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self-reference

MTV Top 20 Video Countdown (1994) from Cassidy Curtis on Vimeo.

In the 1990’s, it was typical for production companies to start their demo reels with a clock-wipe countdown. Some companies would use this as an opportunity to say something about their style, and do custom animation. (Will Vinton Studios, I remember, had a particularly cool stop-motion countdown at that time.) I thought it would be cool for Xaos to have a countdown that reflected our particular style of work, so I created this drippy ink effect counting down from 10 to 1, and a drippy version of the Xaos logo, which we put at the beginning and end of our demo reel respectively.

Some time after this, our producer got a call from MTV. They had this show called “Top 20 Video Countdown”. They wanted to use this effect for the bumpers and interstitials. Could we add the numbers 11 through 20? Our producer said “of course”, and charged them a lot of money. But it didn’t really take me that long.

Brick-a-Brac (1995) from Cassidy Curtis on Vimeo.

Here is my first short film. I made this at PDI in 1995, during a gap between commercials. I modeled and rigged the characters, did most of the animation, and developed the wobbly ink-line look.

brick1

The pigeons’ torso was a metaball surface driven by a series of spheres along a spline between the head and the body, which were both separate IK joints (so I could easily get that pigeon-head movement style without counteranimating.) The eyes, beak, legs and wings were separate objects, each of which got rendered in its own separate pass. Each layer had its vector outline traced (using a tool originally written for scanning corporate photostats for flying logos!) I processed the curves using a procedural scripting language to give them some physics and personality, and then rendered them as black ink lines with varying thickness (using a tool written by Drew Olbrich). Finally, I ran the rendered lines through some image processing filters to get the edge darkening effect, and did some iterated stochastic silhouette dilation to add random ink blotches where the lines were thickest. Simple, really! ;-)

LAB magazine issue 4After a long hiatus, Joseph Robertson’s excellent LAB magazine is back, and it features an interesting three-way interview he conducted with me and graphic designer Ian Lynam (author/editor of Parallel Strokes) over five years ago. It’s a fun meander through many of my favorite alphabet-related topics. The rest of the magazine is gorgeous and stimulating, as always. You can download the whole thing as a PDF for free, or buy a hard copy via print-on-demand. (I already have two earlier issues, and they’re handsomely bound and printed, well worth the cover price.) Or, just go straight to our interview. Enjoy!

(Previously: Folk Typography essay in LAB 01)

 

I was home sick from work today, too sick to talk or really get out of bed and do anything– but fortunately not too sick to tap on a keyboard for a while. So I cracked open my long-neglected laptop and downloaded the latest version of Processing, which for those of you who don’t know it, is a really cool programming environment designed for artists. It’s a great big toybox full of fun gadgets, with plenty of examples to crib from, so you can just start with something interactive right away, and tinker with it until it does what you want–or does something completely unexpected.

It’s funny, because I was just talking with a friend the other day about watercolor, and how the happy accidents are what make that medium so much fun. We were comparing it to our day jobs in computer animation, where everything that happens is deliberate (not to mention expensive.) So it’s nice to see that happy accidents can happen in the computer once in a while too.

So, while going through this whole website restoration process, I discovered that Google’s search engine (funny how you have to be specific about that, now that Google is no longer just a search engine…) seemed to have completely forgotten this site ever existed. If you searched for “Cassidy Curtis” or “how to make a baby” or even “otherthings.com”, you’d find no results whatsoever on this domain. Zero. Considering that a few weeks ago this site was the top search result for all of those phrases, that seemed pretty weird. But I figured it was just because our server had crashed, and it was taking Google’s spiders some time to crawl back over to my little corner of the web.

The truth turns out to be a bit creepier.

I only found out the true nature of the problem by visiting Google’s webmaster tools, where I found an anonymous message dated October 20th, explaining what had happened. The message was sent to nobody, or maybe it was sent to my old email address, the one that died with my old server. At any rate, I never received it. But Google being the ultimate data hoarder, it archived it, and it was waiting for me when I identified myself as the owner of this domain.

Here’s what I learned: Remember a few years ago, when my blog got hacked? Well, the hacker in question used this blog’s machinery (Movable Type, at the time) to plant a nasty little trove of fake web pages advertising all the usual types of internet snake oil, the kind of stuff that usually gets caught in your spam filter. Well, when I switched over to WordPress, I never bothered to delete the old files, I just moved them to a different location, figuring that would break any incoming links and neutralize the problem. (I know, bad idea, right? This is why you should never let me be your sysadmin.) It didn’t work. Somehow, said hacker managed to find the files, and keep using them for their nefarious purposes.

The files were full of sleazy code that did things like: showing one thing to human visitors and an entirely different thing to search engines. Google doesn’t like that. So it reacted, in its anonymous, machine-like way, the only way it knows to respond: it removed otherthings.com entirely from its search engine. Harsh! Luckily, Google lets webmasters appeal that decision once they’ve fixed the problem. They said “it may take several weeks for your site to show up in search again”, but in actuality it only took a day.

Why was this creepy? Because it revealed just how much power this one corporation has over the shape of how we communicate. If you displease Google, it can make you disappear.

So, about a year ago, a few things happened. We bought a house. We moved to the suburbs. I started working on a new movie. Our kid turned two. And this blog ceased to exist. I’ll spare you the details, mainly because I don’t understand them, but it had something to do with a bad database, or gnomes, or sunspots. Maybe all of the above.

They say that being a parent really changes your priorities. What that means in practice is, you have an incredible excuse to be lazy about anything not directly related to your kids. Awesome! So the blog remained dead.

Then, last week, things got a little worse: the machine with the dead database crashed altogether, taking all of my web sites with it. Basically, the Internet forgot I existed. This was a little too much to take. So, I dug up my poorly maintained backups, found a new web host, and set to work making things right.

A lot of interesting things have happened in the past year, things I would have blogged about if I could have. So you might start seeing backdated posts popping up here and there. Be nice and pretend I really posted them on the “published” date, would you?

Well that was fun! A bunch of us won an award from the Visual Effects Society for our work on the character of Toothless, from How to Train Your Dragon. Go Toothless!

And here’s an uncut video of the award ceremony. Our part starts around 11 minutes in (and at about 14:40, you can see Raquel in the audience looking very chic!)

We received our first official film festival rejection letter this morning via email. It was kind and gracious and encouraging, and beautifully written. I was so touched by the letter, in fact, that I wrote back with a quick note thanking them for the courtesy of letting us know.* I wasn’t expecting a response, it just felt like the right thing to do. Minutes later, I got an answer back from the festival director. They had sent me the wrong letter by mistake. Our film was accepted after all!


That festival was the Nevada City Film Festival, where How to Make a Baby will play in late August. Over the next two months it’ll also screen in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and New York City. It looks like the festival organizers have put together some amazing programs, so if you live near any of those cities, I highly recommend checking them out in person. You can click the images above for the dates and details, and as always, see our festivals page for the whole list of events.

*Many festivals don’t bother to inform filmmakers that their films have been rejected: you have to wait ’til they release the list of accepted films, and then search for your film in the list, a rather heartbreaking process if you were hoping to get in and didn’t!

Hey “How to Make a Baby” fans: remember that super cool film festival we were in last month? Well, they’ve opened up their competitive shorts program to voting by the public. If you liked our film, please:

VOTE FOR IT!

If you can see the embedded video above, just click the little heart to let them know you “like” the film. Also, one voter selected at random will win something called a “DFF Survival Kit”. (Personally, I didn’t find DFF particularly hard to survive, but I’m sure it’s a very cool kit, whatever it is!) Voting closes May 31st.