside the ring as in it.Darwyn Cooke grew up loving comics and managed at a young age to get a story published by DC.  In those days, before Fedex and the internet, the fact that he didn't live in New York City pretty much ended his comics career right there.  While he was no doubt disappointed, it ended up enriching his work.Cooke spent time art directing music and fashion magazines as well as running a design studio.  In doing this, he gained experience in the commercial art field, dealing with clients and absorbing aesthetics from fields other than comics.  He then went into TV animation, working with Bruce Timm on the influential Batman: The Animated Series, a show that also brought in artistic influences from outside comics.  It was at this point, after a decade and a half outside the field, that Cooke finally made it into the comics world.Like Ali, Cooke was determined to define himself.  He did so in terms of the design of his work and his treatment of the subject matter.  Too many of the people in comics had graduated from being fans directly into the industry, and had a very constricted view of what comics were supposed to be.  They had little to no experience in the wider business world.  Comics art of the period was overly detailed and fussy.  Fan-favourite art had a lot of lines in it.  Cooke had a cleaner, more direct style that was counter to what comics were doing artistically and he was comfortable with incorporating modern graphic design.  In terms of content, as former fans-turned-writers aged, they continued to write comics for themselves, taking characters intended for children into questionable areas of sex and violence.  Having worked in the real world where he did business with women, Cooke treated his female characters with far more respect than those in other comics fro[...]