The Animatress Pipeline

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Lioness

Yesterday I purged a frenemy, a double agent a “Taylor Mason” from my life. The person in question was my junior on one of the worst productions I ever endured and in his arrogance, made it a point to report the negative sentiments that every time prime time director without positive reinforcement. I let the negativity shape my career, for I thought I was cognitively inept to work in the Los Angeles animation industry. Eventually I left for the San Francisco .dot com industry in pursuit of an easier, yet less lucrative path to work on projects with female protagonists exclusively.

During absence from LA, my “Taylor Mason” ascended to the rank of director on a low quality, yet stable production which has allowed him to pay off his student loans and buy two homes. In contrast, I went to grad school after the animation industry sea change and racked up more student loan debt, but it was not for naught. The experiences generating that extra 80k taught me that how to make enemies and not only endure the pressure of having them, but how to use them!

Everyone needs temperance in their lives. That aspect represented by a person, the weather or some other Threshold Guardian who keeps your wits sharp and your heart humble. However, when the temperance is belligerent it must be managed and when becomes toxic and festers in your psyche, it must be culled before it destroys you. I may love being popular, but I love my well being more. I’m a cephalic being. I cherish my mind and all the worlds it creates the talent it bestows upon my hands to create them visually. This person hit me in that precious ante chamber. He dared to touch and mock the Ark and have ostracized him for it. If he retaliates, I’ll fry him…

Over the past 19 years I’ve interviewed fellow CalArts alum to learn of their accounts of adjusting to the animation industry. Some have come away unscathed, but a great deal more have endured the same trials and made the exact same mistakes I have. They overcame their faults and are directors and producers today. That could’ve been me had I remained in the Loop. I had the potential and the right people recognized it. I also speculate some may have feared that recognition and campaigned against me. There is a fear of the CalArts Loop, derogatorily called the “CalArts Mafia” and I have a wild speculation, that I am still reluctant to entertain, that a Black CalArtian rising to power over the state and  trade school trained artists in the LA industry was just too much to bear, so a shadow and trickster arose to attack my sense of self worth.  It was a tickling in the back of my mind, but I knew the CalArts curriculum had something to do with my difficulty adapting to the television industry. Where you aren’t allowed to produce your best work, but rather how to draw in order to admin your work properly for efficient execution. As Esther Williams said about working in television: 

“We don’t want it good. We want it Wednesday!” I and other CalArtians like me struggled whittling an MGM skill set into a Desilu budget. That’s a lot nicer way of putting things than: “Stop doing that feature shit!” Or “You’re crazy” or the many other insults I will have to look up in AIM archives to share—and they will be shared…

It’s easier said than done, but never let past traumas taint the present or future experiences. Mondo Media thought I was fun (directors are always more forgiving when you are the perfect actor for their characters), the Academy of Art thought I was a great results achieving instructor and ultimately, Sesame Workshop thought I was wonderful. I still made mistakes, but the VFX supervisor of the latter said to me, “You’re not perfect, but I still like you!” John K., despite my abrupt departure from Spumco, said years later, “I will sing your praises (on my blog). Positive reinforcement after a critique is crucial and this trickster shadow has never intentionally offered that courtesy in his assessment of me—and when he did so, it was by accident. Some people can shrug their shoulders and move on from abuse, but I tend to mourn and search for closure. Sometimes closure can be violent. Don’t mess with my dog or I’ll break your privileged, sheltered, self righteous ass in half and don’t make me doubt myself. I’m an even tempered person, but tamper my self-worth and will snap and eat you. Violence is often the best sort of closure there is. I think the trickster-turned-shadow won’t cross my path again, but if another comes I won’t hesitate to defend myself. My Ark is too precious to be insulted.redLioness

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Lupin III (Red Jacket): the Two Great Directors

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Of the green and red jacket Lupin III series there are two directors who are amazing at layout and therefore produced the most technically perfect episodes: Hayao Miyazaki and another fellow. You can tell which episodes Miyazaki directed because he re-designed the characters to suit his personal aesthetic, mostly Fujiko, but there are a few episodes that he directs where she wasn’t changed, but his personal stamp was still and clear on everything else: the acting and tight models on Inspector Zenigata (who seems to be Miyazaki’s favorite character) and the strict adherence to perspective, yet not necessarily to scale for sometimes the characters appeared too large in vehicles. Hey, Miyazaki san kept the volumes from changing at least. Something had to give on those impossible television schedules!

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The other talented layout artist is someone I don’t know by name, but if anyone can read kanji, by all means give him credit in romaji! For he knew who to adhere to the original production design AND maintain quality control. That’s great layout! And by layout, I mean both the BG and characters tied down and pulled on model and properly drawn in perspective from scene to scene all the while assuring proper continuity throughout the film. Think of it as stitching shots, sequences and scenes together. That’s tougher than you think.

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In the theatrical shorts method the director would do character layout, while partnering with BG layout artist who do the background layout. Such great teams of note are Chuck Jones and Maurice Noble and Friz Freeling and Hawley Pratt. I don’t know if Miyazaki and the second-great-director worked under the same arrangement, but however production is set up, they seem to pull off great episodes.

When I worked in character layout on Futurama, the director didn’t so much as draw, but guide a team of BG and character layout artists to assure that the quality was consistent and we all had the challenge of drawing in the style that the production design (art style) dictates. 15 scenes must be completed in 8 days and each episode was budgeted to take 6 weeks to lay out. This was either doable or brutal depending on how complicated the scenes were. You can’t really have the Warner Bros. theatrical shorts arrangement on a half-hour show for it took 6 weeks just to knock out a six minute short. Studios don’t have that kind of money anymore, so the directing a crew of layout artists replaced the director laying out the project himself.

On an action-adventure show like Lupin the process of even more expensive, for there are crowd scenes, industrial BG’s of cities and characters with far more line mileage than a two-character comedy series like the Pink Panther. How Miyazaki san was able to pull off Wings of Death and Thieves Love the Peace, I don’t know, but he did it—possibly using Chuck Jones’ trick of making a cheaper, simpler episodes under budget and using the surplus of time and money from those episodes to execute the crowd scene episodes successfully. I think the cheaper “sacrificial lamb episodes were, To Arrest Lupin: the Mission at Highway and  Money from Heaven. Jigen and the Hatless Pistol looks like Miyazaki san, as well. You can tell because he always puts more meat on the character’s bones than the model sheets dictate. They don’t have that scarab beetle look.

The best episodes to watch for great directing in the red jacket series are the following:

92, 99, 126, 133, 138, 141, 143, 145, 151, 155.

See if you can determine Miyazaki from the other great director. It’s pretty obvi, but some people may get have trouble–or are simply biased in favor of the better known Miyazaki. Remember: the BG’s carry the film aesthetically and the layout process assures proper technical execution. The stronger the layout the stronger the staging and  animation in regards to physics: volume and timing.  If you’re sloppy at this stage, you’ll get a mess further down the pipeline that will ruin your film.

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Good: draw from life for more complicated staging or “push” the gestures and stance or characters. An artist can not devise every scene entirely from his mind. Get some reference, be it from life (the best, but not always doable) or from live-action. I’m sure there is an obscure B-movie that provided the reference for this scene.

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Bad: Don’t try to execute stories with locales you can’t find near the studio to help you with ground planes–unless travel is included in the budget. I’m sure the writer of this episode that takes place at the Great Wall is really disappointed that the story and layout crew could not take a trip to China to layout this episode out properly. This resulted in sloppy layout which led to bad execution in the end. Such a waste!

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I hope that director grew as an artist on subsequent gigs…

 

——–>

Back to proper layouts!

Miyazaki: Notice the pre-Porco Rosso aesthetic?
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Clue: Miyazaki’s Zengata, even when not Lupin in disguise, is always “apple cheeked” as indicated by the hatching that defines them. For acting, Miyazaki san’s Zenigata also has that “cute blink”.

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The other awesome dude: He has a great love of perspective. This sequence was well researched and executed.

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Uneven execution (from Pink Jacket Lupin): the first act of this episode was stellar, but fell apart from the second act onwards. It harkens back to green coat Lupin when the production was trying to figure out how to allocate resources on such a complex series using a television budget. It’s tough to know where to cute corners for efficiency yet pull off a great episode. It takes a while. Looks like the director of this episode spent most of the budget on the first act. Either that or his crew burnt out…

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Lupin III is a great series to study for solutions to drawing men using affable male characters. I’m grateful that Crunchyroll has the entire series available on streaming to supplement my dvd library. Not all of Lupin III, including the popular red jacket Lupin is available on DVD in the U.S. That’s a shame for many who are new to red jacket Lupin, who snear at the “green crew” production quality of the first 79 episodes that aired on the Adult Swim, will never know that the crew, hence seasoned, became so much better at executing the episodes from episodes 80-155.
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Lupin III: Stylish Men Stance

Ah, that sexy Daisuke Jigen! Mysteriously silent and reliable as a hound. Since it’s impossible these days of smartphones to go out and life draw the positions one needs for their storyboards/layout/keys, one must steal reference from a simpler time. May these screencaps be useful for artists working under deadlines in dark studios…

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Such a cool cat.Screen Shot 2018-02-17 at 10.27.05 PM

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In fact Jigen is so valuable as a right hand that he’s worth commandeering…
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…although not without protest.Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 2.30.15 PM

 

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He’s so centered that even when confronting an impersonator (the ultimate insult)..Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 3.14.53 PM

 

..he’ll strike up a small talk…Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 3.16.12 PM

 

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…before clobbering the git!
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So there you have cool cat stance reference, Jigen style. A character so inspiring, his character was appropriated and expanded to become Cowboy Bebop’s Spike Spiegel.

 

 

Lupin III: (Stylish) Men Sitting Down Reference

You’re welcome.

 

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Since their hips don’t flair, it’s challenging to find their ballast. Use the legs like the Lupin III did 🙂

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Before Your Spend 100k on Art School…

I would like say something about art colleges: I would strongly advise not going anywhere that does not offer a full scholarship. I became an animator, as you know, but I’ve run into a problem in my career: although I draw well enough for it, I don’t have the background to relate to the most marketable content.
Before embarking on a commercial art degree, the prospective student needs to ask themself: “What kind artist am I?” A fine artist does his or her own thing without much consideration for the audience. A commercial artist MUST conform to the taste of their audience which is very difficult if they aren’t from the same background as the largest target market: the Irish/German nuclear family in the Midwest that wants no higher than an eight grade education level in entertainment. As an artist community Californian, I found this audience impossible to connect with. I find nothing funny about the deplorable character of Peter Griffin and being comfortable with the lack female characters in my medium. I ran away from Hollywood after five years before I lost my mind.
I had much better gigs outside of LA, but through them, I’ve come to learn that what I like to work on does not sell, therefore the interest on my student loans are through the roof!
SO, with that said, if a student wants to be a commercial artist, they need make SURE they can psychologically handle despicable characters living in their head and never leaving (I still can’t get Fry and Bender out of psyche after 18 years since I worked Futurama!)If not, try the experimental animation department at CalArts rather than the trade school oriented Character animation. The experimental students get full (or nearly full) scholarships which makes it easier to step away from the industry when it goes “remake and Maslow’s lowest appeals” mode in order to fill its coffers enough to make art again.

Beware of Start-ups

A recent conversation with a fiend of mine has brought me to the conclusion that I can not continue producing personal art for therapy alone. Professsional art has become more and more precarious as studios grant shorter contracts and startups become less reliable in their business practices. The violation of such laws namely; laying off without granting unemployment benefits is becoming more and more common. Therefore, I must monetize my personal films, webcomic and production blogs.

Intellectual property is an artist’s means of power on par with the more valued professions of doctor, lawyer and banker. It is an aritst’s work that gives a corporation a visual identity a written voice and tone to remember. New customers would never know a company existed without a recognizable logo, piece of copy of a catchy jingle. A content company like Warner Bros. and Disney would not have the staying power they have without the contributions of their artist’s.

Math would live soley in a quantum universe if an engineer with the skills of a sculptor had not managed to kit bash found objects into a prototype to test, perfect and share with the world. Practical use of the wheel didn’t manifest on it’s own. It took a visionary. An artist. A car is a mechanical sculpture. It’s a marriage of art and science.

I argue that all attributes of intellectual property, on a development, creative level should be granted royalties. Pre-production artists, animators and post-production artists on a creative/problem solving  level should be granted royalties from the future profits of the company product. We are not doing cog work. Cog work is outsourced. The creative needs residuals to compensate for our short careers. She should still receive an income for the work she sees still making money for the studio she defined a popular character for long after her position has been replaced by a younger, cheaper creative. Don’t scoff, obsolescence comes about sooner than you think, if not age then change in audience which can happen within the first five years of your career. Wise up, even of you don’t breed, you still have student loans to pay. Existence comes at a price.

Until such pipe dreams of royalties become a reality, an artist must generate supplemental income with their personal work. It’s the only way to save six months salary in case of sudden job loss. Case in point: my last employer had not paid the crew for two months before dissolving the company. Nor has he paid labor department taxes for the last year of the company’s life. None of the crew will get unemployment insurance ( without a fight anyway). Without that safety net, we’ll all end up homeless.

How nice it would be if my web comic and production blog padded my savings account all this time so I would’ve have to lose my home and car.  Or rely on the exhausted kindness of my friends and colleagues to pull me out of this mess.

With that said, this will be the last “production entry” on this blog. If you would still like to read production notes and industry advice, please follow my account on Patreon where such entrees are available for a fee. Until then, take my last bit of free advice: beware of start ups and never sign a work for fire contract as a creative contributor. If they’re going to pay you like a cog, do exclusively cog work. I know you’re excited to have your first gig or are still trying to make a name for yourself early in your career. However, that foolish enthusiasm is what studios and start ups are preying on; your naitvité to  create an arch villain or a girl sports bunny to profit from long after your impoverished death with only your initial salary as compensation.

-A

Torn Retinas are not Smurfy….

This is very important. Please read.

Occular Safety and Cautionary Tale for Animation Artists.

From wise Sue Bielenberg:

Based on my experience as a graphic designer at a medical forms plant in 1988, I can honestly say that NOBODY tests the safety of technology before subjecting artists to it. I got blepheritis from the Xenotron 2000’s CRT screen long before computers were standards in art departments. My ophthalmologist simply snarled, “If you file a workers comp claim, don’t involve me.” He had had a LOT of computer artists coming in asking for help. The new white screens were supposed to solve everything. I say that even if you stare at a daisy all day, you will suffer an ill effect. But start at a glowing daisy, and you will reallly suffer.

Beware of the glowing daisy….

Food Coma

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Lucy van Pelt

I’m screening a variety of children’s programs and I’ve noticed that all the lead girls sound the same. It’s like that acting coach from the classic MGM films has resurrected herself and imposed her one trick pony range on the current generation of voice artists.
Poo! Poo! I say! Bring back variety. So for encouragement, I bring you a Lucy Van Pelt voiced by the great Pamelyn Ferdin. Tracy Stafford who performed Lucy for the Christmas special was terrific too. All the Peanuts girls were unique Patty, Violet, Peppermint Patty, Marcie and Freida were terrific and the series held that great quality until—-the changed Peppermint Patty’s voice to sound like most girl voices today. Girls are not a monolith! Fight for variety.

Peace.

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Animated GIFS for Kizzang

These are a few GIF’s I animated for Kizzang LLC. Check out the site, it’s for online casino gaming. It’s free, you don’t bet money you bet time. It’s sort of like television which is a selling machine in every home that offers content in exchange for advertising.
Give it a go: Kizzang Sweepstakes.com

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kittyKaboom

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