Friday, June 29, 2007

What the heck is...

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Okay, this is just too cool for words. Others have linked to this in the past. I just think it needs to be celebrated as much as possible.

And for that matter... what the heck is fair use?

Good question.

Well... its not a right, but a legal defensible position.

Anyone (like me) who has had their creative work credited to another or who (like me) wants to share the creative work of others without harming the original author, will find this informative if not useful. More importantly, if (like me) you are concerned that the coercive influence of corporate America is eroding the foundation of creative copyright for reasons that have nothing to do with protecting the intellectual property of the inventive individual... then I present to you an argument crafted by Eric Faden. Enjoy.


Punch, Steal, Death

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Online Dating

According to the website Mingle2, this rating was determined based on the presence of the following words found sprinkled throughout my blog:
  • punch (4x)
  • steal (3x)
  • death (1x)
While the rating seems about right the words that were found make me wonder what is up with me.

BTW: I found this thanks to Jean-Denis Haas at Click on the image above if you would like to get one of your own.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Holy Cow! 4012!

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Four-thousand and twelve. That's a nice set of flip books to have in one collection. I love it when people are inspired to collect and preserve a slice of the past for the rest of us to gawk at. Animation is typically an labor intensive, expensive, and time consuming art form. The closest thing to an exception to this rule is the flip book (or flick book). Take a look at this site on the subject:

Predominantly written in French, above is a link to the English home page. More fun than a pile of books documenting the work of Eadweard Muybridge.

I've been touring one corner of the great south-western USA. Plenty more posts to come on that subject and many others.


Saturday, June 2, 2007

Stealing Time for Life Drawing

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In March of 2004 I had the distinct pleasure of attending a figure drawing seminar taught by Glenn Vilppu. My participation was a bit surreptitious since I wasn't on the list of students invited to attend, but then asking for forgiveness instead of permission has worked well for me in the past, and it did so on this occasion as well. At the time I had finished my graduate studies and was working full-time in computer support while completing my MFA thesis. With all the technical responsibilities I was under pressure to meet every day, having a little creative time while learning from one of the best seemed like an opportunity that shouldn't be missed. "Feel the flow... feel the flow," was the catch phrase throughout the seminar.

I've been drawing the human figure from life off and on since the beginning of my undergraduate studies in 1983, and that's if you don't count the clothed figure drawing my high-school instructor had us do. So, I was feeling quite in my element during these drawing sessions, except for when it comes to that extra critical eye walking around the room. But then, that's why I sneaked into these drawings sessions in the first place. When he finally got around to me during one session Glenn noticed that I seemed to 'feel the flow' but that my drawings all 'lacked form'.

He then proceeded to demonstrate what he meant by this on a page of my sketch pad. The two examples above that appear as if they were drawn by an old master, were. These are demonstrating "form" on the left and measurement and rhythm on the right. Each drawing took only a few minutes and flowed out with amazing ease as his hand moves in what appeared to be a very graceful slow motion. I realized from that moment, no matter how comfortable I felt about my drawing abilities, that I needed to learn to draw all over again. Since that time its been a struggle to find time for developing my skills in this area but I manage to keep trudging forward. Below are some more resent examples of my effort.

Above are some 3-minute poses from the first sessions I had been to in almost a year and a half. Some flow but not much form. Still working on building the figure from the inside out. I seem to struggle a bit when the poses are long since I have time to think about what I am doing instead of just doing it. Below I took one 20-minute pose and broke it up into three drawings. Keeping the amount of time I spend on a drawing to minimum seems to help me stay focused, and repetition never hurts either. The last one on the bottom seems to be the strongest of the three.

Below I seem to have flow and a little form but my lines are stiff and laboured.

These next pair of 10-minute poses show that I'm still focusing a lot on the outside, but some hints of construction are beginning to appear.

Below are two 20-minute poses. Seems I didn't get lost in the details as much as usual.

Ah, form. Not as fluid as I would like but I'm still learning this approach after many years of old habits.

Below is a figure who provides a chance to learn more about form with rounded lines and an opportunity to describe weight. The 3-minute pose on the left started nicely if somewhat unevenly. On the right you seen in the 10-minute pose I started to forget my main objective... using the flow of the figure, and to describe her form. At least it isn't as lost as earlier examples from 10-minute poses.

Below are the latest pair of 20-minute poses.

There is some form and some weight described as well.

Usually, after a 10 or 11 hour day I find it a bit difficult to drag myself down-town to the Tuesday life drawing sessions, but every time I manage to do so is well worth the effort. This post could have been labeled under the category of "examining my work" but it seemed more appropriate to file as "learning from others". I am still learning from Glen Vilppu who has been teaching this subject to animators for decades. Also, I learn from the brave people who stand, absent clothing, in the middle of a room full of strangers who stare intently at naked human bodies.

There have been some nice posts about related subjects on various animation blogs I frequent. Spline Doctor Andrew Gordon talks about the importance of developing your eye, and PJ Leffleman posted some fabulous examples of eye movement in movies. Both of these discussions emphasise opening your eyes and learning through observation. For me, life drawing has been a primary source of developing my ability to see. What goes down on paper is only evidence of how well I spend my time observing. Having to steal every little minute to do so seems to focus the mind.

I strongly recommend the practice of life drawing to any visual artist, regardless of your particular creative focus.


The Great Stone Face

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So nicknamed for a 'stone-like' expression seen on his face in movies and promotional head shots, Buster Keaton has a lot to teach animators such as myself. When animators talk about learning from silent era film stars they invariably mention Charlie Chaplain, and for good reason. It just seems to me that Keaton gets passed over with little consideration.

Originally a vaudeville performer of tremendous physical skill, Joseph Frank Keaton was supposedly given the handle 'Buster' by a fellow vaudeville performer named Harry Houdini, after said illusionist witnessed Keaton take a particularly spectacular tumble down a flight of stairs between two rows of seats without touching anyone in the audience. As the story goes Keaton injured himself but managed to immediately get up and continue his performance. After witnessing this Houdini was claimed to have said, "quite the little buster." Keaton was only a child at the time. This apocryphal story is most likely fiction, at least regarding Houdini's contribution, although the basis for it isn't.

Harry Houdini knew Keaton when he was a child performer taking fantastic spills in front of audiences. Another, now forgotten, vaudeville performer is probably responsible for giving Keaton this handle based on his physical talents. This being said, another apocryphal story regarding Keaton persists. As a result of his vaudeville experience, Keaton apparently knew a thing or two about acting as well. The fact that he used facial expressions in performances gets glossed over by historians, or worse, gets twisted into the falsehood of happening once in his entire career.

The name of this blog is pushing poses, and so I will forgo making arguments about how well Buster Keaton used facial expressions in acting for perhaps some another time. Instead, I want to talk about character posing and audience perception. Check out the image below:

That is the image created by someone who knows clarity of staging and posing for an audience. That is the image of someone who grew up performing successfully for vaudeville audiences. Look at that line-of-action. Check out the flow line of his left arm as it directs the audiences attention up through the face and down in the direction of the camera tripod. Notice how the the camera and tripod reinforces the eye line. This is great stuff! Did he look through the camera while developing this kind of pose? With the help of others posing, perhaps. Below is another example of good staging and good posing. Not only are the lines between characters working in this shot but so is the eye line. Notice how Keaton who is mostly in profile has his head turned to a 3/4 view so that we can read his face.

Buster Keaton understood audiences. Not long after arriving in Hollywood, he quickly moved from performer in keystone cop films with Fatty Arbuckle to independent silent film director. That shift was no accident. As a film director Buster Keaton was a lot more than a stage performer turned silent film actor and stunt man. Probably because he was an outsider to film, and stepping into a relatively new and yet to be defined medium, Keaton pushed the boundaries of film making of his time before control of his own work was taken away from him.

None-the-less his acting and physical stunts are also available for you to watch in this partial archive of his work. If you are into this you will want to purchase The Art of Buster Keaton DVD Box Set.

Keaton was famous for performing all of his own stunts for which he ended up in the hospital many times as a result. Later performers such as Jackie Chan would become known for this kind of risky business inspired largely by Keaton. BBC Channel 4 has a web page devoted to famous dare devils where both Buster Keaton and Harry Houdini are listed amongst others deserving... and less so. Probably the most famous of Buster Keaton's stunts was in his 1928 film Steamboat Bill Jr. when the front of a house falls around him and misses crushing him to death by mere inches. Talk about the power of a good hold. Sheesh!

This was later borrowed for a Walmart ad animated by all too groovy Kyle Dunlevy when he was still working a Red Rover. There are some nice notes on posing and process written by Dunlevy about these ads so check them out if you haven't already.

(click to jump to clip)

Regardless of your methods, as the sequence above demonstrates, if you are gonna steal you may as well steal from the best. Lots of great gags and some truly amazing stunts can be found in the prolific career of Buster Keaton. His awareness of the audience informed his performances and allowed him to create some genuinely unique ways to tell stories in film. He took full advantage of the medium in which he was working. The confinement of his talents by industry producers later in his life was tragic. Who knows what additional great things he may have done if the greed of a few had not run amok.

For those who are interested, there is a ridiculous assortment of links to articles about Buster Keaton that can be found at Juha's Buster Keaton page. There is also an American Master's episode by PBS about Keaton. I'm not saying that Charlie Chaplain (or other greats such as Harold Lloyd for that matter) aren't worth knowing about, I just want to spend a little time on Buster Keaton, one of my inspirations and sources of knowledge as an animator.