Friday, December 18, 2009

Spring 2010 internships announced

I'm pleased to announce that the call for applications to our third internship session has been posted. This is our most ambitious spread of internships yet, ranging from two programming positions to lots of generalist and R&D spots, too. We've even got a production management role we're hoping to fill. Please read the post for more details!

I wish we could offer paid internships, but even our directors and intern supervisors are working without compensation. What we can offer instead of money, however, is an amazing set of human and technical resources. Supervisors Bassam Kurdali, Evan Viera, and Chris Bishop bring tons of talent and experience to their roles, as well as an incredible passion to produce thoughtful, independent, and gorgeous animated short films. Once again, our internships will be hosted by Hampshire College's Computer Graphics Incubator Program, which means we'll have use of Hampshire's heterogeneous compute farm and the Incubator Space (aka the Nerd-O-Drome).

Pass the word and help support independent animation!

Monday, December 14, 2009

A bundle of Tower 37 news today, including a wrap-up from the Artivist Fest in LA by our own producer Daniel. I'm trying not to take it personally, but when I go to festivals I'm lucky to get a Q&A. Daniel gets trophies handed to him, press photos, he gets invited up on stage, you name it. What gives?

Before we hear from Daniel, Bill and Signe are running an encore presentation of the Woodstock Animated Shorts block on January 13th at 92YTribeca, which you Bit Films historians might recognize as the very same place where Tower 37 first screened in NYC almost a year earlier as a part of Hampshire College's Alumni Reel. I really enjoyed the Woodstock program and I strongly encourage anyone in the NY area to check it out in January.

We also heard that the Tiburon International Film Festival is going to be showing Tower 37 in March 2010. This selection is exciting for two reasons: it's my first repeat festival (they showed Catch in 2007), and it's also going to compete with Moondance in the category of "festival with the most of my family members in attendance."

Speaking of Catch, I posted the original animatic for Catch the other day. Boy I had some rough sketches in there, but they served their purpose and I hope people find it helpful to compare the film-as-planned with the film-as-delivered.

And now I give the web over to Daniel, who writes:
I attended both our screening last Thursday and the awards ceremony on Saturday night. I've been in LA for a year and a half but this was my first time at the Egyptian Theater. The festival did an excellent job turning the courtyard in front of the theater into a festival space where audience members and filmmakers could all mingle. They had live music and swag everywhere. Very cool.

We played in the Spielberg theater, the smaller of the two screens, but sill a relatively nice theater. I'd say the theater was probably about 70% full...which I think was quite a feat considering it was 7pm on a Thursday night. One of the exec directors of the festival got up and introduced all the films that would be playing (each one had an environmental theme). He also pointed out that I was in attendance and there would be a Q&A following the films, it was at this point that I discovered I was the only person there representing a film.

The screening went really well. Laughs at the size reveal and the dud bomb, "awwwws" at the first reveal of Leed after the helmet pops off and during u5_03 as Leed swims around the pitcher, and gasps of uncertainty when Operator slips and almost hits Leed and as the tower comes apart. It felt like we got the longest and loudest applause of the evening. My only complaint is a technical one. The contrast appeared to be turned up a little too high on the projector, because the blacks were really intense and in some of the shots inside the control room we lost some of the detail in the dark. [editor's note: argh!]

Of the five films, we were the only narrative, the rest were docs. In my opinion, the most interesting (and longest) was Seeds of Change: The ECO Story, about a project to attempt the clean Yangtze River by teaching the poor farmers who work along its banks to use crops that are better for soil retention and thus the earth doesn't run off into the river (there was a lot more to it, but that was the basic idea). This is the second time that I have seen us play alongside a doc and I have to say, I really like the pairing of hard fact and imaginative fantasy. [editor's note: the first time was the Newport Beach Film Festival, which Daniel also wrote about, and there was also the Moondance pairing in Boulder that I attended]

The final film ended and the lights came up, but the guy who had introduced all the films didn't come back in. The audience started to get confused and some people started to get up to leave, so I got up (after being coaxed a bit by the people who came with me, including Tower 37 animator Harry) and ran down to the front of the theater and launched into my own Q&A. We received numerous positive and glowing comments about how affective the film was. I talked about your original impetus for the film, discussed how it evolved during production, and went on to explain how it was produced entirely in an academic environment. After the Q&A ended I talked with the exec director (who eventually came back in, but I was already mid-Q&A). He had been unaware of the academic nature of the project and we discussed how Artivist is a really good fit for our film that seems to stump programmers a lot. He commented how we were one of the few narratives that really fit the fest. On the way out of the theater one of the photographers snapped our photo:

I came back Saturday for the awards ceremony. Definitely one of the most "Hollywood" events I have been to. After the red carpet walk, we headed into the theater where we had reserved seats set aside for us in the front along with a ton of celebrities. We were seated right behind Olivia Wilde from House and The OC who was receiving an award for her humanitarian work. Hank Azaria was also there and also received an award for his humanitarian efforts. At the end of the ceremony, they invited all the attending filmmakers to come up to the stage. The fest uploaded a video of this to youtube.

Overall a pretty positive festival experience!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

an aside about Hampshire

I was recently asked why I teach at Hampshire College and what, in my opinion, makes it unique. This question comes my way so frequently from so many different sources that I thought it was worthy of a public response.

The answer to these questions is the same for me. I teach at Hampshire because of its unique qualities. In fact, I teach at all because of Hampshire's unique qualities. Let me elaborate on a few of these.

At Hampshire I can teach what I want, when I want.

The autonomy I have in devising my own curriculum is incredible. This flexibility at once acknowledges the dynamic nature of academic fields, entrusts me with the responsibility of running my own program, and gives students the opportunity to take fresh, timely courses in contrast with the typically rigid offerings at other institutions. Since I've been at Hampshire I've created twelve different courses and co-created two. For a decade of teaching, that's a lot of experimentation.

Narrative evaluations are immeasurably better academic tools than grades.

Yes they require a fair amount of work, however, reading even a single narrative evaluation of a student's progress in a course will teach you more about a student's individual strengths and weaknesses than an entire transcript from a grade-based institution. A grade is like a black hole, smashing things like effort, creativity, attendance, thoroughness, class participation and other factors of performance into a singularity that's impossible to disentangle. As a student, if you receive a low grade, the lesson is, "do better." Boy that's really giving students their money's worth! A well-written narrative evaluation will actually break down areas for improvement and offer suggestions for future learning opportunities that might offer those opportunities.

Hampshire's academic program, from a lack of departments to student-proposed concentrations and senior thesis projects, is interdisciplinary at its core.

There's a story I've told many times about my own senior thesis woes in college that perhaps explains why this point is so important to me. I wanted to study the computer graphic synthesis of fire, but when I went in search of a faculty adviser, I was rejected by everyone. The physics faculty who I had studied with for years said the project wasn't rooted enough in physics. The computer scientists said it wasn't enough computer science. I think I also spoke with a chemistry professor who had the same response.

Dividing the academic world into independent chunks and requiring students and faculty to work within those chunks unnecessarily marginalizes areas of intellectual inquiry that may span the chunks. It wasn't until I went to the MIT Media Lab that I found an intellectual home that understood this. I still remember my first day, when Stephen Benton told all of us new arrivals that, if they continued running the lab well, we wouldn't find jobs after graduating. Translation: their success hinged on remaining ahead of the curve, working with ideas in ways others had never considered. Thus their graduates wouldn't fit easily into the world's existing categories.

After my extremely positive experience at MIT, I promised myself I would never again be a part of an organization that didn't value cross-discipline studies the way that I did. I cannot stress this enough: until I was 21, I felt like I didn't fit anywhere. I was into movies and computers and comics and sports and physics and a few other things too, but not any one enough to make a profession out of it and push the others out of my life. So far I've been lucky enough to have been able to keep that promise: MIT was followed by Rhythm & Hues Studios, then Pixar, and now Hampshire and Bit Films (yes, at Bit Films we wholly embrace the discipline-crosser).

This history returns to my consciousness term after term at Hampshire. Students come to my office looking for support in their cross-disciplinary academic pursuits. I am so pleased that I can say yes to them and have the structures of the institution backing me up. It goes beyond the students, too, of course: I feel supported in my own scholarly pursuits, which have taken many forms since I arrived at Hampshire.

Although there are more, I will stop with just these three reasons for now. I would like to return to my screenwriting, or programming, or perhaps researching my new spring course on interaction design. Then I'll be heading to campus to watch and celebrate the wildly diverse work completed by the students in my Animation Workshop class this term. As you can see, it is an easy day for me to recognize and reflect upon the value of Hampshire.