Animation Mentor rocks on!

I just finished shooting a video lecture for Animation Mentor‘s revised curriculum. The topic is “personality”. It was an incredible challenge trying to tackle such a meaty subject in a one-hour video (not to mention doing all the preparation and research while raising a newborn! Man, what was I thinking?) But the team at AM did an amazing job reining in my rambling ways. My old cubicle-mate Luci Napier directed the shoot, and I was blown away by her ability to focus and keep everything on track, as well as adding great ideas of her own, from her experience as an animator, improv performer and student of psychology. (That’s her in the photo, with founder Bobby Beck, who suckered me into doing this in the first place. ;-) Now I know how it must feel for a writer to have a really smart editor. What a fun collaboration! Can’t wait to see what AM’s crack editorial department does with the footage…

Neither Graffiti Nor Animation


Tonight I learned that one of my favorite graffiti spots, London’s “Undercroft” skatepark, has temporarily been taken over–or rather been given over by the authorities–to an artist named Robin Rhode. If you search Google or YouTube you can see some of the guy’s work… some of it is actually kinda interesting, but nowhere near cool enough to justify shutting down the Undercroft for a whole week, in my opinion.

His schtick seems to be taking a series of photos where he draws some stuff in chalk on the wall or floor, and then photographs himself a bunch of times miming some kind of simple action, like waving a flag made of bricks, or slam-dunking a basketball into an imaginary basket. He shows the work as a series of photos in a gallery, or a videotaped slide show of same.

The London-based graffiti writers in my Flickr circles have been putting him down because he’s an “artist” (as opposed to a writer), and in this case, they have a point: everyone else who paints at the Undercroft does so on their own time and resources, and at their own risk. Then, here comes this guy with a team of contractors to do the heavy work of priming the walls for him, so he can stroll in and do his drawings. And Southbank Centre actually shuts down the skatepark for a whole week just to give him room to do his thing. That’s got to bother a lot of people, given the strong anti-authority thread in the subculture: “real” graffiti writers don’t ask permission, and they certainly don’t hire assistants to do their dirty work. Graffiti writers, in a way, created the Undercroft. It’s hard not to feel like this action is taking their baby away from them.

For my part, I get irritated when art critics credit Rhode as doing “stop-frame animation“, when all he’s ever produced is a mere storyboard of an action. What he’s doing is almost animation, but it’s not really, because he never seems to shoot enough photos (nor have a strong enough grasp of the principles of motion) to make it work–it certainly wouldn’t play well at 24 frames per second–so instead he shows it as a series of stills. Pretty weak sauce, especially when there are artists like Blu out there doing full-on hand-painted animation on the street. And so I find myself wanting to hate on the guy, even though we’ve never met.

What’s interesting to me is that what these two responses have in common: both animation and graffiti require a lot of skill, effort, dedication and time. So when someone steps into either territory who doesn’t seem to be willing to put in that effort, it’s going to bother the people who live there.

Anyway, Rhode’s intervention is scheduled to end on October 4th, so it’ll all be over shortly. I look forward to seeing the writers and skaters take back their Undercroft with extreme prejudice.

I want a triple-twist Klein bottle!


Here’s a great thing: a trio of Klein bottles nested one inside the other by mathematical glass-blower Alan Bennett (found via BoingBoing, of course.) You can tell it’s three separate bottles by looking at how the layers are interconnected: the long skinny tubes at the bottom each connect a pair of layers, and the folded-over edges at the top connect the same pairs (1+6, 2+5, 3+4). Figuring that out was fun, but then I saw this tantalizing quote from the museum’s website:

“In the series Alan Bennett made Klein bottles analogous to Mobius strips with odd numbers of twists greater than one.”

Darn, I was really hoping to see one of those! Suddenly the math geek in me is sorely disappointed. Given how much labor it must have taken to build this object, he could have made it a lot more interesting just by switching which tubes connect to which bottles! If the tubes linked 2+6, 3+5, and 1+4, this object would be transformed from three separate surfaces into a single surface that turns inside-out three times, the equivalent of a triply-twisted Moebius strip.

Continue reading I want a triple-twist Klein bottle!

A major milestone


Looks like they’ve gotten started on marketing for the movie I’m working on. And they’re using some of my animation in a bunch of the promo materials. This is it, man, I’ve made the big time! Forget about feature films. Projected celluloid is so old-media. Animated GIFs are where it’s at! I won’t hurt your eyes by posting ’em on the front page though. Click below for the full effect.

Continue reading A major milestone

The difference between film and animation

Over at Kevin Koch’s always excellent Synchrolux blog, there’s a discussion brewing about a new course being offered by professor Alej Garcia at San Jose State University about the physics of animation. I love the idea of this course, and I also love the openness with which Professor Garcia is engaging with animators to get the ideas and terminology exactly right, via Kevin’s blog and elsewhere. When scientists and artists get together, good things happen!

Part of the discussion has revolved around a certain stroboscopic photo of a bouncing ball:


Kevin pointed out that the ball’s arc looked strange to him, and a wonderful discussion ensued. The question in my mind was why there appeared to be a sudden change in direction and speed between the second and third “frames” of the ball’s movement. The best explanation I’ve been able to come up with is that none of the strobe’s flashes happened to coincide with the exact moment when the ball hit the ground:


This brings up a really important distinction between animation and film. In live-action film (or in strobe photography) the camera captures whatever happens to be in front of it every 24th of a second, regardless of whether the image captured in that instant is particularly interesting or important. Only one instant is captured, and the rest of what happens in that 1/24-second interval is lost. In animation, the expectations are higher: we expect each frame to do the best possible job of telling the story of what happens in the entire interval. In the case of a bouncing ball, the most important part is clearly the instant when the ball hits the ground–not what happens a few milliseconds earlier or later! The strobe photo above might be a technically accurate representation of a bouncing ball, but it does a poor job of conveying the whole truth to the audience, because the most salient moments–the bounces–are misrepresented. This is just one of many reasons why animation has something that live action (or pure motion capture) will never quite match.

Cassidy Curtis's splendid display of colorful things.