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Sesame Workshop Films
Detour Thru Your Mind is an Alice in Wonderland story. Alice in Wonderland is a Divine Comedy story and the Divine Comedy is derived from Homer’s Odyyssey and the Rape of Persephone. All neurotic girl stories are derived from Persophone’s adventures into the realm of the subconscious known as the Underworld, but when it’s a man, he not only encounters mentors who show him the way out, but he must return to the surface to right a wrong. A girl, however returns compromised. I made Fred walk the girl’s path. These three tales are all allegories of the Subconcisous and for that I used the art of the subconscious: the Modernist and Post-Modernist period.
At present, we are in the Trans-modernist period where the traditional world and modern world are reconciling. The animosity is still there, but artist are making efforts to extend their hands to religion through their works to show that not only do they respect the ordered world of faith, but go as far as to apply the teachings on the conditions that other religions be represented. Pantheism is coming into vogue. Harry Potter and the Da Vinci Code are early examples of the trans-modernist movement. They’re themes of tolerance against religious extremism is a critique of Religious Right’s exclusionist practices with solutions of reconciliation. The benefit of Harry Potter and the Da Vinci Code is that so many alternate faiths that have been buried for ages have resurfaced to enjoy a new following. My comic book Superficial and my novel The Pantheist explore these concepts with tales of the worlds of the goddesses who have never gone away from the volatile world of political change and freely mingle with mortals in everyday life as executives, mentors and forces of nature.
Detour Thru You Mind isn’t a trans-modernist work, it’s a post-modernist effort. “It’s play with a purpose”, to paraphrase professor Kathleen Elkins. Fred loses Quiche Lorraine and follows her down a rabbit hole through his psyche where he encounters his heralds Kate and Cindy who give him a tour of his subconscious to find out why he is so attached to a ungrateful dog who ran away. Fred’s mind is populated with the art of the 20th century ranging from Dada’s Kurt Schwitters, Georges Braque and Miro to the Post-Modernists, for which I chose my friends and school mate, Gigi Rabago and the found object sculpture and media student’s work of the San Francisco Art Institute’s Walter McBean Gallery’s Spring 1992 installation. Modern art, particularly conceptual art is supposed to make you think. All art does that, but the modernist threw out the illustrative beauty of the pre-modern periods purposely to force the viewer to stop looking at all the pretty colors and go straight to the concept, but not too easily. Stand there and figure it out. Walk away confused and angry and figure it out later as you dream or wash the dishes until you come to an epiphany of understanding.
Critics of modern art don’t understand this concept. They don’t see how the sampling of existing pop culture artifacts amalgamated to sculpture or collage can be called art whereas animated cartoons for a wide audience is not considered a fine art. Cartoons are a popular art, although hand drawn animation is fading away into a fine art, because soon it will no longer be supported by popular subsidy. It will be liked by some, paid for by fewer hence becoming supported by elite subsidy. However, experimental animation which strives for originality and the creators personal vision will always be a fine art compared to character animation which is aimed at mass appeal. This paradox angers the commercial arts community. Understandable for all art is hard work, but it best not to get caught up on hierarchies where there are none. Mickey Mouse has his world, Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase has hers. Why argue?
What critics of modern art do not see is the concept artist postulated the concept and the commercial artist abstracted what he or she could from the fine artists piece and made it accessible to public as an ad, a cartoon or package design. The critics don’t know where the origin of their iPads and cereal box design come from and they don’t care. It wouldn’t matter so much if these critics didn’t have so much political power. Dangerous power that threatens to dismantle our government institutions that uphold the arts time and time again because they refuse to open their minds enough to understand it, stifling the minds of future generations. Piss Christ wasn’t a slant against Christ. It was a critique of the corruption of Christ’s teachings over time. Had Jesse Helms understood the concept, he would not have campaigned to defund the National Endowment of the Arts our nation’s most prestigious institutions of the arts.
One of the arguments against public funding for the NEA is accessibility. I scoff at that claim for much of the programming on PBS is underwritten by the NEA, which leads to another problem: too few people watch PBS! A non PBS viewer would never know that Great Performances is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts unless a high school teacher showed the production in a classroom environment. With art so under represented in public schools and many other learning institutions, how was Helms and his constituents supposed to be able to interpret Piss Christ correctly? Modern art is supposed to provoke and post-modernism has done that very well. However, the stronger modern art would prevail over the less than stellar efforts like the asshole who adopted a dog from the pound only to starve it to death and film it as a conceptual piece, if more people were taught 20th century art though pop culture in a context they would relate to. Detour Thru Your Mind is my attempt to do so. There hasn’t been an animated art history lesson since the Muse, which is about a character from a painting ( I forget which) who docents a curious new admirer of art through her museum. A previous effort (albeit indirectly) has been the Yellow Submarine. Heinz Edelman used Hannah Hoch’s Neo Dada works for Pepperland.
He changed her earth toned stains to bright colored pop art that appealed to a wider audience. A more direct effort is Corny Cole’s rendition of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists in the UPA feature Gay Purree. The film’s antagonist had the heroine’s portrait painted by the artists of the age. The works shown are of Mewsette whimsically incorporated into the works of Cezanne, Gaugin, Seurat, Modigliani, Degas, Monet, Van Gogh and Picasso. It was my first art history lesson at 9 years old. 60 years later Detour Through Your Mind follows in the footsteps of Corny Cole and Heinz Edelman as an art history lesson of it own.
Reconciling Fine and Popular Art.
I always wanted to make my own Warner Bros. cartoon. So, for the familiar poplar art sequences of the film, I referenced the style of the Fleischer Bros. Betty Boop and Popeye, De Carlo’s Josie and the Pussycats, Chuck Jone’s star animator Ben Washam for the looseness in the drawing all the while retaining anatomy and tried my best to emulate Maurice Noble, Erie Nordli and Phil deGuard in the backgrounds.
The characters where a snap, but the BG’s proved challenging since I am still new to the profession of BG layout. Noble and Nordli use a great deal of 3pt perspective, which I am capable of but I ended up going Hawley Pratt safe for the wide shots. I found little reason for the characters to be staged at low angles with the exception of scenes 14-19 or the “Giants” sequence. There will be plenty of opportunities to play Maurice Noble there, except the buildings will be built, so you won’t get the Noble-Nordli distortions.
S’alright, there’ll be room to do so in scenes 10 and the 11, the Large Orange Room. The initial way I have the set modeled was quite standard. I was a neophyte with lighting and textures and I just wanted to get the algorithms right. Now that I have learned 3pt lighting and have tried true settings for global illumination in a pinch, I can play and distort the set until it’s suitable for Witch Hazel to live in, that’s is she had a live-work space on Taylor and Washington in San Francisco!
The late Ricky Wilson will never be forgotten and he and Keith will provide much needed subtext and exposition in the background. If you’ve every seen the B52’s perform in concert, you’ll notice while Fred, Kate and Cindy do their job as frontman/women, Keith is part stage manager and band leader. He leads the musicians and the organizes the set. He also hosts the show and warms up the crowd for the lead vocalists before they appear on stage. He handles his job with charm with a darling cleft chin smile which retained it’s appeal when he had to disappoint a pumped up crowd that the show has run long and cannot end with it’s Love Shack finale that warm summer Saturday afternoon in Golden Gate Park. The old hippies turned capitalists residents of the Haight can be such crabby party poopers! It would’ve been great to hear Cindy say “Tin Roof….rusted!” live and just 30 feet away from me that day, but the rest of the performance made up for it. The B52’s sang a just about every hit and mild hit in their repertoire, unlike the Manhattan Transfer who got away without singing Birdland. Now THAT was a let down of a concert with little appeal. All ensemble performers can learn a thing or two from Fred’s starkly changed personae of outraged performance of Quiche Lorraine!
Keith will be the stage manager once again as the voice of reason who tries to warn Fred that he got a used dog in a bad way, Charlie Brown, as a feature in paintings, a pet shop owner with Ricky who will always have an “I told you so” expression which Fred is to enamored with the poodle to notice. I have never seen the dearly departed Ricky in concert, so this is the best I can do to assess his personality. He’s the Carpenter to Keith’s Walrus and March Hare to Keith’s Mad Hatter. I hope Cindy will be pleased that her brother’s memory lives on as an animated character cavorting through Schwitter pieces.
Rock the Cradle of Love
How am I going to do this? 2D experience, I have plenty, but my 3D skills are at student level. Even if I manage to generate funds for a proper crew they will still need direction. My experience as an intern at Sesame has proven that since 3D animators do not produce material work, many do not have the ability to art direct from a boarded sequence. instead they speak at length about what they intend to do with the producer and eke out their vision against a deadline with using a combination of internet searches for fast reference and compositing skills. There is no meeting where everyone draws at the table. However, in their defense, I’ve noticed that hand drawn artists balk at all of the steps necessary to complete the simplest tasks in the 3D pipeline. So, there are plusses and minuses on both sides of the spectrum. As a creative producer and director, it’s my job to bridge the gap by having working knowledge in both disciplines.
Compositing influences include the past videos: Billy Idol’s Rock the Cradle of Love ) or at least how I remember it) where he appears in the Warhol piece with Marilyn Monroe will be great for Keith and Ricky’s travels through the Dada paintings in the Large Orange Room sequence. Now that I think if it, the same technique was employed in the paintings of the Harry Potter films. Scenes 7, 9, 12-13 will be depth fogs with textured overlays. Doable. The Giants scene with have painted buildings which will be a challenge, but a fun one. I just know it will take all summer to texture map that midpoint. Paintings galore. Fun! I just need to remember to pre-viz it first before getting too happy on it. Scenes with a flow like that are always pitfalls for continuity errors and compromises. Scenes 34-38 will be fun too. I’ll just pop in the Muppet Show while creating that set. Which leaves the characters….
Goddess I hate rigging. Everyone hates rigging. That’s why you always see the job postings for character TD’s. The listings just hang there for no one likes that task in the animation pipeline and no one is going to be a character TD for less than six figures either—and they deserve EVERY penny! We’re artists. We trained for this industry to avoid algebra, not dive right into it, but as Tom Lehrer sang, there is no way avoid mathematics.
To psyche myself up for this chore, I’ve revisited my high school math in order to build mel scripts to make rigging easier. I gotta do it. For no one else wants to do it and for the sake of the film, I must do a good job. However, I will start out in accordance to the mantra , “BG’s carry the film”, so I’ll put off character rigging while I work on sets over this summer. As Sweet Pickle’s Goose Goofs Off would say: “I’ll do it tomorrow”.
Hand drawn layout is done. 3D, the real test is at hand. May the modernists masters help me through all challenges. For through all the gimble locks, circuit crashes, and lights that just won’t work, they’re achievements will inspire me to push on. The environments will be done first as a mental carrot on a stick. You can’t help but persevere through the tedium of character layout, technical direction and rigging once you’ve built such a wonderful world for the characters to live in. Detour just has to fabulous. It will be. It must be. Then the current generation of art lovers will have a new art history they can dance to.