Monday, June 30, 2008

Designing Our New Film

Concept art from the next Rauch Brothers film

In designing our new film, a humorous but sincere conversation between mother and son, I looked to the two films posted below and the beautiful artwork in Jean and Laurent de Brunhoff's Babar.  The first film comes from Russia's Soyuzmultfilm studio, the second from Rembrandt Films, and Babar is the beloved series of children's books featuring a family of elephants.  More on Babar in another post; for now, the two films that best match what we would like to do with our new project.

The first film is "About Sidorov Vova" (1985) by the great Russian director Eduard Nazarov whose incredible touch with humor I first discovered in "There Once Was a Dog".  Nazarov's humor in these two films comes from characters suffering the follies of interdependence.  Visually, the look of our film will very closely resemble "Vova", which is the story of a pampered young man drafted into the Russian army.  See the Youtube version:

About Sidorov Vova (1985)

"Munro", the second film, is about a 4 year old drafted into the US Army (how's that for a crazy parallel?). This film was directed by Gene Dietch and adapted from the story by Jules Feiffer. They won an Oscar in 1960.  The humor here is also soft but strong, thanks in large part to Feiffer's extraordinary talent with dialogue and narration.  Deitch did an amazing balancing act as the director: maintaining the humor of the original drawings with a very spartan approach to the animation.


Munro (1960)

..and to whet your whistle when it comes to Babar, I posted a few images from those lovely books.  We're hoping to acheive the light touches of line and color you see here.

pen and watercolor spread from Babar Comes to America (1965)

watercolor study from Babar's Visit to Bird Island (1951)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Rome Sketchbook

Three years ago I was studying abroad in Rome.  It was a chance to get away from New York and my professors at St. John's and see what kind of work I would do with that new freedom.  One of the things I did was continue to keep a sketchbook that I drew in several hours a day.  In Rome, that meant drawing people on the subways and trains as it had in New York (post) but I also drew churches, museums and public parks.  The following images are just a few pages from one of those sketchbooks.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Looking Ahead

Concept art from the next Rauch Brothers film

Every morning I wake up around 11 am on a futon that nearly fills up my tiny bedroom and roll over toward the curtain to see what kind of a day it is outside.  Life becomes quite mushy when you work only part time because there's very little in the way of a daily schedule.  Somehow, the world keeps on turning.

Mike and I are continuing to hear from festivals:  Germans in the Woods, our collaboration with StoryCorps, will be playing a few good ones in July and August.  First, we will be a part of Rooftop Film Festival's big event July 4th. The night will feature "Food, drinks, live music, fireworks and film...using artfully-told personal stories and carefully-crafted craziness to address the breadth of the American experience."  The party will be on the pier at Solar One, right down by the East River where I'm sure the view of the fireworks will be spectacular.

Then, in August, we will be playing two great festivals: Rhode Island International Film Festival (Aug 5-10) and Palm Springs International Shortfest (Aug 21-27).  Looking forward to both!

Still, the event I am looking forward to the most is this coming Monday when Mike and I will have a chance to meet the mother and son who are the subject of our next film.  We were never able to meet Joseph Robertson, the soldier who shared his memory from the Battle of the Bulge for Germans in the Woods.  Hopefully, meeting the subjects this time will add to our ability to tell their story.  The image at the top of this post is a design for the boy.  Despite how glum this image may look, it promises to be a very funny and lighthearted piece that I can't wait to animate.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

10 Characteristics of Creatives

From my brother, Mike:

I'm currently re-reading Ellen Shapiro's "Graphic Designer's Guide to Clients: How to Make Clients Happy and Do Great Work" . Although she speaks specifically to designers, I've found that a good many of her ideas would apply to just about anyone working in a creative field. Read below where she notes Ed Gold's "10 common characteristics of great designers":

1. talent (their work flat-out looks good)
2. advocacy or sales ability

3. curiosity
4. dissatisfaction
4. perfectionism
5. energy
6. confidence

7. idealism
8. realism
9. wit

10. they just love their work

"A designer who can't sell an idea is probably not going to be very successful," [Gold] says, adding, "I'll go a step further. A designer who can't sell an idea will never be a great designer."

Monday, June 9, 2008

There Are No Strings On Me

For the past six months I've been working only part time as a swim instructor to allow more time for my films.  The paycheck I receive twice a month usually has about 15 hours a week on it and does not cover my monthly living expenses.  At this point, I'm slipping into debt.  Why put myself into what looks like a constant downward spiral of financial woe rather than get out there to find more substantial work?

When I had a job working on a TV show, I was miserable.  The task I was asked to do did not appeal to me: I was working every day on three characters who all had very similar body mechanics, the style of animation had limited capacity for emotional range, and by the time the shot landed in my lap most of the challenging creative decisions had been made further up the pipeline by the writer, director or storyboard artists.  I frequently found myself literally falling asleep as I poked and prodded the characters into place.  Eventually, my lack of curiosity about the job brought things to a head and I found myself back in the line of work I'd first taken up as a high school sophomore: encouraging toddlers to blow bubbles and put their faces in the water.

Perhaps ironically, I was more challenged, rewarded and excited to go to work as a swim instructor than I had ever been in my one year of "animation industry" experience.  I was ecstatic to be free of the animation factory that had been my first and only nine to five.  There was twice as much time to dedicate to Germans in the Woods, which had been in limbo somewhere between a sloppy storyboard and something that vaguely resembled animation.  The project was finally becoming a cohesive film whose direction I could control.

The finished film has really changed how I think about my place in the "world of animation".  I feel like someone who has found his corner of the sandbox instead of an outsider looking in.  At this point, I am curious about finding more substantial work but as long as I can at least keep my finances on life support while continuing to work on my own films I have no great desire to get back into a regular nine to five.  I'm young, I'm healthy, I'm just getting started, why not take a few risks?  I'm willing to bet the rewards over the long run will make all these peanut butter and jelly dinners worthwhile.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Nine Dangers of Story

From my brother, Mike:

While teaching English as a Foreign Language in Istanbul, I came across a wonderful book titled The Art of the Story-Teller by Marie L. Shedlock. Although she discusses telling stories to children in classrooms, many of her ideas are relevant to story-telling for any audience in any fashion. I thought I would share one part of the book where she lays out nine dangers of story. I think of this list often when editing interviews in my work at StoryCorps. For full explanations of each item, you can visit Penn's digital library where the book is available in its entirety. Lots of great stuff to dig into, especially for those of you involved in developing animation and other media for children.

1. Danger of side issues.
2. Altering the story to suit special occasions.
3. Danger of introducing unfamiliar words.
4. Danger of claiming cooperation of audience by means of questions.
5. The difficulty of gauging the effect of a story on its audience.
6. Danger of over-illustration.
7. The danger of obscuring the point of the story with too many details.
8. The danger of over-explanation.
9. The danger of lowering the standard of the story in order to appeal to undeveloped tastes.

- Mike